Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
To begin...today marks ONE WEEK until The Book of Rules hits shelves. ONE WEEK! I'm so excited!!! I keep waiting for the film crew to emerge from the shadows and say, "Just kidding! You don't have a book! It was all pretend, you silly dreamer! Now, go teach an English class!"
So far they have yet to emerge...
If you want to read more about The Book of Rules (and what it really means), check out my author letter by clicking the button above.
Alright, enough about all that. Let's jump into this awesome book! Let's jump into Maybe...
I've been following Chris Haughton's picture books for quite some time. His simple yet memorable storylines and bright, vibrate artistic style always bring a smile to my face. When Candlewick mentioned a possible interview with him for his new book Maybe..., I jumped at the chance. And this book...oh, this book...was everything I was hoping it would be. AND MORE!
If you're a nerd like me, this one is for you. And if you're a nerdy comedic picture book writer, this one is especially for you.
Quiet backstage! Cue the spotlight!
Here's Chris Haughton...
Chris, this book. This book...is SO GOOD! Congrats on another hit! Trying hard not to fangirl here. Something you masterfully do is establish instant anticipation of conflict and hook us with only a few words. And the ellipses. Oh...ellipses. I’ve been with ellipses for a while now and the romance still hasn’t faded. This book felt like a glorious love letter to the power of ellipses. I mean it’s in the literal TITLE! Author goals…For our friends unfamiliar with your book, here is how you begin: “Ok, monkeys! I’m off. Now remember…” Just in this brief beginning we know several things. 1. The adult is leaving. 2. They’re monkeys…(aka mischief is bound to happen) 3. “Now remember…”--we know they will absolutely NOT remember. Then you go on: “Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree. There are tigers down there.”
Okay. We know they ABSOLUTELY are going down to the mango tree and are ABSOLUTELY going to interact with a tiger at some point. We know all this but technically nothing has even happened yet! It’s the anticipation of what is to come that makes this moment so effective. Fellow comedic authors, take note. You’ve set up life and death stakes from the get-go. We know they’re alone and have a literal forbidden fruit motif happening. It’s all set up with the first bit of text. Talk to us about the evolution of this opening sequence. What were some influences and inspirations for these given circumstances and the specific language you chose? Were the ellipses always part of the original manuscript?
Thank you very much for the kind words. I think that exact sentence was in it pretty much from the start. There is a similar set up in another one of my other books, ‘Oh No, George!’ I really enjoy reading the beginning of that book and looking around the room for reactions because with that sort of set up you can sort of guess what’s going to happen next. This book maybe more so. With these monkeys we know there's going to be some sort of clown act coming.
I try to launch straight into the action in all the books, they are only fifteen pages long so you can't waste any time. I got the idea for this story when I realised that none of my other books have a real sense of danger. I began to think about how it might look like if there was a threat and how I might write that in. Immediately the story sort of fell into place more or less, although there was a lot of tweaking of words and back and forth with editing but the bones of it was there quite quickly.
I like using ellipses because I think they have a bit of a theatrical quality. Like a stage direction they ask you to pause and draw out the reading. I also like using words like ‘hmm…’ and ‘uh-oh’ and ’shh’. They are words that aren’t really words. They ask the reader to act them out as well as read them out. I think ellipses are a bit like that too.
I love the title of this book and the use of the word “maybe” throughout the text to propel the story along. “Maybe” is a versatile, frustrating, and wonderful word, isn’t it? So...why “maybe?” How did you use “maybe” to drive the comedy and drama of this story? What is the power of “maybe?” And how do the ellipses bring out more of the maybeness?
Yeah I like this word. It's funny because so many times when we were working on this book my editor would ask me to change something and my response was ‘maybe’. It's such a keyword. In this book it was very useful because it is vague enough to know that there is some sort of thought going on but no more than that. It is suggesting the monkeys are beginning to think of going further. It’s also a way to draw this thought out and pause on it for laughs. We see the mangos and we see that they like them… then there needs to be a pause to show they are thinking more… one monkey says "hmm…." and another says "maybe….." They don't say what they are thinking but we know exactly what they are thinking. Having three monkeys there bouncing off one another is a way of visualising the stream of thought that might be echoing through your mind if you are thinking about doing something you shouldn’t. We start weighing things up and trying to justify it to ourselves. We all recognise those thoughts.
Something I’ve been reflecting on lately is the idea of a comedic or story engine. What is the specific engine that really drives a story? What drives the comedy and makes the pistons fire? When I read MAYBE…I always come back to the idea of the slippery slope fallacy. If you do one little thing it could eventually lead to calamity. Or maybe it’s the frog in the pot analogy. Just turning that temperature up a degree at a time will help make the frog relax and less resistant to death by boiling. Talk to us about what you think that story engine is. What idea or concept is really making the comedy and the story work? Where did that idea originate for you?
I suppose the humour comes from a sort of inevitability that is apparent from the opening sequence. As they start talking you can begin to see how their thought process is working and you just know that one thing will lead to another until they land themselves in real trouble. There's a humour I suppose too in how they start to justify it to themselves. They start getting more and more fearless as it progresses. What ramps this up at the same time is we the audience start to see all these tigers hiding in the undergrowth. When you are reading it out loud to children there's a fun pantomime thing then going on because the audience spots the tigers and the main characters are completely unaware.
This book reads almost as an extended metaphor or allegory for, “sometimes you have to learn the hard way.” Or perhaps you never really learn at all...cause bananas. I want to talk about real-world application and theme. Maybe the theme is, “trust the loving care of adults.” Or maybe something like, “step outside reasonable boundaries at your own peril.” Obviously, every reader filters “theme” through their experiences and values, but if you can think of a concise statement that articulates the theme you were going for, what’s the closest approximation you’re comfortable sharing? Why is this a timeless and relevant message for kids today?
I always choose a quote to go with the books. I had great difficulty choosing one for this book because I didn’t want to either encourage or discourage risk taking. The quote I settled on is by Aristotle “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing” I think that sums it up for me, risks are a part of life. Of course we try our best to minimise them but when it comes down to it there is always going to be some element of risks in life. We learn things the hard way. We do learn, but there are risks everywhere you look. That's life.
I think my favourite line would be "Maybe we could just look at the mangos.” I think from the very first page we all know what is going to happen and it's a matter of how they manage to convince themselves it’ll be ok.
It's the first little step onto a slippery slope that proves irresistible. I also had a lot of fun drawing the tigers and the three spreads where the tigers are tearing after the poor tiny monkeys. The tigers are drawn in a different way to a lot of the rest of the artwork because I wanted them to immediately stand out.
What’s something you learned or discovered through the process of making this book? And what was the most fun about making it?
Adding danger was so much fun. It really adds a motor to the story. The threat just makes the story go and I will be certainly making more of that in future. I have some ideas with wolves and maybe a crocodile I am working on at the moment. Like all my other books I read this book out in its draft stages. There was an image in the draft where the tigers are clearly all around them but the monkeys just don't see.
When I read that page out at a bookstore, the reaction of the children was so much fun, they were shrieking “TIGERS!” “LOOK!” So I made more of that page and of that whole premise within the story. It's that classic pantomime “He’s behind you” joke. It never gets old.
Thank you so much for giving us a sneak-peek into Maybe... This was a BLAST!
And thank YOU for wading through the forest that was my first few questions, kid lit fam. LOL! Hopefully, you took away as much as I did.
As a thank you for stoping by this dusty corner of the internet, Candlewick is giving away TWO copies of Maybe... Yepp. Two! See details below for your chance to win one of our two copies!
We're raffling off TWO copies of Maybe...
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About Chris Haughton
Chris Haughton is an Irish illustrator and author living in London. He was listed in Time magazine's 'DESIGN 100' for the work he has been doing for fair trade clothing company People Tree. His debut book 'A Bit Lost' was first published in English in September 2010. It has been translated into 27 languages and won 10 awards in 8 countries. 'Oh No George' came out in 2012 , ‘SHH! We have a plan’ in 2014, Goodnight Everyone published in 2016 and ‘Don’t Worry, Little Crab’ comes out in August 2019. His iOS app, HATMONKEY came out in 2014 and virtual reality experience LITTLE EARTH launched in August 2017. Chris has also created a social business, madebynode.com to connect design and fair trade and make rugs and toys.
In 2011, together with Akshay Sthapit he has co-founded a fair trade company in Nepal called 'Node'. It operates as a non profit and aims to connect the worlds best designers with fair trade organisations to produce high quality designed products while empowering co-operatives and the economically disadvantaged. For their first exhibition they asked 18 artists to each design a rug, well known artists such as Jon Klassen, Beatrice Alemagna, Geoff McFetridge and Donna Wilson, each had a 2m sq rug made and displayed at the Design Museum in London. They are currently being sold online and through the Design Museum Shop.
Once upon a time there was a Brian. A Brian with a dream. And that dream was that one day...one day...Brian would tap into his brain's innate and hidden telekinetic ability and fly. He would fly up to the tops of trees and buildings and billboards and everywhere a telekinetic guy can fly. To the moon! Well, that never happened. He failed super hard and his dream remains unfulfilled. Yikes. Oh, he's still trying...but also still failing. Because to his knowledge, he has no hidden telekinetic powers. Moral of the story? Sometimes dreams let you down. Sometimes dreams are just stupid. Sometimes you just have to find a new dream. So he did. Brian found a new dream. And...that dream...also remains unfulfilled. And it turns out, that dream was also kind of stupid. He actually thought shooting fire out of his hands was a thing people could learn to do if they "focused really, really hard on stuff they wanted to burn." Yikes. Talk about a pyromaniac with a fundamental misunderstanding of the human body. What a failure. What a silly dreamer. But he didn't stop there...cause dreamers gotta dream, right? So he found another dream. And that dream was to write a book and have actual humans read it. Not like the books Brian made for birds and squirrels and neighborhood owls and his monthly fictional installment to appease the Mole People. Not those books. Brian wanted a real book that children could check out from a library or pull off a shelf. A book you could order online and it would show up on your stoop. A book a teacher could read in a classroom full of unruly children. Unruly children. Unruly...Rules. Rules. Rules...a book...of rules. THE book of rules! Yes, that's it! So, Brian wrote that book. A book about a monster that eats children unless they follow the rules. To his amazement (and yours), that book came to be. And Brian's dream...finally...came true. The hidden emoji code is a purple monster. You know why. Toss in a purple monster emoji for three additional raffle entries.