Five questions for Diana Murray and Zachariah OHora

In the adorable rhyming picture book Goodnight, Veggies (Houghton, 3–6 years), author Diana Murray’s tongue-in-cheek verse takes readers on a very special tour of an apartment rooftop garden as various vegetables get ready for bed. Zachariah OHora’s illustrations show friendly-faced veggies and a spiffily dressed worm, à la Richard Scarry (can you spot a Lowly Worm-esque hat in one illustration?). For more signs of springtime, see Embracing Spring.

1. Where did the idea to write veggie poetry come from?

Diana Murray: Years ago, I was experimenting with a collection of concrete/shape poems. In one of them, I imagined what would happen if an eggplant hatched (from an egg) and spread its wings. I have always loved wordplay — I think being bilingual perhaps contributes to my fascination with words. Anyway, that poem later morphed into a short, pun-filled gardening poem that was published in Highlights magazine. I really liked how it turned out, and when I decided to write a bedtime story, I guess I still had veggies on the brain. I wrote a long list of “Goodnight, [blank]” titles, as an exercise to generate ideas. “Goodnight, Veggies,” gave me a chuckle; if I can surprise myself or make myself smile when I’m writing, I know the idea has potential.

2. Which were the most fun — or challenging — lines to rhyme? (We particularly loved “Cuddly cauliflowers. / Droopy pods of peas. / Rhubarbs reading stories / to worn-out broccolis.”)

DM: I tried to keep things whimsical without getting too surreal. The couplet you mention was probably the most outlandish, but I decided that it added a bit of humor and interest to the page-turns. And I just love the way Zach illustrated it! I think the most challenging part of writing this manuscript was the ending. In early drafts the ending didn’t really have a message. Then one of my critique partners asked a smart question: Why were the veggies so tired? At first, I thought the question seemed a little ridiculous. They’re veggies — why do they need a reason? But then it hit me. Of course! The veggies would be exhausted from growing all the time! Just like kids! That was the missing ingredient of the story. It added another layer.

3. Zach, how did you go about interpreting Murray’s poem visually?

Zachariah OHora: Diana really set up a nice flow with the rhyming, so that was attractive right out of the gate. Nothing was forced, in that way that figure skaters look effortless but what you are seeing is the result of hours of craft. I wanted to reflect that lyricism in the art, and I thought of the worm whom we could follow throughout the book. A child can use their finger to trace that character’s path pretty much from beginning to end. The worm became a literal through-line, but its movements would also echo the musicality of the couplets.

4. Because kids will ask: Why is the worm the only animal wearing clothes?

ZO: Well, I’m not an expert but here in Pennsylvania all the worms are pretty sharp dressers. The only time you really see them without clothes is when there’s been a heavy rainstorm and they get flushed out of their beds to the surface. They sleep au naturel so that has led to the misconception that they are nudists. I’m trying to dispel that myth. A lot of people get this wrong; historically I think Richard Scarry is the only person who got it right (that I know of).

5. What veggies do you think you’d dream of?

DM: I think I would dream of potatoes because my eleven-year-old daughter thinks potatoes are really funny, for some reason. She and her friends sometimes call each other “potatoes,” they have matching T-shirts with “hot potatoes” on them, and my daughter’s friend gave her an actual potato for her birthday. His name is Ralph and he lives on our windowsill.

ZO: My dream is to be the first person in the world to take a picture of a ghost pepper and prove that they are real.

From the April 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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