Publishers' Preview: Picture Books: Five Questions for Minh Lê

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Picture Books, 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

Minh Lê and illustrator Gus Gordon document a search for The Perfect Seat — one that’s for reading.

1. Oh man, finding the perfect place to read. What’s your fantasy?

My first thought was a hammock by the ocean, but since we’re talking fantasy, I’ll say: SPACE. I imagine it’d be wonderfully quiet and there’d be no Wi-Fi (or gravity) to distract me.

2. And what’s your reality — that is, what’s your favorite chair?

Right now, I have a lovely, ratty, hand-me-down, mustard-gold wingback chair with broken springs. Let’s just say it’s been well loved and that storytime with two little kids is a full-contact sport. So I’m actually on the lookout for the perfect seat. Note: I would love to try the “Stylemaster 3000” that Gus Gordon included in his wonderful illustrations.

3. Whose idea was it to start the story before the title page?

That was in the manuscript from the beginning. I really liked the idea of the story starting mid-stride and having the text roll right into (and incorporate) the title. Friends and I were discussing what that should be called, and the closest we could come up with was a “cold open” like they have on Saturday Night Live.

4. What is the most unlikely book you’ve read aloud to your children?

When my oldest son was about one, I read him The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’d been meaning to read it, and he was too young to understand the heavy content, so I figured, “why not?” He was just learning to talk, so soon all the books in our house fell into two categories: according to him, all picture books were “books” and all others were “Book Thief books.”

5. What has reading aloud taught you about writing a picture book?

I truly believe that a book is not done until it’s being read. Reading aloud (or hearing other people read aloud) teaches me about pacing, page-turns, the interplay between text and image, effective repetition…everything that makes a picture book uniquely powerful comes alive (or falls flat) during a read-aloud. I think of it like going to a car dealership: a car may look great on the lot, but you don’t know how it’ll perform until you drive it. Similarly, a book may look beautiful on the shelf, but if you really want to know how good it is, take it for a test drive during storytime.

Sponsored by

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more