An interview with Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and New York Times bestselling illustrator Corinna Luyken
The Children’s Book Review
If you love insightful, thoughtful books and deep conversations on life that fill your heart, then today’s episode is for you. I talk with Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken about their picture book, Patchwork, a deeply moving ode to the complexity and uniqueness of every child.
Matt de la Peña is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning Last Stop on Market Street, Milo Imagines the World, Carmela Full of Wishes, Love, and A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, as well as a number of critically acclaimed young adult novels.
Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of the New York Times bestseller My Heart, The Tree In Me, and The Book of Mistakes. She is also the illustrator of Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, Nothing in Common, and Something Good.
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Bianca Schulze: Hello, Corinna and Matt. Welcome to The Growing Readers Podcast. I am so looking forward to our chat today because I’m a huge fan of the work you have both created individually.
Matt, we’ve actually been in the same room before. But it was a very crowded room, and we didn’t meet face to face. But it was at an SCBWI Letters and Lines conference in Colorado. And you read your book Love illustrated by the great Loren Long. And I’m a crier and you brought me to tears. So, I’ve been a huge fan since then.
Matt de la Peña: Is that the one where I had to rush off and catch a plane right after?
Bianca Schulze: I feel like you said something like that.
Matt de la Peña: Yeah.
Bianca Schulze: I want to say it was, like, 2018, so it was a while ago. And Corinna, this is going to be really corny, but you’ve had my heart since your picture book My Heart. It is one of my favorites.
Corinna Luyken: Oh, thank you.
Bianca Schulze: What’s really great is both of you have so many books, and this is your first collaboration. It’s your new picture book, Patchwork, and it gave me goosebumps because I think it fully embodies the concept that books and stories are like windows, mirrors, and sliding doors. It celebrates the complexity and uniqueness of every child. But before we dig into your beautiful, beautiful book, I would love to start by getting to know you both a little better, by understanding what makes you tick. So, I want to know who wants to go first and share what motivates you or drives you to create books for kids.
Matt de la Peña: I can start if you want.
Corinna Luyken: Yeah, why don’t you go first, Matt?
Matt de la Peña: Okay. So, for me, I’ve always been drawn to realistic stories that take place in maybe working-class communities or sort of like follow diverse characters. And I think the reason why I’m drawn to those stories is that I think the towns where I grew up are beautiful and interesting, and I guess I just want to share the beautiful parts with readers. And then also having children myself, I just see the incredible impact of children’s literature on emerging readers and thinkers. And so, I feel so lucky to be a part of the children’s book world.
Corinna Luyken: Yeah.
Bianca Schulze: How about you, Corinna?
Corinna Luyken: You know, I grew up reading a lot. I had a mom who would read to me, and we didn’t have a lot of money, but we went to the library a lot and she would find books at garage sales. And I feel like books were always in our home. And when I would spend summers with my dad, I’d go to the library there. And when I went to visit my grandparents, I’d go to the library there. And those are three different states. So, I feel like even as a young child, I had access to library cards in California, Hawaii, and Arizona. And I just remember loving those spaces and loving how I could go in and wander around and come out with something that would keep me occupied and entertained.
And I was an only child, so books were a big part of my life growing up. And I’ve always loved art, I’ve always loved to draw. So, for me, there was a point where I realized that the ability to bring art and words together in a picture book feels like magic to me. I love it so much and I love putting art in that format more than I love putting art in almost any other format or situation. I really love the magic of the page turn and the fact that picture books are an art form that is meant to be shared. It can be shared by a teacher, it can be shared by a loving family member or friend, but they are also something that kids can read on their own even before they can read. They can read the pictures. They’re accessible, they’re free, and you can get them from the library. So, it’s a form of art that is just really accessible to anybody if you have access to a library.
So, there is so much that I love about the picture book art form. And yeah, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to get to kind of play with that special space that happens when words and pictures come together, and they each contribute something different, and they make something bigger than either one of them alone.
Bianca Schulze: I heard a lot there about visiting the library and access. So, I’m curious, did either of you consider yourself readers first before you became creators of story, or do you connect more with being a reader now that you’re a writer? When did you first really feel like you were a reader? Matt, do you want to go first?
Matt de la Peña: So, I guess my background is a little different than Corinna’s in that I didn’t grow up a big reader. And a lot of authors that I’m friends with, found writing through reading. They were inspired to write after they had kind of explored many stories. I was the opposite. I found reading through writing.
So, I was always writing little poems as a kid. I didn’t share them with anyone because I thought as a boy, you weren’t supposed to do that. You weren’t supposed to do something that I thought maybe was considered sensitive. So, I was always writing. But then I started to think, well, I wonder what other people are writing poems about. And then I went to college, and I was introduced to, I guess, the right books, and then I fell in love with reading in college. So, for me, it happened a little bit later, and then I started to see people that were doing things that I thought I was already doing. So, I started to read Alice Walker, and I started to go, oh, wow, people are getting these books out into the world, and I can read them. I wonder if I could ever write a book that people would read too.
Bianca Schulze: I do feel like sometimes in the literature world that you feel like you have to say that you’re a reader and you have been your entire life, but it’s not the case for everybody, and it’s just not true. I didn’t identify with being a reader as a kid. When I look back, books were always part of my world, so I do think that they shaped me, but I didn’t identify with being a reader until I was a young adult.
Matt de la Peña: Wow. So, it’s similar. And one other thing I would add is that a lot of kids like me haven’t found books yet, but they are reading the world. I was a very quiet kid and always watched everything and everybody, so I was reading. I just hadn’t found text yet.
Bianca Schulze: Corinna, how about you? Do you feel like reader prompted you to become writer, or do you identify more of a reader now that you’re a writer and a storyteller through your art?
Corinna Luyken: It’s interesting because I think I grew up as an only child with a single mom who was in school, and she was studying a lot in the evening, so reading was just like what you did, I thought. And my mom was very much an introvert, so we didn’t have a whole lot of community and social going on. So, I think it was just what I—and for a long time we didn’t even have a TV, and so when we finally had a TV, it was black and white, so it was sort of a huge part of the available entertainment to me. And I don’t know if I would have been such a reader if that wasn’t my circumstance.
But what I do know is that I was embarrassed by how much I read and how quickly I read because in school, you had to keep track of these sheets where you would write down books, and every time you write a book, you would write it on this piece of paper that was up on the classroom wall. And my list was so much longer than everyone else’s that I started getting teased a little bit and just stopped writing anything on the list. So, I don’t know. I mean, story in that way was a form of comfort and maybe escape, but I didn’t think I wanted to be a writer then. I didn’t really think that that was an option or that was available or even an illustrator. It took me many, many years to kind of realize that that is something that would maybe something I could do. But I was always a reader, I think. Yeah.
Bianca Schulze: Digging in, I noticed that your dedication, Matt, is for Luna and Miguel and all the young people out there stitching together their very own story. So, was there someone special or a specific moment that moved you to write Patchwork?
Matt de la Peña: Okay, that’s a great question. I think as I get older and as I became a parent of kids and watch them grow, there’s a tightrope going on. So, I think of when I was a kid and nobody in my family had ever been to college. And I remember thinking, I have to go all in on the sport of basketball because this is the only way I can get to college for free through a sport. So, all my waking moments were about basketball. Even when I was in class and listening to a lecture, I’d be drawing basketball shoes like I was such a basketball nerd. And so, I thought, okay, the best thing you can do as a young person is to be great at one thing. Now I’m a parent, and I see the pitfalls of that kind of thinking.
And I actually think that is almost a predominant philosophy of a lot of parents right now. It’s like if you see your child getting into soccer, okay, let’s do all the traveling teams. Let’s travel to Arizona on weekends in Florida every once in a while to do these tournaments. Same thing for a dancer or an artist. And I think what I’m noticing is that kids—because Corinna and I both visit schools a lot—there’s a growing anxiety that you have to, as a young person, identify what you might be great at at a really young age. And I don’t think that’s healthy.
So, I think that’s what led me into this book. I wanted to take that thing that the kid identifies as their special skill, and I want to complicate it to say oh, well, in the future you might use that in a certain way, but in a way you’ve never thought about. So, I think the first vignette is the color thing, the blue and the pink and the brown, and it served as like a template of what I was going to do in the book.
Bianca Schulze: I think the thing that I love most about Patchwork is that it explores a multitude of personas and experiences. And I’m going to steal from the jacket flap here. Readers get to see a young dancer may grow into a computer coder, a basketball player might become a poet, and a class clown may one day serve as an inspiring teacher. And today’s quiet empath might be tomorrow’s great leader.
So, I recently had a comedian and writer on the podcast, Julio Torres, and he was on the podcast to talk about his picture book, I Want to Be a Vase, and he shared a thought that really resonated with me, and it was that we spend a lot of time telling our kids that they’re special, they’re unique, and they can seek out anything in life if they dare to dream it. And these messages are all messages we want our kids to have. But he made a point that we need to remember to spread the word that all children and humans deserve this. So, we’re special. Our kids are special, but so are our neighbors, and everybody deserves to go out and seek out and create their own story.
Corinna Luyken: I love that.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. And I felt like when I was reading Patchwork, what Julio said just came back to me. Do either of you have thoughts on that?
Matt de la Peña: Well, Corinna and I actually talked about that, so Corinna can expand on this, but we talked about how really, it’s taking each of these stories and showing how they fit into the larger community of stories. Right, Corinna?
Corinna Luyken: Yeah, totally. And I think actually that whole idea of us being special and even backing up a little bit, I, too, have been noticing there’s a lot of books coming out about how we’re all very special or unique and different and kind of trying to celebrate that. And I’ve just been noticing such a trend in there and wondering. I think that’s very true, and I think it’s important to celebrate each child as an individual. But I do worry a little bit about we’re all very unique and special, but we’re also really not so different from each other at all. We all want to be loved. We all have core similarities. And so, the focus just on the differences or the really honing in and trying to find that thing that you’re great at that makes you really special and unique somehow, I think that it can kind of undo us a little bit. Like, can it stress us out and maybe make us miss a little bit of the beauty and specialness that are in the other people all around us.
So that’s something I loved about this manuscript from the very beginning was the way that Matt approaches that. And I love how he kind of frames it as well with this sort of recurring refrain from the adults that are we know, we know. We sigh, we sigh. We beam. We beam. And there is sort of this frame or context of it just sort of recognizes the impact that adults and their judgment can have on children and our opinions whether those are about how they need to grow or what they struggle with but also just even what they’re so good at and what they get all the praise from. I just love the way that this book and Matt’s words when I first saw them dive into all of these issues and kind of layer them together in a patchwork.
Bianca Schulze: Do you happen to have a copy in front of you, Matt?
Matt de la Peña: I do.
Bianca Schulze: Okay. I’m wondering because Corinna touched on something that I know as a parent that I felt deeply when I was reading and it’s when we get to the parts where you’ll say, I Beam. I Beam anyway, I just want the listeners to maybe experience one spread, or would you be able to read just a little bit?
Matt de la Peña: Maybe I’ll do the one that’s the most personal: the basketball.
You go everywhere with the ball in your hands. We see. You are basketball, baseball, football. Any kind of ball. And you were born to compete. Even in defeat. The game feeds you. It leads you. But soon you will see your sport for what it really is. An expression. The sound of a bouncing ball is the language of your loneliness. You are bilingual and one day you will carry words with you. Instead, you will spin couplets on your finger because you’ve always been a poet.
And I think what Corinna is saying is what I was really trying to do with the adult chorus it’s in each vignette because kids read the room, right? They read the faces of their parents, of their caretakers and they sort of travel along lines in ways that either they get praise for what they’re doing or they’re getting attention for acting out if you’re the class clown. So, we do mold young people. There’s messaging all over the place for young kids and they’re trying to navigate that too.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. That was a beautiful reading, by the way. I got goosebumps again.
Corinna, you did start to touch on your illustrations a little bit and they really do capture the expressive nature of Matt’s words through your choice of colors the facial expressions and the diversity, and the movements of the kids swinging back on chairs in class or bouncing the basketball or even like there’s a subtle moment of the sharing of a chocolate chip cookie if you pay attention to the pictures. So can you tell us about how this collaboration of you and Matt coming together. How did that happen? And what made you say yes to creating the artwork for Patchwork?
Corinna Luyken: Well, for starters, Matt and I share the same agent, Steven Malk. Let’s see. To back up a little further, I’ve been a fan of Matt’s work for a long time, and in fact, Last Stop on Market Street is a book that I read over and over and over with my daughter when she was quite young and is a book that just has a really special place in our hearts.
We were driving one time through an area on the Washington coast that’s sort of a post-heyday logging town that has experienced quite a bit of economic depression. And when you drive through the main street, you really see kind of the ugliest parts of town. And I said something to my daughter about that, and she parroted back to me the words from Last Stop about, you know, sometimes you have to be surrounded by dirt to see what’s beautiful. And it was one of those talked-about goosebumps moments for me as a parent where I just thought, oh, my gosh, that went in. The beauty of the book and the beauty of the language swept up this message and carried it right into her heart. And she was carrying that around with her, and it came out very organically as we’re driving through town, and she’s talking to me from the back seat. And so that was a moment for me. That was before I was making books myself.
Matt de la Peña: Okay, now I got the goosebumps. By the way.
Corinna Luyken: It was one of those magic parenting, magic book moments where you’re like, I can’t believe this. Anyway, that’s all to say. I’ve been a fan of Matt’s work for a long time, and so when I was shown this manuscript, I was excited to take a look at it. And then when it came down to actually what I do when I look at a manuscript is I read it, and the first thing I do is I read it through for sound and rhythm. I love poetry, and that’s incredibly important to me. And so, if I don’t like the way something sounds, it’s going to be really hard for me to live with it and want to illustrate it. And so, as you heard Matt read, the sound and the rhythm of Patchwork is beautiful, the language is beautiful, and the rhythmic quality of it is really strong, and I love that.
I also read through for kind of like, where is this book going and how am I going to feel at the end of that? And is that a place I want to move towards if I’m spending six to ten months illustrating something? And I loved where this book ended up. I loved the feeling and thought that there was room to have a lot of fun with the art building toward that. And I loved that it was quite open-ended. Maybe I was going to say abstract, but maybe open-ended is a better word. There’s a lot of room in this manuscript for the illustrator to decide what to do. And I love that. I really love that.
Bianca Schulze: I have a call-in question that I think I need to slot in right here based on giving the illustrator room to sort of create and breathe. So, give me a second, I’m going to line it up.
Melissa Taylor: Hi, guys. This is Melissa Taylor with Imagination Soup, where Corinna and Matt, you did your cover reveal. I am so excited to see this book. My question is if Matt included illustrator notes for Corinna, and if so, how Corinna used those notes to inform her creative process. Thanks.
Bianca Schulze: Did you get that?
Matt de la Peña: Yes, I did. I love this question. So, the truth is, I don’t think I really, even to this day, fully understand how you’re supposed to send in a picture book text. Because one time, I was with Christian Robinson at like, some public event, and he was explaining to the crowd how other people he’s worked with present their picture book text. And I was like, oh my gosh, I didn’t know you could put what pages on what. So, for me, I honestly just see the story in a musical way. It truly is just a poem. So, the only time I will ever put in a note for the artist is if it’s plot specific.
So obviously, as an example, in Last Stop On Market Street, the grandmother and the young boy are going to the soup kitchen, but I don’t say in the text that they’re working at the soup kitchen to serve others. So, I had to put that note in there because it’s not in the language, I think, with Patchwork—correct me if I’m wrong, Corinna, but I don’t know if I had any notes.
I will also share this. Corinna is an artist I really wanted to work with. And it’s specifically because of The Book of Mistakes, because I thought that that book was so intellectually interesting, and she was doing all of these really big things. She was exploring big ideas in a very subtle way. So, I think one of the reasons I really wanted to work with Corinna on this particular book is because I knew she could kind of make the book bigger and better than it could have been if it didn’t have her artwork. So, Corinna, you correct me if I’m wrong. I feel like I had zero notes, but maybe I had a couple, I don’t know.
Corinna Luyken: Okay, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure either, but I’m pretty sure there were no notes. Yeah, I don’t remember any. And I also remember being assured by multiple people, your editor and our mutual agent, Steve, that you are really lovely to work with from an illustrator standpoint, that you really did give a lot of space to the illustrator, which that’s a beautiful thing. That’s not something that everyone has the perspective or ability to do.
And I think editors try their hardest to give illustrators a blank page. So, when writers do put in those notes, a lot of them might get taken out just to spare the illustrator. It’s like when someone plants the seed in your head, you can’t ever unsee an image. You can’t ever take that away, and you’ll never know what you would have thought of if you had been given space.
But that said, in this manuscript also, there are places where I thought maybe I understood what Matt was saying, but I wasn’t totally sure, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taking it off in this different direction. Like, even the way it begins with, you were blue before you were born. We mark. To me, I thought, this is about gender, but I wasn’t—or, like, taking color and trying to genderize color and kind of some of the things that we do as adults to kind of mark kids. And so, there was a point pretty early in the process this was unusual for me, I have not done this before, where we hopped on the phone and had a lovely conversation about the manuscript. Not specifics, but just the bigger picture around it. And I got to ask Matt, what were you thinking here that informed the book and that informed my kind of confidence of really diving into color and using color as a way to shape the book.
Matt de la Peña: And I remember that conversation because it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I get to speak to another human being that’s not related to you.
Bianca Schulze: I love it.
Since you just bought up color, I’ve been dying to ask the question about your color choice and the beautiful, subtle patchwork pattern that’s used throughout. So, do you want to talk us through the color choice, Corinna?
Corinna Luyken: The palette color is probably the first thing that I sort of need to figure out or sort out when I’m working on a book because to me, color is really tied to emotion and to feeling. And different color combinations—in particular, when people will ask me in schools, I have a lot of yellow in my books. When I go to classrooms, I often get asked, what’s your favorite color? And usually by people who think that they know what I’m going to say. And at some point, I realized I don’t really have a favorite color, and I’m not really sure I ever have. But I’ve always had favorite color combinations.
And even when I was quite young, I remember when I first was able to dress myself, being really excited to wear red, yellow, and blue all at once together. And I just love the way they made each other brighter. And I love in my environment—now that I have a garden—even, where I plant flowers. I really love putting colors next to each other that create a feeling. And with a book like Patchwork, I’m really thinking, what are the colors that I want to use and how will they interact?
And I knew the book needed to start with blue and pink and brown. And so that got me started. And I didn’t really want the colors to be overwhelmingly strong. I wanted the child to be the focus of our attention, and I wanted to kind of support them with color. And so, I kind of was also looking at so many different books and online images of patchwork quilts from all over the world and trying to get a sense of how people use patchwork quilts from so many different countries because we often think of them as bold, bright colors, but actually, there’s a number of places where they will use more translucent fabrics or softer colors.
It’s a slow journey for me. I spent a couple of months sketching and experimenting with a lot of different colors. I had a lot of navy blues in the beginning until I realized that it was going to serve the book better if I used pastels. And then it was pretty clear to me that I wanted to start with a single color for each child. And as their story evolved, I wanted to add more variety from that color. So darker blues, lighter blues, and then eventually other colors so that by the time we get to sort of this vision of the child and who they’ve matured into, we have a richer array of colors. But I didn’t want to use the whole rainbow until the end of the book. So, I kind of had this vision of color building because the book ends with this kind of culmination of more than one story being brought together, and I wanted to save all the colors coming together for that if that makes sense.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah.
Corinna Luyken: So, one other thing I would say really quick about it is I always thought I’ve seen from the beginning manuscript as this opportunity to sort of take our ideas of what’s beautiful and maybe expand them a little bit. You can do this really cool thing with art and with picture books where you really can take people on a journey, and when they leave the book, they might feel or see the world differently from when they started. And that’s one of the really exciting things, I think, about making picture books. But with this particular project, I was thinking, you know, we have because we don’t want to spoil it, but we end with this idea about beauty and what is beautiful. And so, I realized I had an opportunity to kind of push up against or try to enlarge our collective sense of what is beautiful, maybe through the process of making the book.
And so, what’s interesting about it is that in some ways, some of the early sequences, I didn’t want them to be the most beautiful in the book. I really wanted it to get rougher and more tangled like a patchwork, more bits and pieces, but also more beautiful as it grew. So that was an interesting challenge.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, that definitely stood out to me, especially when we get to the spread of the single note child who becomes the symphony, and you see that pattern that’s just subtly in the background has grown and there’s more depth to not just the color but the pattern too. That really stood out to me.
Matt, you mentioned before that the most personal spread for you was the basketball pages. That makes sense, right? And you kind of described a little bit about what drives you and it all kind of fits together and from an outsider’s perspective, who didn’t write and didn’t illustrate this book, for me, like, who do I connect with most in the book? And it was a blend, and it was a blend of the kids constantly in time out and also the kid who feels like a single note versus a symphony at first.
So often as I’m reading a book, from a reviewer’s point of view, I try to imagine who the book will most resonate with, and Patchwork is truly it’s for everyone. But if I did have to do—if somebody said no, you have to pick one person to gift it to, I would probably choose either a child—or an adult even—who needs that uplifting reminder that they’re in charge of writing their life story every single day and that they get to choose what the next page, chapter or sequel in their life will be. And it would probably also be somebody who maybe wrestles with self-doubt or trying to find their place in the world.
And that makes me want to ask the question as to whether either of you wrestles with self-doubt or ever feels discouraged. Matt, do you ever feel that way?
Matt de la Peña: Oh my gosh. So, I was thinking about this yesterday because I’m currently finishing up a manuscript and it is shocking how hard it is for me to find a landing spot for a manuscript for a picture book. And yesterday my kids are in camp, my wife is at home, she’s working, she’s freelancing. And I’m sitting in an office trying so hard for 5 hours to figure it out, to crack the code. And I was thinking, I feel like I judge my self-worth only on how productive I am in my writing for a day.
Maybe I’m going a little too deep here, but I often come home feeling very dejected and feeling like I’ve failed. And yesterday I was trying to have a pep talk with myself and saying, this is just part of who you are. Sometimes you can’t get it, but you’re going to go pick your kids up from camp and you’ll be with them, and it’s all part of what makes up your story.
And so, one of the things that I think a lot about with this book is that part of the beauty of our stories are our failures. It’s just maybe the dancer never became a professional dancer. Maybe somewhere along the line, she fell short, but that’s part of the beauty of her story. And ultimately, we talked about the collective at the very beginning of this conversation, but it slots into this bigger collection of all our stories and all our failures and how we fit together into something that’s beautiful, even if it’s extremely flawed. So long answer. Yes. Self-doubt, for sure.
Bianca Schulze: Thank you for going deep, Matt. I like deep conversation. Corinna, how about you? Self-doubt? Discouraged?
Corinna Luyken: Yes, absolutely. I think what I’ve started to realize now that I have a number of books behind me is that self-doubt is just an enormous part of the creative process. Like, you can’t make a book without it and without coming up against it and without having these moments where you doubt yourself. You doubt if you’re ever going to make anything good again or if you’re falling into a project, and you doubt if anyone else is going to like it.
And I really relate to what Matt was saying about it’s really tricky when you’ve had a dream that you’ve worked really hard for. And for me, illustrating and writing picture books is something that I wanted to do for a good 15 years before I sold my first book—or more, at least 17 years before the book came out. And that was a long process with a lot of rejections and discouraging moments and feelings of like, this is never going to happen. And so, you kind of can build a thing up in your mind to like, thinking that all your happiness is going to come from if you are successful at this one thing. And I think that’s part of the trap of what Matt is talking about with this is like, we all know that you’re such a great dancer, we all know you’re such a great basketball player, and a community of people can try to show their love by believing in you and by saying, you’re so good at this. But I think in the end, you’re not really being loved for you. You’re being loved for your skill, which is different from who you are and what you do when you pick your kids up from school or what you do in your free time. That isn’t the thing you’re great at.
And I think there’s nothing like having a couple of books behind you and a couple of books that do well to kind of up the pressure on. Now you’ve got this thing that you’ve wanted for so long and you’re still you and you still aren’t sure if people are going to like the next thing, and you’re still sometimes not sure if you even like the next thing. So, for me, what I try to do is recognize that it’s a very normal part of the process.
And I have come up with some tricks for navigating it for myself. From an illustration standpoint, one of my go-to is to just pick two illustrators that I love who make work that’s really different from each other. So like Christian Robinson and maybe Isabel Arsenal or Marla Frazee. And I would ask myself what would happen if Christian Robinson was trying to draw like Marla Frazee? And what would happen to the books that I love that I’ve loved so much if he wasn’t trying to draw like himself, but he was trying to draw like someone else? And likewise. What if Marla Frazee was trying to draw like John Agee or Isabel Arsenault? And the world would not be as rich and beautiful of a place. And so, if I take myself out of it and I kind of imagine other people as standards, it makes it clear to me how kind of ridiculous it is to judge yourself in that way.
And then I try to come back to I do think again, this could sound cheesy, but I do think love is the thing that can carry you through all that. The creative process is not always easy, and if you’re too focused on the end result, it can really trip you up. But if you can find ways to remember that you love the process and that you love the world you’re in, that I love picture books. I pick up other picture books that inspire me and make me happy. And it reminds me that this is a community I really want to be part of. I have little tricks like that for dealing with it because I don’t think you can be a human on this planet and not deal with difficult feelings.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m not going to add another question here, but I went really deep for a moment as you were talking, where I was like, but what if you’re having a moment where you don’t love the world that you’re in? And I feel like we’ve all had that so much, but I think then it’s just scaling it back and even just finding one little thing that you love today. Right?
Matt de la Peña: Yeah, because I think that is such an interesting thought. But I think it’s interesting because you can actually explore ugliness too. Sadness and things that are scary, even in picture books. Like, I think you can explore those things, and it really just goes back to that idea that in order to know light, you have to know dark in all the ways that translates.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, my gosh, look where we went.
All right, well, Matt, as the author of Patchwork, what impact do you hope that this book is going to have on readers?
Matt de la Peña: Well, I guess maybe there’s so many ways to think about this. But I’ll tell you two things.
First of all, one of my favorite things about making a book, and especially a collaboration like this one, is waiting for readers to show me what my book is about and seeing where the conversations go based on this. So, I love that process and I love sometimes going to a school or a community where they tell me what the book is. But I do hope that young people through this book can recognize something that maybe they haven’t thought much about, which is A, we are affected by the chorus that we grow up underneath. So, the parents, the teachers, the politicians, right? The chorus of like, we see, we see, we know, we know, we sigh, we beam. So, we’re growing up underneath that and it’s good to recognize that.
And then, second of all, just knowing that to be specific to my own story, when you ultimately fail in basketball, because you will fail in basketball, no person is great for their entire life. Every person ends up not being good enough at some point in their life. If you play a sport, you get old, right? That’s just part of your story and it will actually play a role in your story down the road in a way you haven’t considered. So, I just hope it helps kids think about that concept and think about that part of the fun, and the joy of being alive and having a story is that it is so much more complicated than you could ever imagine.
I think maybe the reason I can deal with the self-doubt that we talked about earlier is that I had it in a sport, and I did fail a lot. I just hope that kids recognize that failure is part of all of our stories.
Bianca Schulze: Corinna, is there anything you want to add to your hopes for the book?
Corinna Luyken: You know, Matt said that so beautifully.
I think my hope, I guess it just maybe has to do with the feeling that someone would leave the book with—and I hope that it is a feeling of having zoomed out a little bit and seeing the world a little bit differently and seeing beauty when they look around themselves, when you look at yourself, seeing the beauty that is there that might surprise you. And then taking that ability and turning that towards other people as well. And when you look at other people sort of seeing them with that same generosity of spirit and of gaze and the more you zoom out, the more everything is beautiful. And I think that you can think that with your mind, and you can feel that with your heart.
I guess if I hoped for anything, which I also hesitate to kind of create a framework around a book, I kind of want it to go out and have its own life and surprise me but if I hoped for anything, it would be that the book brings up that feeling of kind of possibility and beauty in the reader.
Bianca Schulze: Well, listeners, Patchwork is such a heartfelt, encouraging picture book, and I really hope that this conversation has moved you all enough to go straight to the library or bookstore to read it now. Matt and Corinna, thank you so much for being here today. I loved every second of our conversation.
Matt de la Peña: It was so much fun, thank you.
Bianca Schulze: You’re welcome.
Corinna Luyken: So great. Thank you so much for having us.
About the Book
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Ages 4-8 | 48 Pages
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | ISBN-13: 978-1984813961
Publisher’s Book Summary: From a Newbery Medal-winning author and a New York Times bestselling illustrator comes a deeply moving ode to the complexity and uniqueness of every child.
In profound, uplifting verse and sumptuous artwork, beloved creators Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken explore the endless possibilities each child contains: A young dancer may grow into a computer coder; a basketball player might become a poet; a class clown may one day serve as an inspiring teacher; and today’s quiet empath might be tomorrow’s great leader. Here’s a profound and uplifting new classic with an empowering message for readers of all ages: Your story is still being written.
Buy the Book
You can visit Matt at mattdelapena.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mattdelapena.
You can visit Corinna at corinnaluyken.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @corinnaluyken.
- About Patchwork
- Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken discuss what motivates them to create books for kids.
- The inspiration for Patchwork.
- Celebrating the uniqueness of ourselves and others.
- Matt de la Peña reads an excerpt from Patchwork.
- The expressive illustration artwork of Corinna Luyken.
- Learning to manage self-doubt and appreciate failures.
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken Discuss Patchwork. 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 Corinna Luyken, Matt De La Peña, Social-Emotional, Picture Book, and Self-Discovery.