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.

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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.

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