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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Travis Jonker, JUST ONE FLAKE

It’s snowing outside! Liam rushes out into the squall, determined to catch one perfect snowflake. He tries any number of tricks to complete his mission, but each time he is thwarted. Until, in a final leap of faith, he catches that one flake . . . in a way he never expected.


By Travis Jonker

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (October 10, 2023)

Thanks for stopping by, Travis! You hold the honor of being three for three: the last three folks on Max's Boat have recommended Just One Flake—a record! Can you share how your latest book came about? TJ: "A couple years back, I was in the middle of a challenge: make a spontaneous drawing every day and post it to Instagram. It was wintertime in Michigan and I ended up drawing a kid trying to catch a snowflake on his tongue. I liked it, so the next day I continued on that theme and drew the same kid standing on top of a snowman trying to catch a flake. That one really got the ball rolling - I started thinking about a kid who would go to absurd lengths to catch a snowflake on his tongue."

I'm a big fan of The Yarn, and found your conversation with Colby Sharp about Just One Flake so fascinating. You mentioned the text came together in about a week. How does that compare with your other books? "The basic story of Just One Flake did come together quickly, which is definitely not the norm. After a couple days I had the main beats of the story, and the text hardly changed throughout the entire process. When a story comes together quickly, I think the first instinct is 'This can't be right,' but I had heard of some other books coming together quickly (I might be wrong, but I thought Lauren Castillo's Nana in the City is an example) so I tried not to question it too much. My other books have been slower. The Very Last Castle took a lot of revisions and some pretty big changes. Blue Floats Away was the same. It took many months to get to the finished text for those books."

Congratulations on your debut as an illustrator! Did you know from the get-go that you wanted to illustrate this book yourself and if so, why? "Thank you! I've always liked drawing and was fairly close to an art minor in college, but that went on the back burner (off the stove?) for a while when I started work. Once I began writing with the hopes of getting published, it brought the drawing back out. I remember the first conversation I had with Stephen Barbara (my wonderful literary agent), and I mentioned wanting to illustrate someday. But I knew it was going to have to be the right story and I knew I was going to have to get to a point where I could make art I was proud of. Cut to the approximately 30,000 little steps toward gaining skills and confidence with making art. I started keeping a sketchbook. I started making little homemade picture book zines and sending them to friends. I began forcing myself to post art on Instagram to get over the fear. I talked with Heather Kelly (art director at Abrams Books) about what I could do to illustrate some day. When the idea for Just One Flake came, it was in words and pictures, so I had a really strong sense of how it should look. I sketched out the book and sent it to Courtney Code (Abrams editor) and asked nicely if I could try to illustrate it. I am forever grateful that she said yes."

That's so interesting that a big part of the equation was YOU building your own confidence with making art. What's next for you? Any other author-illustrator books in the works? "Next up is The Ship in the Window, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. That comes out on August 20th 2024. It's about a mouse that risks it all for a chance at adventure. Matthew did an incredible job on the illustrations and I can't wait for you to see it!

I'm also working on a follow-up to Just One Flake called Just One Wave. I'm currently making final art. That won't come out for a while though."

Of course, it's not a Max's Boat interview without picks and recommendations! You see SO many books wearing all the hats you wear (school librarian, reviewer, blogger, podcaster—the list goes on). Which picture book writers do you most admire? "So many. Popping into my head right now: Kelly DiPucchio, Mac Barnett, Carole Boston Weatherford, Ame Dyckman, Jordan Scott, Bob Shea, Grace Lin, and on and on."

What are your all-time favorite picture books? "Anything by M.B. Goffstein, anything by Jerry Pinkney, anything by Tomi Ungerer, anything by Maurice Sendak."

What were your favorite picture books of 2023?

Evergreen by Matthew Cordell

Once Upon a Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner

Big by Vashti Harrison

The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker

An American Story by Kwame Alexander and Dare Coulter

The Skull by Jon Klassen

Dim Sum Palace by X. Fang

What picture books are you most excited about for 2024?

Built to Last by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Pepper and Me by Beatrice Alemagna

Big Bear and Little Bear Go Fishing by Amy Hest and Erin E. Stead


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