Julie Danielson

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Mac Barnett likes to break the rules in picture books, such as in 2009’s warped guessing-game book, Guess Again! In his latest picture book, Count the Monkeys, he turns your typical counting book for young children on its head, and the results are terrifically fun.

Barnett and illustrator Kevin Cornell, who both nail the compelling page turn in this book, get right to work on the title page: “Hey, kids! Time to count the monkeys! It’s fun. It’s easy. All you have to do is turn the page. . .” Don’t hold your breath, though: On the first spread, one king cobra has scared off the monkeys, and we see only monkey tails to the right, as the creatures flee. This continues, as we see crocodiles, grizzly bears, bee swarms, lumberjacks, and much more. To be sure, we readers count on each successive spread—up to “ten polka-dotted rhinoceroses with bagpipes and bad breath,” no less. But we count without any actual monkeys. Welcome to Mac’s world: Things are never what you expect.

A book filled with abundant humor and lots of visual treats for children, this one was clearly created as a read-aloud. Barnett invites child readers to participate—move their hands in a zig-zag fashion to confuse the crocodiles, say “thank you” six times to the six sweet old beekeepers, cover their eyes to avoid the seven wolves, and even give each of the eight lumberjacks a high-five—and it’s a thrilling storytime romp, perfect for groups of children at one sitting. Best of all, Barnett is clever and quick-witted, his comic pacing just right: On the mongoose spread, he’s just about to celebrate the disappearance of the king cobra but sidetracks himself: “Look! 2 mongooses have chased away that cobra! Or is that 2 mongeese? I am pretty sure it is 2 mongooses.” Naturally, he asks readers for a vote.  

Cornell’s dry-humored, brightly colored cartoon art is the perfect fit here. He places the reader right in the center of the action—don’t be afraid of that dizzy bee swarm, and be sure not to lock eyes with that wolf right in front of you—and his characters are exaggerated, their facial expressions particularly entertaining. He expertly builds the book’s tension as each spread gets more crowded.

Despite the hand-wringing at the close (“This is terrible! We made it to the end and there are 0 MONKEYS in this book”), this is a book that makes clever use of the endpapers. There may be a last-minute monkey sighting after all, but even if there never were, children would surely enjoy the ride.  

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

Mac Barnett likes to break the rules in picture books, such as in 2009’s warped guessing-game book, Guess Again! In his latest picture book, Count the Monkeys, he turns your typical counting book for young children on its head, and the results are terrifically fun. Barnett and illustrator Kevin Cornell, who both nail the compelling […]
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Poor Duncan. He heads for his crayons one day in class, only to find a stack of letters waiting. He simply wants to color, but instead he has 12 manifestos to read. Little did Duncan know his crayons are beleaguered, bitter and beset with all sorts of headaches.

Purple is about to lose it and would like Duncan to color inside the lines. Black is tired of being used merely for the outlines of things (“how about a BLACK beach ball some time?”), and Pink is tired of limitations (why not a pink dinosaur or cowboy?). Peach wraps it all up with a confession: Since Duncan peeled his paper off, he’s naked and too humiliated to leave the box. There’s much more from the poor, persecuted pieces of wax in author Drew Daywalt’s clever picture book debut, The Day the Crayons Quit.

Each spread shows a crayon’s protest letter on the left and the pontificating crayon on the right. The crayons use Duncan’s drawings to prove their points: Beige wilts in front of a piece of wheat, one of only two things he draws, since Mr. Brown Crayon gets all the fun stuff. In the funniest spread, White Crayon, who feels empty, demonstrates Duncan’s “white cat in the snow,” just two eyes, a mouth, a nose and whiskers in an empty white space.

There’s a lot of humor in Oliver Jeffers’ relaxed, naïf illustrations, made to look like a child’s artwork: a pink monster; Santa Claus on a red fire truck (Red Crayon is tired of working, even on holidays!); and the triumphant, colorful final spread, in which Duncan attempts a piece of art to make all the crayons happy.

Sure to draw in young readers (the crayons demanded I use that pun), this entertaining set of monologues will also tickle their funny bones.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Oliver Jeffers for The Day the Crayons Quit.

Poor Duncan. He heads for his crayons one day in class, only to find a stack of letters waiting. He simply wants to color, but instead he has 12 manifestos to read. Little did Duncan know his crayons are beleaguered, bitter and beset with all sorts of headaches. Purple is about to lose it and […]
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In Funny Business, his 2009 collection of interviews with children’s book authors who write comedy, Leonard Marcus notes that humorist Will Rogers once said, “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.”

In Mo Willems’ new picture book, That Is NOT a Good Idea!, part of the story’s surprise is that it provides a delicious (in more ways than one) twist on who precisely this Somebody Else is.

It is clearer than ever before with this new book that Willems once worked in the field of animation. The story is laid out as if one is watching a silent film. As the book’s cover makes evident, a group of goslings are watching and responding to the action on what we assume is a screen. On the opening spread, rendered via watercolors and pencil with some digital color enhancement, we see a fox has spotted a goose. The next spread—white letters on a black background, just as if we’re seeing the onscreen intertitle of a silent film—has merely “What luck!” on the left and “Dinner!” on the right. Readers assume these are the fox’s words, as he continues to woo the goose, luring her to his home for dinner. (One assumes she’ll be the one cooked, not the one served a meal.)

With the exception of those first two spreads, as well as the final ones, Willems devotes half of each spread to an illustration and the other to the intertitles, the fox’s words consistently on the left and the goose’s on the right. These spreads are alternated with the goslings’ passionate cries of warning about what a disastrous idea it is for her to go to the fox’s home: More and more appear as the story progresses, and they jump and yell, “That is really not a good idea!” It’s funny stuff, these interruptions from the dramatic geese, who are staring right at readers, as if we’re the screen.

The ending reminds us we may have assumed too much in the beginning. Could it have been the goose who initially thought about dinner when she first met the fox? I won’t ruin the finale of this clever, entertaining tale. It makes for a great storytime read-aloud, but just know the reading will likely be interrupted by children laughing loudly and exuberantly.

Like the goose (or was it the fox?), you’ve been warned.

Julie Danielson features the work of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

In Funny Business, his 2009 collection of interviews with children’s book authors who write comedy, Leonard Marcus notes that humorist Will Rogers once said, “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.” In Mo Willems’ new picture book, That Is NOT a Good Idea!, part of the story’s surprise is that […]
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I have no doubt it’s hard to write what picture book author George Shannon, for one, calls “quiet picture books,” the ones that are contemplative and introspective. The challenge is to keep the pace of such stories compelling and to keep them from being, as Shannon writes, “lifeless.”

Cue poet and author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead. With last year’s And Then It’s Spring, they presented such a well-crafted, quiet book, it could be considered a case study in such endeavors. Now they’re back with If You Want to See a Whale, another exquisite story of waiting and wonder.

“[I]f you want to see a whale / you will need a window,” the book opens. As in their previous book, Fogliano gives readers what is essentially a poem, Stead’s challenge being to bring these inviting and abstract words to life with concrete details. In this case, she chooses a young boy—his dog and an ever-present bird as his companions. It is the boy who seeks the whale. He needs time, patience and focus. It’s hard when there are such things in this life as pink, sweet roses, clouds floating by and mysterious ships at sea with “possible pirates.” Fogliano writes with tenderness and humor (“pelicans who sit and stare can never be a whale”). She evokes the beauty and mystery of the boy’s world, capturing a child’s awe without being cloying.

Stead’s primarily pastel-colored illustrations, rendered via linoleum printing and pencil, are finely detailed and endear readers to the boy and his mission. Uncluttered and with ample white space on many spreads, they let this story breathe, fitting for a tale of the big and little wonders of life. Despite all the boy’s interruptions, there is a whale sighting in this book, and Stead renders it so majestically that I literally took in my breath when I turned the page. (And don’t forget to pull off the book’s jacket to see the whale on the cloth cover!)

Sparks fly when these two join forces. Quiet sparks. Here’s hoping they continue to collaborate.

I have no doubt it’s hard to write what picture book author George Shannon, for one, calls “quiet picture books,” the ones that are contemplative and introspective. The challenge is to keep the pace of such stories compelling and to keep them from being, as Shannon writes, “lifeless.” Cue poet and author Julie Fogliano and […]
Interview by

It’s a frigid day in Milwaukee when I call author-illustrator Lois Ehlert to talk about her newest book, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. Not surprisingly, she is inspired.

“It is these gray winter days that stir my creativity,” Ehlert says. “I am so happy to stay in and work. I am sitting here right now with a bag of scraps on my drawing board. I have green paint underneath my fingernails. I am as happy as a clam.”

It is this abundant creativity we have to thank for Ehlert’s long list of distinctive picture books for children in a career that has spanned decades and which once began with the study of graphic design.

Ehlert’s signature collage illustrations, which celebrate color, shape and form, immediately attract the curious eyes of the youngest of readers. In 1989, she received the Caldecott Honor for Color Zoo, and in 2006 the inventive Leaf Man, a story told with real autumn leaves, was awarded a Boston-Globe Horn Book Award. Early in her career, Ehlert illustrated the perennially best-selling Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.

From 'The Scraps Book,' reprinted with permission

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is an autobiographical picture book, filled with old family photos, bits of art, Ehlert’s inspirations, early sketches and book dummies. It is a splendid book, telling the story of Ehlert’s childhood and subsequent career as an illustrator, while also dispensing earnest yet never cloying bits of wisdom for young, aspiring artists. There is a real energy and spontaneity in Ehlert’s work, and the book captures that with style.

“It isn’t the kind of book you do when you are 21 years old,” Ehlert says. “I am not a formal person that likes to do a biography. That is not my world.”

The book was entirely her idea, not an editor’s or agent’s. “You have thoughts like this as you get older,” Ehlert explains. “I wanted to share. I do a lot of workshops with children at the art museum here. I delight in it. I need to set it down while I still have my marbles.”

From 'The Scraps Book,' reprinted with permission

Ehlert also shares photos of her personal collections in the book, everything from multicolored fabrics to folk art to ice fishing decoys. “There are a lot of things that call out to me, ‘Lois, buy me,’ ” she jokes, adding that it’s been frequent travels over her lifetime that have generated so many rich and diverse collections. “The world is full of such interesting things. I have Indian moccasins, textiles from all over the world. I have African masks, and I have pre-Columbian pots and a lot of books. I like fabric, so I have a lot of textiles with embroidery and stitching. I have pieces of clothing, children’s dresses from India, lovely things that probably will not exist in this world any longer. [They are from] a different time when people spent more time doing handwork.”

The Scraps Book is not only an affirmation of art, color and creativity, but it also serves as a touching tribute to Ehlert’s family. Raised by parents who encouraged her art—“I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands”—she always had art supplies and tools at the ready.

From 'The Scraps Book,' reprinted with permission

One spread features photos of her dad’s brush and her mother’s pinking shears. “It is another example of recycling,” Ehlert says. “It is [about] growing up with not much money—but a lot of spirit. I think that is also what I am trying to say. If you look at some of my books, [you see that] you do not have to go to the art supply store for everything. Look into nature.

“I asked my mother one time if she really knew what she was doing for me,” Ehlert adds. “She said no, that they just knew I was interested in [art]. Isn’t it wonderful that a parent is that perceptive?”

Nor did her parents discourage her from art school. “You would think they might, because I was the oldest of three children. How was I going to make a living, and how was it going to work out? You just have to follow your instincts. I have had other jobs, but if you love to do something, do it as well as you can.”

From 'The Scraps Book,' reprinted with permission

Find a spot for creating art, get comfortable and begin, Ehlert advises aspiring artists in the book. Oh, and don’t forget to get messy. Given that her tools are often as simple as scissors, construction paper and glue, it’s far from an intimidating notion for children, rich or poor. It’s empowering as well, one of many qualities that make this book special.

“My wish,” Ehlert says, “is that there will be little kids like I was, who read that and say, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can do it.’ It may take them 20 years. I was a relatively late bloomer.”

And it all began, as noted on the first page of The Scraps Book, with a young girl who read all the books on the library shelves and thought maybe someday she could make a book.

When I point out to Ehlert how much I love that opening, she says, “I had no clue how to do [it]. It is kind of funny, but look what happened.”

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

Images from The Scraps Book, reprinted with permission.

It’s a frigid day in Milwaukee when I call author-illustrator Lois Ehlert to talk about her newest book, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. Not surprisingly, she is inspired.

“It is these gray winter days that stir my creativity,” Ehlert says.

Interview by

Author-illustrator Cece Bell has been making picture books for more than 10 years. This year she’s trying something new, as she recounts her childhood experiences with hearing loss in the touching graphic memoir El Deafo.

In the 1970s, the Phonic Ear, a bulky hearing aid that strapped to the wearer’s chest, was in vogue. For the hearing aid to work properly, the teacher had to wear a microphone, which amplified classroom discussions. The young Bell struggled with standing out and fitting in, as many children do. But when her classmates discovered that she could hear her teacher as she roamed the building, Bell’s powers as El Deafo (as she dubbed herself) were revealed.

We snagged a bit of Bell’s time to ask her about her funny and moving memoir.

After childhood meningitis left Cece Bell
deaf at age 4, she had to wear the
Phonic Ear, as seen in her
second-grade school photo.

When did you know El Deafo needed to be a graphic memoir and not a picture book or illustrated novel?
When I got started in children’s books, I wasn’t really ready to tell this particular, personal story right away. I wanted to “make it” in the biz without being pigeonholed as “that deaf author-illustrator.” I wanted to be known only as “that awesome author-illustrator.” I’d even take “that decent author-illustrator.” Eventually, however, I was ready to tell my story. When Raina Telgemeier’s Smile came out, I was inspired by it. Maybe a graphic novel would be a good way to tell my story, I thought. But what really sealed the deal for me was the fact that graphic novels tell so much of the story using speech balloons. What better way to show what I am hearing—or even better, what I am not hearing—than speech balloons? A speech balloon filled with words fading out means my hearing is fading; a speech balloon with nonsense in it means I’m hearing gibberish instead of words; a speech balloon with nothing in it means I am hearing nothing.

I love the moment when a girl asks you if you’re “death.” Do you still find today that you have to educate people about what it’s like to have a hearing impairment?
When I meet new people, they don’t often realize I’m deaf. But in some cases, when these new people do figure it out, their countenance changes and their speech changes (over-enunciating, speaking more loudly and slowly). This is very frustrating, because these well-meaning folks were actually easier to lip-read during the first part of the conversation, before they started changing the way they were talking. People don’t talk all LOUD and sloooow in real life. . . . I think this particular issue is partly why I wrote the book. I wanted to show people that you should speak to a deaf person as you would speak to anyone else, and then make adjustments if they are needed. If adjustments are not needed, don’t change a thing!

The scene when your friend Bonnie, who is so proud to show off her sign language to you (even though you chose not to use it), rings so true. As an adult, you’ve developed an appreciation for sign language. How long did it take you to get to that point?
I think I’ve always had an appreciation for it when it’s used between deaf people and between deaf people and their hearing family members and friends. I also have an appreciation of French when it’s used between French people. Do you see what I mean? Sign language is a language—and a very important and vital one, at that. It’s just one that I don’t really know, but people assume I know it. If your name is Pierre, do you also speak French? Hee hee. . . . But to answer your question, I think the act of writing the book meant that I was finally OK with everything to do with my deafness, the good and the bad. And I didn’t start writing the book until 2010 or so, when I was 40 years old! So yeah, it took a long time. Too long, perhaps.

How challenging was it to write about something so personal?
Parts of it were very challenging. The hardest chapter by far to write was the one about sign language. I wanted to make sure that I portrayed my attitude about sign language back then as bratty, because the last thing I want is for deaf kids and adults to read this chapter and think that I think sign language is awful or something. I wanted to be clear why I didn’t want to use it, and I also wanted to be clear that I was aware that I was probably missing out on something that could be really useful to me.

The other challenging part was writing about my friends, especially the ones who I had some trouble with. . . . I’ve been so long past any feelings of shame (even though I remember those feelings clearly); it was cathartic writing about them and removing them once and for all. But I do worry about what certain friends will think if they read about those old feelings of mine that concern them.

Why make yourself and all the other characters rabbits?
Rabbits have big ears and great hearing. Showing a rabbit whose ears do not work, in a crowd of rabbits whose ears do work, seemed like a great metaphor for someone who has lost her hearing. Also, as a kid I was so ashamed of the cords that went from my hearing aid up to my ears. When I look back at pictures of me wearing this hearing aid, however, it’s really not that dramatic looking at all. By drawing myself as a rabbit, however, I can have the cords go all the way up past my rabbit head into my rabbit ears. This dramatic representation of me and my hearing aid is more closely in tune with how it actually felt to wear a hearing aid when no one else in my class was wearing one. Plus, rabbits are bunnies, right? And bunnies are cute and fun to draw.

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of El Deafo.

Author-illustrator Cece Bell has been making picture books for more than 10 years. This year she’s trying something new, as she recounts her childhood experiences with hearing loss in the touching graphic memoir El Deafo.
Interview by

Sally M. Walker likes to connect young readers with history. In her new picture book, Winnie, she does just that, telling the little-known story of the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s legendary children’s book character, Winnie-the-Pooh. 

When World War I soldier and veterinarian Harry Colebourn first saw the bear for sale at a train station in Canada, he knew he was the one to take care of her. He named her Winnipeg (later shortened to “Winnie”) after the capital city of Manitoba. When he was transferred to a training camp in England, he brought Winnie with him. She became a beloved member of Colebourn’s regiment, though in 1919 he donated her with a heavy heart to the London Zoo. It was there that a young boy named Christopher Robin first visited her. And the rest is literary history.

Winnie and Harry Coleburn at Salisbury
Plain in 1914. Source: Provincial
Archives of Manitoba, Colebourn,
D. Harry Collection, No. N10467.

Walker has a passion for research and “finding the story” in her subject matter. “There are so many stories out there,” she tells BookPage from her home in Illinois, “especially if you’re a history geek.” Turning this slice of history into a book for children was particularly exciting for her, given that it’s a story most people haven’t heard.

Her own moment of revelation was one she won’t soon forget. “I was flabbergasted when I found out about it,” Walker says. Mystery writer Jacqueline Winspear was discussing her new book at a local bookstore and explained that the Veterinary Corps was very active during World War I due to the number of horses in use. Winspear briefly noted that Winnie-the-Pooh was a real bear, bought by Canadian veterinarian Harry Colebourn. “And I totally blacked out the rest of what she was talking about,” Walker says, “because I was busy writing down: Colebourn. Harry. Canada. She just casually mentioned it, but that was all I heard. A real bear!”

It was then that the author eagerly embarked upon her research, which she describes as a grand adventure. “I realized that the story was legitimate. But still, as a nonfiction writer, I always want to track down the roots and confirm things.”

Walker contacted the archivist for the Ft. Garry Horse Regiment in Manitoba. She discovered that the story was well documented and that all the materials were in their archives. Colebourn, she learned, not only kept diaries during World War I but also mentioned the bear in them. Walker was thrilled. “Sifting through old documents is what excites me,” she says with a laugh. “I contacted the provincial archives of Manitoba, and sure enough, Harry Colebourn’s son, Fred, had copied the diary onto microfilm. I spent several days doing nothing but reading through all of Harry’s diaries that he had during the war.”

Though mentions of Winnie in Colebourn’s diaries aren’t especially detailed, there are also photos in the archives—many of Winnie with other soldiers. “It’s clear that she was very much a mascot of the unit,” Walker says. “You also get a sense from Harry’s diary that he was a social and caring man. He mentions at one point in his diary having to take a bullet out of his horse and caring for horses that had various kinds of illnesses. You have the sense that Harry was a man who loved animals. I think he enjoyed people. He liked to help out. He liked to be good. And I think this sense is what came out in Winnie—his genuine caring.”

Walker also traveled to the London Zoo and speaks with enthusiasm about her research there. “The archivist there let me look through the ‘daily occurrences book,’ ” she says, “which lists what’s going on at the zoo. It’s intriguing, the kinds of information they liked to record for the zoo materials. The day Winnie arrived at the zoo, it was foggy. There were 243 visitors in the zoo. When she was accessioned into the zoo, they also brought in two African civets and a kestrel. You really have a sense that you’re touching history and touching the story. You can even read about the day that Winnie died, May 12, 1934. It was a fine, warm day at the zoo, and they note that one American black bear, a female, was put down on that day.”

Colebourn died in 1947, but not before witnessing the success of Milne’s Pooh stories, the first of which was published in 1926. And while the fictional Pooh became a beloved character around the world, the real Winnie was remembered in stories passed down through Colebourn’s family. Fred ensured that his father’s story was not forgotten, and Walker speaks with great respect for his efforts.

She also describes what the zoo calls their “Winnie Files.” These include zookeepers’ testimonies and letters from soldiers who wrote about what Winnie meant to them. “And what you see in there repeatedly,” she says, “is that the zookeeper would say, ‘Yes, we had some other bears, but no one could trust those bears. The only bear we could trust was Winnie. Winnie was special.’ ”

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Sally M. Walker likes to connect young readers with history. In her new picture book, Winnie, she does just that, telling the little-known story of the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s legendary children’s book character, Winnie-the-Pooh.
Interview by

Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet’s joy for her work is evident when you crack open any of her books, but she’s feeling especially grateful about the journey to her newest one, Some Writer! “I feel incredibly lucky,” she tells me via phone, “and I felt that the whole way through. It was a gift as an artist and writer to be able to spend this much time with that material. What an amazing opportunity!”

It’s an E.B. White biography like no other, with original artwork, letters and family photos, as well as warm and detailed collages in Sweet’s signature style woven throughout the book. Sweet wrote it with the approval of White’s granddaughter Martha, whom she also consulted during her research, and whom she knew even before embarking on the project. “Martha lives in the same town [in Maine],” Sweet says. “We see each other at our tiny Memorial Day parade. We exchanged ideas, and I had a lot of questions for her that only she could answer. She was so incredibly gracious and generous that, without her, I’m not even sure I would have done the book, because I had a vision and she supported that vision.”

Sweet’s writing is reverent and engaging, telling White’s story from birth (1899) to death (1985) and focusing primarily on his adult writing life: his work for The New Yorker; The Elements of Style, written with William Strunk Jr.; and his three popular children’s novels, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. Sweet’s textured watercolor collages incorporate photos, letters and items that held great meaning in White’s life. “I felt it was such a visual life that there was no other way to do it,” she explains. “This could have been an unillustrated biography, I suppose, but I saw it more as a merging of a picture book and a nonfiction biography.” 

Sweet’s research for the book spanned roughly three years. “At first, to be honest,” she says, “you don’t even know exactly what you’re looking for. You just want every word, every article, anything he wrote or was written about him.” 

About a year into her research, Sweet went to Cornell University Library to see the E.B. White Collection, which she found thrilling. In Maine, she enjoyed tracking down small details: At the Keeping Society of Brooklin, she met a woman whose grandmother cooked for the White family. “You just never know what you’re going to find,” Sweet says, “and how it makes you feel—and whether or not you can use it—but it does make you feel that you’re getting to know the family more intimately when you go to places like that.”


Illustration copyright © 2016 by Melissa Sweet, with permission from HMH.

While pondering the book’s overall design and crafting it for the better part of a year, Sweet knew she had a “grand opportunity to show small details or a sense of place. I was able to go to the barn [that inspired Charlotte’s Web], and it was just so filled with stuff, materials that seemed exactly right. All those little bits of wires and screws and bolts, those things you find in a barn, made sense to me, artistically. That’s all I really had, that gut feeling that these are the right materials.” 

In the chapter on The Trumpet of the Swan, Sweet includes a collage of a trumpeter swan by John James Audubon and a map of Montana, where part of White’s novel takes place. Sweet points out, “Keen readers will remember at the beginning of Some Writer! that White took a road trip and went through Montana. I didn’t have to go back and say, ‘He had been in Montana in his early 20s,’ but I can reference it and readers can find out more if they want to. That’s an example of bringing in those visual elements that tell the story better than I can with the words.” 

Sweet is eager to share the book with young readers. You don’t have to go too far into The Elements of Style, she tells me, to realize that what he and Strunk are saying is that anybody can write. “White made me feel like I could be a writer, even though I had no evidence of that. And children could read this biography and say, ‘The things I’m interested in and the things I love about my life are writerly. They’re newsworthy.’ ”

In the immediate future and before the whirlwind of bookstore signings, Sweet will work with Island Readers & Writers, a Maine-based organization that brings writers to islands where children don’t typically receive visiting authors. She’ll participate in community reads, plays and more, at four to five islands in the state. “I’ll be going to islands where some of [the schools] are just a one-room schoolhouse with a dozen kids,” she says. “I’m so excited. I think E.B. White would like this.” 

But for now, she’s relaxing in what she’s named Wilbur, a replica of the first boat White ever built. Sweet’s husband made it for her in the midst of her research. “That is the only boat we have that doesn’t leak,” she says with a laugh. “That was an amazing gift. What a good husband, right?”

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet’s joy for her work is evident when you crack open any of her books, but she’s feeling especially grateful about the journey to her newest one, Some Writer! “I feel incredibly lucky,” she tells me via phone, “and I felt that the whole way through. It was a gift as an artist and writer to be able to spend this much time with that material. What an amazing opportunity!”
Interview by

“Less than one hundred years ago,” The Quest for Z opens, “maps of the world still included large ‘blank spots.’ ” If anyone is going to draw young readers into the story of Percy Fawcett’s early 20th-century explorations of these blank spots—an obsession that ultimately led to his disappearance—I’m glad it’s Greg Pizzoli. Here Pizzoli discusses his book’s unusual and welcome portrayal of failure.

As I understand it, this is the first book for children about Fawcett’s story. Did that make you feel pressured to get it just right?
Of course! I always feel pressure to get every book “just right.” But Fawcett was such a unique and often bizarre character that it took a lot of work to get the story to be just right for a picture book.

You write in the author’s note that, while working on this book, you’d often felt like you’d “lost your way.” Was it because Fawcett, as you also noted, wasn’t a “typical hero”?
I think what I meant was that it was tough to pace a book that wasn’t going to have a happy ending. It’s fascinating to know that Fawcett was correct about large cities in the Amazon, but it’s hard to polish the fact that he never returned home with a discovery. But I think it’s valuable to children (and everyone!) to read about failure, and to read more about figures in history that devoted their lives to something, worked toward a single achievement and failed in the end.

Plus, Fawcett was pretty bizarre figure with a lot of interesting and strange quirks, and I had to find a balance in what I wanted to include because I only had 48 pages to tell his story.

In what ways did your trip to Central America inform this story, beyond it giving you a jolt of inspiration to finish the story?
Seeing the pyramids and forests in Central America were influential, but I think the real bursts of inspiration came from visiting the Royal Geographical Society in London and holding some of Fawcett’s original journals and letters, and also visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The way I imagined the city of Z is largely based on photos and drawings I made while in Angkor Wat.

What was the most challenging part of telling Fawcett’s story?
I hinted at it before, but the hardest part was cutting out all the really good stuff I just didn’t have space to include. Luckily I was able to include a “selected sources” page, so anyone interested can find some of the books and websites I referenced and get more information.

I love your illustrations of the anaconda, particularly the one where it’s shaped like a “Z.” Did that immediately come to you?
It did actually. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a theme with the pictures of hiding Zs wherever I felt it could be subtle enough to not detract from the story. There’s more than one.

What’s one thing it would make you really happy to hear that child readers have taken away from this story?
I’ve read this book with kids a few times already, and I love talking with them about the mystery of what happened to Fawcett and what Z might have been like. The thing that I like about it is that the book asks a question, it gives them something to talk about, and I’ve already been witness to a few disagreements over Fawcett’s fate! It’s so great.

It sounds like it’s been a long and winding road, working on this book. What was the most rewarding thing about it?
I’m not sure—I think that is still yet to come. Since it’s just coming out now, I haven’t done a ton of school visits with classes that have read it yet. I have really enjoyed talking with kids about Tricky Vic over the last couple of years, so I think the upcoming school year will be very fun. In terms of the art making, I think it’s my best work (except for what I’m working on right now).

What’s next for you?
I’m working on several projects—publishing next is The Twelve Days of Christmas with Disney-Hyperion, and next year Hi, Jack!, the early reader series Mac Barnett and I are working on, will start coming out. And a new nonfiction book coming in 2019! But I have to finish that one yet. . . .

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Quest for Z.

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

“Less than one hundred years ago,” The Quest for Z opens, “maps of the world still included large ‘blank spots.’” If anyone is going to draw young readers into the story of Percy Fawcett’s early 20th-century explorations of these blank spots—an obsession that ultimately led to his disappearance—I’m glad it’s Greg Pizzoli. Here Pizzoli discusses his book’s unusual and welcome portrayal of failure.

Interview by

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Lee Burton’s classic picture book The Little House, the 1943 Caldecott Medal winner. To say that illustrator John Rocco is excited about his new picture book about Burton (1909-1968), her life and her work is an understatement.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker (author of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site) and illustrated by Rocco, is a passion project, one he enthusiastically tells me about via phone.

The new book is focused on the “big machines” of Burton’s work that her two young sons loved the most: the locomotive in Choo Choo; Mary Anne from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel; Katy, the tractor from Katy and the Big Snow; and the titular vehicle from Maybelle the Cable Car. This, Rocco explains, was Rinker’s smart way of encapsulating some of Burton’s best-known books. However, the Little House of Burton’s award-winning 1942 book—the story of a cottage that becomes surrounded by an encroaching, bustling city—is a part of Big Machines as well. Rocco sees Burton, known by friends and family as Jinnee, as a stand-in for the little house itself.

“How she felt about her life was the story of The Little House,” Rocco says. “When they first bought their home in Folly Cove, it was too close to the road. So, they picked it up and moved it back away from the road. They wanted to be more secluded. I think that was the genesis of the idea of The Little House.” If you look at the cover of The Little House, Rocco explains, the house is surrounded by daisies. In Big Machines, Rocco gives Jinnee a skirt with the same flowers. “She is the Little House!”

The Folly Cove that Rocco speaks of was Jinnee and her family’s rural home in Cape Ann on Massachusetts Bay. Here, in the early 20th century, Jinnee created her books, raised her sons, gardened, tended animals, hosted friends and taught art, design and block printing in a group called the Folly Cove Designers. Rinker lays it all out in Big Machines, describing Jinnee as “quite magical” as she works and plays at her seaside home.

Like many people, Rocco is taken by the creative powerhouse that Jinnee was. “Can you imagine her day-to-day life?” he asks. “She’s making books; she’s raising her kids; they’ve got sheep [and other] animals they’ve got to take care of; they’re doing all the daily in-and-out of life; and then she hosted all these parties. She was a dancer, and she was always making costumes and putting on performances. It was full tilt.”

Both Rocco and Rinker spent time with Jinnee’s children and their families, including her son, Aris, a sculptor who lives in Santa Barbara, California. “He had boxes and boxes of Jinnee’s work,” Rocco recalls. “Her sketchbooks, her drawings, the linoleum woodblocks with all the Folly Cove designs. Tons of stuff. I remember I was rifling through the boxes, as carefully as I could with all my excitement, and came across the book dummy for The Little House in something like a cardboard box. Sherri and I were both kind of freaking out, having a blast.”

Showing Aris the book dummy for Big Machines, with Rocco’s illustrations, was a similar thrill. “Aris was beside himself. . . . When I brought him some of the art, he said, ‘Man, it’s like Jinnee is right here in the room.’”

Rocco says he was given “total freedom” to explore what the illustrations would be. “It took me a while to find the sort of visual through-line,” he says. He was also given the option to reproduce Jinnee’s artwork in the book but was not interested. “This book is not a biography, so much as it is a celebration of her art, and so I was thinking we should celebrate it in a new way.”

Readers see Jinnee in constant motion in the book—much as she was in her life—and as a woman who made the world magical for her children. “I didn’t want to draw her sitting at a desk, making pictures with her two kids looking over her shoulder,” Rocco says. “I wanted her to move in space and show her gracefulness.”

Conscious of doing his best to represent her artwork while also trying to avoid merely copying it, Rocco kept his deep appreciation for her work at the center of his mind. “Where appropriate, I would emulate her style for the different books,” he says. “I laid out the text in the way that Jinnee always did, which was to really have it flow. That was always important to her. You can see from her early book dummies that every line of text was cut out in a separate little strip of paper, and she’d move them around, trying to get the right design.” Capturing her style while still making the artwork his own was “tricky, obviously, because she has a different style than me, but I was pretty pleased with the way it came out.”

Just as the little house—surrounded by all those big machines—comes to life, so does Jinnee, quite magically.

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Lee Burton’s classic picture book The Little House, the 1943 Caldecott Medal winner. To say that illustrator John Rocco is excited about his new picture book about Burton (1909-1968), her life and her work is an understatement.

Interview by

Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say’s Silent Days, Silent Dreams is “an imagined biography” of deaf, autistic and dyslexic artist James Castle, but more importantly, it’s a tremendous and haunting tribute to a great artist by a great artist. Say shares a look behind the creative process and his hopes for the book.

There’s a lot to love about James Castle’s art. What do you admire the most about it?
I admire the directness of James Castle’s art, which reminds me of Zenga—the style of painting in Zen. He drew what he saw without thinking in the abstract medium of language that turns paintings into ideas called “isms.” Castle bypassed the ism-stage because he had no language: He couldn’t hear or speak or read, and he was also autistic and dyslexic. Ironically, his misfortunes nurtured him into one of the most original American artists of any period. His pictures come straight from the heart, and they are very moving.

It’s clear that you felt compelled to make this book and tell Castle's story. What started as a portrait of Castle as a favor you owed a friend became this book. Did you respond to previous projects with that kind of driving passion, or did this top them all for you?
Starting a new book is always exciting and scary. In this one, there was more scare than excitement: The little grove I wandered into turned out to be an endless forest. It was a kind of calling for me: I had to find out how a child without hearing or speech—and possibly autistic and dyslexic—had managed to teach himself to draw and succeeded in producing a vast body of artwork from reclaimed wastepaper trash bins. But I had no idea how to start the project. It’s not the kind of a book for which I could write an outline and lay it out in thumbnail drawings. Freelancing was the only way: I didn't have the nerve to ask for a contract for a book that was a confused mass of ideas and images. I went for broke, and did go broke, and finally asked my editor, Arthur A. Levine, for a contract. He was most understanding.

Why, in particular, did you decide to tell the story from the point of view of the nephew?
As the loosely connected story emerged through the drawings that were spread out on the floor, there were always gaps that needed filling. In those gaps I often put in drawings in my style as asides, to let the readers know that they were reading a story told by a third party—a kind of digressive pauses, or varied spatial experience, as though going from a small room into a hallway, then into a large room. It seemed to me that the text needed a particular person or personality to reflect this third party. The brilliant idea of choosing Castle’s nephew, who had known James all his life and was instrumental in bringing his work the attention of the public, came from Arthur. Let me go public here: Thank you, Arturo-kun!

You mention in the book’s author’s note about using some of the materials Castle did (sticks, soot, spit, etc.) to recreate his art, as well as drawing with your nondominant hand. What was that like? Did you go through tons of drafts for those pieces?
Castle managed to teach himself to draw with most primitive drawing materials such as soot, spit, burnt matchsticks, liquid laundry bluing, on bits of trash paper he collected around the family farm. I thought about him for a month, and remembered my own childhood when I had drawn in secrecy, hiding from my father. Drawing with my left hand reverted me to a 5-year-old boy who drew with total concentration; it was a kind of meditation in these dreadful times. I drew helter-skelter in many sketchbooks, and since I draw best when I’m not thinking (bypassing the word-processing stage), I cut out the sketches that turned out well and used them directly in the book. Though I did hundreds of drawings that didn’t make the cut, James Castle had a liberating influence on my work.

You also mention in the author’s note what incredible range Castle had and that, for this book, you decided to concentrate on his drawings. Is there maybe another book in you that focuses on some of his other mediums? Or are you done telling his story?
This book begins with Castle’s birth and ends with his death, which puts it in the biography genre. But my intent was to try to see the world through Castle’s eyes and try to portray an artist who knew no language, who did all his thinking in pictures. It’s an imagined biography of a person who was entirely entrapped inside a silent body, to which art gave a peephole out into the world. With this book I want to invite my readers to imagine what James Castle endured and created works with humblest of materials that speak to us today. And I hope I’ve accomplished that!

What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a simple experimental work that’s getting more complicated every day. It’s hard to be simple—as Zen practitioners know but will not say. James Castle just did it.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Silent Days, Silent Dreams.

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say’s Silent Days, Silent Dreams is “an imagined biography” of deaf, autistic and dyslexic artist James Castle, but more importantly, it’s a tremendous and haunting tribute to a great artist by a great artist. Say shares a look behind the creative process and his hopes for the book.

Interview by

Eric and Terry Fan, who co-illustrate as the Fan Brothers, both live in Toronto, but it wasn’t until they were awarded the illustrious Sendak Fellowship last year that they first shared a studio space.

Over four weeks at Scotch Hill Farm in upstate New York, once owned by beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, the Fans dug into illustrating their newest book, Ocean Meets Sky, their fourth collaboration.

“We had started the book and completed the dummy,” Eric says via phone, “but I think we turned a corner at the Sendak Fellowship.” Terry agrees, adding that it was there that the book started taking shape and going in the direction they’d always envisioned. “The fellowship was pretty inspiring,” says Eric. “I don’t actually have a studio. I work from my home computer, so it was nice having that space—and the inspiring atmosphere.”

Ocean Meets Sky begins with young Finn, who is staring out the bedroom window of his seaside home. A framed photograph of his grandfather and a toy boat adorn the windowsill. Finn recalls memories of his deceased grandfather—his voice and his stories about a “place far away where ocean meets sky.” As a way of honoring him, Finn builds a boat, one just right for the journey he had planned to take with his grandfather.

Because building a boat is tiresome work, Finn falls asleep and wakes to discover his journey has already begun. Adrift in the ocean, he takes in the fantastical creatures formed in the clouds; he meets a “great golden fish” who promises to lead Finn to where the ocean meets sky; he visits the Library Islands with “bookish birds . . . roosting”; and he explores an island of giant shells. His odyssey has a few surreal moments, including a Cyclops-like creature that guards the Library Islands. “I remember, as a kid, reading books that were a little bit scary,” says Eric, “and that other level made [the stories] more thrilling.”

When Finn reaches the place he suspects may be the location of his grandfather’s tales, his boat lifts from the water. A surprise waits for Finn as he flies toward the moon, and he is reminded that his grandfather, though physically gone from this world, is never far away.

In many ways, Ocean Meets Sky is a tribute to the tradition of oral storytelling, in particular to the stories told by the Fans’ Taiwanese grandfather, who lived on the other side of the world and didn’t frequently visit (both Eric and Terry were born in the U.S. but moved to Canada as children). “Both of our grandparents used to tell so many stories to our dad,” Terry says, “and I think that [tradition] passed on to him. He used to tell us a lot of stories.” Eric agrees: “The storytelling aspect is a sort of merging of our dad and our grandfather. It is a way of honoring Chinese culture, [in which] relatives and family are so important.”

Eric and Terry also had fairy tales in mind when penning Ocean Meets Sky, and the rhythm of the writing evokes that spirit. (The book’s opening proclaims, “Finn lived by the sea, and the sea lived by him,” and the great golden fish describes the place where ocean meets sky as “high and low, and as deep as the sea.”) But Ocean Meets Sky also pulls from folktales in the way that readers experience the story itself.

From Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster.

Eric explains: “The reader is looking at it from Finn’s perspective. But as a writer, you’re almost looking at it from the grandfather’s perspective. It’s about what you’re going to leave behind. The place where ocean meets sky is the narrative world that writers create. Finn is the reader. You’re thinking about how, after you’re gone, these are the worlds you’re leaving behind for people.”

Like all of Terry and Eric’s previously published books, Ocean Meets Sky was a truly collaborative effort. “We both do the writing and the illustrating,” Eric says. “Sometimes we work on the same illustration. . . . We’ll each do different parts, and then we bring it together in Photoshop. Usually, we’re separated, but since this book coincided with the fellowship, I think that helped with communication because every day we were in the same space.”

They have traditionally created their illustrations with a mix of graphite and Photoshop drawings, but for Ocean Meets Sky, they experimented with some entirely digital images. “We did this out of necessity,” Terry says. “There wasn’t the greatest internet connection [at the fellowship], so it was hard to scan original artwork.” Though the beautiful, final illustrations are a blend of mediums, both Eric and Terry prefer traditional pencil drawings. “There’s something about it that you just can’t quite re-create,” Terry says.

There’s no doubt that the brothers enjoy collaborating. In fact, they’ll soon be adding their youngest brother, Devon, to the mix for a project they will publish with Tundra Books sometime in the next couple of years. “That will be a first,” says Eric, “to get three people together. That will be an interesting process.”

But for now, you can find the Fan Brothers surrounded by gently rocking boats and golden fish, in a place where stories matter and the ocean meets the sky.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Author photo © Eric and Terry Fan.

Eric and Terry Fan, who co-illustrate as the Fan Brothers, both live in Toronto, but it wasn’t until they were awarded the illustrious Sendak Fellowship last year that they first shared a studio space.

Interview by

Alex Gino’s You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! introduces readers to the thoughtful, ever-curious Jilly, whose new baby sister has arrived. Jilly’s sister is deaf, and in no time at all, she and her hearing family come face-to-face with a host of decisions to make about how to communicate with her. Jilly reaches out to her friend, Derek, also deaf, whom she met online. At the same time, Jilly learns from her black aunt and cousins about what it means to live a life of privilege and the ways in which she can be open to growth. We asked Gino a few questions about this thought-provoking, conversation-starter of a second novel.

You address hearing privilege and white privilege in this book, amongst other things. Did you always know the book would tackle both subjects or did the story evolve that way as you wrote?
Writing is a long and windy road. Jilly P started as an intergenerational story of deafness—Jilly’s grandmother was losing her hearing and a lot of the book was about how her story was different from Jilly’s baby sister Emma, who was born deaf. But that plotline didn’t really give much for Jilly to do—a problem for a main character, so my editor told me. But as I was revising, Derek (a deaf black kid around Jilly’s age) started to take a large role in the story. Jilly had a hard time seeing him as a full person at first, rather than as a stand-in for his black and Deaf identities. From there, the story turned into one of Jilly making sense of her privilege and how to use it well.

I spent nearly a decade as a sign language interpreter, and I especially appreciate this part in the story: Derek tells Jilly that he was annoyed by people staring at him signing in a restaurant, and she responds with “signing is pretty,” as if that excuses stares. Or as if that’s all American Sign Language, a bona fide, complex language in its own right, has going for it (“prettiness”). As someone knowledgeable of sign language yourself, have you experienced this firsthand?
Yes, and as someone who has struggled to master a language full of nuance and regionalisms, I’ve been frustrated by people who say they’ve been thinking about learning ASL because it’s “so pretty,” or they’re “so expressive” and so they’d “be great at it.” Or people who tell me they know how to sign when really they know some isolated nouns and adjectives. Do you say you speak Spanish because you can order at a taqueria? I can’t even imagine the range of inaccuracies and misunderstandings Deaf people have to deal with, even (or especially) from people who think they know more than they do.

In many ways, Jilly’s family is being tested with regard to the decision-making in their lives that they’re so used to. Derek, for instance, tells Jilly it’s not his call, nor her call, whether or not her sister should get a cochlear implant. The family is learning a lot about the deliberateness of their decisions—and the whos and whys behind them. Is this something you consciously wanted to address?
Absolutely. Parents want to do everything “right” for their children. Hearing parents of deaf babies face a lot of decisions on behalf of their infant children, often without access to information or understanding of the Deaf community. Audiologists focus on decibels and megahertz, and while many doctors now encourage families to sign, some do still advocate for oralism and lip-reading to the exclusion of the deaf child’s natural language. Cochlear implants and hearing aids are valuable tools, but they don’t turn Deaf people into hearing people. As Ella Mae Lentz says in her beautiful ASL poem “To A Hearing Mother,” “he is your son, but he is my people.”

Aunt Alicia explains microaggressions to Jilly: “It’s like the difference between stepping on someone’s foot by mistake and kicking them. Only one is mean, but they both hurt. Sometimes you don’t have to be trying to hurt someone. You just have to say the wrong thing.” In the school visits you’ve done, have you ever run across or heard about curricula that discusses racism, white privilege, etc. with students? Do you think it’s a good idea to have that as part of a curriculum in schools?
I think that discussing privilege and recognizing ourselves and others in the world is crucial to develop empathy as well as critical thinking. I tend not to talk curriculum details on school visits, but I can tell when I’m in a room with kids who are encouraged to talk candidly. One of the best things I think a teacher can do is sit with students in discomfort and complexity without trying to have all the answers. So I guess it’s not a curriculum I’m looking for so much as a class ethos that can be applied to just about any subject matter.

Jilly learns a lot about the different challenges people face—and that her responses to such things can make a difference, for better or worse. What age were you when you very first realized this in your own life?
I don’t think of it as a switch—I can’t name the first time I realized that my actions are rooted in my experience and that their consequences lay out differently based on our marginalizations. That’s something I’m still learning. And to try to name the first time feels like I’m trying to tout myself as someone who always knew. For so long, I didn’t know. But one early realization was in middle school when I realized that my “A” class was about two-thirds white, while the “B” classes were pretty mixed and the “C” classes were mostly black. And yes, they were called A, B and C tracks. I knew something was skewed, but no one talked about it, other than to lay the responsibility of where they had landed directly on them because “education is fair.” But it’s not fair when racism and class dominate the way they do in the United States.

I like the world-building of B. A. Delacourt’s Magically Mysterious Vidalia trilogy, Jilly’s favorite books. How much work did you put into detailing that world for yourself? Are you tempted to write a fantasy trilogy now?
Not even a little bit. Plot is really hard for me, and fantasy books are filled is adventure and plot twists. This way, I got to do some of the world building and character creation without having to worry about what actually happens in the books or creating a strong story arc.

Are you working on any new books?
Always. The project I’m focused most on right now is a companion novel to George. It takes place two years later, and focuses on the bully’s best friend. It’s time for Rick to get out from under his “friend”’s thumb, and junior high is a great opportunity to discover who you are and how you want to be in the world. There’s also a queer student alliance, and, of course, Melissa is in the background, happy as can be, with not a bit of the kind of adversity that a plot requires.

Alex Gino’s You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! introduces readers to the thoughtful, ever-curious Jilly, whose new baby sister has arrived. Jilly’s sister is deaf, and in no time at all, she and her hearing family come face-to-face with a host of decisions to make about how to communicate with her. Jilly reaches out to her friend, Derek, also deaf, whom she met online. At the same time, Jilly learns from her black aunt and cousins about what it means to live a life of privilege and the ways in which she can be open to growth. We asked Gino a few questions about this thought-provoking, conversation-starter of a second novel.

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