Jane Mount Makes Good Interviews: A Discussion With the Creator of Books Make Good Friends
In 2018 there was a book making the rounds that was neat. “Neat” is an odd little word, but I can’t think of a better one in this case. The book was called Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany and it was written and illustrated by one Jane Mount. Ostensibly for adults, it was filled with favorite books (and illustrations of favorite books) along with art depicting the world’s most beautiful bookstores, book quizzes, famous fictional meals, the workspaces of favorite authors, and more.
Jane would go on to follow that book up with Bibliophile: Diverse Spines, co-written with Jamise Harper (a book that I once saw a librarian at a conference use as an autograph book, which was just so cool). But now, here in 2023, she’s taken this talent she has for illustrating teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, minuscule spines of books and applied it to her very first picture book of her own.
Books Make Good Friends is the story of a socially awkward little girl who finds books easier to relate to than people (we hear you, kid). It’s on shelves everywhere November 7th and I wish that I could properly convey to you the sheer levels of detail this book has to offer. Look at what I mean:
But above and beyond its look, the story is a heartfelt one as well. I had a chance to ask Jane a few questions about her latest title and pounced on the opportunity:
Betsy Bird: Jane! So delightful to host you here today. Since this is your first foray into children’s literature proper, I wonder if you might give us a sense of how you started making books. What is your origin story, per se? How did you get started?
Jane Mount: Way back in 2008, I started drawing the spines of books as they stood on friends’ bookshelves, mainly because I liked looking at them. I quickly realized it was much more interesting if I asked them what books were their favorites, the ones that helped make them who they are, because I could learn a lot about the person at the same time. It’s like a portrait of them from the inside.
That led to my first book, MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, published by Little, Brown in 2012. The writer Thessaly La Force and I picked 100 creative people of all sorts (writers, chefs, musicians, etc.). She interviewed them and I drew their books.
Then a few years later I started working with my brilliant agent Kate Woodrow from Present Perfect Literary. I had a very vague idea about making an illustrated book about books, for adults, and she helped me pull it together into a real idea. Eventually that became BIBLIOPHILE: AN ILLUSTRATED MISCELLANY, published by Chronicle Books in 2018. I also worked with Chronicle to publish a bunch of other related products, like notecards, puzzles, a reader’s journal, and more. Then during the pandemic I worked with writer and bookstagrammer Jamise Harper to create BIBLIOPHILE: DIVERSE SPINES, focused on books by writers from diverse backgrounds and cultures, often underrepresented. That’s also when I started talking to the children’s book group at Chronicle, and developing the idea that would become BOOKS MAKE GOOD FRIENDS.
BB: On that note, the leap from illustrating books for adults to illustrating a book for kids seems intuitive but finding the right story must have been a struggle. How did you eventually land on the plot of BOOKS MAKE GOOD FRIENDS?
JM: It was a huge struggle! My books for adults have all been non-fiction, and research- or interview- based (they were struggles, too, but for different reasons, ha). I have always wanted to make books for kids, mainly because I think the books we read when young are much more formative than those we read as adults, and perhaps for that reason I was pretty overwhelmed at the beginning, trying to come up with something I really believed in. But I feel strongly that every new project should be a challenge, because that’s the only way I grow, so I dragged myself through sketch dummies of three or four bad ideas for the book until, suddenly, this idea came and I could tell right away it was a worthy one. There were many more struggles after that, since I also had to teach myself to draw full scenes, and to draw characters that stay consistent throughout the book, but once I felt I had a good idea, I knew the rest would eventually happen if I just kept working on it, so I could relax and enjoy the process of learning and creating.
As for the plot itself, it is somewhat autobiographical and I’m not a huge sharer, so that may be a reason why putting this story down on paper took a bit. As a kid I was ridiculously shy, and I was chubby with glasses and braces so I got teased a lot, making me even more shy. I really didn’t have friends through most of elementary and middle school, and I read a LOT of books to escape, and to hang out with characters that I loved and I thought might like me, too, if we met in person.
BB: I’m absolutely floored by the levels of detail in this book. You not only include spine after spine after spine of favorites, but you don’t fall into that trap of only including ancient “classics”. So many of these books are new.
JM: There are many classics that became classics for a reason and still hold up, and many I love! I definitely wanted to include some old and recent classics, both because they are great, and because if people (both kids and adults) see familiar books they love, then they usually realize they might love some of the other ones they hadn’t heard of before, too, and give them a try. But yes, there are SO MANY wonderful new books! And right now we’re in a beautiful moment where many more books by writers from diverse backgrounds are being published than ever before. I think if you read widely as a child–from all genres, about many topics, and by authors with many perspectives–you understand the world better as an adult, and are probably just a better person, in general. Books make us better.
BB: Not only do you show the spines of books but this story proves to be an excellent method of introducing parents and teachers to titles they may not have known about before. You include little recommendations throughout. How did you go about choosing those books? Are they personal favorites one and all or did you take suggestions?
JM: I definitely included some of my old favorites, and I read many more while working on the book and found some new loves. And I follow many folks online who review books for kids (like you!!), and I asked many parents I know for recommendations. Also, for over a decade I’ve been making custom art prints for people, of their favorite books or the books of a loved one, so I keep track of which books are most beloved. And I have a decent following on Instagram, so often I will ask people there for suggestions, which usually leads to me finding some total gems I had never heard of before. All that being said, I know there are a gazillion more brilliant books I could have included!
BB: Lots of books for kids might recommend other books but almost none (or at least none that I’ve ever encountered) recommend nonfiction titles as well as fictional ones. At one point Lotti’s mother introduces her to nonfiction and she discovers an entire world of books she’d never encountered before. I’ve been advocating for nonfiction for years, so this is an incredibly gratifying spread. Why did you make a point to include it?
JM: When I was little I believed that as we grow up and get older we keep learning and learning things until we know absolutely everything there is to know, and then we can die. (In some ways I’m still on that mission!) I love nonfiction as an adult, and I loved it as a kid but even then I didn’t read much of it outside of school. I think for some reason nonfiction picture books come across as less exciting than fiction (perhaps more for the adults buying them than for the kids?), until you actually have one in your hands and realize how amazing it is! The real world is amazing! So I want to get more nonfiction into more hands, and made sure to include it.
BB: There are just SO many books here. Undoubtedly there are authors who probably don’t even know that they’re included. I guess that there isn’t any way to tell them, but have you or your publisher had any thoughts about alerting them to their inclusion?
JM: That is an excellent question! Chronicle Books and I have sent books to the authors and illustrators I highlighted with Lotti’s mini-reviews, and I will be trying to tag others I can when I post about the book online, but there are so many more. If you have suggestions I’d love to hear them! Also, to be fully honest, the forever-shy-kid in me is always a bit scared to tell people I included their book, because what if they don’t like my work? But I try every day to get past that, ha.
BB: Finally, what else will you be working on next? Something for adults or something for kids? Or both?
JM: In the immediate future it’s the holiday season at idealbookshelf.com, when I get a ton of orders for custom prints, mugs, and more, all of peoples’ loved ones’ favorite books, and so I will be making all of those. I love doing them–I love to see which books people pick, and I always get some really lovely emails afterwards from the gift-givers, saying that the gifts spawned happy tears in the recipient. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing better than happy tears.
And I have two ideas for kids’ books percolating (meaning I’m currently writing and sketching to work out the plots and illustration styles), so hopefully one will become a real project very soon. I would love to make another illustrated book for adults, but there aren’t as many adults that buy illustrated books, so I need to come up with a great idea before leaping into it, and I’m still working on that.
Such a delight to host Jane here today. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to answer all my questions (fun fact: her brother’s good friend growing up was my husband – how random is that?). Thanks too to Caitlin Ek and the good folks at Chronicle Books for putting this all together. Books Make Good Friends is, as I’ve said, out everywhere in stores November 7th. 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.
SLJ Blog Network