Don’t Take a Pass On This One. A Talk with Susanna Reich and Raúl Colon on Pass the Baby and Cover Reveal
It’s happened again. A picture book is about to be released that taps into something universal, yet has never been exclusively featured in a title for kids before. The adorable creation in question is none other than the upcoming Pass the Baby by Susanna Reich with marvelous art by Raúl Colon. Utterly adorable and inarguably entrancing, this is a rhythmic little wonder just begging to be said aloud. And today, I am so pleased to not only be revealing its cover, but to also provide an interview with its creators:
Betsy Bird: Hi Susanna! Thanks so much for taking my questions today. And what a rollicking, bouncy little book this is! I have to assume there was some real life influence on this title. Where did the idea of it come from for you?
Susanna Reich: Hi Betsy! Thank you for hosting us. I’m excited to share Pass the Baby, because it’s my first fictional picture book and was so much fun to write. The idea came from a family dinner at which a baby was passed around the table. Everyone took turns holding her, and she was delighted by all the attention. The dog at our dinner was fast asleep under the table, unlike the dog in the book. The rest came from my imagination, inspired by many happy family meals—and by memories of how much energy babies have!
BB: Oh yeah. I remember that. And Raúl! So lovely to talk to you! So this is a much younger title than I’m accustomed to seeing from you. How did you come to be attached to this project?
Raúl Colon: I became attached to this project (“Pass the Baby”) through my editor, Neal Porter, who had seen other pieces from me. They made him think that I could tackle this.
He also knew that Susanna and I had worked together before.
BB: Makes sense. And Susanna, did you have any specific illustrators in mind when you created the book? What did you think of the final product from Raúl?
SR: When our editor chose Raúl, I knew Pass the Baby was in good hands, because we’d worked together before, on José! Born to Dance. I adore the lyricism of Raúl’s work and was happy to give him a text that brought out his humorous side. Every time I look at the finished art, it makes me laugh in delight.
BB: Right? Raúl, I was particularly interested in how you dealt with the repetition in the text visually. More than one you handle the “pass the baby” chorus of the book with similar images, which I thought was really nice. Where did you get the idea to handle it this way?
RC: Good question. The idea of reusing certain visuals repeatedly (one reversed), actually came from watching certain film comedies, and slapstick performances, where a certain physical action is repeated throughout the story. Usually someone tripping or falling down the stairs, or running into trouble with the same policeman, over and over, say, like Chaplin or Buster Keaton would.
BB: Ahhh! I love that Keaton was, in some way, an inspiration. How about you, Susanna? Were there any particular baby books that served as an inspiration in any way?
SR: Even though the main character is a baby, I don’t think of this exclusively as a baby book. It’s also for pre-K and early-elementary readers. That’s one reason the baby’s older brother and sister are present throughout the book, and why the brother is brought forward at the end. As for literary inspirations, I spent a lot of time with A.A. Milne and Dr. Seuss as a child. Their words really dance for me.
BB: And when writing a book like this, do you constantly have to read it aloud so that you get the cadences right? Or do you work entirely in your head? Do you ever read it aloud to anyone else while you’re working on it?
SR: No matter what I’m writing, I listen to the phrases as if I’m writing music. For most of the process, I hear the words in my head. Actually, I hear/feel them with my whole body. As the book gets more polished, I read it aloud to myself. Then I ask others to read it and point out anything that feels off, because not everyone hears the rhythm of language in the same way.
BB: Well, Raúl, that baby is adorable and just a little bit too real. I have to assume you’ve handled a baby in your time that was an inspiration. Did you have any specific babies in mind as you created this particular one? (The feet kicking well-meaning adults in the face was a little too real)
RC: I had seen a few photos in a book from Edward Steichen’s exhibit titled “The Family of Man”. There were a few pictures in the book that gave me an idea for the baby’s “look”. Plus a few cartoons added a bit of the quirkiness.
BB: Having studied photography in college, I remember “The Family of Man” well. It makes me wonder what other books for children it may have inspired. Finally, to round us out today, what are you two working on next? What’s coming up for you?
SR: I have a few picture book biographies out on submission. One is a sibling story about the Gershwin brothers, who wrote hundreds of songs together (George, the music; Ira, the words). Another is about the nurse and social activist Lillian Wald. Right now I’m working on a middle-grade nonfiction called West Side Story Story. It’s about the making of the original Broadway musical and the four gay, Jewish men who created it—Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Stephen Sondheim. The music and dance parts of my brain are all lit up, and my inner Jewish New Yorker is having a ball with the language.
RC: I’m working on a bio about a teacher in Puerto Rico, under Spanish rule, in the 19th century –and another- about a character in a famous cuban song. In April of this year, I will be at the LA Times Book Fair, announcing that The (George) Lucas Museum of Narrative Art bought the art for my book “Imagine!” in it’s entirety. A grand opening is scheduled to take place in 2025.
Looks like congrats are in order for both Susanna and Raúl today, above and beyond this book! By now we’ve teased you long enough. Take a gander at this:
Many thanks to Bree Martinez and the folks at Holiday House for arranging this interview and cover reveal today. Pass the Baby is on bookshelves everywhere October 17th. Be sure to look for it then!
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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