Ever since my children brought home a copy of Oliver Jeffers’s picture book The Incredible Book Eating Boy, it’s been a family favorite. It’s about a boy named Henry who devours book–really eats them, bindings and all. (The back cover has a big chomp taken out of it.) We sent Oliver a fan note, which he very kindly replied to. So I asked him if he’d mind answering a few questions, and he was kind enough to do that too. Look for his new picture book, The Heart in the Bottle, in March. Oliver does a lot of things besides picture books, all of them very cool. You can watch a neat video of Oliver at work in his studio here.
Q. From Lela, age 7: What was the first book you wrote?
A. My first book was How to Catch a Star.
Q. From Finn, age 5: How did you take that bite out of the back of The Incredible Book Eating Boy?
A. With a lot of difficulty. I went through lots of toothpaste and missed dinners.
Q. Do you first think of a story in pictures or in words?
A. Actually, I do the words and pictures at around the same time. I don’t write something that is clear in the drawing, and I don’t draw something that is clear in the writing.
Q. How different is writing and drawing picture books from the other kinds of art (paintings, objects) that you make?
A. Picture books are very different, because I have to think about each page and how it fits in with the whole book. With everything else, it’s just a single image that stands on its own.
Q. In The Incredible Book Eating Boy, some of the illustrations feature pages or maps from old books. Where did you find them?
A. I collected all the old maps and books from library sales, second-hand book shops and my Granny’s attic.
Q. What can you tell us about your next book, The Heart and the Bottle?
A. I can tell you the new book is about a girl who puts her heart in a safe place after loosing something important to her.
Q. What books/stories did you love as a kid?
A. I loved anything by Roald Dahl when I was a kid.
Q. You grew up in Belfast and now live in Brooklyn. What do you miss about Ireland? What do you like about living in the States?
A. I miss my family, friends, the greenery and much of the cooking in Northern Ireland, and I love a whole range of new and different foods in America, how big and busy everything is, and my new friends here.
Q. Do you have any advice for writers or illustrators who want to write/draw for kids?
A. My advice is to keep drawing and to not take no for an answer.
Q. Are you a dog person or a cat person? (Sorry, had to ask.)
A. I’m a dog person.