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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Matt de la Peña, MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD

Milo is a "shook-up soda" of excitement, worry, confusion and love. "To keep himself from bursting" during a long subway ride with his sister, he imagines the lives of the people around him. The boy in the suit and bright white sneakers? Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a butler. But when he ends up getting off at the same stop as Milo--and going to the exact same place—Milo realizes that you can't really know anyone just by looking at them.


Written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (February 2, 2021)

What inspired you to write MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD? MDLP: "Christian and I were on tour for our second book, CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, and during a bit of downtime at a coffee shop we talked about what kind of story we were interested in trying next. We knew it would involve public transportation in some form. And I knew I wanted to explore the lazy nature of stereotypes. And near the end of our conversation, Christian mentioned that he was interested in exploring his experience growing up with an incarcerated mother. I took this conversation back to Brooklyn with me and decided to set the book on the NYC subway. From there it was a long process of discovery. In the end I realized Milo had to be brave enough to revise his assumptions about the people he watches on his trip to visit his mother. Behind every face, he realizes, there's an entire story he doesn't have access to."

In your Newbery acceptance speech in 2016, you said, "What if I can write a story that offers that tough, hoodied kid in the back of the auditorium a secret place to feel?” Besides your own books, of course, are there other picture books you admire for doing this? "Whenever I'm working on a new story, I think about little-kid me. I grew up in a working-class community, under the umbrella of machismo, without access to books. This is a challenging equation. And I know so many kids today are growing up with this exact same set of circumstances. I write for all young people, but I especially write for THESE young people. Because I know how instrumental good stories can be in their development. As a parent, I seek out stories that meet working-class kids where they live. Two of my all-time favorites are: EACH KINDNESS by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis (I'm in awe of this picture book) and MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña (beautiful)."

The rhythm of your words is something else. Are there any picture books you especially admire for their poetry or the beauty of their words? "I feel like picture book writers have two equally important jobs. First you have to get the story right. Then you have to get the MUSIC right. But you can't go too far either. When the text is trying too hard, the whole thing can come tumbling down. There are so many poets out there writing great picture book texts these days. I love the following books for their poetry in particular: ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee (the language is gorgeous), A DIFFERENT POND by Bao Phi (stunning) and Thi Bui, and, of course, GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd ('Goodnight stars / Goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere.') I love when a text is a little bit strange or existential. I think we're all aiming at the genius of that 'Goodnight noises everywhere.' That is poetry that exists in the universe of the child."

Do you remember what you loved reading to your daughter at age three? At age five? "When she was three she was obsessed with THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE by Dan Santat. When she was five she was obsessed with SAFFRON ICE CREAM by Rashin Kheiriyeh. Thankfully, I loved them both, too."


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