Interview with Zoey Abbott, PIG AND HORSE AND THE SOMETHING SCARY
Pig can’t stop thinking about something that is bothering her. Try as Horse might to get her mind off of it—with bike rides, swims, and silly hats—it's no use. But maybe if Pig shares the something with her friend, they can talk about it and figure out how to face the something together.
Max's Boat Pick:
PIG AND HORSE AND THE SOMETHING SCARY
By Zoey Abbott
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (January 18, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Pig and Horse and the Something Scary?
ZA: "I think Pig and Horse came out of two ideas I was exploring. One is how friendship can be a beautiful and creative laboratory for dealing with tough things. The other is the special spacetime that is tea.
Growing up with an English/Irish stepmother I was lucky to have been raised with a dash of tea culture. The preparation for teatime, the ritual of the gathering at the table was pretty magical. You got to be your best self (or try on another part of yourself). You had to be on your best manners in case the Queen showed up. Anything seemed possible.
Living in Japan in my twenties I also got to experience Chanoyu (tea ceremony). I remember learning that the tea ceremony flourished in the midst of the warring states period, a particularly violent time between samurai clans. Tea was a pause for the appreciation of simple beauty and ritual within the host/guest relationship. It involved language, poetry, art, movement and all the senses. A samurai left his sword at the door, bowed his head, making himself vulnerable as he entered the small tatami room on his knees. The beauty of the manners, objects and ritual can take your breath away, make you tear up even. Maybe sharing tea is more brave than sword fighting?"
As a mom to two young girls, I certainly appreciate picture books that explore facing fears and worries, now more than ever. Are there other picture books you love for their take on facing fears, worries and anxiety? "There are so many! Here are a few favs: Jenny Mei is Sad by Tracy Subisak, Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller, The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien, Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o and Vashti Harrison, Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley, Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec, Nasla’s Dream by Cécile Roumiguière and Simone Rea, Story Boat by Kyo MacLear and Rashin Kheiriyeh, The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna. I love all these books for the creative ways the characters tumble with big feelings. So inspiring and empowering for kids and adults, both."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well?" When my kids were very little some of our favorite reads were by Barbara Helen Berger: A Lot of Otters, Grandfather Twilight, and When the Sun Rose. They are soft and lyrical, some are allegorical and all are transporting.
Speaking of Barbara Helen Berger, can I share a quick story? One morning my son woke up at 5 am a total mess, crying and out of sorts. As I carried him downstairs, I remembered it was his birthday. He was two. I said, 'It’s’ your birthday! You were born on this day.' He said, 'Show me.' So, in my hazy fog, I took a quilt and a stuffed animal and made myself a ‘belly.’
As I told him the story he started punctuating my narration with short pithy phrases which, it dawned on me, were lines from a Barbara Helen Berger book, All the Way to Lhasa. When I got to the part of his actual birth via c-section he whispered, 'Emaho!' - one of the last lines of Berger’s book when the main character finally reaches the holy city of Lhasa after a long and treacherous journey. In Tibetan, 'Emaho' apparently is 'an exclamation of wonder or amazement.'
I think this is what the best picture books can do - give us the vocabulary to talk about things that are ineffable (especially when we are pre-verbal or very newly verbal).
Great books give us vivid metaphors for making beauty and sense of the world. They can show us things that are true about ourselves that we didn’t know how to put into words."
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "All of the titles I mentioned above, plus a thousand more but here I will add a handful:
Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera
The Hike by Alison Farrell
Paul and Antoinette by Kerascoët
Starry Messenger by Peter Sís
Monday by Anne Herbauts
I SUPER LOVE all the work of these European creators and would love to see more translated into English:
Emma and Lisen Adbage
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I’ve been waiting forever to read Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenalt’s The Mouse Who Carried A House on his Back. Marta Altes and Gemma Gallardo have an upcoming biography about Joan Miró. I’m also looking forward to holding these books in my hot little hands: Amah Faraway by Margaret Chiu Greanias and Tracy Subisak, People are Wild by Margaux Meganck, Milk and Juice by Meredith Crandall Brown and the last book in in the Sydney & Taylor series by Jacqueline Davies & Deborah Hocking."