I Do Not Eat Children: An Irreverent Q&A with Marcus Cutler
I’m not here to point fingers. Maybe you eat children. Maybe you do not. Who am I to judge? but if you say that y u don’t eat children then it’s only fair to hold you to your word. Now Marcus Cutler? He has a new picture book out on February 20th that states its eating-children-position far and wide. But what is the book actually about? A quick synopsis:
A big orange creature lurks in a crowded playground…but don’t worry! He would never eat a child. What do you think he is…a MONSTER? And kids are definitely not disappearing every time you turn a page. You’re imagining things. The monster has nothing to hide; in fact, he loves children. And he would never, ever, ever—oops! There goes another kid….
This laugh-out-loud story will keep readers guessing until the end, then send them straight back to the beginning to keep a close eye on the wily monster (and the one kid who knows exactly what he’s up to). A great read aloud for bedtime (or anytime!), this silly and subversive picture book delivers poetic justice and giggles galore.
Needless to say, I had some questions . . .
Betsy Bird: Marcus! Thanks so much for joining me here today! Particularly since you have just written a book in my favorite picture book genre of all time: Titles in which the protagonist gets eaten. So tell us a little about where this book came from! What are its origins?
Marcus Cutler: Hi Betsy, thanks so much for having me, it’s an honor! It sounds like you and I have similar tastes in books! The concept for this book came from a game I used to play with my daughters. We called it “Monster,” but it was really any game where we would play-fight. It had a shifting set of rules, but for a while it involved me capturing one of my kids and pretending I was taking bites out of them. They would scream for me to stop eating them and I would just deny I was doing it. They thought it was hilarious! I don’t know if I actually said, “I do not eat children,” but I like to think I did. The line got stuck in my head for a while, and the rest of the idea just fell into place like magic. Deirdre Jones, my editor at Little, Brown, really helped me to refine it, and made it so much better.
I should be clear though that I never actually bit my kids or ate them in any way! Or any kids at all, ever! They are far too stinky and gross for my tastes. Even if they were freshly scrubbed, battered, rolled in a combination of brown sugar, chili powder, garlic, and paprika, slowly roasted for 8 hours, and served on a kaiser bun with artisanal mayonnaise. What am I, a monster?
BB: I am personally of the opinion that the best picture books often come out of games you play with your kids, so no judgement here. The book is, I’ll just say it, pretty gutsy. It’s not moralizing. We’re not all friends with the monster at the end. The great swath of picture books out there tend to be on the ooey gooey, sentimental side. Your book suffers no such ill. Was it received immediately by everyone you pitched it to with great love or did it take you a while to find the right home for it?
MC: Wow, thanks for saying it’s “gutsy.” I like that a lot! I honestly wasn’t trying to be edgy, I just thought that the idea was interesting and funny. But yes, after I mocked it up, I did start to worry that it might not be well received. Before sending it to my agent, Steven Chudney, I did some research and made a spreadsheet of other picture books where characters were killed or eaten, so that I could defend the idea if I had to. But I was surprised and happy that no one really ever pushed back on it, and that it sold to Little, Brown really quickly! I think Steven was a bit surprised too! I’m pretty curious to see what people think once it’s out in the world.
BB: I have to ask this because it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw your cover. Is it, by any chance, an homage to GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER? Both books do involve the subtle disappearance of something, whether it’s children or body parts. Or was that a coincidence?
MC: I love Ed Emberley! I grew up on his drawing books, in fact, I might not have been an illustrator without them. I actually haven’t thought of GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER in a while – so beautiful and creative! Both books do empower children to overcome monsters, so maybe it was a subconscious homage. I’m fine with giving him some of the credit. And if any librarians want to display my book alongside Ed Emberley’s, I think that would look great. Actually, they should probably, definitely do that.
I think the big influence for this book was actually THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. It was my first favorite book. My kindergarten teacher read it to us and it had us screaming. I think that was my first encounter with fourth-wall breaking, and my mind was blown. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. So yes, I think the best library display would be GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER, THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, and I DO NOT EAT CHILDREN. I won’t decide which one goes in the middle though.
BB: A fine and fabulous monster-related triumvirate. This isn’t your only picture book out in 2024, of course. If I’m not too much mistaken you are also the illustrator of THE RAVEN BOY by Rosemarie Avrana Meyok. In both that and this book the characters make choices wholly unexpected to any reader who has previously read only picture books that are all sweetness and light. What draws you to the stories that tread unfamiliar territory?
MC: I had a wonderful time illustrating THE RAVEN BOY. It’s based on an Inuit folktale, and like all great folktales, it does explore some of the darker truths of the world. And I feel that’s really important, but it’s also really fun. I think it’s easiest to hook people, and kids especially, with the funny, weird, or spooky stuff. I don’t know if I could do something that was purely sentimental, that’s too hard! I think sweet books are wonderful if they’re done well, but you really need to land the emotionality, which is a big challenge. Plus, I would just get too embarrassed by it – I think need irreverence as my emotional body-armor.
BB: Just gonna write down the term “emotional body-armor” for my own personal use now. Moving on, if I know publishers then I know that publishers like picture book series more than anything else. Any chance we might see other monsters coming out of you in the future?
MC: I hope so! If I could have it my way, I would draw nothing but monsters. And this guy could come back. I think he’s not unlike Jason Voorhees that way…
BB: And, with that, Marcus Cutler officially marked the very first time a Jason Voorhees reference was ever made on this site. Finally, what do you have coming out next?
MC: Speaking of THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, DO NOT TURN THE PAGE! by Jane Blondie is a total homage to that masterpiece. It’s about Charlie, who is desperately messy, and every page turn brings him closer and closer to the bath tub, which he really does not want. It was fantastic getting to illustrate so many messy scenes. It will be released by Scholastic Canada in spring, 2025.
And in May this year LARK GOES THE DISTANCE, written by Natasha Deen, will be out. It’s the latest in the Lark Ba detective series. I’ve been drawing Lark and her brother Connor for quite a while now, and Natasha is always coming up with fun new characters to add in, and clever mysteries to solve. That’s from Orca Book Publishers.
BB: Marvelous! Well, thank you so much, Marcus, for joining us, and being unafraid to answer my tough questions about monsters.
Thanks too to Victoria Stapleton and the team at Little, Brown & Co. for setting this interview up in the first place. You’ll find I Do Not Eat Children everywhere on library and bookstore shelves as of February 20th. Enjoy 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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