Q: What inspired you to create The Long Ride Home?
A: The Long Ride Home came about at the height of the pandemic. It was at a time when we hadn’t left our neighborhood for several months. Like everybody, I was missing family, friends…human interaction.
The idea for the book started from thinking about how places can act like a storage for memories. Passing by places you have been to, or have a connection to, can instantly bring you back in time. Memories are a tangible connection to a previous time and place, a personal collection of all the important people and experiences in our lives.
When I was a child, I had to move across the country and I was devastated when I had to move away from my best friend. But, much like our friends in the book, we kept in touch through letters; a ritual we keep to this day.
Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first, or both simultaneously?
A: The text came first and in large chunks, along with fragments of visual ideas done in the margins. This was unusual for me, as for my previous picture books, Little Fox in the Forest and Fern and Otto, I took a drawing-first approach to figure out the story.
But The Long Ride Home is structured differently, it’s in prose, and all from the point of view of Koala, as she’s writing a letter in her head to her best friend on a car ride. The places she goes past bring up memories and thoughts she wants to share with her.
Q: What do you think the story says about friendship?
A: Your friends, especially those best ones who are kindred spirits, are always with you in your heart and memories. The great friendships of your life transcend time and distance. Friendships complete us.
Q: Why did you choose a koala as your main character?
A: I love working with animal characters, and koalas were on my mind at the time; it was a few months after those terrible Australian wildfires. I found myself drawing koalas in my sketchbook.
They have such interesting features: their large, bean-like nose and the small expressive eyes, with this beautiful gray fur; they’re so much fun to draw. And they are just so personable and lovable, it felt like the right fit.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m illustrating a picture book titled Today, written by Gabi Snyder. It's a companion book to Listen, which Gabi also wrote, and I illustrated. I’m also working on illustrating the third book in Cynthia Lord’s chapter book series about library toys, Book Buddies.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I experimented with a new color palette with The Long Ride Home, so it looks a little different than my previous picture books. I wanted the color to serve two functions: to mark the passage of time on the car ride, and to create a distinction between memory and reality.
In the present day, I start with golden hues in the morning, sepias in the midday and pinks and inky browns in the evening With the memories, I opted for clean, clear, vivid colors to try to reflect how memories are, in a way, a sharpened, distilled reality.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb