Friday, November 12, 2021

Q&A with Dan Yaccarino



Dan Yaccarino is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Longest Storm. His many other books include Doug Unplugged. He also has produced several animated series, and is a contributing book reviewer to The New York Times.


Q: What inspired you to create The Longest Storm?


A: Behind it all was my struggle to adjust to the new configuration of my own family, post-divorce. 


It was in the early days of Covid, during a conversation with my editor, Maria Russo, I finally verbalized this idea, and I found myself adding the external threat of a storm, which could represent the pandemic, but not necessarily. 


I didn’t want to create a story that was too “on the nose” about Covid, but rather one that could suggest, and be applied to, any crisis that could pull a family apart. I wanted the book to have a shelf life that would outlive the pandemic. My effort has always been for my books as well as my animated series to have a “timeless” quality.


But on the most basic level, I wanted this book to express my ideas about family, which are rooted in growing up in an Italian-American home, where family is of the highest value.


You express your thoughts and feelings (sometimes loudly), but you are always met with unconditional love. You may falter or even fail, but the one constant in your life will always be your family.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "The story feels emotionally true to the process of going through any profound crisis: a pandemic, death, divorce, or the prolonged absence of a parent who is deployed, a first responder, or battling an illness." What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: My hope is that they will understand that your loved ones, be it family or close friends, are the most important thing in life. If you can work through your disagreements with an open heart, you can strengthen your bonds even more.  You can recover from terrible losses. You can find a new way to relate when the old ways aren’t working. 

So I hope this story can help bring people closer together to apologize, forgive, and let go of any ill will. Family is everything, and although mine is no longer in the same configuration, I looked at it as a chance to rebuild it in a new, better way, which I am truly grateful for. 


I also hope, of course, that The Longest Storm will inspire conversations about our collective experiences during the pandemic. as I’ve learned from my recent school visits where I’ve had the chance to read The Longest Storm to the students, children really need a chance to talk about what they’ve been through.


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


A: I have no single way I work on my books, but for The Longest Storm I really tried to tell the story VISUALLY as much as I could first, using doodles and stick figures because it’s a picture book and the pictures tell most of the story. Anything I wasn’t able to depict or convey in the images ended up being the text.


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


A: I was working in commercial illustration for several years after graduating from art school, creating illustrations for magazines, newspapers, and ad campaigns, when I was introduced to a children’s book editor. He offered me a contract to write and illustrate my first picture book.


At the moment, in truth, I knew virtually nothing about picture books. But I had so much fun creating that book, it was like I had discovered a whole new world.


So, it may sound strange, especially given that I’ve published almost 70 books and produced several animated series since then, but it was not until I had finished that first picture book that I became certain that I wanted to focus my work on children.


Once I did, I fell in love with it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on a hybrid picture book/early reader called City Under the City with my editor Maria Russo.


It’s an exciting sci fi adventure story that starts out in a future world where there are no books and constant surveillance. Then our little heroine finds her way back to our world, which is now abandoned, and discovers books.


It’s been so much fun to work on, but very challenging! I can’t wait to start the final artwork.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share my very personal experiences through books. I want readers to know that it’s okay to have feelings that are uncomfortable and that it’s okay to fail or fall short of our expectations about ourselves. My family and I got through a very hard time, but we did it together.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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