Supper Time! A Delicious “How To Eat a Book” Trailer Reveal and Interview
My executive decision today was to kick us all off with a bang. And what could be bangier than books that eat children/children that eat books? That’s literary consumption in the purest sense of the term.
So every year around December I do this 31 Days, 31 Lists countdown of various Best of the Year children’s book lists. One of those lists is called “Unconventional Children’s Books” (you can see the most recent, with links to previous years, here) and this year I’ve got a ringer. I expect How to Eat a Book to be in my starting line-up here in 2022. Why? Let’s talk to the book’s creators, Mrs. & Mr. MacLeod, to answer that:
Betsy Bird: Thank you so much for joining me today! So before we begin, I just want to confess that when I read your book I immediately slotted it into my “Unconventional Picture Books” category and wrote the following words about it: “Ever wondered what it would have been like if Shel Silverstein had played around with layered papers and papercuttings? I hadn’t either until I read this book which is so clearly one of his successors (in looks and tone alike!). I mean, I urge you to look at the endpapers alone and try to resist. Such a sense of scale! Of three-dimensionality! “. So my first question is how this book even came about. What is its origin story?
Mrs. & Mr. MacLeod: Hi Betsy. Thank you for inviting us!
HOW TO EAT A BOOK is based on a true story. The truth being, this book ate us whole! By the end of our journey, our cabin walls were covered in pages, words and pictures and we found ourselves living inside the story itself.
As our pen name alludes, we are a husband and wife team and we love creating picture books together. As you know, many picture book authors and illustrators never get to meet while working on their book! Our situation makes for heavy collaboration and quite the obsession.
BB: Let’s talk about the art a bit, since I’ve already alluded to it. What can you tell me about your process? How does it all come together? And how do you get that sense of depth?
M&MM: We approach our picture book making process as if we are creating a theatrical paper play. Each drawing is illustrated with dipped pen and ink, then cut out as the characters take shape. Eventually, our windows become a collage of paper scenes. We build a window theater where we switch out the characters and change the stage direction to fit the scene in the story. Living in a cabin in the redwoods, the filtered light from the upstairs windows makes the scenes come alive at different times of day. From there, the drawings seem to take on a life of their own.
BB: Speaking of depth, for all that the book has this fun and goofy plot, there’s some serious stuff to be said about the different reasons why people read for fun. I think that usually picture books sort of simplify it into a standard “reading gives you wings” n’ such. Your book is doing something a little different here, with three different ways of reading. Can you talk a little bit about that?
M&MM: The right book will eat you!
Sheila, Gerald and Geraldine found theirs, or did the books find them? Librarians, teachers, parents, grandparents, caretakers– Important people in our lives help connect us to books, and books connect us to so many things.
Most importantly, books connect us to each other
BB: I love that the characters’ last name is “Grunion”. Any idea where that name came from?
M&MM: On full moon nights, these wacky little fish, the Grunions, swim out of the ocean and run along the beach, looking for a spot to lay their eggs. It’s beautiful, it’s gross, it’s amazing and it’s real. A few of our favorite things. Known as the Grunion Run, it’s a night full of families laughing and running around on the beach while fish tickle their toes. It’s wild and fun, just like “The Grunions.”
BB: I don’t want to put you on the spot, so feel free to skip this question if you like, but I’ve always been a fan of picture books where the protagonist gets eaten. And you two have done one better. You have created a book in which THREE protagonists get eaten! So I have to ask you: What are your favorite picture books in which the hero is gulped down a gullet?
M&MM: We agree, Betsy! Stories where the protagonist gets eaten are so satisfying! We love picture books and draw inspiration from all forms of art.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is one of our favorite examples of the audience having fun while the characters get eaten, what could be better?!
BB: Finally, can you talk about what you’re working on next?
M&MM: The Grunions series is ALIVE, with more books under way! We are deep into the second book featuring Sheila, Gerald and Geraldine. The Grunion Run has begun!!!
Thank you Betsy for this opportunity to share our story with you!
Many thanks to the MacLeods and to Jenny Lu and the folks at Union Square & Co. for putting this all together. How to Eat a Book is on shelves everywhere October 4th. Be sure to check it out then!
Filed under: Interviews, Videos
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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