Our guest: Antoinette Portis is the author and illustrator of the modern classics Not A Box (2006) and Not A Stick (2007), both from HarperCollins. Her latest works are the equally excellent Wait (2015) and Best Frints in the Whole Universe (2016, Roaring Brook). She is based in Studio City, California.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
My grandmother gave me a Margaret Wise Brown book Where Have You Been? (illustrated by the great Barbara Cooney), when I was two. The narrator asks various animals where they’ve been and their answers, mostly given in the illos, showed me a world that seemed just big and mysterious enough to be thrilling (but not scary). There was a cat on a bicycle with binoculars around her neck and I wanted to be her–to ride off on a big-kid bike and have adventures.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Winnie the Pooh. It’s not that I’m like him; I just want to live in the Hundred Acre Wood and have his really small problems.
I’m answering this as my childhood self: I can’t decide between P.L. Travers (right), C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald and A.A. Milne as my favorite authors. They all enriched my life so much. My favorite illustrators were the Provensens and Maurice Sendak. The Little Bear illustrations were transcendent!
I would invite, on behalf of my childhood self: Little Bear, the Blue Fairy (left, with Pinocchio), Mary Poppins, Aslan and Mr. Tumnus. We’d have afternoon tea, then climb ladders and paste gingerbread stars in the sky. Actually, I think with Aslan I’d want a private audience. That lion is deep.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Saying something that’s true about being human.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I’m a distiller. I challenge myself to tell whatever story I’m telling with economy.
Auntie Mame. Technically, Patrick Dennis’s book is not specifically for children, but it’s about a little boy growing up with an eccentric aunt. I admire Mame’s joie de vivre and her fearlessness. She lived large.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Everything. My editor knows I would keep tinkering with illos and text forever if he didn’t tear the work from my hands.
9. WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Dory’s motto is pretty good: “Just keep swimming.”
But hey, I’m still waiting for the one word of wisdom that will make everything in the world OK.
10. TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK PROCESS.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
As a young child, my favorite books were Bartholomew and the Ooblek (Dr. Seuss) and Little Bear (Else Minarik and Maurice Sendak). Little Bear had a haunting touch of melancholy because it gently hinted that mama couldn’t solve all your problems and this was a world in which you had to fend for yourself. Like, make your own birthday soup. (Not good news.) The book was beautiful, but it also made me ponder and mull.
My favorite novels were the Narnia series, the Mary Poppins books and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Those are among the books I read and reread.
I can’t believe I don’t write magic or fantasy because that was my childhood obsession.
As a picture book maker, my current favorite picture book is kind of a moving target. Something new comes out and I fall in love. There are books that inspire me as an illustrator, others as a writer, and some as a whole creation.
One of my very favorite recent picture books is Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins. It makes me laugh out loud. So funny and so original. (Editor – We couldn’t agree more! Read our review.)
Wow. So many books come out each season that it’s hard for anyone to keep up with them. That means there are many wonderful books falling by the wayside.
I’ll pick Naptime by Iris de Mouy. I love her drawing style–the loose brushwork and the limited palette.