Thursday, April 22, 2021

Q&A with Ruth Chan




Ruth Chan is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Alpactory. Her other books include the forthcoming Thank You, Neighbor!. She lives in Brooklyn.

Q: What inspired you to write The Alpactory?


A: If you have ever seen an alpaca, you will know that they are hilarious looking and so darn cute. I wanted to make a book that would give me an excuse to draw hundreds of alpacas, and a factory full of them was the perfect excuse!


I also wanted to make a book about new experiences and how scary they can be. We - children and adults alike - often get so caught up in the anticipation and preparation leading up to a first-time experience, we often forget about how exciting and fun new experiences can be.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "A humorous reminder that all we really need is already within us." What do you think of that description?

A: I love this description. The Alpactory is all about how -- as much as we try to prepare ourselves for a new experience in hopes that we won't feel as nervous -- in the end, all we really need is ourselves! Our capable, brave, kind, funny selves.


It's about bringing a positive attitude and perspective to an experience rather than just stuff.


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations, or both simultaneously?

A: I tend to work on both text and illustration at the same time.


This book had about 20 different iterations and was originally called Alpaca Packs and was a very different story. But when I finally decided on the characters, plot, setting, and theme, it all went much more quickly.


I wrote the text out like it was an informercial for an Alpactory, and made quick sketches to go along with the text. The hardest part was thinking of all the hundreds of things people might pack in their suitcase or bag!


Q: What first got you interested in creating children's picture books?

A: I have a background in early childhood and elementary education, so I'd read a thousand amazing picture books and was continually amazed by how beautiful, funny, and poignant a picture book can be.


To me, picture books are the ultimate object. They possess incredible art, beautiful writing and emotional truths all in this one object you can hold in your hands. They can make you laugh, they can make you cry, and they make you want to share it with others.


After working in community-based nonprofits for a while and having life throw me a few curveballs, I decided I wanted to try and see if I could make picture books for a living. And it worked out! I couldn't imagine doing anything else now.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm currently working on getting a middle grade graphic memoir ready for submission. I'm so excited about it! I love making comics, and have been working towards making a graphic novel for years.


This one is about my move from Canada to Hong Kong when I was 13 and centers around the themes of culture and belonging.


I'm also working on illustrating another book written by Julie Falatko called Rick the Rock of Room 214. We made The Great Indoors together and it was so much fun, so I'm very, very excited to be making another book with Julie.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have two other exciting books coming out this year (2021).


Have You Seen Gordon?, written by Adam Jay Epstein, is a super funny seek-and-find book about being able to be who you want to be. I had so much fun illustrating a thousand different animal characters, and the main character is a personal favorite-- a tapir!


There's so much to look at in this book that even now when I look at it, I find all these details that I forgot I'd drawn.


The other book is called Thank You, Neighbor!, which I wrote and illustrated. It's an ode to my neighborhood here in Brooklyn, N.Y., and features my real-life neighbors.


The book came out of pandemic times where I saw us neighbors (including the essential workers we see here every day) helping each other out in big and small ways. It's the little “hellos” and “thank yous” that have made my neighborhood feel like home, and I wanted to honor the specialness of that. Both the books come out this September.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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