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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Dashka Slater

Dashka Slater has been telling stories since she could talk.

Author photo of Dashka Slater.

She's an award-winning journalist who writes for such publications as The New York Times Magazine and Mother Jones. The recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Slater grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts but has spent most of her adult life in Oakland, California, where she is always working on far too many writing projects.

Collage of Dashka Slater's picture, chapter, and YA book covers.

Dashka’s the New York Times best-selling author of 12 children’s books, including Wild Blue: Taming a Big-Kid Bike, illustrated by Laura Hughes (2023), Love, Escargot, illustrated by Sydney Hanson (2023), Book of Stolen Time (The Feylawn Chronicles, 2) (2022), A Book for Escargot, illustrated by Sydney Hanson (2020), The Book of Fatal Errors: First Book in the Feylawn Chronicles (2020), Baby Shoes, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (2019), Escargot, illustrated by Sydney Hanson (2017), The Antlered Ship, illustrated by Terry & Eric Fan (2017), and Dangerously Ever After, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (2012). ​Plus 2 young adult nonfiction novels, including Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed (2023) and The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (2017).


For more information on Dashka, check out our earlier interview (here).


Her newest book, Escargot and the Search for Spring, releases on February 6th.


Quick pause for a brief Valentine's Day note -

As it's just ten days away, I thought I'd temporarily interrupt our discussion to bring you a reminder about Dashka Slater's fun Valentines' book - Love, Escargot. [sliding in with a lovely ebook $2.99 sale, until the end of February - https://bit.ly/3S2HxTF].

Book cover - snail with antenae twisted to make a heart.

Dashka also has a number of printable Escargot valentines (here) and (here). Aren't these adorable?

Two valentine -  on left a mouse and snail "You make my heart dance." And on right, Escargot asking "Be my Snailentine?"

Okay, back to the regularly scheduled interview! 😊


Welcome back Dashka, what is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

 

This past fall, I had the great pleasure of writing an upcoming Escargot book at Milkwood, which is Sophie Blackall’s exquisite retreat center for children’s book writers and editors. I sat outside at a table next to her garden and wrote while a flock of ducks wandered around nearby. When I wanted to see how another author or illustrator had handled something, I had her incredible picture book library to use as reference. It was sublime.

 

Lucky! Milkwood is high on my writing bucket list. What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Escargot and the Search for Spring?

Book cover - snail searching with an antenae coked over one eye as a bunny peers over a grassy knoll at him.

When the book starts, Escargot is suffering from ennui, which he defines as “the feeling you have when you are bored with everything.” In the book, Escargot is sick of being cooped up all winter and tired of all the winter comforts like hot chocolate and cozy sweaters. The book was written right at the end of the pandemic, and so I channeled all my pandemic ennui into the narrative. Like Escargot, I was eager to get out into the world and find some color and excitement!

 

Pretty sure the ENTIRE world can relate to those feelings of ennui! It's been a rough couple of years and a crazy winter so far. What was the toughest aspect of writing Escargot and the Search for Spring?

 

All the Escargot books have visual gags and twist endings, and it’s always a challenge to see whether those gags are going to work when they’re on the page. I tend to write about twice as many jokes as I’ll actually use and then I have to see which ones work. There’s a gag where Escargot thinks a snowbank is blocking his door, but it’s actually the butt of a big white bunny. I had no idea how Sydney was going to make that work, but she did!

 

I definitely chuckled; their facial expressions are adorable. I imagine a number of kids will find this quite funny. Do you find it harder to write books within a picture book series or within your middle grade series?

 

The hardest thing about writing any series is figuring out how to keep certain gags or character traits going without being repetitive. You want readers to feel at home in a familiar world but not feel like it’s same old, same old. That’s more of a challenge in a picture book series where you’re not carrying the plot from book to book. With the Feylawn books (my middle grade series), there were a lot of questions left hanging in Book 1, so I had plenty to work with and the added benefit of known characters and a world that was already built. In contrast, the Escargot books are all meant to stand alone, so certain jokes from previous books can’t carry over to later books, even when they’d be perfect.


Wow, I can see how that would be challenging. Having worked with her for three previous books, when you first saw Sydney Hanson’s illustrations for Escargot and the Search for Spring, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left, snail tucked under a blanket with a puzzle, book, and food scattered about. On the right, a sad snail lies upside down in the snow, staring at a snow snail, and slumped on the floor.

Text © Dashka Slater, 2024. Image © Sydney Hanson, 2024.


Every Sydney Hanson sketch dummy is a delightful surprise because she is so endlessly creative and funny. In this book, I particularly love the spread where the bunny is chasing Escargot. And all of Escargot’s melodramatic manifestations of ennui are hilarious.

 

C'est magnifique! I adore the depth of personality she can portray with Escargot! How many revisions did you end up working through for Escargot and the Search for Spring? Was there a particularly tricky portion?

 

In my mind, the book practically wrote itself, but I just checked and apparently there were 17 drafts, which is pretty typical for me. I struggled some over the final segment, particularly the jumping contest between Escargot and the Bunny when Escargot claims he’s jumped to the moon. I had a lot of astronaut and astronomy jokes that weren’t really working but that I was ridiculously attached to. At one point, I tried starting over with a space-focused narrative that underwhelmed everyone I showed it to. But I think the departure was helpful, because when I went back to the original story I saw how to wrap it up in a satisfying way – without my beloved space jokes.

 

Oh, those poor darlings. Maybe Escargot has an astronaut or planetarium book in his future? Is there something you want your readers to know about Escargot and the Search for Spring?

 

The book is a spring book with a bunny in it, so it’s definitely appropriate for Easter. But as a Jew, I want to say that spring and bunnies are for everyone! And for parents of kids who get cranky when they’re hungry…well, let’s just say that Escargot offers an important lesson in the relationship between mood and food.


I think parents - and kids - will get a chuckle at Escargot's realization he was hangry. Are there any upcoming books that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I have a bunch of new picture books in the works, including two more Escargot books and a new book starring Kayla, the imaginative little girl from Wild Blue. Like Escargot, Kayla is a character I feel like I could keep writing stories for forever – she’s so endlessly inventive and fun.

 

Ooh! I can't wait for more Escargot and Kayla books! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of two huge trees in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Escargot and the Search for Spring is actually dedicated to the dear friends with whom I often go camping at a California State Park called Calaveras-Big Trees. The weather there is exceedingly unpredictable and so we’ve had many rainy, snowy, and otherwise challenging camping trips. That made it feel like the right people to receive a dedication in a book about the search for spring!


Thank you, Dashka, for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.

 

Thanks so much for having me! 

Book cover - snail searching with an antenae coked over one eye as a bunny peers over a grassy knoll at him.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Escargot and the Search for Spring.


To find out more about Dashka Slater, or contact her:

  

Check out Dashka's upcoming events: 

Linden Tree Books Logo.

Linden Tree Books - Sunday, March 24 at 10:30am: Storytime with Dashka Slater, Escargot and the Search for Spring.

265 State Street Los Altos, CA 94022; phone: (650) 949-3390.

RSVP at the link.


Flyer for Dashka Slater's visit and talk about The 57 Bus.

Western Washington fans - Dashka will be at the Garage Teen Cafe,

235 1st Avenue Southeast Issaquah WA 98027, Friday March 1st 6-7:30.

For ages 13 & up.

Sponsored by the King County Library.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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