Publishers' Preview: Picture Books and Graphic Novels: Five Questions for Chris Grabenstein

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2023 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.

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Enlisting illustrator Douglas Holgate into the puzzle, Chris Grabenstein Escape[s] from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library once again, this time in a graphic-novel adaptation.

1. What was the most unexpected challenge in graphic novel-izing your own book?

At first, I didn’t think I could adapt my own story. But I spent nearly twenty years in advertising creating television commercials. I worked with an art director to make storyboards, ten to twelve panels that tell a quick, visual story. I had an advantage as my own adapter. I knew readers’ favorite lines and scenes. I also knew which scenes wouldn’t be missed if I cut them.

2. And what’s the most unexpected thing you’ve ever found in a library?

My own books! I’m still awed when I see one on a library shelf. Other than that, I visited a library where you could check out circular saws and hand tools. I wish I had lived near that library when I had a house in suburbia.

3. Have you ever known a Charles? Or are you Charles?

I’ve known many an entitled Charles in New York City. One thing I love about Douglas’s art is that you can see things people had to imagine when I described them in the original. You can’t miss that the first time we meet Charles, he is at home in his family mansion’s private library. Charles doesn’t need a public library. The Charleses of the world would rather keep all that knowledge locked up for their own personal use.

4. What game do your friends refuse to play with you?

Monopoly. They know that I know that if you own the orange properties, you always win. Those properties are positioned very close to the jail. Anybody getting out of jail free (or otherwise) has a high probability of spending their first night of freedom in one of your hotels!

5. Does Mr. Lemoncello look the way you thought he would?

Yes! I think Douglas took his cue from these two lines of description: “A tall, gangly man stepped out of the boot car” and “Mr. Lemoncello bounced across the stage like a happy grasshopper.” I couldn’t be more pleased with the way Mr. Lemoncello and his world are depicted.

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Photo: Elena Seibert.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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