Spring 2015 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Ed Young

Publishers' Previews
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual 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:
Little, Brown

Caldecott Medalist Ed Young is in his most lyrical mode for the picture book Should You Be a River: A Poem About Love.

young_ed21. Your author’s note says that Should You Be a River began life as a scroll. Does that still exist? How is it different from the book?

EY: It was a forty-foot scroll with black-and-white photo collage and calligraphy, more like a Chinese painting in concept (as a piece meant more for a gallery show than a picture book). Yes, it still exists, partially: it was broken up to become part of the book-making process (as everything in process is partial at best).

2. Is the book digital or physical collage?

EY: Physical. One cannot fake imperfections — this is the concept of wabi sabi!

young_shouldyouberiver3. What’s the difference between a “book for all ages,” as this one is labeled, and a book for children alone?

EY: When color was introduced into the book’s concept, it began to feel more child-friendly, but it never attempted to talk down to children (in fact, none of my books do).

4. What was the nature of the collaboration that brought the book into being?

EY: Should You Be a River was a poem in the form of a scroll made from my friend Sean Kernan’s torn photography and my collage art. When the words accidentally fell into the hands of Little, Brown’s creative director, Patti Ann Harris, and editor, Alvina Ling, it became a thirty-two-page picture book. In the end, because we had used Sean Kernan’s photography and Chinese calligraphy, we decided to invite another friend, Barbara Bash, to mirror Sean’s Chinese calligraphy with her English calligraphy.

The book was a labor of love by each collaborator, equally skilled in his or her own craft (down to the printer and binder), in love with the same material. It was developed organically in a natural give-and-take process with a single purpose intact — we constantly asked if this was the very best book we could possibly make. The heart matters.

5. The poem that provides the text cycles among images drawn from the four classical elements of water, earth, air, and fire. Which would you say is the element closest to your heart?

EY: Earth. The substance by which all elements can express their very best (apropos to all the answers above).

Sponsored by:
Little, Brown

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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