Fine Hats, Okay Hats, and Very Good Hats: An Interview with First Time Picture Book Author Emma Straub
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I may blog entirely about children’s books at night, but by day I’m a Collection and Materials Manager at Evanston Public Library. That means that a great deal of my job consists of purchasing adult titles for adult-type folks. An unexpected advantage to this job is that I now have a better sense of what’s being published in the wider world of adult fare. And that is why, when I heard the name “Emma Straub”, I had a fairly good sense of who she was. Straub … that would be the author of such books as This Time Tomorrow, All Adults Here, and Modern Lovers, yes? The same author who happens to own the bookstore Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill?
Turns out the self-same Emma Straub has turned her gaze to the picture book world. Not for naught either. Her latest title Very Good Hats has already garnered stars from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. The plot of the book is described by its publisher this way:
“Some people think hats are fancy things you can buy at a dressy store, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In this book, acorns and raspberries are snug hats for your fingers, and an empty pudding cup is a good hat for a stuffed bear. Pajama pants make dangly hats, books can be dramatic hats, and bubbles make very fine hats as well (if temporary). Readers will be delighted to discover that anything can be a hat if you believe it is. Hats are everywhere you look!”
And now, today, she’s willing to talk to me about her chapeau-related fare.
Betsy Bird: Emma! How lovely to talk to you today. I’m always intrigued by the phenomenon of authors of adult books switching gears and writing books for kids. In 2023 alone I’ve already seen picture books by Augusten Burroughs and the ubiquitous Dave Eggers. It’s possible the uptick may have something to do with the pandemic in some way. Was that the case for you?
Emma Straub: For me, yes–mostly because I was home with my children and unable to work on my novel. What I could do was work on picture ideas with my beautiful captive audience.
BB: That makes sense. There is some serious readaloud potential in this book. Did you, in the course of its creation, read it aloud early on to your own kids to see how it sounded? For that matter, do you ever read anything aloud to yourself alone as you write?
ES: Of course! Reading picture books aloud is so important, as you and all your readers know! It’s been so much fun this week, as the book has been out, reading to the big groups of kids. If I can make a group of first graders laugh….now that’s success.
BB: May I be so bold as to inquire as to your own hat collection? Do you have any fine and outstanding hats?
ES: Thank you for asking! My household collects hats, hats of all kinds! Big hats, warm hats, funny hats, costume hats. We’ve got it all.
BB: Excellent. Now I’ve seen many a dedication in my day, but never have I seen an author give a shout out to their favorite bookstore on a bookflap. I see now that you’re a co-owner of Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic, much in the same vein as fellow authors Louise Erdrich or Ann Patchett. This is a little off-topic but what made you take the leap and live the dream?
ES: Our local bookstore, BookCourt, which had been in the neighborhood for thirty-five years, closed in 2016. That was it–we just leaped in with both feet to fill the void. Plus: Ann told me to, and I always listen to Ann.
BB: Smart move. I know that you were a fan of artist Bianca Gómez and her book BIRD HOUSE, but were you the one to suggest pairing with her on VERY GOOD HATS or was that your editor Lauri Hornik’s idea? And how do you like the final product?
ES: Blanca was in the first group of names that we talked about, in terms of dream collaborators, and I was so delighted that she said yes. I think Blanca made the book a thousand times better, and more vibrant, and joyous. I love every page.
BB: Finally, are you at all inclined to create any more picture books? Or any other types of books for kids, for that matter?
ES: Yes! I have two more on deck with Rocky Pond–the next one, which I wrote with my mother, Susan Straub, is called Gaga Mistake Day, and it’s illustrated by the incredible Jessica Love. We are so, so excited for people to see it.
Thanks indeed to Emma for answering my questions and to Elyse Marshall and the folks at Penguin Young Readers for setting this interview up. Very Good Hats is already on bookstore and library shelves everywhere. Give it a glance today.
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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