Describe your latest project.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 is a picture book that tells the story of the first moon landing ? achieved by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969.
As the publisher puts it:
Simply told, grandly shown, here is the flight of Apollo 11. Here for a new generation of readers and explorers are the steady astronauts, clicking themselves into gloves and helmets, strapping themselves into sideways seats. Here are their great machines in all their detail and monumentality, the roar of rockets, and the silence of the Moon. Here is a story of adventure and discovery ? a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away.
Moonshot is the most challenging and most exciting book I've worked on so far: challenging because there was so much information to take in and manage, and exciting because the information was all about, well, going to the Moon!
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
I'll choose Warwick Hutton. He made picture books based on Greek myths, folktales, and Bible stories. He worked with Susan Cooper on a few books, but often retold the old stories himself. His writing is straightforward and his pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are understated and elegant. His Persephone is a beautiful book.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
I won't be made to choose! I had the fortune to have several great teachers, all the way through the public-school system where I grew up, in Temple, Texas. They were interested in their students as people and in learning for learning's sake. They almost always found some way to introduce creative work into what we were studying, sometimes to the point of an outright sense of play. I feel very lucky for that.
What is your favorite literary first line?
The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley begins: "The past is another country: they do things differently there."
That line's a great lens for looking at the way people used to live and at the way people used to think. It activates and enlivens the past. Beautiful. (And yet, I've never read the rest of the book.)
What was your favorite story as a child?
I remember, when I was very young, asking my mom if we had any books on dinosaurs. She went into the back of the house and, as if by magic, came back with The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written and illustrated by Anthony Ravielli. I don't know that it was my favorite story, exactly, but no book more transfixed me. It was a big book, with an awful orange cover and, inside, dark, serious drawings of dinosaurs, done in black ink with a murky greenish-brown tone added for color. The dinosaurs were fierce, large, monstrous. They strode across the page, they fought, they died, often with volcanoes in the background. Fantastic stuff! For years I wondered what else Ravielli had done; I learned only recently that he's best remembered for his instructional drawings for Golf Digest magazine.
What's your clean, kid-friendly curse word substitute of choice? (darn? etc.)
In the book Lightship, I have a sailor cry "#@*%&!" at a passing ship. The New York Times Book Review ended up mentioning that in a review of the book. I found that I enjoyed thinking of the Times copy editors double-checking the spelling of #@*%&!.
What book by another author do you wish you had written?
A Near Thing for Captain Najork, written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Quentin Blake. There's not a single sentence in it that doesn't make me want to laugh, and Blake's drawings are full of sympathetic humor and a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. Hoban and Blake both work with a lightness of touch that makes what they do look easy.
Why do you write books for kids?
I have great memories of looking at books as a kid, and I value very much the idea of kids enjoying the books I make. But the strongest pull for me in this work is simply the process of making a picture book. I get to look for stories that excite me and that I think a young reader would enjoy, and then I read about those things, visit where they happened, watch movies about them, and try to find a way to share my excitement and interest in words and pictures. As I'm writing and drawing, I'm trying to make the two ways of communicating work together, to balance and to play off each other. And I love the physical structure of the picture book, the way it asks you to turn the page ? to pull back a cover, a layer ? to reveal the next moment, to find out what happens. It's a pause, a moment of suspense, that's physically built into your story. It's just a very interesting and rewarding format in which to work.