From the creative process to production, Mac Barnett and Adam Rex follow a book’s preposterous and hilarious journey—but at the end, what really makes a book is that moment when a reader dives in. We spoke with Barnett and Rex about this laugh-out-loud, wholly original book.
What inspired this book?
Mac Barnett: The first time I was on a book tour—and this was with Adam, actually, for our book Guess Again!—a kid asked me how a book was made. There was a big whiteboard behind me, and I started diagramming the process. I’m not really interested in straight answers or nonfiction, and so the story pretty quickly went off the rails—pirates, beards, crying. (The tears, though, they were nonfiction.) Over the years, the demonstration became something I did again and again. One day a girl raised her hand afterward and told me that I should make that story, the story of how a book is made, into a book. And guess what: That girl grew up to be Lena Dunham.
Adam Rex: She’s great.
What is your favorite part of the book-making process? What is the most mysterious part?
MB: My favorite part is when the illustrations are all done, and I can see how the thing actually works as a book. The most mysterious part is what’s taking Adam so long to make all those illustrations?
AR: I actually feel pretty bad about how long I keep people waiting. It’s not uncommon for picture book illustrators to be booked a couple years in advance. And then the actual art takes me three or four months, which I think also surprises people—I once asked my twitter followers how long they thought a single average page of a picture book took to illustrate, and everyone who wasn’t an illustrator guessed too low. One person guessed “an hour,” which in my case is only off by about 20 or 30 hours.
But my favorite part of that process is probably when I break a manuscript into pages and start thumbnailing out a plan for the whole thing. Tiny sketches so messy and impressionistic that I can still see in them the promise that this book will be the best thing I’ve done or will ever do.
Do you ever play tricks on each other during the book-making process?
AR: Well, as I alluded to in my last answer, I did agree to illustrate Mac’s manuscript and then proceeded to not do anything for three years. It was like a doorbell ditch.
What do you think of the book’s portrayal of you?
MB: I’m much less self-impressed than the way I write myself, and much more handsome than the way Adam draws me.
AR: The portrayal of me is more or less accurate.
Why is the book printed in Malaysia?
Once the book goes to print, that’s when things really take off, with pirates and astronauts and eagles and more. Why does the fantasy ramp up at this point in the book?
MB: Well, I arm wrestle a tiger on page two, so I might dispute the premise of this question.
What are you most excited about for young readers to discover about your new book?
MB: If you read the book backwards, it reveals the location of a buried treasure (Adam’s backyard). Get digging, kids!
AR: WE TALKED ABOUT THIS AND I SAID NO.
Is it possible to go any deeper? Dare to discover even more secrets about the making of a book? Check out the making of How This Book Was Made in the book trailer:
Sketches and interior illustrations copyright © Adam Rex, used with permission from Adam Rex.
Barnett author photo credit Sonya Sones.