Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Q&A with Aaron Lewis Krol


Photo by Lizzy Mason



Aaron Lewis Krol is the author of the new children's picture book A Cloud in a Jar. He also works for the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, and he lives in Lowell, Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write A Cloud in a Jar, and how was the book's title chosen?


A: I’d love to say I had a carefully orchestrated idea board with key plot points overlaid on a map of Walton Wharf West, Firelight Bay and the surrounding waters. But no, I just got a few lines of nonsense verse stuck in my head.


They’re not in the final book as printed, but they started, “We left in a rowboat, Lou Dozens and me, / And Salman the cat, who was leading the way…”


The story was improvised from there. I like children’s books with some symmetry, but also some twists, so I hit on the refrain “This is a job for…” as the heroes run into and overcome obstacles out on the water, and then thought about how the last “this is a job for” could be quite different from the first.


I also needed somewhere for the characters to be going in this rowboat. Pretty early on the line “We were going to bring them a cloud in a jar” shouldered its way into my head, and the story—and title—all fell into place around that.

Q: How did you create your character Lou and her friend?


A: Lou had a name before she had anything else! I really liked the name Lou Dozens, and I thought maybe she’d carry dozens of toothpicks and safety pins and rubber bands around with her.


As a kid I always signed up for Odyssey of the Mind and Camp Invention and all these activities where you’d be given a mess of craft materials and told to make a bridge or carry a weight down a track.


That became the defining part of Lou’s character: whatever the sea threw at them, she’d have dozens of objects ready to whip together into a solution. So she was inventive, bold, definitely the one egging this journey on—and that meant her friend the narrator should be the one dragged, a little reluctantly, along for the ride.


Q: What do you think Carlos Vélez Aguilera's illustrations add to the story?


A: They completely deepen and enliven it! This story called out for an illustrator with a lot of different talents.


It’s got big action scenes that need to look thrilling and just a little bit scary; a fantastical setting to litter with little details that keep you searching the page; animals who need to be as lively and expressive as the humans traveling with them; scenes in the deep of night that still need to burn with color.


Carlos can do it all. Every page he sent me was better than I had imagined. They’re scenes you want to linger over, to find every detail hidden inside.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “This imaginative, sea shanty–like tale is narrated in quatrains, employing the ABBA rhyme scheme, each one concluding with a couplet with the rhyme scheme BA; these rollicking verses, packed with bold action verbs, mostly scan well and echo rocking-boat rhythms.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m glad so many reviewers have dug into the rhyme scheme! I really wanted it to stand out.


Not so many picture books rhyme anymore, and the ones that do are almost always in simple couplets, but a lot of the books and poems I remember most distinctly from when I was a kid are ones that chart out the farther spaces of poetic form.


I used a variation on ballad meter, which has a real adventuresome, charging-ahead rhythm to it, so it’s great to read reviews that connect the verse to the feeling of being out at sea on a quest.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a children’s novel I’ve been slowly toying with when my kids give me a chance to write, riffing on folktales from around the world.


And I also write for my day job—if you’re interested in short, jargon-free introductions to important climate change topics, look up the TILclimate podcast from MIT. We just started our fifth season and I’m proud of the work we do making this stuff approachable.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just that Page Street Kids, and my editor Kayla Tostevin, deserve a lot of credit for how this book turned out! Kayla really helped me sharpen this manuscript to grab and hold a kid’s attention while keeping my poetry intact, and Page Street, among many other things, found Carlos for me, who brought so much life and magic to my story.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This post is in partnership with Page Street Kids as part of a virtual blog tour. They are offering a giveaway for A Cloud in a Jar--please see this link for more information!

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