Raise your hand if you are way not finished with holiday shopping! Raise your other hand if you love books!
Now wave those hands Rocky style cause I’ve got something fantastic for you.
Allow me to scoot over and introduce you to Dashka Slater and Jim Averbeck. They are pals and they are awesome. I asked them some questions, and now I really hope they have room for me in their friend brigade.
Carter: Because this has been Picture Book Idea Month, I have been obsessing over tiny seeds for picture books. I’m curious where your ideas come from and how you cultivate them?
Dashka: A lot of my ideas for picture books tend to come from children. DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER is based on an idea my son had when he was six, while THE SEA SERPENT AND ME is based on a story I wrote when I was ten. BABY SHOES and FIREFIGHTERS IN THE DARK were both inspired by my son’s obsessions when he was small. Lately, a lot of my ideas have centered around the form of the picture book itself — I’ve gotten increasingly interested in the tactile experience of the book, the interaction between art and text, and the possibilities that uniquely arise from things like trim size and page turns.
Jim: My ideas come from a number of places. Some of them have come from dreams. Some of them have come from conversations. OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON came from the name of a tour guide in China, which got me thinking about dragons, and a shower I took while there, which made me think little dragons would have a great reason for hating bath time. Some ideas have come from assignments. (IN A BLUE ROOM and EXCEPT IF both fall into this category.) My critique group always gives an assignment around Christmas time. This year the assignment is to write a picture book using one of the following as inspiration: “One Word,” “Things I Hate,” or “I’ve Been Thinking About Laughing.” I wonder what stories will come from these?
Carter: What is your favorite picture book of all time?
Jim: That’s a tough thing to choose. But the one I find myself going to when I need to remember what a picture book should be is Maurice Sendak’s OUTSIDE OVER THERE. It has an incredible, lyrical story that sound so good when read aloud. And then there’s KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes. When I got that, I threw it down in front of my critique group and exclaimed, “If the is any justice in this world, this will win the Caldecott this year!” It did.
Dashka: It’s hard to choose just one, because there are the ones that were childhood favorites and ones that are adult favorites. As a child, I loved A LITTLE HOUSE OF YOUR OWN by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers, which struck me as one of the truest books I’d ever read. It addresses the reader very directly about the need to have a little house, and I felt entirely understood by it as a child. It has lovely pen and ink illustrations, very simple. As an adult, one of my favorites is KING BIDGOOD’S IN THE BATHTUB by Audrey and Don Wood, which seems to me to be a perfect book — beautifully illustrated, very funny, and wonderful to read aloud. Another favorite is FISHING IN THE AIR by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Chris Raschka. A book that succeeds on so many levels, it’s almost miraculous.
Carter: Do you have a favorite word? (I really think you can learn a lot about someone in this very important question.)
Jim: Sendak, Bradbury, Schulz, and Mary Ann Meyer, my high school art teacher.
Dashka: Maurice Sendak, E. Nesbit, Lewis Carroll, Charlotte Zolotow and the film-makers Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Carter: What are you most excited about for 2013?
Dashka: I’m eager to finish my middle grade novel. “Finish,” means “cut like hell” as I’ve never written anything that didn’t start out much too long. So the book is ready to go on a major weight loss regimen, from which I’m hoping it will emerge lithe, sinuous and irresistible.
Jim: I have another picture book coming out in 2013, called THE MARKET BOWL. It’s especially dear to me because it takes place in Cameroon, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer. The Peace Corps has three goals: Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. So THE MARKET BOWL is my third goal fulfilled, at least a little. The book was a Junior Library Guild selection, so it is quite an honor to be able to fulfill my third goal obligations in this way.
I am also excited begin working with my editor on my first novel, A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT, for the middle grade audience.
Carter: What is your work space like and what is your favorite thing about it?
Jim: I work in two places. I write at the Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco. My favorite thing about it is that it is a library and that it is in San Francisco.
When I illustrate I work in a little 6×8 foot space in my house. It had lots of storage for books, art supplies and toys, and way too little space to work. My favorite thing about it is the tech: I have a very fast computer, which helps when I am working on huge files in Photoshop. And I also like the way you really can be in a little space in your home, but still be connected to the world via the internet and social media.
Dashka: I write from a large bird’s nest lined with moss and precious gems. My favorite thing about it is the parfait bar on a nearby tree limb and the team of masseurs.
Carter: If you weren’t a picture book writer/illustrator, what would you be?
Dashka: Extraordinarily irritable.
Jim: A novelist I hope. At least, if “independently wealthy” is already taken.
… though I plan to be both.
Carter: What color is your day today?
Jim: Today is brought to you by the color Cerulean.
Dashka: I’d love to say it was sea green, but alas, it was typography gray.
Seriously, how fun are they? Hey Dashka and Jim, if you’re ever in Burbank…
I’ll properly highlight their books in the coming weeks, but I wanted to tell you about something really special for the holidays. Along with a few other stellar authors and illustrators, Dashka and Jim are providing signed bookplates designed exclusively for their books. You can buy their books from your favorite local bookstore, or anywhere else you’d like, and they will mail you a signed bookplate to stick inside. Cool, right?
I love, love, love this idea. If you are gifting picture books, (and why would you not be!) check this out for sure. Huge kudos to this bunch of authors and illustrators for connecting with readers like this. Now…to shop.
Dangerously Ever After (Dial Books for Young Readers, September 2012)
Princess Amanita laughs in the face of danger. Brakeless bicycles, pet scorpions, spiky plants–that’s her thing. So when quiet Prince Florian gives her roses, Amanita is unimpressed . . . until she sees their glorious thorns! Now she must have rose seeds of her own. But when huge, honking noses grow instead, what is a princess with a taste for danger to do?
Oh No, Little Dragon (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, August 2012)
Written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck
With a PHOOSH and a Grrrrrr and a CANNONBAAAALLLLLL! Little Dragon tears through his day (and the house). But even when he gets a little too rambunctious, there’s no OH NO! that Mama’s kiss can’t fix.