• Ratha Tep

Interview with The Pumphrey Brothers, THE OLD BOAT

Off a small island, an old boat sets sail and a young boy finds home. Together, boy and boat ride the shifting tides, catching wants and wishes until fate calls for a sea change.

Pick by Dan Yaccarino, The Longest Storm:


By Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey

Publisher: Norton Young Readers (March 2, 2021)

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What inspired The Old Boat? TPB: "As is the case with most our work, lots of things inspired The Old Boat, but it was mainly family. Two things in particular: the trips we used to take to Galveston, TX, with our grandma when we were kids and the old boat our grandpa kept stored in his driveway. Our grandma taught us how to fish and crab; she showed us how to appreciate the ocean for the amazing resource it is. Our grandpa stored an old bay boat under his carport, and it was always the first place we’d go whenever we visited. We spent more time in that boat than we did in the house, sailing all over the world without ever leaving the driveway." Tell me about your stamps. "We started making art with stamps for a few reasons: 1) It’s a great medium for collaboration. While one of us is designing the stamps, the other can be cutting them and making prints. 2) Stamps—the foam stamps we make, at least—have a sort of built-in limiter that helps us keep things simple; you can only get so many details in there before things start to fall apart, literally. 3) We love the timeless look of classic children’s books and we can get something close to that with stamps."

Are there any illustrators you admire for their unique style? "Yes! In no particular order (and by no means exhaustive): Christian Robinson, Shawn Harris, Oge Mora, Sydney Smith, Sophie Blackall, Elisha Cooper, Jon Klassen, Carson Ellis, Eric Rohmann, Kadir Nelson, Mo Willems, Matthew Forsythe, Dan Santat, Alice Provensen, Oliver Jeffers, Jan Balet, Edward Bawden, Chris Haughton, the Fan Brothers. You see any of their work and you know it’s theirs."

Your text is so quietly and deeply moving. What are some picture books that have deeply moved you? "Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper, A House that Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith, Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and pretty much anything Sydney Smith illustrates, including Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, and his very own Small in the City."

I love your gorgeous take on intergenerational love. What are some picture books you love for their compelling takes on family? "Family is a big deal to us. Some of the books that we think nail it are Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, Saturday by Oge Mora, Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers, Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat."

I love The Old Boat's message of environmental stewardship. Are there other picture books you love for their unique take on environmental stewardship, responsibility or change? "There are! Here are a few: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade, One Little Bag by Henry Cole, Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers."

You collaborated and published your first picture book together when you were teenagers (!) What were the picture books that inspired you then? What are the picture books that inspire you now? Have there been any constants? "That was so long ago! It’s hard to say what was inspiring us way back then, but some definite constants have been The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall."

What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "It’s a great time for picture books. Some contemporary books sure to be long-term favorites: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, Crown by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe, The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "There are so many books we love for so many different reasons, so many books that are the best at what they do, that this sort of question is always a hard one to answer. Apart from all the books we’ve already mentioned, here’s a list of some we think are the best at something that we always keep close to hand:

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and Ashleigh Corrin Freight Train by Donald Crews The Ranger by Nancy Vo Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton