Monday, July 20, 2015

Interview #20: Dan Santat

Dan Santat is the most recent winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award for his book “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.”  He has also been a big part of our blog.  Over the course of Bookie Woogie's 140 reviews / seven year history, Dan holds the record for most books featured.  There are a smattering of creators with 2 books that we've looked at.  There are just two authors with 3 books reviewed.  But Dan was the only person who happened to garner 4 reviews.  Clearly we love his work!  We're honored that Dan took time out of his crazy-busy, book-making, interview-giving, festival-touring schedule to chat with us about Creative Life.  Thanks Dan!  
(portrait by Gracie)  

We'll start things off by taking a look at his latest...

Dad:  “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.”
Gracie (age 14):  Oh, it has a long title.  All along I thought the book was just called “Beekle.”
Elijah (age 9):  It’s about a little white chubby guy who needs a friend.  He doesn’t have one because no one wished for him.
Isaac (age 16):  Imaginary friends get claimed by little kids -- imagined by little kids.  But Beekle never got imagined, so he decided to go out to the real world to find someone who could be his friend.
Elijah:  He had to sail on the clouds.
Dad:  What did we notice as Beekle moves further away from his imaginary world to the real world?
Isaac:  It goes from bright, happy colors to depressing and gray.
Gracie:  The colors are lessening.  Everything is gray and sad.  Except for music.
Lily (age 12):  And cake.
Gracie:  Good things.  Because music and cake make people happy.
Dad:  And we know that’s not random a decision.  Dan Santat could have put all these grownups in green dresses and red shirts.  So why do you think he chose to fill the grownup world with whites and grays?
Gracie:  Because old people are boring.
Lily:  Yep.
Isaac:  Because in the real world, everything is just regular.  There is nothing--
Gracie:  Nobody’s special.  That’s the lesson here.  Ha ha ha.
Isaac:  There is a lack of imagination.
Dad:  What happens next?
Isaac:  Beekle finds some kids on a playground, but there was still nobody there for him.
Gracie:  This looks like such a fun playground.  You can climb in a whale!  Our playgrounds are NOT this fun.
Isaac:  He climbed a tree and saw a little girl who was drawing.  But her paper blew away into the tree, so he grabbed it for her.
Elijah:  It was a girl named Alice, and the paper had a picture of Beekle handing Alice a picture of Beekle handing Alice a picture of Beekle handing…
Dad:  It could go on forever.
Gracie:  All the pages she was coloring show the pictures from "The Adventures of Beekle," even all the beginning pictures from before we met Alice.  See, there’s Beekle walking around the boring-cake-grandma-lady.
Isaac:  Alice turned out to be the…  the…  Imaginator.
Dad:  Sounds like a super hero: “The Imaginator.”
Isaac:  He’s the Imaginee.  So she’s the Imaginator.
Elijah:  Imagineer.
Gracie:  That’s what they call them at Disney World.
Elijah:  She was the one who had imagined him.  She wrote his story.
Lily:  She’s a Creative.
Dad:  They are a match!
Lily:  The end papers show that the imaginary friends match up to the interests of the person who imagines them.
Gracie:  Like, there’s this little kid with a kite, so her imaginary friend is this cute little cloud guy.  And there’s a girl with origami stuff, so her imaginary friend is a paper-looking panda.
Dad:  So the end papers are important.  They are more than just filler.
Gracie:  I love the endpapers!
Lily:  The other imaginary friends in the book are colorful.
Elijah:  I love the imaginary Octopus Guy.  Have you ever seen a purple octopus with such freakishly big eyes and designs all over him?
Gracie:  But Beekle doesn’t really have any color.  He's just white.  So that’s weird. 
Dad:  Do you remember what Alice’s interest is?  What would “white” represent if you are an artist?
Gracie:  Possibility!
Elijah:  This book is pretty cool.
Lily:  It’s like traveling through imagination.

And now, an interview with Dan Santat:

Dad:  Thanks for chatting with us today!
Dan Santat:  We’ve known each other for, like, seven years.  But technically this is the first time we’ve met!
Dad:  It's the first time we’ve had a conversation.
Dan Santat:  How are things in Michigan?
Gracie:  Cold and wet.
Lily:  It’s been raining a lot.
Dan Santat:  That’s not a problem here in Southern California.  It never rains.  We have no weather here.
Gracie:  Come to Michigan.  You can get frostbite and sunburn in the same week.
Dad:  Let’s interview!  Who has a question?
Isaac:  I’ll start.  You wrote "Beekle" and "Sidekicks," but a lot of your books are ones you illustrated for other authors.  What are some of the things that are different when you’re making your own book compared to doing art for some one else’s story?
Dan Santat:  I think the beauty of illustrating my own books is that when I write, I already have illustrations in mind.  So I don’t have to say certain things because I know they will be illustrated.
Isaac:  Sure.
Dan Santat:  If I am illustrating for someone else, I have to play with the author on equal ground.  Even if I think a visual element might be a better solution, I still have to respect the text.  But when I am writing, I know the underlying meaning I want to communicate.  And if I can convey the message more effectively in illustrations, I have the flexibility to lean that way.
Isaac:  Do you have a specific example of how that played out in "Beekle"?
Dan Santat:  There’s a spread where Beekle finally leaves the island, and you see the Rainbow Dragon coming out of the cloud, and the text says, “He did the unimaginable.”
Lily:  That’s my favorite!
Isaac:  It’s a great page.
Lily:  All those colors.
Dan Santat:  I like to let the illustrations say as much as possible.  So I don’t write, “Then he built a ship and left to go find a friend in the real world…”  That’s already being communicated in the illustration.  You already see him sailing off on a boat.  He’s clearly going on an adventure.  So I don’t have to write that.  Rather, the text has the power to add something extra.  Saying “he did the unimaginable” gives it some heart, a little more charm.
Gracie:  You do a good job with visual storytelling.
Dan Santat:  Aw, thank-you.
Gracie:  If you took all the words out of the book, you could probably still tell what was going on.
Dan Santat:  Actually I think if you just read the text alone, you could also interpret things in a completely different way.  The words almost tell a different story that just happens to run parallel with the visuals.  And I think that’s the place you want to be with storytelling.  You don’t want words that tell you what you are already looking at.  You want the pictures to say one thing and you want the text to imply more.  You don’t want it to be a one on one relationship.  Like figure skaters who have to work in tandem to make this beautiful performance.  They are feeding off of each other.
Isaac:  Very cool.
Elijah:  How are you able to illustrate so many books?  You have a ton of them.
Dan Santat:  I look back over the last ten years of my life, and I can see how much work I’ve done.  But I don’t think it was until after I won the Caldecott that I asked myself how I did it.  Last year I did 13 books.
Gracie:  Wow!
Dan Santat:  That’s so mentally and physically exhausting.
Isaac:  I bet!
Dan Santat:  I never want to do that ever again.
Kids:  Ha ha hah…
Dan Santat:  A lot of my work is dictated by my need to provide for the family.  I’m always worried that things will fall apart, and then suddenly I won’t have anything.  So I take everything I’m offered, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  But I’ve also gotten great opportunities to work on projects with some amazing people which you would be foolish not to take.  Like last year I worked on 13 books, but 5 of those were books with Dav Pilkey.  And you’d be a fool not to work with Dav Pilkey.
Dad:  But on top of what you are saying – those 5 Ricky Ricotta books with Dav Pilkey were gigantic!  Each one of those books was like 10 books worth of illustration!
Dan Santat:  Right.  Right.  So how do I do it?  I have a very streamlined process that helps me tremendously.  With picture books, I can do a spread a day.
Gracie:  Wow.
Dan Santat:  With a graphic novel like Sidekicks, I told myself, “I am doing 5 pages a day.”  If I know how many I have to get done in a day, that’s all I focus on.
Gracie:  So what part of the work is the most important to you?  Where do you invest most of your creative energy?
Dad:  Since your time is so limited.
Gracie:  Is it in character design?  Something else?
Dan Santat:  I’m really poor with character design.  There are people who will draw the character over and over again.  I’m a little different.  I jump right into the dummy book.  I’m figuring everything out while I’m drawing the dummy book.  Doing the sketches is the most important part to me.  I probably spend 70% of my efforts making sure the sketches are tight and perfect.  So then when it goes to color, everything is a smooth process.
Dad:  When you say sketches, are you talking about composition?
Dan Santat:  Everything…  Page turns and pacing.  Composition.  The forms – like if I’m drawing a hand, that hand has to look perfect in the sketches – I don’t want to have to fix that in the finals.  If the sketches are solid and perfect, then the finals just turn into a big coloring book I fill in.
Isaac:  Is there ever a time where you just don’t have inspiration though?  If you have artist’s block, if things just aren’t coming to you, is there a system or something that you have?  Do you just keep trying?  Or do you go away and do something else for a while?
Dan Santat:  If that happens, typically I’ll pick at it a little bit everyday, just a little at a time.  15 or 20 minutes.  I pick at it lightly because if I get to a point where I am downright frustrated with myself, I’ll never want look back at it ever again.
Gracie:  Yeah.
Dan Santat:  When I have a creative block like that, I’ll keep myself occupied.  Sometimes I’ll read.  Sometimes I’ll sketch.  I’ll ask friends if they’ve read any other books similar to the idea I’m working on.  I might explore those books to see if they jostle something in my mind to get me moving forward.
Dad:  I know Isaac has an art question for you.  Maybe you can jostle something loose for him...
Isaac:  I’ve been looking at different people’s art in comics and graphic novels.  When there’s an action pose, like someone is kicking at a wall, one of two things will happen.  It will either look like there is a lot of motion and he’s actually kicking the wall.  Or it will look like a character just has his leg up and is holding a pose.  In your books like “Sidekicks” or “Ninja Pigs” it looks like your illustrations have motion in them.  How do you get that?  Is there something you keep in the back of your mind while you are drawing?
Dan Santat:  Have you ever read “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way”?
Isaac:  I’ve heard about it from a lot of different people.  I know that artists I’ve looked up on youtube have recommended it.
Dan Santat:  I swear by it.  There’s a great spread that talks about how normal people punch vs how super heroes punch.  A lot of it is about exaggerating the form.  If a normal person throws a punch, it would be two feet planted on the ground and they are throwing their fist into the body.
Isaac:  Sure.
Dan Santat:  But if you are Captain America, that’s not good enough.  You are leaping into that person.  And you are not just throwing your fist in there, but your shoulder is in there too…  See if you can push it further.  On a scale from 1 to 10, see if you can push it to a 12.  Really overdo it.
Isaac:  Okay.  That’s cool.
Dan Santat:  There’s also another great book.  I think it’s called Bridgman’s Constructive Anatomy.  His philosophy of drawing has to do with “wedging.”  So you look at the torso like a rectangular block, and the hips would be another rectangular block.  You draw these two blocks on top of each other and then connect the forms.  But you treat it like a sponge.  If you are turning the body, you are twisting the sponge.  If you are leaning backwards you are bending the sponge backwards.  You have to draw the figure with those kind of properties in mind.
Isaac:  Very cool.
Dan Santat:  It’s really observation.  Experimentation.  Repetition.  If you want to draw an effective punch, don’t copy a photo of someone throwing a punch.  It’s best to have the idea in your mind of what a powerful punch is, and then express that.
Isaac:  Okay.
Dad:  The feeling.
Dan Santat:  Express the feeling of a big punch rather than trying to reproduce a photo of someone throwing a big punch.
Isaac:  Okay.  Thank you!
Elijah:  You make both graphic novels and picture books.  What do you like most about each?
Dan Santat:  Picture books are the hardest things ever to make.
Isaac:  Really?
Dan Santat:  Yeah.  With a graphic novel you have the freedom of 150 to 200 pages to tell a story.  You can use as many panels as necessary to build a character’s emotions.  But with a picture book, you have 17 spreads for everything, beginning, middle, and end.
Isaac:  It’s like a haiku.
Lily:  Or any poem.
Isaac:  Getting your thoughts across in a limited number of syllables.
Dad:  Shorter doesn’t make it easier.
Dan Santat:  One of the biggest struggles with "Beekle" was trying to establish – okay everybody, there’s this island where imaginary friends come from and they have to be imagined by kids in order to leave the island.  To explain this whole new world I’ve built in 2 or 3 spreads?  Tremendous challenge!
Lily:  That makes sense.
Dan Santat:  So when I make a picture book, it’s more about telling a metaphor or expressing a single idea.  But with a graphic novel it’s more about character and building emotion.  Fortunately, in "Beekle" I could tell this metaphor about being a father and meeting my son for the first time, and that in itself injected a lot of emotion into the story.
Gracie:  So that’s the story behind Beekle?  Your son?
Dan Santat:  Beekle was my son’s first word for bicycle.
Gracie:  Awww, I didn’t know that.
Dan Santat:  I came up with the original idea for the book back in art school.  At that time it was about an imaginary friend who was so bizarre-looking that no child could imagine him.  But after the birth of my son, it became a metaphor for the birth of my son.  The journey of being a father.  The anticipation of saying, “What is this child going to be like?”
Gracie:  We know you also made the TV show “The Replacements.” I’m wondering how writing TV shows compares to books.
Dan Santat:  Working on television was not my favorite thing.  You have a room full of executives who do not necessarily have a good sense of storytelling or of art and design.  But they do have a job, which is to tell you how to get the most viewers into a time slot.  So rather than helping you speak true to your voice, it is more important to them to appeal to as many people as possible.  So all your content is watered down to make it palatable for everybody.  Which can be really frustrating.
Isaac:  Uh-huh.
Dan Santat:  At one point, everything I turned in would get notes for changes.  Nothing was ever okay.  It can get you to a point where you feel like you don’t know how to write anymore.  It got really discouraging.  So after I found out the show got picked up for a 2nd and 3rd season, I left.  I decided I needed to focus my attention in children’s books because that’s where my voice will be purest in its form.  I was really proud of the books while I made them, but it wasn’t until they came out and I saw how well they were being received that I thought… okay, I’m not crazy.  Those executives are crazy.
Gracie:  Yeah.
Lily:  How did you react when you found out Beekle won the Caldecott Award?
Dan Santat:  Around the end of the year, everyone starts making their predictions about who will win.  That’s the last thing you want read because it will always stay in your mind.  But when teachers start tweeting AT you saying, “Hey, you won our mock-Caldecott,” you start feeling like this might happen.  My publicist and my agent had to call me and say, "You need to stop reading these things because it’s driving you insane."
Kids:  Ha ha ha ha…
Dan Santat:  But then the Hornbook did a Caldecott prediction on their blog.  And my publicist and agent both sent me that link… “Oh, Hornbook talked about you – this changes things.”  I remember saying, “You told me not to read this stuff!  And yet you are sending me this link!”
Kids:  Ha haha ha ha.
Dan Santat:  So the day before the announcements, my wife made it a point for me to not have my mind on it at all.  Which meant we had to be surrounded by friends, we had to do something to keep my mind occupied.  I received “crossing-my-fingers-for-you” emails the night before.  Which I appreciated, but at the same time I’m like, please – my nerves.  I said, there’s no way I’m going to fall asleep, so I worked.  I closed my eyes around 2:30 and woke up at 4:15, a bundle of nerves.  The first thought in my mind was, maybe they already called the winners and it wasn’t me.  Why did I even think I had a chance?  And then you feel bad about feeling sad.  This is all from months and months of people speculating.  It just builds up.  Then 15 minutes later at 4:30 the phone rang and I thought, this has to be it... there is nobody else who would be calling me at this time.
Lily:  The Caldecott people call really, really early in the morning!
Dan Santat:  I answered the phone thinking at best it would be an Honor... no way would it be the Medal.  When they told me I won the Medal, I just cried.  I started crying right there on the spot.
Gracie:  Awww.
Dan Santat:  It’s just such an emotional thing.  You never think it’s going to ever happen to you.  The entire following week turned into a huge emotional rush.
Gracie:  Yea!!!
Dan Santat:  So there’s this thing – it’s great to win a Caldecott Medal of course.
Lily:  Yeah!
Dan Santat:  But the other end of winning is that now you are more mindful of the next projects you take.  There’s a feeling of this quality that you have to uphold now.  I’m working on the manuscript for my next picture book, and I can’t help but think this has to be as good as Beekle.  And it doesn’t.  But you put that pressure on yourself.  Being given this honor, you feel like you have to live up to it.  Daily.
Dad:  Well, we're so happy for you.  And thanks so much for chatting with us!
Lily:  Yeah!
Dan Santat:  My pleasure!  Thank you guys!  I hope we get a chance to meet in person someday.
Dad:  Yes, me too!  And I'll say again, we love your work.  I’ve been going through the archives, and we’ve reviewed more of your books than anyone else’s.  All along, you’ve been a big part of this blog. 
Dan Santat:  Well, thank you for seven wonderful years of your support!  You guys have been instrumental for me.  I feel like from the beginning it was you guys and Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson who really picked me up from out of all the authors and illustrators and put me on this pedestal.  For a lot of the accolades I’ve received, I owe a huge thanks to you guys.

Beekle and the Octopus Guy, by Elijah

imaginary friends, by Lily

plush Beekle, by Gracie

Beekle and the Rainbow Dragon, by Isaac

Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published, 2014: Little, Brown
Like it?  Here it is!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reviews #136-140: end-of-year Favorites of 2014

Earlier this year we shared 20 favorite books of 2014 here and hereAfter reading hundreds and hundreds of picture books, we are happy to present 10 more favorite titles that crossed our path at the close of the year.  The kids are each choosing one to highlight:

Dad:  Gracie’s kicking us off with “A Bean, a Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack” by William Joyce and Kenny Callicutt.
Gracie (age 14):  The story was kind of like Jack and the Beanstalk, and I thought “Oh, everybody knows that story.”  But it was different.
Dad:  Twisty.
Gracie:  Yeah, actually very different.  I like the twist.  Straightforward tellings are nice, but I don’t know if people would listen to that anymore.  This generation is lost.  In this book there was a bean, Jack, and a giant.  And those were the only similarities.  No golden goose, no harp, no Fee Fi Fo Fum. 
Dad:  You’re right… no Fumming…
Gracie:  The giant was just a giant kid in a bathtub, chilling out.
Dad:  Now, the twist wasn’t ironic or sarcastic.  The book wasn’t turning the story on its head.
Gracie:  Oh no.  There were no mega-huge-surprises.  It was just a different way to tell the story.  Some giant kid at the top of the beanstalk was in the bathtub, using up all the water in the clouds.  What the people below don’t know is that when it starts raining again, it’s stinky bathwater.  That’s gross.
Dad:  What things stand out to you about the art?  I love the art in this book.
Gracie:  On every page, the sky is ginormous and the characters are miniscule.  Very tiny.  But it works.  I think he did it on purpose because the characters are just a smallish normal boy and a smallish normal bean.  He’s putting emphasis on how small and normal they are.
Dad:  The big empty backgrounds also make it more powerful when the stalk explodes out of the ground.  If the first half of the book had been full and busy, that moment wouldn’t have been as shocking.
Gracie:  The stalk is BIG.  It’s cool.  I like how it looks textured.
Dad:  Everything up to that point had been small, small, small… and then…
Gracie:  That stalk is like – WOAH – gettin’ all up in your face.  And it’s twisty.  That’s a reoccurring thing in the art – everything is twisty.
Dad:  The vines, the clouds, the princess’ ribbon.  Even the dirt flying up was twisty.
Gracie:  That’s what I said.  Reoccurrence.
Dad:  Anything else?  We talked about the backgrounds.  What do you think about the characters?
Gracie:  Dang, that wizard’s beard is so long.  And is that bird on every page?  That’s cute.  That bird needs a name.  I shall call him “Dave.”  And the king in this book is taking “embarrassing-dad” to a whole new level.  He's not a very good ruler.  I can see why Princess Jill was embarrassed... “Dad!  Stop making the nuns cry all over your feet…”
Dad:  Any last thoughts?
Gracie:  I think it’s a cute book.  It would be fun to read to little kids.  Ha ha… Of course, little kids love vegetables and taking baths – it’s their favorite!

Dad:  What book did you pick, Lil?
Lily (age 11):  “Louise Loves Art” by Kelly Light.  It is about a girl who is doing her art-stuff.  And she draws her masterpiece.  She also has a brother named Art.  And the brother draws all over her picture…
Dad:  Oh horrors…
Lily:  But I think he does it to be like her.  Because she has red glasses, and he is drawing red glasses on the picture.  He wants to be an artist like her. 
Dad:  He wants to follow in the footsteps of his big sis.
Lily:  While she was trying to figure out where the masterpiece goes on the fridge, the little brother cuts it up.  And she’s like, “NOOOOOO....”  Then poor Art feels bad because Louise is really sad.  Then she looks at it and sees that Art made the paper into him and her holding hands, and then she says it’s okay, and she loves it.  So she puts it on the fridge, and they go draw together.  
Dad:  Lovely.
Lily:  That’s what happens.  But I think the book is really about how she was kind of carried away with her masterpiece art, and she didn’t really pay much attention to her brother Art.  She thought her brother had ruined her thing, but she realized he was doing it because he loved her.
Dad:  So she didn’t have Louise-Rage.
Lily:  Well, she got mad.
Dad:  But she didn’t whack him or anything.
Lily:  No.  She loves Art.  And art.  If you didn’t know her brother’s name was also named Art, you’d be so confused.
Dad:  Have any of the kids in our family ever frustrated you?
Lily:  The other day I drew the perfect picture of Catbug, and Evie drew on it.
Dad:  Did you have Lily-Rage?
Lily:  I told her she had to ask before drawing on other people’s pictures.
Dad:  The illustration where Louise has paper with drawings spread out everywhere reminds me a lot of how you draw.  When I was your age, I would work on one picture for a long time.  But you are about Volume.  You grab a stack of paper and sit there cranking out drawings until the stack is gone.
Lily:  I’m fast at it.  I draw pictures of what I’m thinking about.  Pictures pop into my head.  Then I’ll have new idea related to the picture I just drew.  And it goes on and on like that.  But the last picture will end up totally different from the beginning.
Dad:  In the book, Louise says that art is “my imagination on the outside.”  That sounds like what you’re describing.
Lily:  It’s just drawing whatever pops into my brain.  So yeah.  It’s basically my brain on a piece of paper.
Dad:  That sounds disgusting.  Kelly Light said it much more poetically.
Lily:  Yeah!  Ha ha…  I have weird things that pop into my head.  It’s very interesting.  I draw pretty much everything.  On everything.  Sometimes on my homework.  Kelly Light was probably that kind of kid too, or her pictures probably wouldn’t look this good.  Because it takes practice.
Dad:  She’s good at drawing expressions and emotions.
Lily:  I love drawing expressions and emotions!  I especially love drawing sad people and mad people.  I don’t know why.  But I love it.
Dad:  What is you favorite thing about this book?
Lily:  That the little girl loves her little brother so much.
Dad:  Any last words?
Lily:  You did a good job, Kelly Light!  Go Kelly go!  I like your story.  It’s cute and lovely.  Lovely, lovely.

Dad:  What book do you have Elijah?
Elijah (age 9):  Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.
Dad:  And you had to fight for this book, didn’t you.
Elijah:  Yes.  It’s the best book.  Half the kids wanted to review this one.
Dad:  The author is Mac Barnett... 
Elijah:  He also wrote the book “Oh No.”
Dad:  And a different guy illustrated this one – Jon Klassen.  He also did “I Want My Hat Back” and “This is Not My Hat.”
Elijah:  And look – Sam and Dave are wearing hats too.
Dad:  But nobody dies in this book.  Or do they....
Elijah:  Yeah, the ending is confusing.
Dad:  Tell me about this book...
Elijah:  A guy named Sam and a guy named Dave dig a hole.  They want to find something cool and exciting.  But they find dirt.  So they decide to turn another way.  But if they went straight down they would have found diamonds.  Every time they change direction, they were almost to the diamonds.  And the diamonds get bigger and bigger and bigger.  This is just – oh my goodness – that’s not possible!  The diamond is so big!!  I’m just sad for them.
Dad:  Do Sam and Dave feel bad?
Elijah:  Nope.  They have no idea there are diamonds.
Dad:  Do they ever find anything exciting?
Elijah:  Yes.  The bottom of the world.
Dad:  This book is kind of divided into two halves.  The first half is about digging holes and missing diamonds.  What is the second half about?  Is it clear what happens in the second half of the book?
Elijah:  Yeah.  Sam and Dave fall through the bottom of the world.
Dad:  Well, there is some hot debate about that…
Elijah:  There is?

For anyone who hasn’t yet read the fantastic “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole,” Elijah and I delve into some theories about the ending that get pretty spoilerish.  Have you read the book?  Do you want to know what Elijah and I think happened?  You can read that part of our conversation by clicking HERE…

Elijah:  Do you think the authors actually know what happens at the end?  Or did they write it that way on purpose so people could make up theories?
Dad:  That would be a good question for them.  So Elijah, do you think there is anything hiding in our yard that we could find if we just knew where to dig?
Elijah:  Maybe Indian bones.  Because a lot of Native Americans lived around here.  Ojibwe.  And Chippewa -- they are the same thing.
Dad:  We dig in the snow more than in the dirt.
Elijah:  Yeah, so we never find anything.
Dad:  Are there any lessons to learn from this book?
Elijah:  Dig straight.

Dad:  Evie, what is your story pick?
Evangeline (age 6):  Hug Machine.
Dad:  By Scott Campbell.  And who exactly is the Hug Machine?
Evangeline:  A little boy.  He hugs everything.  He might be pretending he is a machine. 
Dad:  Do you know anyone who hugs as much as he does?
Evangeline:  You are a hugger.  I am a hugger.  We hug all the time.
Dad:  Tell me about the hugs in this book…
Evangeline:  The boy starts out hugging his mom and his dad and his sister.  Then he starts hugging other people.  He also hugs a bear and a turtle.  Then he hugs a fire hydrant, a mailbox-thingie-ma-jigger, and a tree. 
Dad:  Why do you think he hugs so much?
Evangeline:  Hugs never have to stop.  When you are sad or when you hurt your feelings, you get a hug.
Dad:  Hugs mean love.
Evangeline:  And love never fails.  And it never gives up.  Hugs can always keep saying “I love you.”
Dad:  So I guess I should follow you to school and keep hugging you all day.
Evangeline:  But you can’t follow me into the girl’s bathroom.
Dad:  Then you’ll just have to hold it.  Is there anything you think the Hug Machine couldn’t hug?
Evangeline:  He couldn’t hug his own hair.  How would he hug his own hair?  Let’s find out if I can hug my own hair...
Dad:  He might just have to give it a little love pat.  He hugs some weird things.  What’s the weirdest thing YOU ever hugged?
Evangeline:  I never hugged anything weird.  But I ate grass before.
Dad:  That is pretty weird.

Dad:  Here’s Maggie’s book!  It’s by Scott Gustafson and is called “Classic Bedtime Stories.”  Is it bedtime now?
Magdalena (age 3):  Yes.  But it’s not THAT dark.
Dad:  There are lots of stories in here.  Which are we going to talk about?
Magdalena:  I’m going to show you.  I want to do that one and that one and that one and that one.
Dad:  Who is the lady in this first story?
Magdalena:  Sleeping Beauty!  That guy is going to kiss her, and she will come back to life.
Dad:  Is that how you wake Daddy up?
Magdalena:  No.  I sit on you.
Dad:  How about this story… You love “Little Sambha and the Tigers.”
Magdalena:  The tiger stole pants from a little guy.  Uh-oh.
Dad:  Don’t steal pants from little guys.
Magdalena:  Another tiger took the little guy’s shoes and put them on his ears.  Tigers are supposed to wear nothing.  And they are not supposed to talk.
Dad:  These are some crazy tigers.
Magdalena:  Naughty tigers!  That little guy is going to be naked.
Dad:  Tell me about another story.  Do you know the little boy’s name in this one?
Magdalena:  His name is JackAndTheBeanstalk.
Dad:  What does he do?
Magdalena:  JackAndTheBeanstalk is taking the giant’s money!  JackAndTheBeanstalk is carrying his chicken!
Dad:  And what does the giant say?
Magdalena:  “Fee Fo Fi!  I smell something!”
Dad:  Who does he smell?
Magdalena:  He smells JackAndTheBeanstalk.
Dad:  Let’s do one last story.  Who are the animals in this one?
Magdalena:  Billy Goats.
Dad:  We can learn from the Billy Goats.  If a troll ever wants to eat you, you just say “Wait until my big sister Evie comes, she’s much tastier than I am...
Magdalena:  No – eat Daddy!
Dad:  Eat Daddy?!?
Magdalena:  Yeah!  And the troll gets knocked into the water!  It’s funny!
Dad:  So, it’s funny to knock people into the water?
Magdalena:  I’m going to knock Daddy in the water!
Dad:  Oh man.  Things aren’t going so well for Daddy today.
Magdalena:  Hee hee hee!

Jack riding a bean pod, by Gracie

Art and Louise, by Lily

 Sam finds a diamond, by Elijah

a warm hug from the Hug Machine, by Evangeline

tiger takes Little Sambha's pants, by Magdalena

And bonus!  Here are 5 more favorite 2014 titles:

Over There
by Steve Pilcher

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
by Patrick McDonnell

Tiny Rabbit's Big Wish
by Margarita Engle and David Walker

Monster Book
by Alice Hoogstad

What Do You Do With an Idea
by Kobi Yamada and and Mae Besom

A Bean, a Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack
Author: William Joyce
Illustrator: Kenny Callicutt
Published 2014: Atheneum Books
Like it?  Here it is

Louise Loves Art
Author/Illustrator: Kelly Light
Published 2014: Balzar + Bray
Like it?  Here it is

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published 2014: Candlewick
Like it?  Here it is

Hug Machine
Author/Illustrator: Scott Campbell
Published 2014: Atheneum Books
Like it?  Here it is

Classic Bedtime Stories
Author/Illustrator: Scott Gustafson
Published 2014: Greenwich Workshop Press
Like it?  Here it is