Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)
Read Our Author Q & A Today
Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more!
The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.
Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.
GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:
GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?
BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!
GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?
BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.
GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?
BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!
GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?
BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.
GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?
BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!
GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?
BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.
GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?
BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.
Mira Bartók, Photo Credit: Doug Plavin
Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir,
The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.
The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.
MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!
Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th
Event date: Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060
HERE ARE MORE HELPFUL LINKS:
· Discussion guide
· Chapter sampler
· Author video
BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN
Written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)
Today Good Reads With Ronna is happy to share an interview with Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man author illustrator Cornelius Van Wright.
HERE’S A DESCRIPTION BY PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE OF BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN
It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.
It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.
Q & A:
GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?
Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.
GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?
CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.
GRWR: Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?
CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.
GRWR: Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?
CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.
Interior artwork from Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2015.
GRWR: Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.
GRWR: Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?
CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.
GRWR: What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?
CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.
GRWR: Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?
CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.
GRWR: What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!
GRWR: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.
Check out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.
Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.
- – Interview by Ronna Mandel
An Interview With Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
About Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
Plus a Giveaway!
Ready? Grab your copy (it’s the book birthday today for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole), brew a cup of tea (in honor of Jon), sit back and enter the world of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, two of today’s most creative talents in the children’s book industry. After you’ve read the Q&A, scroll down for a link to my review of the book and to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) – in stores now.
Good Reads With Ronna: I read in the promotional material that you were eating together at a diner here in L.A. when you began discussing the book. So, which came first, the chilaquiles or the egg, I mean the fried egg that is? Okay, joking aside, – when you sat down to brainstorm, did Sam & Dave exist already or just a hole to dig?
Jon Klassen: Oh! That morning? Everything. It was Sam & Dave and the hole that we came up with that morning. We left breakfast with basically that Sam & Dave are two kids going down and digging a hole, and missing what they wer searching for and ending up somewhere different from where they started off. All that stuff was kind of worked over the breakfast table.
GRWR: Now why digging as opposed to building? I’m just curious as they’re both things kids love to do.
KLASSEN: I think that maybe initially, it was. The idea of vertical movement through the book either up or down was kind of maybe the first little bit of the thing we got talking about.
Mac Barnett: Yeah, we did talk about both that morning.
KLASSEN: Yeah, I think we did talk about going up. … if you’re building up you kind of know what’s up there, there’s not really any mystery to it because you are just going higher into space. But digging down, if you start the way the book starts, where the ground is at the very bottom of the page instead of being able to see everything, you’re kind of finding things out as you turn the page. It’s just more exciting as a story and also something that kids can see their way to doing. If you’re building something that seems really complicated, it’s not as relatable …
BARNETT: Jon and I were both diggers as kids … We’ve dug a lot of holes. Everything that I built as a kid I was disappointed in and never looked like I wanted it to look. But I was never disappointed by any of the holes I dug. Those came out great!
GRWR: Has either one of you ever dug up any neat stuff as a child?
BARNETT: My best friend when I was a kid, we dug a lot of holes. And then he told me one time, when we dug a hole, that he found this little plastic skull that had red eyes that he told me were made out of diamonds and created this elaborate mythology around it. I was so amazed that we had dug this thing out of the ground.
And then he told me like three years later that he had just dropped it in the hole before he put his shovel in and then pretended to pick it up. I was devastated. I had created an entire mythology that just crumbled. I lost three years of my childhood that day. That was my big discovery which turned out to be false.
SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
KLASSEN: There was a tree in a field behind our house. We lived in sort of a suburb in Toronto for a while. There was this big field that they kept promising they were going to turn into a school but it just being this crappy field. And it wouldn’t grow anything because it was sort of filled with … half-hearted attempts to pour cement or dump bricks. It was just a horrible little field, but we really liked it because you could run around and we built baseball diamonds and stuff back there. But the only thing that grew was this one tree that looked like it was never gonna ever sprout a leaf, but it was this gnarled thing. And I had a long row of unfortunate hamsters that got buried under the tree one by one after you know, you get a new hamster and it would die, you get a new hamster and it would die. There were probably like eight of them under the tree.
And every now and then I would go and try to find one of the hamsters. I don’t think I ever did though, I think I kept forgetting where I had buried them.
BARNETT: That’s amazing. Your story managed to be even more depressing than mine, Jon.
GRWR: When you collaborate on a book as a team, do you check in with each other daily?
Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett, courtesy of Candlewick Press ©2014.
BARNETT & KLASSEN: On this one (Sam & Dave) we did.
BARNETT: Particularly. Extra Yarn – a little bit less so. We talked about that book a lot and had a lot of conversations. That was probably closer to weekly, if that. Jon and I talk a lot anyway, though, and so were just talking everyday probably before we started working on this book. So this gave us something to talk about.
GRWR: Now you’ve got skulls and hamster skeletons to talk about.
BARNETT: You know what? You know there were skeletons in this book for a little while.
BARNETT: And then, maybe then, they got taken out. But at one point there were a lot of skeletons in this book. Monster skeletons. Yeah Jon and I would talk. We’d open up an audio link between our computers every day and just talk about the book. And Jon would be making sketches and send them over to me and then we would talk about those. And sometimes he would create something that was so good that I would have to rewrite the text to support the illustration that was a moment that hadn’t occurred originally to us, but Jon would have a good idea. I think we each had a lot of impact on the other’s work. More so than any other collaboration I’ve done and I tend to collaborate closely with the illustrators I’m working with.
GRWR: Were all the fabulous “so close yet so far” visual gags always planned or did they evolve organically as the story evolved – in other words, was the book carefully plotted and dummied from the start so every page turn would be full of anticipation or did some of the things you came up with actually surprise and delight you, and maybe move you in a different direction?
BARNETT: It was definitely written for every page turn to have something like a near miss to build anticipation. That said, the exact mechanics of it changed. For instance, when they split up and go around the diamond. That was a way to miss the diamonds that wasn’t in it originally., but was just a drawing Jon did that we both really liked. It was definitely written very consciously to create that sense of anticipation and frustration. But it defitintely kept evolving after that as well. It was Jon’s job to kind of then work out how to exactly to maximize the emotional impact of all the near misses.
GRWR: Did you intentionally want an ending that’s open to interpretation, something to spur little and big imaginations or do you feel what occurs (without revealing too much) is obvious to the reader?
BARNETT: I think that any book is a conversation between the person who is making it or people who are making it and the reader. Any piece of art is a conversation between the creator and the reader, and some conversations demand a little bit more from their listeners than others do. Some conversations somebody is just talking right at you, they’re not really listening or making any contribution back. I think this isn’t one of those books.
This is a conversation that invites the listener/reader to participate a little more closely and that’s particularly true with the ending.
KLASSEN: I think that for me with this book, with the ending of it, what I’ve come around to and settled on, is that everything that, I think, that we want them (readers) to know is in the pictures.
KLASSEN: The specifics in terms of discussing it like this or talking about it in a review or in a paragraph that describes the book for booksellers, or whatever else, it’s a tricky one. Because you can’t exactly say what happens. There’s not much of a term for it, but you know what happens because it’s in the pictures.
As specific as we want to get is the picture. I think that’s the best way of putting it. That is as much information as we know and as we want to know.
BARNETT: And that’s as much as we’re giving. I think that’s true of the sublime. That it’s a place where words can’t necessarily go.
GRWR: I think there needs to be more of that in books for kids’ imaginations these days.
BARNETT: I agree completely. It’s a reason that I come to literature and that I’ve always come to literature. And yet mystery, ambiguity, the sublime, these are things that are sometimes considered off limits in children’s books. And I don’t know why? They’re some of the greatest pleasures that art can offer.
GRWR: Do either of you have any rituals you practice before beginning work?
KLASSEN: I eat a lot of peanut butter.
BARNETT: Jon you make tea.
KLASSEN: I make what?
BARNETT: You make tea.
KLASSEN: I do make tea, yeah that’s true. I usually wake up and put water on for tea in sort of a blind stupor before I’m even knowing what I’m doing. Yeah, and just all of the stuff that goes along with that. I don’t know, I think that right now I’m in a spot, and I was for this book as well, where I don’t really have a studio place that I go to a lot. I work at home in a makeshift area ’cause I’m kind of between places I work and so I didn’t have as much of a routine with this one as I did with some of the other books. Usually I like to make the same lunch for weeks and weeks …
GRWR: Okay so Jon your routine is that you have tea in the morning.
KLASSEN: (Laughing) Yeah! Short answer is I have tea in the morning. (Laughter)
BARNETT: Yeah, that was all Jon’s ritual right there. My working is a kind of, my process is ugly and chaotic and there’s a lot of anxiety over not working and a lot of pacing around the house. I don’t know … the impetus to write has to come from the excitement of the idea or a contractual obligation (laugh). Those are the only reasons that could get me into a chair. I don’t have any kind of regular writing process.
GRWR: That’s cool.
BARNETT: I was gonna say both of us … would like to have a studio space. I don’t have one. I’ve always wanted one which is one reason that I think we always open that audio run between our computers. It kind of creates the illusion on some days when it feels … because it’s a lonely job writing books … it will create the illusion that you’re sharing a studio space with someone. A lot of our conversations just become quiet like, I just hear like shuffling of papers, the clinking of a mug over on Jon’s side of the desk for, you know, 20 minutes, 40 minutes or whatever, but it can be reassuring to have the sense of another person kind of struggling along working on stories, too.
GRWR: Wow what did people do 30 years ago?
KLASSEN: Well, they wrote pretty good books. (Laughter)
BARNETT: I was gonna say, 30 to 40 years ago, you do know the all those stories about like, Sendak sleeping on … Ruth Krauss’s couch and that kind of stuff? I mean people were collaborating on books so many of them lived in Manhattan or on that corridor from basically Manhattan to Maine that they were in the same room so much of the time. I think that it’s kind of cool that after a period where I think it’s a good thing that you don’t have to live in New York to write a children’s book or to illustrate them. Technology has allowed us to get a little bit closer to that romantic ideal I always have of you know Sendak and Krauss in the same room.
KLASSEN: There doesn’t seem to be those meccas anymore of like creative people headed for one town to do whatever it is is going on there, as much, so you have to sort of replace that with something.
GRWR: That’s great that lots of avenues have been opened for people that wouldn’t have existed. That’s what we need.
BARNETT & KLASSEN: Yeah, exactly
BARNETT: That’s the good thing about it, right, that you don’t have to live in Manhattan to make picture books?
GRWR: I mean you could collaborate with someone in London now.
BARNETT: Yeah. I would definitely do that. Jon, you know, Jon hates English people so he would not do that.
GRWR: But he likes tea. (Laughter)
KLASSEN: The world has opened a little bit too wide. (Laughter)
BARNETT: Yeah, I think that is. That’s so cool. And you do see more of that. You do see people collaborating with illustrators in different countries.
GRWR: … I actually lived in London, so I think it would be pretty cool.
BARNETT: I lived in London for a little while, too.
KLASSEN: It’s a great town. Mac was kidding. I like English people.
BARNETT: That is true, Jon does love English people. He was just there.
KLASSEN: I was just in London like two weeks ago. It was great.
GRWR: Oh, were you doing promotions?’
KLASSEN: I was actually there twice this year for stuff. Walker books who publishes these books, the parent company of Candlewick, puts on these really cool events for this book. We went to a bookstore in London and saw a whole shop window full of dirt for the Sam & Dave book. it was really neat.
GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic
KLASSEN: Yeah, it was fun.
GRWR: Guys, what’s the wildest question you’ve been asked by a kid when you’ve been at a school or at a signing?
KLASSEN: Mmm…I always think it’s weird that they want to know how old I am. And I don’t know what they think of the answer. When I say I’m 32 or 33 or whatever the heck I am. I don’t … and they always go, “Whoa!” I don’t know what that is?
BARNETT: They think you’re old. When they ask how long have you been doing books and you say seven years, then that means that’s older than them. I think it is crazy.
BARNETT: Oh, I was with some kindergarteners in Chicago over winter and a little guy asked me how do you make a book? And so I ran through that and then he raised his hand again. And he said, “How do you make a baby?” And I was … was not ready for that presentation. That’s definitely the wildest thing I ever got asked. I told him I don’t make babies, I make books.
GRWR: That’s a classic, just fantastic! Can you share any of your secrets for writing a successful picture book or maybe just tell me the elements that you strive for?
BARNETT: One thing that I think is so important for me because I can’t draw, but I do think picture books are a visual form and that even writing a picture book is a visual act. So, I’m always very conscious of the fact that there have to be strong images that I’m trying to create in my texts. And a really tight relationship between text and image. To essentially use the text most often to create opportunities for illustrators to look good, and to have some of the most exciting things in the stories that I’m working out happen in the pictures, the pictures that I’m not drawing, right and I don’t even have any conception of how it will turn out necessarily. I would say the three things that I’m always pretty conscious of is that relationship between text and image. Page turns, I think page turns are like the basic building blocks of a picture book. Each page turn is an opportunity to turn on the light or surprise and then lay out. Just like trying to create opportunities for interesting lay out and making sure that I’m writing about different kinds of images and that the scenes are changing or that the things we’re seeing are changing.
GRWR: That’s super. What about you, Jon?’
BARNETT: Just go with animals, that’s all he does.
KLASSEN: Yeah, it’s as simple as that (Laughter).
KLASSEN: I had a friend in college who, we were talking about what we think makes a story, and when we think we have a story versus just like some weird cool idea. And he said it was when you feel like it ended, at the end. Even if you didn’t know it was headed somewhere, he thought that as long as you feel like something ended, that’s when you have a complete story. And I like that … even my definition of what an ending feels like is kind of changing and this book changed it for me again, I think. You don’t really know what you want an ending to feel like, but as long as it lands in the definition of that word … picture books, especially are so short … have all sorts of different ways of making that happen and satisfying, whatever it is. It could be a totally local problem – it doesn’t have to be a big philosophical point although the better ones end up finding those things even accidentally. But as long as it feels like something that started ends, then you’ve got the book. I love the idea of how wide open that is and how you can sort of satisfy an audience with ways that they didn’t even know they could be.
GRWR: Or ways that you didn’t even know.
KLASSEN: Well, yeah. Well I think that works both ways, exactly. Like it surprises me as much as it surprises an audience I think when anything works. You don’t plan it. You’re trying to find a way to make it end and to make it feel like it just ended under its own power kind of.
GRWR: That’s how I felt at the end of this book. I was “Yes! Just a loud, “Yes!”
BARNETT: Oh, cool!
KLASSEN: Oh, that’s great!
GRWR: That’s just how I felt. Like, they did it, they did it. I love it. This is excellent, you got me and you’re gonna get everybody with this.
BARNETT & KLASEN: Aaaww.
GRWR: Can we count on you for a third collaboration, a kind of picture book trifecta?
KLASSSEN: Oh, yeah probably.
KLASSEN: I don’t know. I don’t know if it will feel like, you know a trilogy or anything like that.
BARNETT: I think this book is very different from Extra Yarn and I think the next thing that we do would probably be different again. But yes, yes.
GRWR: Yes? Oh awesome. You could be chameleons. I feel you both are very chameleon-like in what books you do. … If we took away your names, could people still identify you? Each story, each picture book, everything is so different. It’s very chameleon-like … Do you intentionally do that or do you just feel like that’s part of the creative process that when a person creates it’s just constantly changing?
BARNETT: Well I don’t like to repeat myself I think first and foremost. The stories that I tell or just in general, I don’t like to repeat myself .. and to do so in a book feels like such a wasted opportunity. Particularly picture books are such a young form. We’re just still figuring out what’s possible in them. I mean something that looks like a contemporary picture book doesn’t really even come around until like Wanda Gág, you know, and even then there’s a long time before Wanda Gág’s vision of what a book should be sort of won out. So we’re working with something that’s less than a century old and I feel like I’m just like running around on a blank map trying to like put flags in as many different areas as I can and it’s exhilarating!
GRWR: That is such an exciting way to put it!
BARNETT: Top that, Jon!
KLASSEN: Yeah. Now I can’t talk at all.
GRWR: That said, Jon, how do you feel about that?
KLASSEN: I think Mac’s got more range than I do that way. I think that even though I read a lot of Mac’s things, sometimes he’ll send me a text he’s working on … and I just I can’t believe he switched gears so quickly from the last thing he did. It’s all self-contained. It’s working under the rules of this particular one. I think he understands that concept of just following a very local set of rules to the story and having fun with that inside of it. There are probably themes and things that you could find. But it would take a minute, I think, because they are so self-contained. I like changing things myself and I always try to keep the decisions and the work kind of local to the story … I mean, I’m not sure that I stray as far from the things that I like, maybe story wise a little bit. To think of the ideas I’m working on for other books in the future are consciously sort of trying to keep trying different things. But I have a few things I like very much that I keep sort of going back to and I’m not sure I’m done with yet. So I don’t know if I have as much range that way. I’d like to think I do but I’m not sure when it all finally comes out of the printing press, it kind of looks like if it sits next to the other one it’s pretty close. (Laughter)
BARNETT: Oh, I think there’s something to not being attached to a visual style just writing picture books that is really liberating, too, and there’s something self-erasing about it. Kids will look at Extra Yarn or Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and see them, I think, as Jon Klassen’s book. That’s certainly how I saw books as a kid even when they were written by different people. I always identified them as the illustrator’s first. And so I think that if Sam & Daves or Extra Yarns sit comfortably, visually next to the Hat books, kids will often kind of lump them together that way, so you could see that as … self-erasing, but it actually … allows you to write in so many different styles. And part of why I feel so liberated, is it’s a completely different set of rules if I’m writing in Jon Klassen’s visual universe. Things work very differently in that world than they would in Adam Rex’s visual universe. And it is sort of like writing stories that take place on two different planets.
GRWR: Yep. That space on the shelf is getting larger and larger.
BARNETT: Oh, man. I know. It’s too big. People are tired, tired of my books, Ronna. They don’t want to get the phone call that I have a new book anymore. (laughter)
GRWR: What about you Jon?
KLASSEN: I think so. Yeah, I think we line up pretty close on that.
GRWR: If you guys weren’t creating books for kids, what would you be doing?
BARNETT: I think I would be teaching in some form. The plan I had right before I decided to write books, I was going to go and get my Ph.D. and become a medievalist. I may have been, you know, stroking a fat beard and reading Icelandic poetry.
GRWR: Did you say a medievalist?
BARNETT: A medievalist, that’s right.
KLASSEN: If you go to Ren (Renaissance?) faires, they’re all over the place.
BARNETT: I wasn’t a Ren faire medievalist. I was one of the cool ones, Jon. There’s a whole club. (Laughter)
KLASSEN: There’s always one guy in a Ren faire saying you have to call me doctor. And that’s the guy with the Ph.D.
BARNETT: And The turkey legs are outstanding.
GRWR: But anyway, parents and caregivers who purchase these books will be reading my interview with you on the blog so what would you like to say to those parents?
BARNETT: Hmmm, with me I think one interesting thing about the way picture books work … I would just say kind of thank you to them because they’re so much a part of it, not just for buying the books and choosing to read this book. By reading the book, a picture book, they’re so often read by a parent or caregiver or teacher, librarian or babysitter, they’re really as much of the creation of the experience as Jon and I are. They’re kind of the unsung 3rd creative force in putting a picture book together. I made this text. Then Jon interprets the text in illustrations which is then interpreted again by a parent before it finally reaches the audience. They’re choosing voices and telling our jokes and sometimes choosing to take out little pieces of dialogue or add things in. So really they’re like actors interpreting a performance so I thank them not just for getting the book, but for being part of an experience of bringing this thing to life.
KLASSEN: Yeah, I would try and say the same thing. My first picture books, well, we didn’t have a lot of picture books in our family’s house growing up. But my grandparents had all their books from when their kids were young. I think they had a lot more book clubs and stuff back then. There were all of these Dr. Seuss books and the reader books and things like that. They just had shelves of these things that were all the same size, but they were done by different authors and different illustrators and stuff. I still don’t really think of those guys very much. I think of those books and that room and that house and that time, all together as one big sort of feeling, and I still think that that’s still mainly the reason why I make books is because of that room and that house and those years and them having those books in that house it just creates a place you want to revisit. And this is the best way I sort of knew how to go back there was to keep trying to make these things. And the idea that they are in these houses and these rooms, they are making a place for their kids and memories that sort of you know the books are sort of merged into the memories of these rooms and those times. And it’s all sort of one thing, and they’re making it for them by having these books around. They are sort of creating a place for these kids that they can go and hear these stories, but also just feel like they feel in a really general way. It’s very important. It’s one of my most important memories.
GRWR: It’s hard getting rid of books.
BARNETT: I still have all of mine from when I was a kid. It’s true. I like what you said that, Jon. I always feel so grateful. We’re really, when we make books, like in a very intimate way invited into families and it’s such a privilege.
GRWR: I agree. I have to say that it’s been a privilege for me to chat with you guys but I’ve kept you long enough so I just want to say if there’s anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to the rest of your day.
BARNETT: I just wanna say thank you, Ronna, this is a lot of fun talking to you.
KLASSEN: Yeah, thanks for the time. We really appreciate it, and thanks for liking the book so much. That’s really great.
GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic. Jon, I guess I’ll see you in L.A. or at the Ren (Renaissance) faire.
BARNETT: We’ll all see each other at the Ren faire. I’m coming down. (Laughter)
GRWR: Best of luck to you guys. I know the buzz is continuing to grow over Sam &Dave and I just wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much.
– Interview by Ronna Mandel with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for her invaluable help!
Click here to read Ronna’s review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.
Want more humorous insights from Barnett and Klassen? Click here to read Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen Make a Book: A Transcript
ABOUT BARNETT & KLASSEN
Mac Barnett, courtesy of Candlewick Press ©2014.
Mac Barnett is the author of several award-winning books for children, including President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and Extra Yarn, illustrated by Jon Klassen, which won a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and a Caldecott Honor and his most recent, Telephone. Mac Barnett lives in California.
Jon Klassen, courtesy of Candlewick Press ©2014.
Jon Klassen is the author-illustrator of I Want My Hat Back, a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book, and This Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of House Held Up by Trees, written by Ted Kooser, which was named a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book, and Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, which won a Caldecott Honor. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jon Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.
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MIX IT UP! FUN FOR EVERYONE
Good Reads With Ronna recently interviewed notable Parisian artist and author Hervé Tullet via email before his upcoming trip to Los Angeles. Tullet, the creative force behind the best-selling Press Here, and his latest, Mix It Up!, will be at both MOCA & LACMA this weekend conducting mural workshops for children using his books as inspiration. Both books are published by Chronicle Books, cost $15.99 each, and are recommended for ages 3-5.
Mix It Up! is an interactive board book of the coolest kind. It’s the type of book children will reach for frequently, and each time engage with it in a new and exciting way. Picking up where Press Here left off – although each book stands on its own – Mix It Up! requires no battery or password. In fact it’s better than any app because youngsters get to hold the book in their hands and take a journey through color under Tullet’s expert tutelage. Note: Insert fab French accent here, “Tap that gray spot. Just a little, to see what happens.”
Written in the second person, Mix It Up! invites kids to place their hands on the page, close their eyes, and count to five then MIX IT UP! They can tap, rub, smudge and smoosh to their hearts’ content without getting a drop of paint on them. I couldn’t wait to turn each page to see what Tullet had in store. This book got me away from the computer and onto my feet, moving, tilting and turning pages to and fro, but really, it’s okay to read it seated as well! The best part is finding out what happens when various colors come together on the page. Tullet’s text will make each youngster interacting with Mix It Up! feel satisfied, successful and ready to smoosh some colors on their own. – Ronna Mandel
Good Reads With Ronna: At what age would you recommend parents begin introducing art to their children to look at? To engage in?
Hervé Tullet: Babies don’t know anything, which is why I think they know everything. With their eyes they experience everything as new and interpret everything without any prior experience. This is imagination. They are the artists, our real artists, that’s why I think that museums are the perfect place to feed them with colors and shapes and sensations without any restrictions (except maybe at feeding time!)
GRWR: Were you stirred and moved by art as young as age three – five like the age of the kids your books are geared to?
TULLET: It was a different time, and people didn’t raise children the way they do now. During my childhood, I learned a lot from being alone, from being bored, from not knowing. When I was a teenager, books and museum became my way out, my breath, my salvation
GRWR: Your new book is just so kid-friendly. Why do you think no one has thought of your brilliant idea for a book like Mix It Up! sooner?
TULLET: On the one hand, hand I think that ideas are in the air and everybody can catch them. That’s what happens when you find one; it looks like it came out of the blue. On the other hand, I think that it is a long process of maturation and that I spent lot of time on, nearly obsessed, to find, to think, to search, go on thinking again, erase, cut and at last find the ideas.
Press Here and Mix it Up! are the result of this long process, the high point of 20 years of exploration and work.
GRWR: By having kids get down on their hands and knees with some color and a paintbrush (at your workshops), while you’re out there motivating them, what are the things you’d like to achieve?
TULLET: I’m motivated by having a great time all together and making great memories. And maybe, from this experience, it will create a desire to have another one, or it will be a seed that will flourish later on, out of the blue. Or, maybe not exactly out of the blue.
GRWR: What do kids say to you after they’ve worked on the enormous mural?
TULLET: A look, a smile, a word, a hand shake, a kiss, a sign, a thank you. All these are so deep, so sincere, so true, to me that I accept all of them as true gifts.
Here’s some advice Tullet offers attendees to this weekend’s artsy workshops: “… one thing, please listen to my prompts very carefully. That’s it! That’s all what you have to do! Except the babies of course, they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do!”
Don’t miss Tullet’s L.A. appearances this weekend at MOCA & LACMA on Saturday, 10/11 and Sunday, 10/12. Head to L.A. Parent to get more details by clicking here. In that article, you can also read Tullet’s reply to my question: Is there anything you’d like to say to the families of L.A. and Southern California who will be attending your events? I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of his warm and welcoming response.
To purchase Press Here and Mix It Up! head to your local independent bookseller.
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Welcome to the EVEN MONSTERS Virtual Tour & Giveaway courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky!
Even Monsters … written and illustrated by A.J. Smith, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014.
Be sure to scroll down to devour every last morsel of our exciting EVEN MONSTERS by A.J. Smith art contest, giveaway, interview & EVEN more!!
MONSTER ART CONTEST: Even the bravest little monsters can be scared of what’s lurking in a closet or under the bed. Author and illustrator A.J. Smith’s family-friendly picture book, Even Monsters (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99, Ages 4-8 ) written and illustrated by A.J. Smith, is perfect for helping children understand that sometimes the things we are afraid of are not scary at all. In fact, they can be quite funny – see Fur of The Loom undies above!! To help kids overcome their fear of the dark and see how silly monsters can be, A.J. invites them to participate in the Monster Art Contest. Children ages 2-9 can send in their best monsters drawings for the chance to have their art animated into their own music video! The best 100 drawings will appear in a special Even Monsters art gallery, and the top 20 drawings will be animated into their own music video. WOW!
PLEASE WATCH THIS TERRIFIC EVEN MONSTERS BOOK TRAILER BEFORE YOU READ OUR INTERVIEW. Even Monsters Book Trailer
INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR A.J. SMITH
Hi AJ! EVEN MONSTERS is ADORABLE and something both my kids would have loved when they were younger. There’s something to discover on every page meaning kids will want to go back again and again to see if they can find something new. GRWR: With that last sentence in mind, did you deliberately include those tiny cute orangey-red, big-eyed creatures for kids to seek out on every page (and perhaps count)?
A.J. SMITH: Certainly I want the story to be fun and engaging in its own right, but yes, the little cooties were added as a way to extend the life of the story by inviting kids to come back for multiple reads and explore the book for cooties. Taking it even a step further, kids can print and play this cootie-counter game: http://www.evenmonsters.com/cootieCounter.pdf
GRWR: I noticed a lot of broken items scattered throughout the book and thought you got into the young monsters’ heads quite well. Were you a monster when you were growing up?
A.J. SMITH: Kids (and monsters) can sometimes be destructive even when intentions are at their best. That said, I was an exceptionally gentle and thoughtful child who never did anything wrong. It’s possible my parents may have their own perspective on the matter, however.
GRWR: What prompted you to take this picture book one step further by introducing the digital element where kids (with help from their parents) can scan the QR codes throughout the book for assorted fun activities?
A.J. SMITH: I like the idea that a children’s book is a toy. Yes, it’s hopefully an eventual gateway to bigger literary endeavors. But in the meantime, a picture book should encourage interactivity and play. QR codes were just one more way for me to help facilitate that, which then brings you to more content online that revolves around Even Monsters. GRWR: Aside from the fact that you’re obviously very talented, what else would you say influenced you to first enter the world of animation and designing?
A.J. SMITH: Thanks for the kind words. I’ve always liked to draw from a young age … Always enjoyed cartoons and books. I could talk all day about specific influences from pop culture to everyday events in childhood. But mostly I just always wanted to create stories and make people laugh. Animation, design, illustration, and writing became the best ways (for me) to make that happen.
GRWR CHATS WITH ILLUSTRATOR LONDON LADD
Under The Freedom Tree – a 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection!
Illustrator London Ladd, Under The Freedom Tree, Copyright © 2014 Charlesbridge Publishing.
Today Good Reads With Ronna and London Ladd discuss how, as the illustrator of Under The Freedom Tree (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 6-9) by Susan VanHecke, he came up with the illustrations for this picture book which we’re highlighting for African American History Month (also known as Black History Month). If you didn’t see yesterday’s post where we interviewed author Susan VanHecke, please click here to read it.
BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY
We’re joining other reviewers this week as part of a special Charlesbridge Publishing blog tour and hope you’ll take the time to visit all the bloggers’ sites. We’re also delighted to be giving away one copy of Under The Freedom Tree, so enter by clicking here for a chance to win. This giveaway ends at midnight PST on February 24, 2014. Please be sure to write Freedom Tree in the subject line and include your address. Like us on Facebook for an extra entry. A winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified via email on February 25th. Good luck!
Under The Freedom Tree shares the story of three captured slaves, Frank, James and Shepard, during the Civil War, who take an enormous risk to escape across dangerous waters in Virginia to reach the Union Army on the other side only to discover they are still not totally free. However, with the help of clever General Butler, a lawyer before the Civil War, the three fugitives are able to remain with the Union side on a technicality. The winds of change were beginning to blow in the right direction.
Cover image, Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.
VanHecke delivers a powerful tale told poetically in free verse and based on actual accounts of the creation of America’s first “contraband camps.” After word of Frank, James and Shepard’s successful escape, others followed suit. First hundreds then thousands.
Better forward than back.
Former slaves built a community in what was known as Slabtown, or the Grand Contraband Camp. By day they worked for the Union, but they were freer than they’d ever been, some living in a home of their own for the very first time. Silent witness to this all was the majestic old oak tree, the Freedom Tree. Illustrator Ladd conveys so much spirit and emotion in every spread, whether by depicting children being taught under the shade of the oak or the joyful gathering of the community to hear the reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “Lives forever changed under the Freedom Tree.”
Be sure to sit down with your kids and read this fantastic picture book that helps shed light on a little-known yet inspiring event of the Civil War. Also included are a bibliography and author’s note at the end providing more historical information that helps place many of the events in Under The Freedom Tree in context.
INTERVIEW WITH LONDON LADD
Good Reads With Ronna: When a publisher approaches you with a book to illustrate, do you see the completed manuscript or is it still rough round the edges? I’m curious because I wonder if your illustrations have ever influenced the direction a book can take?
London Ladd: It depends on the publisher. Most of the time I’ll get a completed script, but there have been a few times I will get something that’s in the last stages of editing. It’s minor wording that doesn’t affect my ideas.
Good Reads With Ronna: What is your illustration process, i.e. do you research the subject matter, then sketch and finally paint the art to be used?
London Ladd: I’ll usually read and reread the manuscript, then I do a few small quick thumbnail sketches. After that I start diving into the research and this is the most fun because I get to learn new things, but sometimes I get so involved I get lost and have to pull myself back into focus. After gathering myself I do more sketches to storyboard all the pages. Then I take A LOT of reference photos. I draw the final sketches and send to the publisher for feedback and after things are approved I paint the final artwork.
GRWR: In terms of medium for Under the Freedom Tree, did you use acrylics and combine them with pastels and colored pencils like your bio describes or did you try something different with this book?
Ladd: I primarily use acrylic paint, but recently for Under the Freedom Tree, I’ve combined colored pencils and pastels. I feel it adds more depth to the art and creates a signature look. When I’m working I get messy so my clothes will get covered in paint. It’s a bad habit I’ve tried to stop but I get so locked in I can’t help it. In the past I’ve tried oils on top of the acrylics but when it got on my skin I had bad reactions and discontinued use.
Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.
GRWR: What is your favorite illustration in Under the Freedom Tree?
Ladd: That’s a difficult answer because I really love each illustration in this book for various reasons. If I had to pick one right now it would be the first page with them running because when I first read the manuscript that page came alive so clearly in my mind’s eye and heart. I could vividly hear the sound of the crickets chirping, the pounding feet of the three men in the tall grass, the hurried sound of their breathing in the night as they sneak off. If you watch the book trailer that’s exactly how I saw it in my head.
GRWR: Which was the most difficult to complete and why?
Ladd: I think the page where the people are rebuilding after the Confederate soldiers torched Hampton. I didn’t know how to approach it. What do I show? How do I convey in my illustration the words effectively? When I traveled to Hampton to do more extensive research and see landmarks like Emancipation Oak, Fort Monroe and Sewel’s Point (the spot where the men escaped from) I stopped in the Hampton History Museum and they had this amazing exhibit from that era. There was a replica of a burnt brick wall with an actual photo of Hampton after the fire in 1862. When I saw that I knew exactly how that page should look. It’s funny because without visiting I would have never created that page.
GRWR: Is it difficult as an illustrator to try to capture a unique moment in time and have your illustration convey a mood or incident?
Ladd: Wow that’s a good question. I guess it depends on the project. For March On I wasn’t born during the march on Washington so wanted to capture the moment. What would it be like if I was there and to be a part something so special? For Oprah I felt a connection to her story. I’m also an only child who had a fierce determination to better myself and succeed. With Under the Freedom Tree it was a spiritual experience for me as an African American. The issue of slavery can be a sensitive subject, that’s why it was so important for me to visit the sites and gain a deeper understanding of what I’m illustrating. To see the Emancipation Oak, a 400 year old tree that still stands to this day in person at Hampton University, and to stand on the very shore in Norfolk, VA and look across the Chesapeake Bay, filled me with so many ranges of emotions. The contraband slaves are not widely known in history so I wanted to illustrate their amazing story of bravery, courage and strength with honor.
Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.