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Last fall Horn Book editor Roger Sutton interviewed wife-and-husband picture-book creators Erin E. Stead & Philip C. Stead for our Publishers’ Previews advertising section. Here’s one part of their exchange:

Roger: I’ve always maintained that there’s a significant difference between “and” and “&.”

Erin & Philip: Now that you mention it, there is something about an ampersand that implies a stronger connection between two things. The symbol even looks a bit like a knot of string. Laverne & Shirley, peanut butter & jelly, Philip & Erin — what is one without the other?

As you read this “Collaborations” issue of The Horn Book, look for ampersands.

Some are overt — as in the eight short pieces called Teamwork sprinkled throughout, beginning on page 20. In these contributions — some textual, some visual — authors, illustrators & editors examine their working relationships and shed light on the collaborative process.

Other ampersands are implied. Read Rita Williams-Garcia’s piece on advising new writers and absorb the connections between Rita the writer & Rita the teacher; Rita the respecter of formal literary language & Rita the disciple of the James Brown School of Funk and Fiction; and of course Rita & her lucky students.

A few of the pairings here are familiar. We all look forward with anticipation to the latest Jen Bryant/Melissa Sweet picture-book biography. To a new graphic novel by the Holm siblings, or the Tamaki cousins. But not all the connections in this issue are expected, or ongoing. Lydie Raschka’s cover story on the late, great Vera B. Williams’s one-time collaboration with Chris Raschka is unforgettable — poignant and intimate, and full of Vera’s brave, bold spirit. Those who loved her and her books will relish the life-affirming photos of a barefoot Vera at work, connecting with Chris Raschka over a stack of illustrations; or taking a break, sharing lemonade in the backyard.

And now I’m seeing connections — ampersands — everywhere.

In Lynne Rae Perkins’s Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, reviewed on page 89 of this issue, Frank & his dog Lucky form an ampersand — a tightly knotted pair — as they learn about the world in their own very funny and extremely effective school of two. For instance, they do math, including: “When it’s nighttime, how much of the bed is Lucky’s, and how much is Frank’s?” See the illustration: collaboration in action.

Louise Erdrich’s Makoons (page 100) is all about connections — between twins Chickadee & Makoons, between the boys & their multigenerational Ojibwe family, between their community & the buffalo herds, between old stories & new adventures. Lost connections, too, as the buffaloes’ shrinking territory forces the animals ever farther west and the family follows, minus some of its cherished members.

And do I even need to point out the serendipity of Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book (page 76)? With the controlled chaos of its story arc and the complex and crucial interactions on every spread between text & art, it’s all about making connections — literally and figuratively.

We hope you will find this special issue on collaborations enlightening. At the very least, we hope that it leaves you open to the possibilities suggested by the concept. One such possibility has struck a resonant chord with me. In their Teamwork piece (page 40), authors Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely talk about writing All American Boys together — their motivation, their process, their idea that the novel might serve as a bridge between young people of differing backgrounds and races and experiences. They close with the hope that “we all might walk into the future an arm’s length closer to each other than we were before. That future demands more collaboration, and it’s going to take imagination to see it, and empathy to try to make it happen.”

So look for ampersands everywhere you can. In this issue, in the work we do, out in the world. And maybe we’ll get to that collaborative, empathetic future Jason & Brendan envision. Sooner rather than later.

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Collaborations. For more, click the tag Collaborations.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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