Five questions for Kerascoët

Bear with Me (Random House Studio/Random, 3–6 years) by Kerascoët (the French husband-and-wife team of Sébastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy) is about a young child about to start school...without the comfort item of a favorite teddy bear.

1. What is it that draws you to create books about childhood emotions and behavior? (e.g., kindness in I Walk with Vanessa and forgiveness in I Forgive Alex)

Kerascoët: For us, children’s books have always been very important, even indispensable. We didn’t dare approach children’s literature before having a little experience as parents because we put these books on a pedestal. When we finally got down to it, we wanted these books to be useful, to play a role in children’s lives. That’s why we have discussed important themes for us such as kindness and forgiveness, which are essential for learning to live together.

Photo: Rita Scaglia.

2. Did you each have your own toy that you were inseparable from when you were young? Was that your inspiration for this story or something else?

Sébastien Cosset: I didn’t have a toy, strictly speaking, it was a piece of fabric that I called a “titi” and that calmed me down, when I had it in my pocket.

Marie Pommepuy: I had a plush bear when I was little exactly like the one we drew. I remember he seemed taller than me. He was very important in my life. In moments of melancholy I even imagined myself dead in my coffin beside him.

Kerascoët: To answer the second part of your question: that was not exactly our inspiration for the book. Initially, what we tried to address was the difficulty of growing up and having to take your first independent steps in the world. It’s a book about separation and the pleasure of reuniting afterwards. The teddy bear is here the symbol of the comfort that one has at home and that one must abandon to go out and confront the world. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t take our comfort with us, in our head, in our heart, because it helps us to overcome the obstacles we face!

3. What’s your collaborative process like?

Kerascoët: Each book is different and each book corresponds to a way of approaching it together. For Bear with Me, one of us started sketching the whole book and then we started a kind of creative ping-pong between us with the help of our editors.

4. How do your skills as comics artists apply when creating picture books (and vice versa)? And which do you find easier to do?

Kerascoët: When we work on a comic strip, we have always wanted to make albums that are accessible and easy to read. It’s hard enough to sit down to read a comic book so we don’t want to add to it by complicating the reader’s life with convoluted things. We’ve always had in mind that the reader can understand the action without having to read the texts, just by looking at the drawings; the text comes as a bonus to get into another dimension of what we want to say. When we started doing picture books, we kept exactly the same logic and sometimes we didn’t even need the text. As they say: a good drawing is better than a long speech ^_^. We don’t find one easier to do than the other, but doing comics definitely takes longer!

5. What advice do you have for a child about to start school who may be feeling similarly nervous and/or reluctant to leave their favorite thing(s) at home?

SC: Personally, I had a hard time detaching myself from my mother when I had to go to school. I sometimes cried all day…so I don’t really have any advice to give, other than to give yourself some time, to hold onto the things you love, and not be disturbed by those that you don’t. Be kind to others and you will make friends who will quickly replace your soft toys.

MP: To my children, I say that I went through these experiences! I don’t know if that relieves them. It’s hard to leave the family cocoon and the landmarks of the things you love. But all these things don’t disappear when they are no longer in front of our eyes…they are there and are waiting for us.

From the July 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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