Publishers' Preview: Picture Books and Graphic Novels: Five Questions for Raj Haldar

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Picture Books and Graphic Novels, an 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.

Sponsored by
HarperCollins

No Reading Allowed? Aw, say it isn’t so, Raj Haldar, a.k.a. the rapper Lushlife. This book about homonyms and sound-alikes will teach kids the difference between “fowl feat” and “foul feet.”

1. “Ant” or “Awnt”?

Awnt always sounds so highfalutin to me! We have good fun with the ant/aunt homonym in No Reading Allowed, so now I’m definitely on Team “Ant.”

2. What could children’s book writers teach rappers?

Both pursuits are full of wordplay. What’s different is the economy of language required in kids’ books. I write dense rap songs, where the words come at you a mile a minute. With this and my previous book P Is for Pterodactyl, I spent hours poring over single sentences. There are only a few hundred words in the book, so you have to make them good ones. I’ve been working on a new Lushlife album, and subconsciously I think I’ve been bringing a newfound economy of words there, too.

3. And vice versa?

The best rappers know their audience keenly. When we set out to make P Is for Pterodactyl, editor after editor said kids wouldn’t understand it, but it seemed to activate the “word nerd” inside many kids. Now we’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of homonyms in a totally absurd way, with each spread having two sentences that sound alike. We’re excited to share more zany English language fun with our readers, young and old.

4. Do something cute with rapper and wrapper.

I had a rapper/wrapper idea in one of the early drafts of No Reading Allowed. It was something like The beats were perfect for rapping / The beets were perfect for wrapping — where the first panel might show a kid performing a rap and in the second making beet ravioli or something.

5. What was the first book that made you happy you knew how to read?

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Opening that book always felt like escaping into a weird and wonderful world. With the Worst Ever series, our goal is to give readers a little of that joy in the surreal, highlighting the counterintuitive bits of our topsy-turvy real world. Poking fun at the confusing parts of our language can be empowering.

Sponsored by
HarperCollins

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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