Friday, May 20, 2016

Interview Session: Peter Brown


When Peter visited Lemuria Books back in April, we sat down to talk about his newest book for kids: The Wild Robot. Charting a new path by writing a chapter book, this book is heartfelt, has adorable characters, and full of strange and mysterious things while at the same time feels very familiar. Many thanks to Peter for answering my questions! 

Peter Brown and Clara Martin stand by a life size Roz!


How did you enter the world of children’s books and illustrating books for kids?

PB: I studied animation at the Art Center College of Design. I wanted to make characters come to life. Once I experienced [animation] up close, it was not as comfortable as I thought.

Why did you switch to illustration?

PB: I was studying illustration the whole time, and when I realized that animation wasn’t right for me, I still loved characters and children’s books, so that was a way for me to continue creating characters. My books are like little short films. I’m the director, the costume designer, and I control the lighting.

What are your favorite children’s books?

PB: Frog and Toad Are Friends and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. I fell in love with the Hobbit too. I wasn’t much of a reader, but I loved making stories. Since I wasn’t a fast reader I did not spend as much time reading.

What artists or animators have inspired you?

PB: Eyvind Earle. He was a Disney artist responsible for the look of Sleeping Beauty. His art is so graphic, bold, and textual. He was a real influence on me.

What was your first book?

PB: The Flight of the Dodo. I graduated and moved to New York City and started making picture books for kids. I fell in love with words. Eventually, I fell so in love with words that I made a novel.

That first novel is The Wild Robot. Tell me a little about it.

PB: I first got the idea when I was writing The Curious Garden. The total time to write, from the initial idea to the completed project, was eight years. I spent two-and-a-half years actually working on it. The first years were important.

What was your favorite animal to write about in The Wild Robot?

PB: Roz’s adopted son, Brightbill. Geese are interesting animals because we don’t think of them as such. They have interesting behaviors like migrating and imprinting. A gosling was perfect for my story because in the real world geese can imprint on people, so maybe they can imprint on a robot. I was also able to touch on real human emotions, such as “leaving the nest.”

What surprised you about Roz?

PB: She’s a robot. I was surprised by the similarities between my robot main character and myself. We have to find that little voice in our mind and explore that. I like a strict routine; I’m a creature of habit and a perfectionist, all things in common with Roz.


What upcoming projects do you have next?

PB: A sequel to The Wild Robot. There is no title yet. The second book will be as surprising and intriguing as the first one.


Peter speaks to captivated students at a school.



The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

New York Times Bestselling Author Peter Brown ventures into wild territory with the chapter book, and he emerges unscathed. The Wild Robot is a wonderful tale for children with a great moral. We cannot survive without the earth, and in turn, the earth cannot survive if we do not take care of it.

One hurricane. Four crates. Only one washes safely ashore an island. Inside? A robot named Roz. Roz is solar powered and full of “Survival Instincts.” Her shiny exterior is soon marked by scrapes and mud as she traverses over the wild landscape of the island. She cannot understand the language that the animals speak. She discovers ways to camouflage herself so that the animals do not run away in fear of the “monster” on the island.

She began by smearing handfuls of thick mud over her entire body. Then she grabbed clumps of ferns and grasses and sank their roots into her new coat of mud. She placed colorful flowers around her face to disguise her flowing eyes, and any bare patches were covered with pebbles and strips of moss…The camouflaged robot now looked like a great tuft of plants walking through the twilight. She padded to the center of a forest meadow, nestled herself into a hillock, and became part of the landscape.

This disguise offers her the ability to observe the animals and their behavior, and after several weeks of disguising herself as a clump of seaweed or a stone in the forest, she can understand the language of animals. Only once she becomes “one with nature” can she communicate with the animals and speak to them in their own language. After Roz causes a rockslide that leaves a family of geese dead, she rescues the last, small egg. She makes it her mission to ensure that the egg and the gosling inside, survive.

Mama! Mama!” The gosling thinks Roz is his mother. Roz knows nothing about being a gosling mother, but with help from the other animals, Roz builds a home for herself and Brightbill, the baby goose. Loudwing, the know-it-all goose helps Brightbill swim. Mr. Beaver and his family help build a large robot-sized home out of birch trees, known as the “Nest”. Tawny the deer shows Roz how to garden and grow berries. Chitchat the squirrel is Brightbill’s first friend. These island creatures show that we cannot exist in this world without taking care of the earth, and helping each other. Roz learns that although she has perhaps “higher thinking,” it is the animals, and her adopted son, Brightbill, who teach her what it means to be a part of the wilderness, how important it is to take care of the one earth we are given.

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Signed copies of The Wild Robot can be purchased here.





Thursday, May 12, 2016

Interview Session: Matt de la Peña, Newbery Medal Winner 2016

What does it mean when a picture book wins the Newbery Medal from an author who primarily writes novels? There is a shift in the way picture books are being used to communicate big picture ideas to small children. From The New York Timesarticle, "Masters of Prose Warm Up to Children's Picture Books," there is a paragraph that nails the appeal of picture books to authors who normally write novels. 

"Picture books, typically written for 3- to 7- year-olds, could represent the next frontier for writers seeking to further expand their audiences by reaching even younger demographic. It also may help them hook impressionable young readers--sometimes before they can read." 

Matt de la Peña has done just that in his picture book (illustrated by Christian Robinson), Last Stop on Market Street, which won the Newbery Medal this year. The Newbery is for the greatest contribution to children's literature in America, and this story of kindness, of loving fellow humans from all walks of life, and in seeing the beauty even among the broken and dirty parts of their city, covers the human condition in approximately 32 pages. CJ and his Nana take the bus, but it is more than just a bus ride. It is an adventure. It is filled with fire breathing dragons, beautiful music, and people helping other people.

"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt...you're a better witness for what's beautiful." 


Matt de la Peña answers some questions about himself and about his book, Last Stop on Market Street.



20xJ: Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you do anything else in addition to writing great books?

Matt: I’m from National City, which is right on the Mexican border in San Diego. It’s actually the setting of my second book, Mexican WhiteBoy. For the past ten years, though—wow, TEN YEARS!—I’ve lived in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to writing, I teach in the low residency MFA program at Hamline University (alongside superstars like Gene Yang and E. Lockhart and Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu) and visit a lot of schools around the country.

20xJ: When did you get your start as a writer? You went to school on a full basketball scholarship—how did that turn into writing?

Matt: I was a secret writer all through high school. Spoken word poetry. I loved the music I could make with words. I loved basketball growing up, but I also knew it was my best chance to become the first de la Peña to go to college. Even when I was young I sort of viewed the game as a path to education. And once I stepped foot on my college campus, my focus shifted. I took every class I could. I read every book a professor mentioned. And I continued writing in secret. During my junior year I submitted a poem to a big college-wide contest. It was the first time I ever let my work travel beyond my notebook. And it won! That validation was incredibly powerful. For the first time ever I gave myself permission to dream . . . I wonder if I could ever be a writer?

20xJ: You are primarily a writer of Young Adult novels. Why did you choose to write The Last Stop On Market Street as a picture book? 

Matt: I have a lot of stories I want to tell. And the more experienced I get, the more I realize they require different approaches. I grew up in a super working class family, and I always viewed my context as beautiful—especially once I left for college. But I didn’t think I could hit that idea head on in a YA novel. And then I had the opportunity to do a book with Christian Robinson, who I greatly admire. It was the perfect marriage. I got to write about a kid learning to perceive himself as beautiful (both physically and contextually), minus the hormones. If I saddled this story to an older character it would be a different thing.


20xJ: There need to be more nanas like CJ’s nana in the world. She sees the bright side to every situtation. When CJ asks a million questions about the world (like most little kids do), Nana is patient. When CJ asks, “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” Nana replies with “Boy, what do we need car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” Was there a “nana” in your life that inspired Nana’s character? 

Matt: My Mexican grandma was much more subtle. She guided young me by patting my knee when I started to mouth off. I grew to see the power in her silence, though. She was a powerful presence in my life, but she was also strangely ghostly. If that makes sense. And then she was gone. Christian Robinson had a grandmother like Nana, however. I met her as I was writing the book. I saw the strength in her eyes.

20xJ: The wonderful thing about Last Stop On Market Street is that it is a story that could take place anywhere—in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans. Where is Market Street for you?

Matt: I love when folks claim it as their own Market Street. I recently had a woman tell me, “I’m so happy you wrote about Newark, New Jersey.” And I told her, “Yeah. Newark. Exactly.” Truth is, I imagined Los Angeles when I wrote the book. I lived there for four years and rode the bus everywhere. Christian imagined San Francisco, where he now lives.



20xJ: I know it must be hard to choose, but which of Christian Robinson’s illustrations in Last Stop On Market Street is your favorite?


Matt: The dream sequence, when CJ closes his eyes to listen to the music. That spreads makes me want to cry.

“CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” 

20xJ: Another tough one, but what was your favorite line or passage to write in Last Stop On Market Street?

Matt: Okay, this feels weird, praising my own words, but I like this line: “CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound / and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” I like the music of that one. I had to fight for the rep of “sound” which is absolutely vital to me.

20xJ: What were your favorite books as a child? And/or your favorite books now? 

Matt: Sadly, I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros about a dozen times. It was so good, I thought, “Why should I read anything else? This one works!” A couple favorites now: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, and Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

20xJ: What is your favorite line in literature?

Matt: From McCarthy’s The Road: “Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorry it.”

20xJ: On the ALA website, one of the definitions of the Newbery Medal is that it is a “‘contribution to American literature for children shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

I think everyone ages 0-99 should read this book. What is your dream for Last Stop On Market Street? In other words, how would you like for it to inspire children?

Matt: I feel like one of the most important things you can do as a writer is let go. Once a book leaves your computer it is no longer fully yours. My dream is for readers to interact with my stories, period. What an honor. But it is the reader who makes a book special. So, it’s hard for me to speak to this with much insight. I will say this, however, it’s important to me that diverse readers encounter diverse characters. This is a validating experience.

20xJ: You are also the first Latino male to be awarded the Newbery. This recognition of a Latino author has been a long time coming, but hopefully, as racially diverse as America is, this will continue to shape the way books are made and for whom they are made.

What does winning the Newbery mean to you, and how do you hope this encourages other Latino authors as well as other diverse authors?

Matt: Winning the Newbery is a humbling, humbling experience. It means a committee of really thoughtful readers liked my book. A lot. How insane is that? And I’m definitely proud to be a Latino writer. I hope all the brilliant Latino/Latina writers of the past and present view this as a recognition or our diverse community and that it inspires young Latinos coming up to read their way through the world and consider a path in the arts. 

20xJ: In a society of consumerism, a society that wants more things, we see CJ’s complaints that reflect that way of life (why can’t he have an iPod like the teenagers on the bus)? You write about connecting to human people. On the bus, there is a man with tattoos, a woman with a jar of butterflies, a blind man, and a man playing guitar. 

Once CJ closes his eyes, he is transported. “CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” 
How does writing and music connect people? What do you hope to accomplish or write next? 

Matt: Music is so visceral. But not just the music of music. The music of poetry is like that, too. I wish more people could see the poetry in their lives. I wish we would all be more comfortable in silence, in boredom, in our work. There’s poetry all around us. Even some forms of sadness are bursting with poetry.

I can’t wait for my next picture book to come out. It’s called Carmela Full of Wishes, and it follows a young Mexican girl on a trip to do errands with her brother. She, too, is in search of poetry.


Visit Matt's website at http://mattdelapena.com/


Thanks, Matt! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Perfect Books for Moms and Grandmas

Mothers are superwomen. They make sure the books get read, the homework is completed, the teeth brushed and hair brushed too (on good days). They do all of that and so much more. What do you get a mom who loves to read to her kids? These books might help you out. Happy Mother's Day!


You Made Me A Mother by Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (illustrator of Fancy Nancy

This book is a beautiful little story about the mother’s journey alongside her child’s growing up. “If I could, I would open my heart, and love would rain down all over you.” 
I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site)

Illustrated in pastel colors by Lichtenheld, I Wish You More is a sweet book that goes both ways—parents can have wishes for their children, such as “more treasures than pockets.” In turn, a child can wish happiness on his or her mother. The book ends with the line, “I wish you more stories than stars.”

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Mati McDonough

One of my all-time favorite poems is beautifully illustrated in this book with cut paper illustrations to demonstrate a mother’s love for her child. The book works dually in that it can be given to a child, and also given to a mother. 
An excerpt: 

“and it’s you whatever a moon has always meant/and whatever a sun will always sing is you/ here is the deepest secret that nobody knows/ (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud)/ and the sky of the sky of the a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)/ and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart/ i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)” 



Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

Claire Keane is the concept artist for Tangled and Frozen, and she brings the same dreamy, pastel look to her illustrations. One of my all time favorites for Mother’s Day, a little girl named Celeste wonders what would be the perfect gift for her mother? It takes exploring the sunny skies, traveling on a cloud, and swooping above the earth before she realizes that the best gifts are those from the heart. 

"Celeste wanted the perfect gift for her mom." 

Don't forget about the grandmas!

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

I love this story, in that it explains so perfectly the generation and language gap between grandparents who may speak a different language from their grandchildren. In this case, a little girl’s grandma comes to stay, but “when I show Abuela my new book, she can’t unlock the English words.” In turn, the little girl’s español is not good enough “to tell her the things an abuela should know. Like how I am the very best in art and who I can run as fast as the boys.” When Mango the parrot joins their family, granddaughter and grandmother learn to practice each other’s language with Mango who can speak spanish AND english. 


Nana in the City written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo 

A little boy goes to visit his nana in the city, but he is scared of the loud noises and overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. He says, “It is no place for a nana to live.” Nana knows best, and knits her grandson a cape to help him stay brave when they explore the city the next day. Nana wears red glasses, a red purse, and red boots, and a hat with a red feather in it. She is kind, warm, and shows her grandson that in this world, it is better to be brave than to be afraid. 


Friday, April 29, 2016

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Looking for your first summer read of 2016 that embodies everything that is perfect (and unexpected) about a summer spent at home in a job you never in a million years thought you would have? For fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson's The Unexpected Everything is everything a summer read should be, and more. It's available 5/3/16!



Andie Walker has every detail of her summer planned. She’s heading to John Hopkins for a very selective summer program for students who want to study pre-med in college. Her friends, Toby, Bri, and Palmer are thick as thieves, and she can’t imagine anything fracturing their friendship.

When Andie’s father, a member of Congress, is suddenly in the spotlight for a scandal involving misappropriation of funds, Andie’s perfectly planned summer goes down the drain in one fell swoop. She loses her prestigious internship at John Hopkins and finds herself without a job, or internship, stuck in Stanwich Connecticut for the summer. The bright side is that her friends will all be in town. Looking for something to do, Andie applies for a position as a dog-walker with Dave and Maya’s Pet Care, despite the fact that she’s never walked a dog in her life.

One of Andie’s first assignments is to walk Bertie, a large, white and fluffy dog named who would rather be escaping his leash than being walked. Walking Bertie leads her to Clark, a stranger from out of town who seems even more clueless about walking dogs than she is, but their friendship helps Andie survive the summer she didn’t think she wanted.

Morgan Matson has written the perfect summer read. Fun and lighthearted, it doesn’t shy away from the realistic portrayal of friendships between girls who are keeping secrets from each other, relationships between family members who haven’t sat down to a meal together in years, and above all, what it’s like to walk multiple dogs at once.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Finish National Poetry Month with a Book of Poems

In the first grade, I read Jack Prelutsky’s A Pizza the Size of the Sun. It changed the way I looked at words and at reading. If I could read one page of poetry, I could read two. I came to love reading first by loving poetry.

In my six-year-old mind, the rhymes were funny, the stories they told made absolutely no sense, and I wanted more of them. In these kinds of stories, pizzas could be as large as the sun. You could fall UP instead of down in Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, Falling Up. What did I learn as a six-year-old reading poetry? The rules of the universe didn’t apply in poems.

Much later I learned that poems did reflect the real world, sometimes in flowery Shakespearean sonnets, and other times in quick stanzas of reality as in William Carlos Williams’ poems, i.e. “This Is Just To Say.”

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


We introduce words and language to children in rhymes. All of Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes are poetry. The children’s books that stick in our brains long past our childhood—they all rhyme! Madeline, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Green Eggs and Ham, and the list continues.

So I encourage those among you who may not enjoy reading poetry for yourself to pick up a poem and read it out loud to your child this last week of National Poetry Month. I promise, if the poem is funny, if there are accompanying illustrations, then anything is possible! You may end up reading two or three.

As Shel Silverstein says in his poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts” from Where the Sidewalk Ends:

Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child,
      Listen to the DON'TS
      Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT'S
      Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
      Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.


Other Great Books of Poetry for Children:

The Maine Coon’s Haiku by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Lee White

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children by Caroline Kennedy, Paintings by Jon J Muth

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad

What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? by Judith Viorst


Little Poems for Tiny Ears Poems by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola 





Friday, April 22, 2016

Interview Session: Erin and Philip Stead

When Erin and Phil Stead visited Lemuria Books in March, I was fortunate enough to speak with them about their writing, their art, who influences them, and what projects they have coming up. The live and work in a place that inspires their craft, and this conversation is between the three of us outside a coffee shop. 

Phil talks about his most recent book, Ideas Are All Around, and Erin talks about a time in her life when she wasn’t creating art, and the drawing that changed all of that and served as a springboard for the book that would change their lives—A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Both of them are as familiar with each other as a creative team who also happen to be husband and wife can be. Their conversation is organic, and reflects their calm demeanor and shy personalities. They both possess a very dry wit and keen sense of the world around them.

Thank you, Erin and Phil, for your kindness in speaking so honestly with me, and I hope that readers enjoy this interview!



Erin and Phil present "Storytime with the Steads" at Lemuria Books.

Where are you from and where do you live now?

Erin: We are from Michigan and we most of the time live in a place in Northern Michigan called Leelanau County which is right outside of a national park. It’s rural, and there are a lot of orchards and beaches too, so it’s a neat place to live.

Phil: We live in a 115 year old farm house on a lot of land. It’s a nice and quiet place to live and work.


What did you do before writing and illustrating great books?

Erin (to Phil): You tried to make books.

Phil: Erin and I have known each other since high school and we have always been trying to make books. 

Erin: There were a few years when I still loved books, but I didn’t think that I should make them, so I stopped trying. I stopped drawing or making any art. It was a strange time. It was a short period of time, but it was definitive because it made me realize that without art I was really boring. 

Phil: After Erin took three years off of drawing, a friend of Erin’s asked her to make a drawing for him. She worked on this little drawing at her kitchen table in New York City, and the drawing was of an old man and an elephant. 

Erin (to Phil): You saw me draw it, and you wrote me a story. That was A Sick Day For Amos McGee.

Phil: And then suddenly we did make books for a living. 

Buy one of Erin's amazing prints here.


What were some of your favorite books as a child?

Phil: That’s an easy one. I loved Roald Dahl more than anything.

Erin: We both did.

Phil: I still love Roald Dahl. My favorite book of Dahl’s was The BFG. I read everything by Roald Dahl, and I think I imagined that I would become Roald Dahl. He is described as a caustic and sometimes nasty writer. Wicked is a word that is used to describe him. I think that his books are, inevitably, about kindness. So I think that our books and Dahl’s books have a lot in common for that reason. Whenever I pick up a Dahl book to this day, I feel a kinship with themes that he wrote that are themes that I like to explore. 

I also really loved William Steig. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was definitely my favorite picture book as a kid. I really only remember owning two picture books. One was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and the other was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. I think that both of those books influenced the types of books I was going to make later in my life.

Erin: If Phil only remembers owning two picture books I remember owning a lot. I was the third child so I inherited books. My mom was really good at getting me picture books no matter what age I was, which was really important. My godmother also did that, she was an elementary teacher at an inner city school in Detroit, and she really had her finger on the pulse of what was new, so I have some first editions of books that went on to win the Caldecott.

The first book I remember reading out loud was in Kindergarten, but that was because we were all supposed to read it out loud. I had memorized the book, and it was Where The Wild Things Are. My other favorite book was The Snowy Day. I had good taste, but it wasn’t that I was an original child. 
I also loved being read aloud to, so any book that my teacher would read to me I loved. Those are the memories that I hold dear. Charlotte’s Web was also a big influence.

Who are some authors and illustrators who inspire you today?

Erin: Someone we have always loved is Carll Cneut. He is Belgian, and his work is amazing. He’s published a few of his books here, but they never caught. So we own a lot of his books that we can’t read because they are written in french. 

Phil: Before we were published, when we were just students, I really wanted my work to look and feel like Carll Cneut’s books. 

Erin: I was working in a bookstore, and when we received a few of his books I was so taken by them.

Phil: My favorite book of his is The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf. I just recently read it again and I was amazed at how much I had copied it in the way that I write. I must have read it so many times that I think it exists inside me. I think all of our books are some version of The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf. 

Erin: It was published by Clarion and I think we bought all of them.

The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf by Carll Cneut, Clarion Books, 2003 

Erin: I think one of the neat things now that I never expected is that a lot of the people we admire the most we are lucky enough to call friends. 
I love Mac Barnett’s writing and he’s a friend. I love Jon Klassen’s illustrations and he’s a friend. 

Phil: Maybe my favorite contemporary book maker that I consider a peer is Tao Nyeu. She’s only published a few books, but some of the ones that are out are some of the most influential, to me, now. Her first book is called Wonder Bear. It is beautiful, groundbreaking, and extraordinary. I think it is a book that will last a long time. I think it has been really influential in the minds of artists in the last couple of years. Her second book, Bunny Days, is my favorite. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve only read a few books ever that only exist in the mind of a five-year-old. 

Erin: Yes, and the way that it [Bunny Days] makes adults uncomfortable, specifically because it is true to kid logic. 

Phil: It is told in three short stories. In one of the stories, a bunch of bunnies get thrown into a washing machine. Parents have trouble with this part of the story according to online reviews, but to kids, they don’t even question it. But to five year olds, it’s perfectly normal. 

Erin: Their best friends get thrown into the washing machine all the time. 

Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010



How does your writing and illustrating process usually work? 

Erin: Every day is different. I think that Phil and I both wish we had a routine and we don’t. I also think that the Caldecott actually does change your life. Here we are five years later after Amos came out, and we are still trying to chase after a routine. We wake up in the morning, we walk the dog, and do some business. We have slow mornings, and we don’t start any creative work until at least after lunch.

Phil: No matter how many years we do this, I never stop being afraid to work. Every single day I avoid and procrastinate and avoid getting into the studio because every day is a little bit scary. There’s always something to overcome.

Speaking of getting your ideas, this question is for Phil. Can you talk about Ideas Are All Around and why you decided to write this book? It’s a poetic book; each page is poetry. It’s an ode to inspiring writer and artists.

Phil: Thank you. I actually didn’t intend to write this book in the way that I intended to write my other books. It actually came from different scraps and pieces of writing without any intention of compiling them into any kind of story. I was working on pitching a different project, Samson in the Snow, and while I was pitching that book to my editor, I also sent him some scraps of writing I had been doing. Neal Porter, our editor, was excited about those scraps, and asked if that could be a book. Thus began the process of finding the book within those scraps. It’s a book about creativity, a book about the process of finding an idea and developing an idea. More than that it’s about what it means to live an open life, to live in a community, to live with kindness and respect to the world around you. 
The nuts and bolts of the writing process are actually just the structure on which the rest of it hangs.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead, Roaring Brook Press, 2016


What was your favorite book to work on together?

Erin: Bear Has a Story to Tell was the easiest.

Phil: That one was the most fun. Erin was working on And Then It’s Spring, and Erin drew an illustration of three bears, and as soon as I saw that illustration, I knew that I wanted to write something about a bear because I loved the way she illustrated those characters. I wrote the first draft the same day I saw her illustration, and the first and final draft were almost identical, so it was an effortless writing process. Once it was handed to Erin it was as close to an effortless illustration process the we can get.

Erin: It was the first period of time that it really felt like we could pull this whole book making thing off, like something we could continue to do. Bear Has a Story to Tell was the first one we were able to make without as much terror. 

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead, Roaring Brook, 2012


Do you have the illustrations in mind before writing, or do the words come first?

Erin: It can happen either way.

Phil: In the case of Amos, [A Sick Day For Amos McGee], there was the image that came first. At first there was the image that Erin made at the kitchen table. Then more images appeared in mind, an image of the old man playing chess with an elephant and an image of an old man running a race with a tortoise. The visual middle of the story first came to my mind for that book. We developed the character and then developed the story. 

With Bear Has a Story to Tell, I saw an image of a bear, but the story just existed from start to finish, and then the story belonged to Erin.

Both of you illustrate, so what art style do you like to use?

Phil: I would describe myself as eclectic. I like to use different mediums and try different styles. 

In Ideas Are All Around, I love the page that is just pictures of the sky. 

Phil: In the case of my new book, that is as eclectic as I get. I didn’t plan that I wanted it to look a certain way, I just wanted it to look like a visual diary.

Erin (to Phil): Taking polaroids is how you tend to journal your life.

Phil: Polaroids, charcoal drawings, it all made it into that book. It was very natural to make. 

Erin: I consider myself someone who draws and has to figure out how to add color with every drawing. We change our medium with the story we are trying to tell and the characters we are trying to describe. We have to learn how to make art all over again because we are trying to be good illustrators. 

Phil: With A Sick Day For Amos McGee, that book is made with woodblock printing which is a slow and deliberate process. It fits with Amos McGee, who is a slow and deliberate character. Whereas Bear Has a Story to Tell, the main character, Bear, is neither slow nor deliberate. He’s bundling, off the cuff, a little bit of a mess, so we felt the art should reflect him.

Erin: The medium was different. It was painted with ground up chalk pastels so it was almost like painting with mud. 

Phil: If you take A Home for Bird, prior to that book, I had only made books using collage. Collage didn’t seem right for A Home for Bird, and in the end, I used crayon as my primary medium because crayon is an honest and simple material, and Vernon is honest and simple.


Phil demonstrates his illustration process to a captive audience

If you could walk into any of your stories, which one would you choose, and why?

Erin & Phil: A Sick Day For Amos McGee

Phil: It just seems like a nice place to be. It is a reflection of how we wish the world worked. place that we wish the world 

Erin: Amos was going to be my one shot to make a book. Even though I was trying to tell a good story, it reflects all my favorite things. The color palette is the truest color palette of what I’m drawn to. It’s orderly.

Phil: I might also want to visit Sebastian and the Balloon because it gave me strange dreams while I was working on it.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead, Roaring Brook, 2010


Any new projects coming up? 

Erin: We both have books coming out in the fall. It has been a busy couple of years for us. I have a book called The Uncorked of Ocean Bottles. 

Phil: I have a picture book this fall called Samson in the Snow which is a simple story about a woolly mammoth who goes looking for a friend in a snow storm.

Erin: The reason I picked this book up is because it felt like a book my mom would have bought me. 

What do you love about creating picture books for children and adults?

Erin: The thing that I love about making picture books for children, and the adults who love picture books as well, is that the audience is about as honest an audience you could chase after. It’s scary because you can lose a two year old really fast in a book. At the same time, a two year old isn’t politically motive, or isn’t concerned about the ulterior motive of the rabbit [in Bunny Days]. Our job is to take these really broad feelings of what it like to just be human and distill them into very short stories that attempts to be relatable to anyone. It’s a really interesting problem to attack with every book. I really love the challenge that book making gives me, and the challenge of how to tell the story in such a short amount of time.


Phil: I think I was drawn to making books for children because I felt that children’s books were in some way subversive. They aren’t being scrutinized in the same kind of way that art or writing for adults is. you can get away with tackling really difficult stuff that matters. What does it mean to live in a world that has kindness and cruelty? What does it mean to live in a world where people are lonely? These things can be dealt with in any art form, but there is something about the purity of children’s books, and the fact that the audience still believes in a kind of magic that makes making picture books a worthwhile endeavor to me. 

Phil and Erin inside of OZ, the Children's Section of Lemuria Books.

**Giveaway Time**
I will be giving away one first edition copy of Ideas Are All Around, signed by Philip Stead. 

Rules to Enter: (U.S. Only) 
Must follow @20xJenny on Twitter or @20xjennybooks on Instagram. 
On Twitter, retweet the interview link with the hashtag #ideasgiveaway. 
On Instagram, repost the photo, and include the hashtag #ideasgiveaway.

Winner will be randomly drawn on Saturday, April 30, 12 p.m. EST.