What books are on your nightstand?
Fittingly for quarantine, I’m reading “The Martian,” by Andy Weir, and Dylan Meconis’s graphic novel “Queen of the Sea,” about a young girl living with a convent of nuns on a remote island. There is a plague! It’s accidentally timely!
What’s the last great book you read?
I won’t stop yelling about Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel “Dragon Hoops.” Gene is a master of the visual craft, weaving history and sports culture and nerddom and meta-commentary together into a work unlike anything else.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
Sunny afternoon, couch, windows open, cats dozing at my feet, perpetual mug of hot tea. A thought-provoking and lovingly-illustrated graphic novel. Cover to cover.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
One of my favorite illustrators is named Hergie (Ernie Hergenroeder). He illustrated a series of nonfiction books about social emotional learning written by Joy Wilt in the late 1970s that I was obsessed with — and in many ways were templates for the kinds of childhood emotions and experiences I write about now. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Hergie’s name when my peers discuss their influences, but he had a huge impact on the way I draw kids and environments and body language!
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I’m obsessed with Esther Perel — both her podcast and her published work. I can’t seem to read enough about therapy and human interconnectedness, and she’s got a deft touch with both.
Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of my favorite manga, “Yotsuba&!,” has been writing an ongoing series about … not much of anything, just a kid and her dad and their neighbors, for over a decade. It’s slice-of-life and makes tons of space for character interaction, funny throwaway moments and the enormous emotions of a little kid interacting with the world. It’s brilliant.
And enough good things can’t possibly be said about Jason Reynolds. His work is vital, and his advocacy and role modeling for kids is awe-inspiring. He was the perfect choice for the role of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. We are so lucky to live in a world where he writes books.
What writers are especially good on adolescent life?
I still look to Lynda Barry for guidance on how to perfectly nail the teenage voice. She’s got an uncanny ability to free-associate through her characters, who are clearly still learning to speak and write and use language, but are no less sophisticated in their depth of thought.
Which young adult books would you recommend to people who don’t usually read Y.A.?
Books by Mariko Tamaki and/or Rainbow Rowell. I don’t think I’ve read a bad work by either of them! “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” (illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell) and “Pumpkinheads” (illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks) are respective favorites.
What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a graphic novelist?
Keiji Nakazawa’s “Barefoot Gen,” which was serialized in Japanese comics magazines and then published as a series of graphic novels over the course of my adolescence, were pivotal in teaching me the power of the comics medium. The story centers on a family caught in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 — a heartbreaking read, but one that allowed the world to open up in my young mind and injected me with a lifetime dose of empathy. I learned that chronicling the life stories of real people, in good times and bad, is an integral piece in preserving human history.
What’s the relationship between art and text in your mind?
They make up a single language for me, which is cartooning. I have a hard time writing text and not peppering every sentence with emojis and doodles in the margins. I have a hard time drawing a single image that effectively communicates an idea. But put pictures and words together, and suddenly I’m able to create stories.
Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?
I love a good story about a character’s inner world. John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down” broke me completely in half; to be able to inhabit Aza’s brain, and understand the color and texture and dialogue of her anxiety, was powerfully affirming. We are all looking for lights to guide us down the path of this confusing world, and when authors allow you to walk in someone else’s shoes, the path looks a bit brighter.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
Memoir, nonfiction and realistic fiction are my favorites. I don’t outright avoid genres — I’ll read anything I get a high recommendation for — but I tend to shy away from fiction involving heavy psychological abuse, especially when the antagonist isn’t held accountable for their actions. Enough of that in the real world!
How do you organize your books?
Reading demographic > color > size. I want to be able to point my friends’ kids in the right direction when they visit, so I keep my picture books, middle grade comics and Y.A. comics most easily accessible. A good 75 percent of my collection is comics and illustrated books in various formats and sizes. I read most of my prose digitally.
The last book you read that made you cry?
“Duck, Death and the Tulip,” by Wolf Erlbruch. It’s a picture book about a duck and the specter of death, having a conversation. As they do. My friend brought it over to my house and I read it on the spot, and was completely caught off guard by how spare and sad and lovely it was.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I glommed onto stories about real kids, fast. Ramona Quimby, the Baby-Sitters Club, and all things Judy Blume were my mainstays. Another early favorite was “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.” My mom loved to read whatever I was reading, and we made lots of time to discuss.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Samin Nosrat, so we can cook (and laugh!) together. Bill Watterson, so we can sit down while dinner’s in the oven and look at old art books and geek out about traditional inking tools. Toni Morrison, to tell haunting stories in hushed tones over a long and delicious meal.
What do you plan to read next?
I’ve got “Tartine Bread” on back-order through Indiebound.com, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Quarantine is turning out to be about upping my sourdough game, and I can’t wait till this is over to have a bread-eating party with my friends.