So, I sort of have a new book obsession. You know the one. When you read a book that is just ZOMG, this is perfection! that you can’t keep it to yourself and blather about it to friends, family, and perfect strangers alike. Lately, that book for me is Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. You’ll hear me gush more about it in my review tomorrow, but today, Jonathan stops by for an excellent Q&A and some off the cuff drawing.
It depends on how you define success, but for me, a successful children’s book is one that inhabits the dual orbits of childhood and adulthood. When reading a great work of children’s literature, one is forced to read every moment as both a child and an adult, and the tension between these two points of view is where the magic happens.
Middle grade can be such a murky moniker, lurking somewhere between children’s lit and YA. What do you think defines middle grade?
I agree! (You might even have noticed that I avoided the term altogether in the previous question!) I think it’s a mistake to create genres based on reader age because no two readers are the same. This is why I am much more inclined toward the broader tradition of “children’s literature,” which includes all of the above.
Give us your Twitter sales pitch: convince us to read Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes in 140 characters or less!
Peter Nimble is the story of a small, blind orphan who also happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived. My mom says it’s awesome.
Why write about a blind thief?
I have been fascinated by blindness ever since I first read the character Blind Pew in Treasure Island. He’s this feeble beggar who we actually learn is a vicious pirate. Something about that mixture of helplessness and capability really mesmerized me as a kid.
When you were at Wordstock, I heard you talk a bit about reluctant readers and adults setting the example — not by reading to their children, but by just reading around them so their kids see them reading for fun. (Especially for guys!) Can you talk more about this? What do you think is the key to getting kids/teens to read?
I would never want to say don’t read aloud to your children, but I would say that reading aloud is just the first step in growing readers. If the only time children see adults reading is when they’re being read to, then the kids will understandably conclude that reading is akin to eating one’s vegetables—something good for you that no sane person would do if given the choice. The solution is exactly what you mentioned above: we need to let kids see us reading for pleasure. This is why I get so excited when I see teachers who not only stress the importance of reading, but also share with students what they’re reading on their own time.
What are some of your favorite reactions when you talk to kids about Peter Nimble?
The opening image of the book is of a baby floating in a basket who has just had his eyes pecked out by a giant raven. Every time I mention this fact at a school visit, at least one kid shrieks and covers their face in horror. What could be better?
I love the illustrations you did for Peter Nimble. Will you draw a picture for Novel Novice now?
Sure! Here is a drawing of a velociraptor eating a sandwich full of puppies.
Private concert: who’s playing
Andrew Bird, preferably while wearing a bird suit.
Cheese, extra sauce. (I’m a purist.)
Book you can’t stop re-reading?
Growing up, I read Alice Through the Looking Glass every night for about 12 years … so I guess that one? More recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the chapter “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” from Wind in the Willows.
Living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with?
I would host a giant dinner for famous authors who died in obscurity (Franz Kafka, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, John Kennedy Toole, etc.) so that I could tell them how awesome they are.
I’m a bit of a hobbit at heart, and so I would prefer to stay home and play board games with my new dead-author friends from the previous question.
Look at your desk right now. Name five things within reach.
I’m actually sitting on the porch at the moment. Within reach are: my wife Mary, my pipe, a mug of hot tea, my eyeglasses, and my journal.
Thanks so much, Jonathan! Be sure to visit his site The Scop for lots more crazy insights, doodles & more. And check out our review of Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes tomorrow. Or, you know, just go read it for yourself. We highly recommend it. Here’s what it’s all about:
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a mysterious box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to rescue a lost kingdom from its tyrannical ruler. With the help of the Fantastic Eyes and his loyal companion (a knight who has been transformed into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat), Peter Nimble embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to save a people in need — and to discover his true destiny.