I’ve known children’s author/poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich for a number of years and have been a big fan of her writing for even longer; conversely, I’d never even heard of author/illustrator Fred Koehler until he signed on to illustrate my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), and we’ve since become internet friends and supporters of each others’ work. (One day, I plan to visit Florida and say hi in person!)
You can therefore probably understand why I’m so happy to be able to share in the celebration of the release of What If…Then We (Boyds Mills Press, 2019), the new picture book from the Dynamic Duo!
This imaginative book is a companion to their One Day, The End (Boyds Mills Press, 2015), a Boston Globe Horn Book honor book that presented a different premise, in text, on each spread – and then expanded the details of each story via Fred’s illustrations. In their new book, the pair wonder what might happen if they ran into various situations…and their solutions are simultaneously sweet and bold:
What if…every crayon in the world melted? What if…all the words in the universe disappeared? What if…we began to cry?
What if…the clocks stopped ticktocking?
It is in this spirit that I thought I’d ask our two friends, Rebecca and Fred, a few questions!
1) What if…you had not written / illustrated “One Day…The End?”
Rebecca: Then I would have written something else.
Fred: Then I probably wouldn’t have gone on to illustrate four other picture books and two novels for Boyds Mills! No illustrator will ever admit that a book was easy. To take an author’s manuscript and visually interpret it in a way that elevates the text to a new level is… Mind-bending. A feat of mental Olympics. A puzzle within a puzzle. But honestly, that wasn’t the case with ONE DAY, THE END. It was um, well, kind of easy.
I fell in love with ODTE for the same reason I later fell in love with FLASHLIGHT NIGHT. I read it, scratched my head, and asked out loud “How on earth am I gonna illustrate this???” If it hadn’t been a challenge, I wouldn’t have been intrigued enough to come up with an original concept. I loved it because it required a deeper level of ingenuity than suggested by a simple text.
Fortunately, Boyds Mills liked the idea I presented and it went through only a few revisions to the original concept. So I owe a lot to that book, as well as author Rebecca Kai Dotlich and editor Rebecca Davis.
2) What if…you got lost far, far, far away and couldn’t find your way home?
Rebecca: I would panic for a nanosecond, then I would “look for the helpers.”
Fred: Then I imagine I’d just keep walking in what I thought was the right direction and hope someone found me. I got off at the wrong stop from the school bus when I was 10 or 11. It was the first day of summer camp and a different bus route. Instead of telling the bus driver I thought he’d skipped my neighborhood, I just got off with the next group of kids and started walking the way I thought was right. My mom eventually found me a solid mile from home, going the wrong way.
I don’t think I’ve changed much.
3) What if…you were not an author / illustrator?
Rebecca: Then I would be feeling a tad empty, although then I might be a songwriter.
Fred: Then I’d be a lot less happy. I’d have far fewer friends. My career wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding. This list could go on and on.
4) What if…your careers were switched?
Rebecca: Then we would still be creative, and I would love being an artist!
Fred: Then I’d write loads and loads of ideas that the industry calls “illustrator bait.” It’s those craftily worded concepts that present a wide open canvas for a clever artist. (Illustrators are helpless to say ‘no’ to ideas like that.) FLASHLIGHT NIGHT and ONE DAY, THE END are both great examples. So are books like DRAWN TOGETHER (Disney-Hyperion, 2018) and THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT (Philomel Books, 2013).
5) What if…you could create any book you wanted – no matter how unconventional, unpopular, or non-commercial it might be – and know that it would get published?
Rebecca: Then I would get to work and write it. And also, it might involve magic!
Fred: Then I’d be right where I am today, without the ‘knowing it’s going to get published’ part. I’m glad many of my ideas get turned down, because I come up with loads and loads of them. If they all got published, I’d have a hundred mediocre books on the shelf. Because of rejection, only the best stuff makes it through. (And I consciously try to avoid what’s popular. What I want most of all is to make honest art and help readers see themselves reflected in the heart of each story.)
6) What if…Boyds Mills Press wants a third book with this concept?
Rebecca: Then we would not hesitate, because, as they say, the 3rd time’s a charm.
Fred: Then we’d celebrate. Also, three is an odd number and every artist knows that odd numbers of things are visually more appealing than evens.
Thank you, Rebecca and Fred, and congratulations again! (And yes, Fred – we writers are also well aware of the classic “Rule of 3’s!”) I’ve always been a big proponent of the question “What if…” as a way of jump-starting creativity – I even wrote a blog post about it FIVE YEARS AGO – so seeing this concept in print makes me happy.
If you’d like a chance to win a free copy of What If…? Then We…”, just leave a comment below to enter! I’ll announce one name at random on Poetry Friday, March 1 – so you have until the end of this month, Feb. 28, to enter. Good luck!
Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!
Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)
- NY Public Library’s “100 Best Book for Kids 2017” AND “Staff Pick!”
- KIRKUS Starred review!
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle Recommended Books!
- “Best Reads of 2017,” Unleashing Readers
- Amazon “Best Books of the Month,” Sept. 2017
- Positive reviews from Horn Book, School Library Connection, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf-Awareness
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