Interview with Dan Yaccarino, THE LONGEST STORM
No one knew where the strange storm came from, or why it lasted so long. The family has to hunker down together, with no going outside - and that's hard when there's absolutely nothing to do, and everyone's getting on everyone else's nerves.
Max's Boat Pick: THE LONGEST STORM
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Publisher: mineditionUS (August 31, 2021)
What inspired you to write The Longest Storm? DY: "A couple of years ago, a lot of things were happening in my life that I wanted to somehow express in a story, but couldn’t quite figure out how. I had found myself in the middle of a divorce with two college-aged kids and wasn’t sure how we could relate to each other now, and that was really, really hard. The idea of creating a story about a family that has drifted apart, but eventually finds a way to come back together, circled around in my mind for several months, because of what I was facing in my own family. Then once the pandemic hit, family life became even more challenging, for me and for the rest of the world. Then the story fell together pretty quickly.
It was the hardest book I’ve ever done, since it dredged up a lot of the more painful emotions and experiences I had ever been through. Of all of the books I’ve ever created, this one makes me feel the most vulnerable, since it was so profoundly personal and revealing. But I’ve discovered that when you dig deep down into yourself with your work, and get more personal with it, an odd thing happens. It somehow becomes more universal. The very things I wanted to hide from the world, and even from myself, are what readers seem to be connecting with.
I believe that we are all essentially the same inside, and we’re looking to connect with the dark, sometimes scary parts of ourselves through art and books and culture. It reminds us that we’re not alone in our feelings and experiences."
Some might assume The Longest Storm was inspired by the pandemic? "Well, The Longest Storm was inspired first of all by the shift in my family’s dynamic. I would say the pandemic then became the catalyst for the story. So, in The Longest Storm I was trying to show the internal as well as external forces that could pull a family apart, and all of the emotions and conflicts that arise that we have to face.
As we all know, the pandemic made these kind of difficult family reckonings much more common – maybe almost unavoidable. But I also think the pandemic offered us opportunities to kind of re-make what our families are all about, how we connect with each other, and that’s what happens to the family in the book."
Are there picture books you would recommend for how they explore this strange pandemic world we've been living in? "So far, I’ve seen a few other uplifting picture books inspired by the pandemic that offer something positive to give to children in this dark time. Brian Floca’s book Keeping the City Going is an incredibly detailed and reassuring tribute to the front-line workers. It makes me think of Mr. Rogers’s famous words about what we can tell children to do in a crisis – look for the helpers. There Is a Rainbow, by Teresa Trinder and Grant Snider, is about that charming tradition of putting pictures of rainbows in our windows so kids walking by could spot them. And don’t forget the Dr. Fauci biography, Doctor Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, by Kate Messner and Alexandra Bye."
More generally, are there other picture books you would recommend for how they explore weathering "storms" or crises (of any sort)? "The classic picture book about a family facing loss and sort of stuck in a bad place, then finding a way out again, is Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There. The art in that book is just him at his top form. The story and the art are so ambitious, it boggles my mind. I also would shout out here to my friend Dan Santat’s After the Fall. It’s about Humpty Dumpty’s fall, so it’s a story of not just falling or failing but actually breaking into pieces! And then Dan comes up with this totally original way to show rebirth and transformation."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "There weren’t picture books in my house growing up, which I’m sure sounds odd, but we just didn’t have them. That wasn’t unusual for Italian-Americans of my parents’ generation. However, I would go to the library and get books about comics and cartooning. I loved looking at the artwork and studying the sequential storytelling.
The truth is that picture books didn’t even come onto my radar until I was already a professional illustrator. Once I realized there was this whole incredible tradition, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was to tell stories this way. It was so immersive and satisfying. Once I began exploring what was out there, I was drawn to the simplicity, elegance, and beauty of mid-century illustrations and graphics. So, for example, a lot of the artists who illustrated Little Golden Books became my heroes. I am in awe of J.P. Miller, who’s an unsung genius, in my opinion, as well as Aurelius Battaglia, who seems to have been forgotten, sadly."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to them at age three? At age five? "By the time my children came along, I’d been creating children’s books for a few years, so I’d become increasingly aware of contemporary, as well as historical children’s illustrated literature. I was lucky enough to have all these friends who were making picture books, like William Joyce and Dan Kirk and Lisa Desimini, and I’d happily read their books to my children. That was really special because they knew them. Lisa is actually my daughter’s godmother. Then I’d also read them the classics, like Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and the Madeline books."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "That would be a fun list to make! But I’ll just name a few here that I couldn’t live without. First, some classics:
• The Little Red Hen, Little Golden Books edition, illustrated by J.P. Miller
• anything and everything by H.A. Rey
• all of the Madeline books
• I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss and Mary Blair
• anything by Miroslav Sasek
• anything by Roger Duvoisin
• Richard Scarry’s early work
And there are a few stylish younger illustrators working now who have caught my attention and seem to be building solid careers and making books that will endure, including Vera Brosgol, Christian Robinson, Beatrice Alemagna, Isabelle Arsenault, and the Pumphrey Brothers."