“The nature of healing is unpredictable.” An Andrew Knapp Interview About Find Momo
At this time of year I just have to tell you that you’re going to see a significant increase in posts about 2024 releases. Today’s post? No exception.
For a number of years now I’ve been a big fan of a little board book series. If you know me then you know that every December I do a round-up of my favorite board books of the year. That was how I discovered the Find Momo series. The books were cute. The were funny. They involved photography (my favorite medium) and often involved locating a wayward pet. But then, last month, I learned the following:
“Andrew Knapp and his dog Momo traveled the world together, playing and exploring. Along the way, they gained over 620,000 Instagram followers and published the best-selling Find Momo book series, which has delighted families worldwide. But after Momo’s sad passing in 2021, Andrew found himself in a position that anyone who has owned a pet can understand: They’re part of your family, and their loss can be just as painful as grieving any other loved one.
Andrew has channeled his own experience with pet loss into an honest, age-appropriate picture book exploration of grief, Find Momo Everywhere. The book traces Andrew and Momo’s life together, from their hide-and-seek games and globetrotting adventures to their final goodbye. Told in rhyme and beautifully illustrated in a mixed-media style that combines Andrew’s gorgeous landscape photography with charmingly drawn depictions of Momo and the world around him, this inviting picture book shows that those we lose stay with us through our memories.”
I can’t say I’ve ever seen a book series that started as board books make the transition to picture books via grief before. With all this in mind, I spoke to Andrew about the book, about Momo, and about more:
Betsy Bird: Hi Andrew. Thanks so much for talking with me today. So you’re one of the rare Instagram board book sensations I’ve never had the chance to meet. Before we dive into your latest title, can you tell us a little bit about how the FIND MOMO book series started in the first place?
Andrew Knapp: The pleasure is all mine, Betsy, and I hope we get the chance to meet! Find Momo at its simplest is Where’s Waldo, but in the real world with a dog. People often ask how I thought of the idea of Find Momo, and I tend to give the same answer: it was Momo’s idea! He started running off into the woods and he’d watch patiently to see if I’d throw a stick for him. I decided to start capturing and sharing these moments. We shot hundreds of photos, ended up going viral, and we made picture books. These were ultimately really fun travel books with the added incentive that a dog was hiding in every photo. Eventually, we pursued children’s books and it turns out he was just as skilled at hiding in these ones.
BB: After Momo’s death in 2021 you’ve done books with other dogs but this feels like a more touching send-off to a beloved friend. When did you get the idea for this particular project? And how did you prepare to write a book on the topic of grief?
AK: My publisher and I were in conversation about how to honour Momo. We had a few ideas and this one felt right. Ultimately, I prepared through finding books that inspired me and taking care of myself. Mary Oliver and Natalie Goldberg both have books about writing that suggested that the creative process was an exercise of the moment. When you sit down to write, you’re pulling from whatever you’re feeling in that moment. That made it important that I was present – that I was taking care of myself so I can connect with whatever message I needed to share through this book. Especially because I hadn’t published any of my writing in this way. It’s a book with relatively few words, but that almost made it more daunting as each word was so important. To connect with myself, to connect to my feelings in the moment, and to navigate the arc of emotions that grief allows us to experience was the real task.
BB: I found it particularly interesting that while most of the MOMO books have been board books with younger audiences, FIND MOMO EVERYWHERE is a bit of an older title and so it’s graduated up to the picture book level. Did you ever consider making it a board book as well? What prompted the change in formats?
AK: It was intentional for the book to stand out from the rest of the series. The concept was a little weightier so we intended to speak to kids older than the board book age range. I had this story in my mind that some kids might ask why Momo isn’t in the newest board book Let’s Find Yaya and Boo At Home!, and perhaps this can be a perfect prompt for a conversation about life and death. The book’s format being different can offer an a really impactful tool for that conversation.
BB: Another new aspect to the book is that while the previous MOMO titles have been done with photographs, this one is illustrated. And even more interesting, you’re the one who did the art! I was flipping back and forth in this for a while trying to find the artist before I realized this fact. Do you have an arts background? Because the entire product feels remarkably professional.
AK: Wow, I really appreciate that. I’m grateful that my parents pushed me to practice art. I always loved it. I had asthma as a kid so outdoor things weren’t really for me. Instead, I made films on VHS with my best friend Mike and painted and doodled. I entered art contests and won a few times which ultimately gave me some confidence. I ended up pursuing graphic design and loved that too. It’s all in the same toolkit for me. I asked myself: what is the message I want to share, and what is the best way to share it? Then reaching into my toolkit I found a combination of illustration and photography worked. This project in particular made sense to illustrate on top of my photos. In a way, that’s what we do with our memories – we were truly at these places, and our brain has a way of cherry picking the good bits, adding colour, and of course we also forget details.
Laurie Anderson speaks about this in her film Heart Of a Dog. “You get your story and you hold on to it, and every time you tell it, you forget it more.” Like looking at a photo, the more we look at it, the more we believe that the photo is the whole story. Some of my best photos were of mundane moments, and some of my fondest memories could never be captured. Illustration opened that up a little bit, and allows me to connect to the more ethereal parts of the story.
BB: To your mind, how would you like kids to best come to this book? How would you like them to use it?
AK: The nature of healing is unpredictable. When creating this book I asked myself if the world needed another children’s book about grief. There are already so many incredible ones. The answer was a resounding yes. We can’t predict how or when we’ll come across a book or any other tool that’ll guide us through one of life’s most challenging journeys. If we add more stories (and more stories with heart) to that library, and when someone reaches in to what once was an empty shelf and finds your story, maybe it’ll be the story they needed to hear, then we can imagine that we’ve made a little difference. That’s what really matters.
BB: Finally, what’s next for you?
AK: I’m always being reminded about importance in sharing our stories. I definitely love making books and hope to continue making more, and continue to push myself more into storytelling with video, illustration, animation, and of course, dogs.
Thanks for your time, Betsy!
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions today. Thanks too to Ivy Weird and the folks at Quirk Books for putting this all together. Find Momo Everywhere is on shelves, well, everywhere February 6, 2024. Be sure to look for it then!
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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