Publishers' Preview: Picture Books and Graphic Novels: Five Questions for Lauren Castillo

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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In a sequel to her Caldecott Honor Book Nana in the City, Lauren Castillo takes the titular grandma out of her milieu for Nana in the Country.

1. Do you think you would be more of a City Nana or a Country Nana?

Definitely a City Nana. I love nature and spending time out in the country, but I need neighbors and a coffee shop and a bookstore within walking distance.

2. Does the book take place on a farm you know?

It’s based on two farms I know. The idea developed after I moved from New York City to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Central Pennsylvania felt so different from anyplace I had lived before. I met Amish vendors and farmers while shopping at my local market, and that piqued my interest in exploring Lancaster County farmlands. The child’s home in the book was drawn from life; it’s a house I stayed at in Lancaster. The outdoor surroundings are a melding of the landscape there and another farm in Newville, PA. The entire setting was born out of location drawings and collected photographs and made all the difference in the creation of this book.

3. What’s your favorite animal to draw?

Hedgehogs, but chickens come in a close second. They are the perfect animals to draw with scratchy pen and ink. 

4. How do you decide what will go in the pictures and what in the words? (I know this is a big question!)

I began my book career as an illustrator, so when I’m writing a story the visuals are already in my head. One of the challenges I like to give myself as an author is paring down the words as much as I can, letting the pictures do the heavy lifting. At this point in my career, it’s largely intuition. I know I’ve solved the puzzle when the words and pictures fit together in a just-right way.

5. How do you avoid that legendary picture-book monster, the Grandma Trap?

Children are always my focus, which is why I like writing from the child’s point of view. The reader is with the young narrator feeling all the feelings of navigating the big, wide world. If grandmas enjoy being spotlighted in the book, too, that’s a bonus.

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Photo courtesy of the author.

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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