Adam: Everyone always asks this! Is it because I write novels as well as picture books? I could guess it’s because I’m now writing books I don’t illustrate, except I’ve been getting the question for years. Do people ask you this?
e: People tend to assume I’m either an author or illustrator depending on the context in which they know me - then get confused when they find out I do both! But it’s all stories, isn’t it? Visual, narrative - STORIES!
Adam: Yeah, so I guess I can answer that I was chronologically an illustrator first—because nearly everyone is, and because I did work as a professional illustrator for years before breaking into kid’s books. But I don’t prioritize one over the other.
Adam: Sort of? When it comes to picture books, the process usually begins with the kind of inspiration I can’t predict or replicate. I just live my life and eventually I experience a thing that leads me to think of some other thing. I understand why people compare inspiration to lightning, because getting struck on this street corner or in conversation with that person doesn’t necessarily make those the right conditions if you want to get struck again. So instead I tend to think of ideas like pennies—they’re everywhere, and if you learn to keep your eyes open and you’re willing to pick them up and hold on to them, then you might amass a little collection. But, like pennies, most ideas are almost worthless on their own.
So now I have an idea, and I think this next part might be the most important for me: I have to remember to remember the idea. I have to keep turning it over in my head and give it a chance. School’s First Day of School came to me at a party. It was a party full of kid’s book people, and everyone was talking about the kind of picture book cliches that we can’t stop reworking and retelling. There’s a new baby in the house. Our differences make us special. someone said “A child is nervous about his first day of school,” and reflexively my brain turned it around and I joked, “A school is nervous about his first day of children.”
People chuckled, and that could have been the end of it. But I wouldn’t let it go, and two days later it was a picture book manuscript. Maybe the easiest one I’ve ever written, though I feel nervous saying that about a story that won an award. Like I should be obligated to add that another of my picture book manuscripts took me eight years, and that I’ve had every other experience in between.
What was the path to publication for School’s First Day of School?
Adam: Well, it was easy to get my agent on board with it. The thing that cemented the idea of it in my mind was a breakfast I had with him the morning after the party. He hadn’t been there the night before, so I told him my joke—I made a point of telling it, honestly, because I was already wondering if there was something there and I wanted gauge his reaction. And immediately he said, “That’s your next book. I can sell that in a day,” or something similar. And he could! He did. If memory serves he sent it to Neal Porter at Roaring Brook, and that was that.
e: I love Neal’s books! He has a great eye for spotting good stories!
Adam: And Roaring Brook doesn’t publish all that many books per year, so I was especially proud to join a semi-exclusive club. I’m sure we can all imagine Neal in a black t-shirt at the front of a velvet rope, only letting in books that are pretty or who look like they’d spend a lot of money on bottle service.
Adam: I wonder if maybe the freedom of it is both my favorite and the most challenging part.
e: You call it freedom, I call it compulsion!
Adam: Next I get to illustrate a book by one of the authors whose work convinced me back around 1990 that kid’s books were something I wanted to do. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to be talking about it at this point, but it sort of feels like the thing my whole career has been building up to.
e: Sounds exciting! I hope you’ll come back and tell us about that one too!
e: I with you much continued success, Adam! Thanks for stopping by!