No matter how they may feel about the book overall, all book creators can point to at least one small moment that gives them outsized satisfaction. So I put that question to a few talented friends: Nora Raleigh Baskin, Eugene Yelchin, Nick Bruel, Erin Dionne, and Alan Katz.
Nora Raleigh Baskin
The illustrated sequence that serves as the epilogue for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, a book I co-authored with M.T. Anderson. On the surface, our book is a fantasy narrative, but even a young reader will easily discern the parallels between the world of goblins and elves and the world we live in.
The formal tension in the book is between the written chapters (penned by M.T. Anderson) and the wordless ones (illustrated by me). The written and the illustrated chapters contradict each other. They are “at war” until a crucial moment in the book when the two opposing points of view converge.
During the course of our collaboration, M.T. Anderson had this brilliant idea of goblins shedding and preserving their skins as mementoes of their lives’ passages. As a result, I drew the epilogue sequence, in which Brangwain Spurge, who initially finds this skin business repulsive, sheds his own skin. As a metaphor, this metamorphosis is a complete character transformation, a complete reversal of one’s initial belief system.
Nearly two years ago, I was driving to go pick up my daughter from school when a story on the radio came up referencing how the current administration had decided to cut the number of refugees allowed into our country to 45,000 (that number has since been reduced to 30,000), a moot number considering the literally hundreds of thousands of refugee applications this country receives annually. As the son of a woman who lived in constant fear inside war ravaged Shanghai and a man who fled from Belgium just prior to Hitler’s invasion, I took this personally.
Bad Kitty: Kitten Trouble tells the story of what happens when Kitty’s owner decides to bring three kittens into the house, and Kitty does everything she can to sabotage their presence. It’s my Bad Kitty take on the refugee crisis, conflict, and conflict resolution.
This is a single panel of a three page, wordless dream sequence Kitty has in which she essentially experiences the reality the kittens came from. The collar in the foreground belongs to Puppy, her constant foil in nearly every book, but his fate is uncertain albeit likely grim. To me, this is the moment she truly understands the severity of the conflict the kittens escaped. Meanwhile, a hardly discernible sound effect appears for the first time in the background, one that will grow with every panel over the next page. Telling my stories with both words and pictures affords me a lot of latitude in how I choose to depict drama. In this case, dialogue would have only interfered.
It’s so hard to choose just one thing in Captain’s Log that I love, because illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler did an incredible job bringing the words to life via his art. But, since you’re forcing me…It’s this page. Part of the text reads:
I’ve written more than 35 books for kids, and I always tried to make them funny. I probably succeeded 14.34% of the time.
But for my two newest books, Awesome Achievers in Science and Awesome Achievers in Technology, humor was only half of the goal. I set out to write non-fiction profiles of unsung heroes; inventors and explorers whose accomplishments kids knew, but whose identities they probably didn’t. The inventor of Velcro, seat belts, the microwave oven, and more.
Frankly, I didn’t know if I could do that. But I did. Totally shocked and delighted myself. Wow, would Mrs. Furschmidt, who as you know was my sixth-grade teacher, be proud. Each profile is followed by several pages of funny; not mocking the achiever, but expressing creative ideas about how his/her work impacts my life.
My favorite marriage of non-fiction and humor came in the section about the inventors of Post-It Notes. Seems Arthur Fry had invented a slighty sticky glue, but had no market for it. Years later, he met a co-worker whose page markers repeatedly fell out of his hymn book. Voila… Post-It Notes!
Following their story, there’s a “letter I wrote to them,” offering up my inventions in need of partnership. Inspired by Mr. Fry’s non-sticking glue, I suggested…
Shampoo that won’t clean hair.
Scissors that don’t cut anything.
Dog food that dogs won’t eat…and more.
This, my friends, felt like the perfect blend of fact and humor, and I printed the pages with great satisfaction and stapled them together with my stapler that doesn’t hold staples.