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Five Questions for Sherri Duskey Rinker & John Rocco

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Photo of Sherri Duskey Rinker: David Rinker.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton relates how “Jinnee” — a Horn Book favorite from the start — was inspired by her young sons’ fondness for Things That Go. Lucky us!

1. Which Virginia Lee Burton book is your favorite?

SDR: My fave is The Little House, without question! *swoon* It’s the first book I remember being read to me. I’ve also come to appreciate the message of relishing a slower pace of life.

JR: The Song of Robin Hood. The book itself is a work of art, a visual tour de force. One hundred and twenty-three pages filled with exquisite detail, creating a modern-day illuminated manuscript. Jinnee spent three years creating the artwork, and even so it’s hard to imagine how she got it done.

2. John, how has studying her work changed your own?

JR: Being able to see her process firsthand as I went through hundreds of sketchbooks was incredibly humbling. The compositional flow between text and image and negative space was always in perfect balance, and I hope some of that rubbed off on me.

3. Sherri, what’s with little kids and big machines?

SDR: For kids, big machines are superheroes: big, powerful, selfless, and utterly amazing. Both Jinnee and I wrote first to entertain and enchant our own sons. The fact that other kids have found the work and loved it? Total bonus.

4. Trains or steam shovels?

SDR: With no disrespect to Choo Choo: construction trucks all the way.

JR: Trains. No disrespect to the mighty steam shovel, of course.

5. Ramona Quimby famously wanted to know how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom. Well?

JR: Luckily, whenever Mike Mulligan had the urge to go, his friend Mary Anne would dig him a big hole. Enough said.

SDR: I’m pretty sure that Mary Anne would just give Mike a lift out to the porta potty.

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