Animals Go Vroom! Cover Reveal and Interview with Ms. Abi Cushman
ATTENTION FELLOW PROCESS NERDS: Have I gotta post for YOU today!
When I agreed to a cover reveal and interview with Abi Cushman about her upcoming book Animals Go Vroom!, I had no idea the sheer scope of the endeavor. But what is this book? Allow this handy dandy description to tell you more:
Hiss! Screech! Roar! It’s a noisy day in Bumperville! But are the sounds what you think they are? That Honk! must surely be a goose. But turn the page and it’s the taxi that a goose is driving! Using cleverly placed die-cuts, this inventive book hints at what is making the sound, but with each turn of the page, it’s an eye-opening surprise and part of an unfolding story that is part guessing game and part giggle-inducing caper. Abi Cushman is the master of surprise and silliness in this absolutely delightful picture book.
Sound neat? You don’t know the half of it. If ever you have found yourself curious about the process of integrating die-cuts into your art, wonder no longer . . .
Betsy Bird: Hello! So lovely to have you join me today. Before we get into anything else, how are you and your family faring right now?
Abi Cushman: Well first, thank you, Betsy, for having me on, and thanks for asking! I have two small children who are home with me all day (one does virtual school) and my husband’s a teacher. So the past nine months have definitely been tough, but on the other hand, the two small children were around before the pandemic as well. So I was definitely well-prepared when it came to having no social life and powering through work calls where I pretended there wasn’t a child in the same room talking loudly about butts.
BB: Oh, yeah. Butt-related conversations have definitely risen 45% since COVID struck. So give me a bit of a sense of where this book came from. You debuted with SOAKED in 2020, but this is simultaneously simpler and more complicated a book. How did you come up with the idea?
AC: I wrote ANIMALS GO VROOM! right after I got an offer for SOAKED! in 2018. I got the idea to play with animal + vehicle sounds when I drew this character for a different story I was working on:
I thought there was something funny about this sea lion roaring while flying a jet. Kind of like how in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, the mouse has to make the vrooming sound in order to make the motorcycle move.
After brainstorming sounds, I sketched out a board book with die-cuts called CATS GO VROOM!. It featured various big cats roaring, growling, purring, and hissing on different vehicles. But when I showed my agent, she said the sounds weren’t really different enough, and that I should think about expanding it out. Once I broadened it to any animal, I realized that I could actually have a bit of a storyline as well, with the box of tacks falling off a tiger’s truck that then causes a snake to get a flat tire. With this extra layer, it changed from a simple concept board book to a picture book, and I was able to add in secondary characters and other visual jokes.
BB: Well, die-cuts are not for the weak. I’m curious about the learning curve going on when you decided to try your hand at them. Had you ever done anything with die-cuts before?
AC: I’m a big fan of books with die-cuts and other novelty elements, but I had never tried them myself before, so I began the process with a wonderful sense of blissful optimism. That process ultimately involved making a bunch of book dummies, cutting out a bunch of holes, and then realizing they were in the wrong spot a bunch of times.
Here is one early dummy I made of the book. You can see the tiger face *is* actually peeking through the hole I made. (YAY!)
But then I had to keep snipping the rectangle to widen it so that the “ROAR!” could fit through the window on the next spread.
On this spread with a goose, I literally just cut out a new goose head and taped it into the correct spot. Who needs to measure stuff when you can just use tape, right??
So yes, there was a lot of fudging and going back and forth in the early stages to figure out the best size and position of the die-cuts. But luckily I had a lot of wite-out and and a lot of tape.
BB: You’ve already discussed some of this but what were some of the challenges you faced with the design of the book as a whole?
AC: When I moved onto final art for the book, I discovered there were even more challenges than I had originally thought. After painting in the backgrounds and adding details, I realized that the die-cuts, which would peek through to a flat color background, were trickier to blend into the art than I’d hoped. The background of the reveal pages is made up mostly of buildings—buildings that have lots of pesky little elements like windows, doors and signage. My challenge was to figure out creative ways to not just have the sound word on a bunch of weirdly blank buildings or on a very gray road every time. I wanted the colors on those sound word pages to be as fun and vibrant as possible.
Another challenge was that throughout the book, we see different snippets of the same road, moving down the road as the vehicles pile up behind each other, and then back up the road when traffic gets going again. I wanted each spread to be visually interesting, but I also had to keep the buildings and other street elements consistent throughout the book while ensuring the die-cuts still worked and there was enough space for the text to go. So I’d put in a nice tree on one spread and then realize that tree was right where a die-cut would go on a different spread. In other words, yes, I had lots of internal conversations in the months I worked on final art.
BB: The million dollar question, then: Would you do a die-cut book again after this?
AC: Of course! It was a learning experience, but it was also really fun. That’s in large part due to working with an amazing art director, Jim Hoover at Viking, who was incredibly encouraging throughout the entire process and who ensured that the book not only functioned, but it also really popped. I think it looks super fun! And it is so satisfying to see the end result.
BB: So what else are you working on right now?
AC: Right now, I am tinkering with a board book with lift-the-flaps and I’m also brainstorming ideas for an early graphic novel.
Very exciting stuff on the horizon that’s for sure.
And now . . . just as promised . . . the cover of ANIMALS GO ZOOM!
Many thanks to Abi Cushman for answering my questions with a level of thoroughness that I deeply admire. Thanks too to Lizzie Goodell and the good folks at Penguin Young Readers for the reveal.
Look for this book on shelves everywhere July 13, 2021.
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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