Baby Changing Station: An Interview with Dan Santat and Rhett Miller
Siblings. It’s like a relationship that’s handed to you without your input or consent. Very few children actually have much of a say in whether or not their parents add additional kids to the family unit. Once acquired, younger siblings tend to stick around too. Now I’ve seen my fair share of fantasy sequences in children’s books regarding sisters and brothers. Shel Silverstein’s poem “Sister for Sale” comes instantly to mind. But it’s one thing to sell your little sister. It would be another thing entirely to trade her in for cool stuff.
In Rhett Miller’s BABY-CHANGING STATION (illustrated by Dan Santat) a kid is offered the ultimate Faustian deal: exchange his baby brother for gear. Our hero is out at a restaurant with his mom, dad, and baby brother. And when baby bro gets himself a diaper, the aforementioned parents pull rank. Now our hero has to take his little sibling to the bathroom where the baby-changing station is. After doing the deed (and doing it quite well) the station itself suddenly acquires a whole A.I. personality. It promises the older brother VR goggles, electric guitars, and even a magnificent chemistry set. Yet every time our hero considers the deal, he can’t help but think how much more fun it would be to play with alongside his brother someday.
You last saw rock star Rhett Miller when he paired with Dan on No More Poems! I had a chance to catch up with the fellas and ask them a query or two myself:
Betsy Bird: Dan and Rhett, thank you so much for joining me today! All right, I want an origin story. Let’s start with you Rhett. Rhett, how did you come up with BABY-CHANGING STATION in the first place?
Rhett Miller: When my mom brought my own little brother home from the hospital, apparently my first response was to place a pillow over him in his crib, in the hopes that he would disappear forever. Apparently I spent the next few days standing in the corner wishing he’d go away.
Sibling rivalry is a real thing. The flipside of that is that my younger brother and sister quickly became my two favorite people in the world. Now I have two teenagers of my own. It is beautiful to watch them crack each other up, lift each other up and love each other all the time. I wanted to examine the evolution of those feelings from jealousy to joy.
BB: Dan, I know that you and Rhett worked together on NO MORE POEMS a couple years ago. When you saw the manuscript for BABY-CHANGING STATION, what about it appealed to you?
Dan Santat: No More Poems was a really fun fantastic book of poems which gave me the opportunity to illustrate all different sorts of mini stories. They were clever poems and I knew that working with Rhett again would be a real blast. In respect to the story, I was an only child and I always wished I had a sibling (older or younger) so inversely, I loved this story of this bizarre machine offering an opportunity for an older brother to be an only child by trading his sibling for cool items. Forget the consequences of what you’d have to explain to your parents emerging from a restroom with one less brother but one cool new guitar. The idea that you could use a sibling as currency is hilarious to me.
BB: Rhett, I would like to bestow upon you the honor of First Mention of The Kinks in a Picture Book that I have ever seen. I’m always curious about that line that you have to walk between making a picture book interesting to a kid vs. to the adults reading it to a kid. How do you find that balance when you’re writing a story?
RM: I have always believed that when it comes to speaking with kids, the best thing you can do is assume a level of savvy that they may not yet have achieved. In doing so you challenge them. Watching them rise to the challenge is pretty great.
Also, I spent thousands of hours reading to my kids. I appreciated it when authors went the extra mile to err on the side of clever rather than insipid.
And The Kinks are wildly underrated.
BB: Dan, I’m not gonna lie. I found a tiny reference to your graphic novel SIDEKICKS in one of the pictures. What else have you hidden in these pages (or can you even tell us)?
RM: One of my favorite little Easter eggs is a little poster hanging on the wall next to the bathroom door that reads:
Must have a truck to carry other band members’ gear
Another one is a neon sign that reads “Mary’s” which is the popular pizza establishment in my wife’s hometown of Sonoma, CA
Lastly, the nightclub that the kids perform in is actually The Troubador, a famous Los Angeles club that Rhett invited me to one night when the Old 97s were performing. For legal reasons I couldn’t put the iconic neon sign over the stage and hence it is now called “The Casbah” like the club in my graphic novel, Sidekicks
BB: A serious question for both of you now. You have both, I know, changed many a diaper in your day. Be honest with me. By the end of your diaper reign, would you have said you were baby changing pros or professional amateurs?
RM: I took great pride in my diaper-changing abilities. I think I would still be able to do a pretty great job.
DS: After the five years of changng the diapers of two kids I’ve changed a few diapers of my friends’ kids since my kids have grown up. I still got the skills and I can change a diaper in a good 3-5 minutes (depending on the mess) I’d like to share one trick that some parents don’t know. Sometimes toddlers will be really fidgety and bend their legs making it hard to put the diaper on. If you squeeze their thigh it will straighten out for a good 20 seconds, which gives you plenty of time to apply the diaper. I think you could say that’s the knowledge OF A PRO.
BB: Any baby-related catastrophe stories you’d care to share? We’re all friends here.
RM: I’ve blocked all memories of my parenting failures. I’m sure I’ll hear about them once my kids unearth them in therapy.
DS: I think we’ve all encountered that moment at least once in our time as parents where we remove a diaper and then the kid begins to pee and poop while you’re changing the kid and in a panic you end up grabbing diapers instead of wipes and now you’re frantically wiping up poop and pee with other diapers. When all is said and done you’ve used up 8 diapers during one change but you’re just glad you made it out alive.
BB: Been there. Did that. Finally, any chance you guys will be working on another book together in the future?
RM: That is a hard yes from me. You up for it, Dan?
DS: Anytime! Anywhere!
Big bunches of thanks to Dan and Rhett for answering my questions and to Victoria Stapleton and the folks at Little, Brown and Co. for putting this together. Baby-Changing Station hits shelves in 2022. Until then, keep changing!
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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