Q: What inspired you to write I Am Picky, and how did you create your raccoon narrator?
A: [Illustrator] Erin [Kraan]'s agent sent my agent some of Erin's illustrations to see if any of them sparked anything for me. Her raccoon sparked something!!! At the time I was mid-battle with a group of raccoons that invaded our backyard every night and destroyed a bunch of our pool toys. They love to chew! So I felt particularly drawn to raccoons and their hunger at the time.
Q: What do you think Erin Kraan's illustrations add to the story?
A: Erin is a genius. Her woodcut illustrations tell half the story for sure. They deliver so much personality and humor. I am a huge fan of her art.
Q: The Kirkus review of the book said, in part, "Readers will giggle, groan, and learn about raccoons as they reconsider what it means to be a finicky eater." What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope readers find it entertaining, but I also hope they pick up some useful information about raccoons. They really do have more than one den. They like to eat at dusk and dawn.
Also, I like playing with the idea of picky eating and also being a seasonal eater too, which I am. My son is a ridiculously picky eater and it drives me bananas.
I really like writing funny stories with bright language that are fun to read out loud. I hope it makes readers feel happy and I hope they are a little surprised by what this raccoon and her family like to eat.
Q: You've written for various age groups--do you have a preference?
A: I love writing picture books because it's a team sport and teams are fun. But middle-grade is awesome and so are readers that age. YA lets you tell really powerful and original stories too. I can't choose. All age groups are my favorite.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am B U S Y! I've got a rhyming picture book illustrated by David Small coming out 2023 called Cat’s Very Good Day, and a nonfiction picture book about beavers illustrated by Luisa Uribe coming out in 2024 called When Beavers Flew.
I've got a nonfiction middle-grade book called The Unofficial Alcatraz Handbook illustrated by Anika Orrock out in 2024 also. It will tell you everything you want to know about Alcatraz. I used to be a gardener there and give tours of the island. I LOVE this book. It's weird to me that I wrote a book about Alcatraz that's oddly personal.
And in April 2023 I've got a middle-grade novel called Don’t Trust the Cat coming out that's about a fifth-grade girl and her cat who swap bodies and it's such a fun book. It's the book I was born to write. Polly Horvath read an early copy and said: "This is the perfect book to read to your cat. Or for your cat to read to you. Full of feline fun." And she is my literary hero, so that means the world to me.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I've attached a photo of some raccoons I used to walk by every day when I lived in San Francisco. They probably inspired a lot of this story. It's also important to note, I never fed these raccoons. I don't believe in feeding wild animals, because I think wild animals should stay wild, even if they live in the suburbs.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb