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Five Questions for Sergio Ruzzier

Photo: Matt Carr.

The Party and Other Stories [Fox + Chick] (Chronicle; 5–8 years) stars two friends whose relationship isn’t always so smooth. It looks like a picture book from the outside, but simply structured panels and spare, repetitive text make it work just as effectively as an easy reader and an introduction to the conventions of graphic novels. We asked author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier to tell us more about his fresh take on the familiar buddy tale for beginning readers.

1. This is one of those difficult-to-categorize books — is it a picture book? an early reader? a comic? all of the above? What drew you to this format?

SR: I know it’s difficult to categorize it, and I apologize to all librarians and booksellers. Originally I was working on one of the three stories as a picture book, but it felt a little unsatisfying in that format. So my agent, Jennifer Laughran, suggested I try it as a comic. Comics were my first passion, both as a reader and a creator, so I was happy to return to the medium. As I was adapting the story, I came to realize that I needed very concise and repetitive dialogue for the story to work and be funny — that spontaneously made the book an early reader. And it’s made of three short stories, which should also be helpful for a kid who’s beginning to read. So I guess it’s a picture book of short stories in comic form for beginning readers. (Is there a shelf for that?) Your question made me curious to know what a bookseller would think, so I asked Sally Morgan of The Curious Reader in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and she said: “I keep The Party and Other Stories in our early-reader section — I thought about putting it with picture books or graphic novels, but honestly I think it’d get lost in both those sections. Its size really lends itself to early reader level. Plus, the vocabulary seems pretty deliberately chosen to be read by beginning readers (there are no contractions, etc.).”

But if you talk with any member of the Caldecott committee, please tell them it is definitely a picture book.

2. There are striking similarities here to some of the settings and critters in your other books — the Two Mice and Fox and Chick could almost be neighbors! Do the worlds of your various books overlap in your mind (or on the page)?

SR: I guess all of my stories do seem to happen in the same land, one made of ink and watercolors. But I am glad the characters don’t cross paths. I would have a hard time keeping their adventures from becoming an incoherent mess.

3. Fox and Chick’s relationship can be a little more abrasive than some other early-reader pairs (i.e., Toad never threatened to eat Frog). What appealed to you about this type of friendship?

SR: But toads don’t usually eat frogs, while foxes eat chicks all the time! Arnold Lobel is one of my favorite authors, so it flatters me very much when people associate my work with his. Knowing almost by heart Frog and Toad (and James Marshall’s George and Martha) was a big help while working on my own comic duo. And I’m sure that watching hours upon hours of Laurel and Hardy films as a kid did not hurt either. In those movies there are always unsettling elements: stupidity, preposterous fights, vengeance, even death. But it was obvious to me that it was still comedy, and that if you removed any of those elements the stories wouldn’t be as funny anymore. One reviewer questioned Fox and Chick’s relationship, wondering why Fox tolerates such an annoying friend. My answer is: without such an annoying friend, Fox’s life would be quite boring, especially for the readers.

4. Are you more like Fox or Chick? Or neither? (Or both!)

SR: Growing up, in my family I was considered quite irresponsible, but at the same time my friends thought I wasn’t carefree enough. I still see myself in both ways, depending on whom I am hanging out with.

5. That last page left us wondering: Any clues about what we can expect next from Fox and Chick?

SR: I recently delivered all the final art for the second Fox + Chick book, The Quiet Boat Ride, which should come out next spring. In it, Chick is afraid of monsters, pirates, and being shipwrecked; then he is ambivalent about a chocolate cake; and finally, he misses his first sunrise, partly due to a lost hammer, while Fox endures all of this more or less patiently.

From the August 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

About Shoshana Flax and Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor for The Horn Book, Inc. Shoshana Flax is assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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Comments

  1. I can’t wait to see this! Another masterpiece from the wonderfully, brilliantly talented Sergio!

  2. Dean Schneider says:

    I love this book, though I admit to being biased since it’s dedicated to my wife. And definitely a fine candidate for Caldecott. I was on the 2018 Caldecott Committee, and will talk up THE PARTY when the new Calling Caldecott season begins.

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