For more than thirty years, Roz Chast has captured the tiny frights and foibles of modern life in her New Yorker cartoons. In Marco Goes to School (a companion to Too Busy Marco, both published by Atheneum, 4–7 years) she demonstrates, through the first school day of bird Marco, the same empathy for the concerns of younger souls, “small birds with big dreams.”
1. What was your own biggest misapprehension about the first day of school?
Roz Chast: I really had no idea what to expect. I was an only child, and not terribly well-socialized. One of my earliest memories was being told by a teacher not to talk to myself. I guess I thought everyone talked to themselves!
2. a) What’s your position on the issue of year-round school?
RC: I’m not really in favor of that. Kids need unstructured time so they can find their own interests. Even boredom can be instructive, because it forces you to figure out a way to become un-bored.
b) Kindergarten graduation ceremonies?
RC: Why not? I can remember wearing a little mortarboard, and having serious music playing in the background, and trying to walk in the slow, serious way we had to learn to walk for the ceremony.
3. How smart are birds?
RC: Incredibly smart! I have two: a blue-streaked lory (whom Marco is based on) and an African Grey who knows about a hundred words. If you shake a bottle of water near her cage and ask her, “What’s that?” she says, “That’s water.” When she’s anxious, she paces around on the floor and says to herself, quietly but quite clearly, “It’s ok… it’s ok…” That’s just a couple of examples. The lory says some things too, but Greys… they’re really verbal. Marco plays with toys more, though. He has four laundry baskets of old Ninja Turtles, Tinker Toys, jar lids, poker chips, miscellaneous Happy Meal toys, etc.
4. What’s the greatest difference between creating a picture book for children and a cartoon for adults?
RC: I try to not “infect” the children with too many of my phobias: appendicitis, ceiling fans, balloons, etc. Whereas with adults, I figure they already have their own, so they’re kind of immune.
5. What’s the number-one thing a parent can do to help with (everybody’s) first-day jitters?
RC: Let your kid know that it’s ok to be nervous — that everyone is — and that you will be there 100% for them as soon as it’s over. I guess that’s two things.