An interview with Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant in partnership with Two Lions
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode of the Growing Readers Podcast, I talk with the award-winning team Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant about their latest picture book Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides. It’s a tale about a cat and a dog who discover that even though they don’t look at things the same way, they can still be friends.
Inspired by a story their daughter wrote, Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides was written in 2016-2017 when the US suddenly felt very divided and polarized—even among neighbors, friends, and within families. The pair have created a book for children that addresses this animosity. Not only is it a delightful story, but it will help initiate conversations with our kiddos on how to maintain a friendship with someone you often disagree with or who has a very different worldview. I hope you enjoy this discussion about the importance of perspective and finding common ground.
Listen to the Interview
About the Book
Written by Anna Kang
Illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Ages 3-7 | 40 Pages
Publisher: Two Lions | ISBN-13: 978-1542006682
Publisher’s Synopsis: Hudson and Tallulah may be neighbors, but the fence between their yards isn’t the only thing that divides them. They can’t see eye to eye on anything. One day they venture out, and after nonstop disagreement, they realize something surprising: they don’t always have to agree to be on each other’s side.
Inspired by a story their daughter Lily wrote in the second grade, the author and illustrator of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small have created a tale of finding common ground when you least expect it—and using it as a stepping-stone to friendship.
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About the Author and Illustrator
Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small, as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, We Are (Not) Friends, and It Is (Not) Perfect. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, Can I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in the New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog, Hudson, the inspiration behind the character in this book.
Read the Interview
Anna Kang: Thank you so much for having us today to talk about our latest book. My name is Anna Kang and I am a children’s book author. And I’d like to introduce to you the gentleman seated next to me. His name is Christopher Weyant and he is an editorial cartoonist and a children’s book illustrator. Among other hats He wears, he is the father of our two children, a fellow rescuer of our rescue dog, Hudson, and an all-around good guy.
Christopher Weyant: Thank you for having us. This, as you just heard, is my wife. She is the wonderful writer of eight books now, including You Are (Not) Small. She is also the mother of my children. As she said, we have two girls, one dog, and she is a wonderful person. We’re happy to be here.
Bianca Schulze: You mentioned your rescue dog, and I’m assuming your rescue dog’s name is Hudson, is that correct?
Anna Kang: That is correct.
Bianca Schulze: Possibly the inspiration behind Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides or part of the inspiration?
Anna Kang: One hundred percent.
Bianca Schulze: Awesome. Well, I have to say that I think Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides is one reason I love picture books. On the surface, picture books tell a lovely story and they have great illustrations. But an excellent picture book is a conversation starter. And I think Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides is precisely that. Would one of you like to tell our listeners what it’s all about and why you chose to write this particular story?
Anna Kang: Thank you so much, Chris, for that lovely introduction, by the way!
Why we chose to write this book … that’s a very good question; the genesis of a book is pretty long, as you probably know. And I started writing this story in 2016—that was a year like no other I could remember in terms of our country and our politics. All that was going on was very challenging, and it did affect even our small-town life in terms of our neighbors. Many feelings were being felt and a lot of arguments being had even on a very local level. So, for me as a writer, what inspires me to write are things like that, things going on in my life, going on in the world, things that affect me, and children. And while children aren’t going to vote and are not having political dialogues, they are affected by the issues that affect us.
I really wanted to write a story that was extremely simple on the surface, but that could hopefully spark a dialogue with children, with grown-ups and children, and among children about what do we do when we have major differences with someone who is literally next to us. Whether it’s our neighbor or classmate or even a family member. So, I hadn’t seen that in a children’s book before done in an age-appropriate way that isn’t very directly speaking about a specific issue, but that could be universal in its interpretation and that could invite a broader conversation about how do we get along with each other when we do not see eye to eye on much of anything
Bianca Schulze: Right, it’s ultimately about finding that common ground because no matter our differences, what we believe, what we feel, what we look like, there is always some kind of common ground that can bring us together. And so, Hudson being a dog and Tallulah being a cat is just such a great way to demonstrate that to kids. Do you want to sort of talk listeners through this storyline a little bit?
Christopher Weyant: Sure. So, Hudson and Tallulah are neighbors. They live on opposite sides of a fence and they really see everything completely opposed to each other. So, for whatever Hudson sees and loves, Tallulah hates and vice versa. And they go through their day exploring their world and seeing the things that he loves, and she’s repulsed by. And then the very same thing that she loves, he’s disgusted by. And they get to a point where the tensions rise. These disagreements continue as they go through the dog and cat world to the point where they are no longer talking to each other and are on opposite sides of the street. They have grown further and further apart.
As the book goes on, they find something that unites them, and they find a way to come together and to unite over things that they have in common and maybe not be the best of friends in the end, but maybe find a way to live peacefully next to each other.
I mean, it’s something in Anna’s books I love because there’s always this allegory and deeper meaning to her books. So, they can be taken on one level for kids, but they can have these other larger discussions as the kids get older. And kids are so smart. They get all of that. They live in that world all the time of being a kid. In preschool and grade school, 90 percent of what you’re learning is about how to get along with the kid next to you who may be a little crazy, you know, or just drive you nuts that day. Even as adults, I think we have to kind of remember that, especially during times of great change, which we are in.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. So, I think something that I loved about this picture book is partly your cartoonist experience, Chris—all the little facial expressions in the animals, the way they look at each other. You know, I just think it highlights Anna’s words just so, so great. Can you talk a bit about creating the artwork, and then after you’ve talked about making the artwork, I would love to know if Anna has a favorite illustration?
Christopher: Oh, yeah. Thank you. Yeah. I put, you know, a lot of time into the emotions. The emotions of a book are really very so important. I think of Hudson and Tallulah as three-dimensional characters. They are absolutely real to me. It takes a long time to come up with sketches. We went through a lot of iterations on what the dog and cat were going to look like—even in terms of their power structure by their size. Originally Hudson was a big dog, a big sloppy dog, but the size gave him too much power over Tallulah because he was so much larger. Now we use a little dog with a lot to prove and she’s significantly larger than him and very confident in her ability. So, it feels very more balanced. But getting those emotions down on paper really is important to me. I work hard and it delights me that you noticed that that’s coming through because I think kids get that.
This book has very few words, so driving it forward with the emotions and the feelings, the rejection, the defiance, the, you know, all the emotions that these two are going to go through, the frustration I need to get it on their faces and at the same time make it fun. There’s, hopefully, a lot of comedy and a lot of fun, and some characters that you just like to spend that time with because that’s what in the end you’re going to want to do. So, I work really hard at it. And so hopefully, some of that came through.
Bianca Schulze: It did. I just think, besides the humor, I feel like their facial expressions are relatable too.
Anna Kang: As I come from a filmmaking background, I have been trained to show, not tell. And in a picture book where half of the creation is visual, I really do rely on Chris to do what you pointed out. So, when we discuss the process, when we’re doing a book, I say to him, well, you know, Hudson are my actors, right? So, Chris is able to skillfully give me so much nuance like a skilled actor would be able to. But in a different artist’s hands, I don’t think I could lean so much visually in terms of how to tell the story. So, the fact that Chris can do this Meryl Streep magic with a dog and a cat or an eraser really elevates what I’m able to do because instead of blah, blah, blah, talking about what these characters are feeling, Chris can show it like completely in a look.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. I still want to know your favorite illustration, but before we go there, I have another question that came to mind. It’s unique in the fact that as an author and an illustrator, that you collaborate so closely because a lot of authors and illustrators never meet. They never really even communicate once, maybe possibly through the editor. You have to feel pretty good that you get to work together, I’m assuming, most of the time.
Christopher Weyant: It took a while to kind of work that out.
Anna Kang: I am not holding the paintbrush, for example. I had to be reminded of that a few times.
Christopher Weyant: It took us a little bit. Anna went to film school, so on our first book, she was directing, and I’m like, well, no, that’s my job now. But that worked out really quickly. And it has been a great collaboration because I can not only bounce things off her, but when we’re doing character sketches and so forth, it really helps to be able to have that connection. I want to serve the editor and the writer as much as I can, but at the same time be true to myself and how I want to express the story. And there’s a lot of trust between the two of us in terms of her writing. Obviously, I’m drawn to her stories, but then also she trusts me to interpret them. So, I think that’s one of the things that helps a lot as we go forward. It really does help having her here. So, yeah, I mean, I feel lucky because I have done books where you just don’t meet the author at all, and that’s great. But you do have to wonder what they’re going to think. And there’s that point where they have when you deliver it, they give you like, yeah …
Bianca: It’s not really what I had in mind …
Christopher Weyant: That part that was illuminated. You don’t have to have that heartbreak there. You would have heard about it way earlier.
Bianca Schulze: So, what’s your favorite illustration, Anna?
Anna Kang: I have to think about this for a second because there is more than one, I would say.
Bianca Schulze: It’s funny you say more than one because I was trying to identify which was my favorite spread in the book too, and I couldn’t pick just one.
Anna Kang: Well, I’ll tell you what my favorite spread is. My favorite spread is this one. Yes. If you had an imageboard or a concept board for the book, this would be the image from my brain that would be like the reminder of what I’m making and why. You know, this is where they find their common ground when they are sitting side by side peacefully and nothing is said. But so much is said. And that’s my favorite spread. But I tell you, what cracks me up the most is this type of illustration where she’s just indignant, frustrated, and has this just utter kind of contempt.
Bianca Schulze: So we’re looking at Tallulah sitting on top of a fence and she has a great scowl look on her face. She’s also in another little vignette clawing her way up the fence, and then she is looking despicably at Hudson, digging a hole, thinking, what are you doing?
Anna Kang: There’s a lot of indignation that Chris can get into a face that’s not human.
Christopher Weyant: I will spend most of my time mimicking the expression that I’m doing. My daughters will come down and see me acting out, perhaps whatever I’m drawing, that’s the face I’m making, trying to put it on the paper. So, when drawing an indignant look, I look indignant.
Bianca Schulze: So, Anna, the final words of the book, not the last page because the final page is Hudson and Tallulah together peacefully, but right before that. Tallulah says, “You’re on my side,” and Hudson says, “you’re on mine.” Tell me about that and tell me how you chose those words.
Anna Kang: That’s a very good question. As the title indicates, it is about sides. Literally, they live on opposite sides of a fence, of a wall of a border. And they are also metaphorically on different sides throughout the story in terms of their worldview. And here at the end, they’ve gone through this day, they’ve gone through this journey, they’ve connected as animals. As opposed to thinking, they’re just feeling. This is how they’ve connected. When they come back home, and Hudson is on her side of the fence, and she’s on his side, they are correcting each other, kind of like the good old days where they’re sticking it to each other, but really, they’re talking about something else. They’re saying: I recognize that you aren’t my enemy. So, it’s both literal and metaphorical that they can be on opposite sides in terms of an issue, but that doesn’t mean they have to be enemies.
Bianca Schulze: I think it’s gorgeous. It’s what Chris said just before, or maybe it was you, Anna; you’re just using the minimal words to allow the artistry and the pictures to sort of, you know, do more of the showing. I think the simplicity of you’re on my side and then Hudson, you’re on mine. I just thought it was great. You nailed it.
Anna Kang: Thank you so much.
Christopher Weyant: It is really a dream for me to illustrate for Anna because she opens up all these opportunities to have this room to explore and those opportunities are just great.
Bianca Schulze: it’s so sweet, actually, just talking to you guys. And I love that you admitted that it took some time to figure out how to make this work as a husband and wife team. I think it’s just such a wonderful thing that you guys get to do together.
Anna Kang: We’re very lucky.
Bianca Schulze: So ultimately, what impact is it that you want to have on your readers?
Anna Kang: I would say out of all the books that we’ve created together, they all have the same theme and that is perspective. Empathy, compassion, and perspective that you really don’t know what someone else’s point of view is until you have lived it a little for a little while, or you ask them how they see things. Everybody has their truth. Everyone’s truth is valid. As somebody who grew up as a minority, now we call it BIPOC, a person of color, in a 99 percent predominantly white neighborhood, I didn’t have a choice but to see things from an outside perspective. So, I come to that naturally. That’s how I’ve been raised to see things from the outside in and see them see the world from a very sidelines point of view. As I got older and became more educated and more exposed to the world, I started to see that that was just a moment and a certain time in my life where I was on the sidelines. But that didn’t mean, as a human, I needed to live there. So now everything I’ve done since I was in college and beyond has been devoted to this mission, which is to give voice to the voiceless and to hand the microphone to more marginalized communities because we need that advocacy, and I need to do that for the little girl and me. We didn’t have that advocate. And I hope more children of all colors and sizes and shapes do that for themselves and each other.
Bianca Schulze: Yes! Thank you for sharing that.
Chris, what would you say drives you in creating your work?
Christopher Weyant: For me, it’s I mean, I’m a political cartoonist and a cartoonist for The New Yorker. And so, for me, it’s also about having something to say. So, even the cartoons I do for The New Yorker tend to have a more social-political content. Even though it’s through humor, I am very interested in exploring a way of approaching issues and having something to say about my world and not wasting that. I feel like it’s an opportunity if people are going to read your work. The thing that I’m interested in is how to present that in a digestible way. And I like knowing that I have this voice and that I have that opportunity. I feel it’s an obligation to use it where you can and find a way that will allow people to approach it without clobbering them all the time or to allow it to be a part of their lives.
You Are (Not) Small is a great book about size and size differences, but it’s also about perspective. You can look at it from ethnic perspectives and how we see each other; we are the same in our own groups just as others look at us and think we’re weird. I’m not weird. My people are normal. This is a wonderful way to prompt those discussions. And I sometimes believe kids and parents go: I don’t want to go near that with kids. It’s not appropriate. You don’t have to read the newspaper to them. But I think the overarching things that make us better as a society and as people towards each other are really interesting. The bulk of my work that I created in my life was about that.
Bianca Schulze: All right. What specific daily practices do you guys do to make sure that you either get some time to write Anna or for creating your art, Chris?
Anna Kang: Well, as you may know, with this pandemic and lots of at-home schooling, it has been a little bit of a challenge this year to find some time. I mean, it’s been quiet so far for how long now? This may be a record. So, what I do, well, I really just have to catch it like a lightning bug or firefly in a jar. Because I don’t know when I will have a big block of time, I just kind of jump in and I do it in between things. And this is how I am doing it this year because I don’t have this great nine to five cleared schedule with quiet. And then there’s, as Chris pointed out, jellybeans.
It is this gorgeous jar of jellybeans. As you see, there are not many left in this jar. This keeps me going. And if I write, I get a reward. I give myself a jellybean.
Bianca Schulze: Favorite flavor. Oh, it’s definitely all the red ones. But I would say one of my favorites is the Sunkist Orange.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, my goodness. That’s my favorite.
Anna Kang: They’re just like sunshine. I’m not being sponsored* by the jellybean company, by the way.
Bianca Schulze: Jelly Belly. Are you listening?
Maybe there’s a jellybean book in the future.
Anna Kang: Oh, yeah.
Bianca Schulze: They say to be a writer that you should be a reader first. Was there a pivotal moment that either of you can remember that you became readers?
Christopher Weyant: We did a lot of reading in my house when I was growing up; my parents were really great about bringing a lot of books into our house. We went to Catholic school, and Catholic schools are heavy on reading, reading the classics, lots of Chaucer. One of the things during summer was the bookmobile. I don’t see that many of those—I think they have them sometimes in rural areas—but I think budgets have cut them. But it’s the greatest. It’s like the hot dog, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, but for literacy. It’s this crazy long bus, but on the inside, there are shelves of books. You get your book, and next week they’ll be back, and then you have to return it. And like, it really helped bring me into reading because it made it fun. Picture books and comics, cartoon strips, and like Charles Schulz and so forth—they’ve always been a big part of my life.
Anna Kang: I read a lot as a child, mostly realistic fiction. That’s my go-to genre. That’s the only genre I really respond to. Beverly Cleary’s books, Judy Blume books, those were my favorites that I can remember. In the elementary school tween age year period, there weren’t a lot of characters in which I saw myself, though, so it was a little bit of a step removed. But I see that changing now, which is terrific.
I was thinking about what really stood out to me as a book. And, you know, I thought of Blubber by Judy Blume, but not the reasons you would think. It was about bullying, but the character, the protagonist’s best friend, was Chinese American. And I remember it because she was Chinese American, and she was such a sideline character. But her name was Tracy. She had beautiful long black hair and she won the Halloween costume contest for the most beautiful costume. And I remember thinking, here’s a story where this child who looks like me is not being taunted or is not the butt of a joke. But the protagonist actually looks up to her best friend because she’s so beautiful and her parents are so loving and that the mother created this beautiful Halloween costume for her friend. I don’t remember much else about that book, but it does show you, though, what an impression it must have made on my memory that I can tell you that scene. Yeah, there was a crown of feathers that were on the top of that costume. I mean, I haven’t read that book since I was 10; I think it was 40 years ago. But I can tell you that scene and it does show you what power representation has on children and their self-esteem.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely! I think I needed a minute to process what you were saying before about growing up and feeling sidelined. I am a white woman. I don’t ever remember feeling sidelined besides maybe for being female. And so, I’m in the listening phase because I believe that many people can do more listening right now. So, I don’t know if you want to take the opportunity right now to share with listeners if there’s anything you think families could be doing more to just sort of foster respect and appreciation for everyone.
Anna Kang: Well, thank you for saying that and for listening and asking. I would say I’ve been having a lot of these conversations lately. By choice, but also because I don’t have a choice as an Asian-American mother. Woman. Human. I do it by choice because, first of all, I’m a parent. Second of all, I’m an Asian parent, but mostly because I feel that it’s every parent and teacher’s responsibility. Because they are in charge of our children and part of that education and nurturing is having these difficult, uncomfortable, complicated conversations, I fear that many grown-ups, parents, and teachers fear having these conversations. They need to initiate this conversation and not be so worried that they’re going to get it wrong or say the wrong thing or be upsetting to anyone. And nobody wants to go towards stress. Your instinct is to move away from stress. But to me, that only prolongs the further issues that we’re seeing today, the more we put off and avoid. The more embedded these issues become and the more dramatic the reactions to the doing nothing is, I really do impress upon anyone who’s listening, who’s a parent or an educator, start a conversation, point out someone’s color.
We were taught when we were younger not to see color. That was the philosophy of the day. Assimilation, assimilation blended all together. But we realize now that’s completely unrealistic and also quite damaging to those who are of color because you need to see my color in order to see me. If you pretend you don’t, you’re only fooling yourselves and your children, by the way, because your children notice those differences, just as they notice you’re wearing a red shirt as opposed to a blue shirt. So you can have an age-appropriate conversation with a child about race, class, gender, anything. They are smarter than you think. They have questions. You may not have the answers. And you can say that that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but let’s think about it together, or I will do some research. It’s a process, this is not a conversation you have over dinner, and it’s one and done. This is a process of learning for everyone. But if you point out the elephant in the room. There’s a lot of oxygen that will suddenly fill that room for everyone.
Bianca Schulze: That’s great, thank you, thank you for answering my question. It’s what you said too. It’s not being afraid to speak up and ask questions and make mistakes. Because if you don’t make a mistake, you don’t necessarily learn.
So OK. So, Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides is fantastic. I know you have some other books coming up. And I will say that Eraser when it came out, my now third grader was in first grade. So, shout out to her fifth-grade teacher, then Mrs. Rainey. She was so obsessed with Eraser and was so excited that I gave her a copy. The other teachers were jealous, so I whipped in a second copy of Eraser. I don’t know whose classroom it ended up in. So, I know they will be excited to know that there is a second book coming out, starring Eraser, correct?
Christopher Weyant: Yes, that’s right. So, speaking of making mistakes. A great book for me is Eraser, which is about mistakes. This is a big part of our lives, learning to make mistakes and not look for perfection, but rather look for imperfection and how we can grow from it. And so now that we have a book caller Marker and it’s going to be all about markers.
Anna Kang: It’s sort of a companion to the theme of Eraser in that it’s about learning to fail successfully. I think just as Eraser wants to contribute and feels that her contribution is valued, Marker is dealing with her own challenge of what to do. When you feel there’s so much pressure to be perfect and everything you do is indelible and permanent. And when you feel you don’t have a second chance, how do you just go into the deep end anyway? And I think as a recovering perfectionist myself, I try to remind myself of that, that if it’s a disaster, the world still won’t end, and there will be a tomorrow. I think many children put pressure on themselves that whatever comes out, it’s got to be one hundred percent, and it’s going to be a plus, and it’s going to be perfect. And that is the worst thing you could do to yourself is to tell yourself that. So that’s what this book is about, feeling successful and getting up the next day.
Bianca Schulze: So. Is there anything else that you think we all need to know that’s going on in your world with your books?
Anna Kang: Chris is finishing art right now on our next You Are (Not) Small book in the series.
Christopher Weyant: It is called You Are (Not) Enough. And it is literally seventy percent, seventy-five percent, done. I’m on deadline. I will leave this interview and go back and pick up my paintbrushes. So it’s about our You Are (Not) Small characters, the purple and orange guys. And they’re trying to find presents for each other and they want to celebrate each other with presents. But it’s that thing where, again, they want to get something that’s just right. In the end, maybe we learn that the little something is perhaps not a thing; maybe it’s the thought. Maybe it’s the feeling. Maybe it’s the friendship and the love between your friends.
Anna Kang: Another book about perspective.
Bianca Schulze: Yes. There cannot be enough. Well, you guys, it was an absolute pleasure to talk to both of you. I’m honored. I can’t wait for readers to get their hands on Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides.
Anna Kang: Well, thank you so much for your time and for having us today.
Bianca Schulze: Your kids can stop being quiet now and Hudson can start barking.
Anna Kang: He’s been napping this whole time.
The transcription of this interview with Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant has been condensed and edited for readability.
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Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant Discuss Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Anna Kang, Cats, Christopher Weyant, Dogs, Friendship, and Picture Book.