Happy National High Five Day! An Interview with Adam Rubin, author of High Five
Did you know that there was such a thing as National High Five Day? Nor did I but boy is it one of the easier holidays to celebrate.
Recently the New York Times last week. A story about the benefits of reading physical books to children. In the piece there’s some discussion of how physical copies of titles create connections and foster a collaborative reading environment between children and their parents. Here’s a quote: “… the tablet itself made it harder for parents and children to engage in the rich back-and-forth turn-taking that was happening in print books”.
When I was asked to write an article about the current crop of funny books, I wanted to talk to someone who had written one of these interactive titles. Adam Rubin recently wrote High Five, this crazy training montage and competition interactive title that is, along the way, really funny. And I know we’ve alreayd had two interviews on this site this week, but I really felt this was important to bring up on this day of all days.
Betsy Bird: So the news is pretty bleak these days. I know you’re off in Barcelona, presumably eating delicious cheese and seafood every day (or so I imagine the life of a Barcelonian), but it’s hard to avoid America’s news. To your mind, what is the need that funny books for kids is fulfilling in this day and age?
Adam Rubin: Dang! I hadn’t actually thought about American politics for a full 36 hours before you brought it up… I do a media blackout every few days. It’s the greatest luxury of living in Spain, aside from the food (and the wine). But you’re right, even halfway across the earth, the tension in the U.S. is palpable. That’s why it’s so important for kids to develop a good sense of humor. They’re growing up in heavy times. If they can’t laugh at the state of the world, it might break them. In my experience, laughter can be a potent cure-all and it can bring all sorts of different people together. Picture books are especially great in that way because they can be as funny for a toddler as they are for an older sister and the parents and the grandparents, too. If the whole family can share a good laugh, that’s pretty life affirming, no matter what’s going on in the news that day.
Betsy: This is the rare interactive picture book. Do you imagine how your books will be used when you make them? For example, with this book did you imagine the one-on-one read vs. the group read and how they might work?
Adam: When I write a picture book, I always imagine it being read out loud. Though, I never really know how people are going to present it. Enthusiastic readers tend to put their own spin on things; they do voices, they develop call and response sections, they add little inside jokes. Maybe it’s just a way to maintain interest after reading the same book seven thousand times but regardless, I think all picture books are interactive in a way, because they’re kind of meant to be performed. Rhythm and timing are key. I tried to write High Five in a way that gives both the reader and the listener an opportunity to embrace their creativity. The reader gets to show off their rhyming skills and emotional range; joy, disgust, triumph, it’s all in there. The kid getting read to becomes the underdog hero of the story. The book ends with sweet victory (spoiler alert) but it requires the kid to to come up with a new and original high five technique in order to win the day. Kids might be dancing, singing, writing jokes… That kind of interaction it really exciting to me. The book serves as inspiration and the what happens off the page is totally unpredictable.
In a group setting, I imagine the best thing to do is to choose one person to play the role of the hero. I’m about to go out on tour and read High Five to gymnasiums stuffed with kids in schools across the country. My plan is to get the librarian or media specialist up on stage to see if THEY have what it takes to become high five champion of the world. It should be fun to see what they come up with while 300 students are cheering for them. My greatest hope is that kids start to organize their own High Five tournaments. Teams of two could compete for points like in Air Guitar competitions. It could be hilarious.
Betsy: Is there a funny book you’d like to do but, for whatever reason, you won’t?
Adam: A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation about creativity to a bunch of business people and instead of taking it seriously, I drew a bunch of doodles explaining different ways to use the toilet. The idea was that if you want to be really “creative,” you have to bring inspiration, experimentation and risk-taking into every single facet of your life. The presentation was called, “Advanced Bathroom Techniques.” One illustration had a guy sitting backwards on the toilet, it was called, “The A.C. Slater.” “The Gentleman” is when you sit on the bowl with your legs crossed. I had “The Trust Fall,” “The Hula Hoop,” “The Friendly Neighbor.” The last one was just a guy with his butt in a urinal, it was called, “The Angry Janitor.” Waaaaaay too scatological and sophomoric to ever publish. At least, not under my real name…
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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