A Picture Book Discussion with Sherri Duskey Rinker and Matt Myers
The Children’s Book Review | January 31, 2018
Now this is a Q&A with some awesomely fun questions worthy of digging into! Sherri Duskey Rinker (the author of #1 New York Times bestseller Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train, as well as Mighty, Mighty Construction Site) and New York Times bestselling illustrator Matt Myers discuss their picture book Tiny and The Big Dig—the story of a doggie, a bone, and tons of determination that remind us that going for what you want brings ginormous surprises.
Sherri Duskey Rinker Asks Matt Myers:
Sherri Duskey Rinker: Matt, in our book, Tiny and The Big Dig, our little dog is persistently working through a huge challenge, relying mostly on his faith in himself. In your own life, what is/was your “big dig?”
Matt Myers: Quitting a high paying job to figure out if I could be a painter. Many people at my work thought I was nuts. But I sold a lot of paintings, had a blast, and eventually became a children’s book illustrator.
If you had to wake up tomorrow morning 1) Completely covered in fur from head-to-toe OR 2) With big, floppy ears a long, wagging tail — which would you choose?
The fur, no contest. I think a dog tail would really get in the way, especially when sitting at my desk writing answers to silly questions like this. Now, if I could have a monkey’s tail, that would be different. I could hold my coffee cup with my tail and have two hands free for art.
I know we’re both dog lovers — Do you have a funny story about one of your own pups?
My first dog Humpty, who I dedicated Tiny and the Big Dig to, was a real escape artist. He’d dig under the fence. Figure a way over it. Squeeze his way through it. He’d be gone for days, who knows where. One day I was walking, more than a couple miles from my house (we lived out in the country), when I saw Humpty walking up the road. He saw me, too. It was a very weird and happy moment of recognition for both of us, seeing each other out of context. He probably thought, “Hey, that’s my kid! What’s he doing this far from home?”
When you were creating the character of Tiny, did you initially see him as he’s depicted in the book, or was that a process of refining?
A very long process. I even showed a school-full of kids sketches of about a dozen different versions, to see what they thought. And here’s a good example of how subjective art is: the version they, and I liked, is not the Tiny in the book. I think of it like this: A litter of puppies is right in front of you. Pick one. No, not two, one. The choice can be very hard.
I love the incredible stylistic variety that you’re capable of creating. The ink-and-watercolor style you used for Tiny is different than anything I’ve seen you do before. How did that evolve?
Well, I’d done watercolor illustrations before, but I don’t think my editor and art director at Scholastic knew that. So my first tests were in oil, my normal medium. Now, oil paintings are great for rich, subtle colors, and variations in light and shadow. But they wanted something fresher, cleaner. When I suggested watercolor on white backgrounds, they jumped on it.
The story should influence the illustration style. Sometimes that is achieved by using an illustrator with one style who is perfect for the book, sometimes by an illustrator with more than one style. I really enjoy being the second type. It keeps it fun.
What’s your favorite kibble?
As a kid, vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. Now, a really stinky cheese, crackers, and a perfectly ripe pear.
What illustrators inspire you?
I have about six current favorites, but naming them would keep me from getting holiday cards from the other half dozen I know. So let me stick with the greats of yesteryear:
Alice and Martin Provensen — So different from my style/s, which may be why I love their art so. It’s playful, but if you look close enough, a bit odd and dangerous, too. It’s pretty obvious that they have directly influenced many current illustrators.
Garth Williams — I used to stare at all the details in The Friendly Book. What appears to be a cute and sweet world has plenty of dirty dogs and sour old men, drawn in a scratchy, broken-down way.
Theodor Geisel/ Dr. Seuss — He’s the illustrator version of Antoni Gaudi, who created such wonderfully organic buildings. It’s like everything is drooping and growing at the same time.
What thing — unrelated to work — is on your bucket list?
Many things. But one is visiting Cuba. Partly for the culture and partly because visiting was forbidden for so many decades. Like Tiny, the people of Cuba have long struggled (and no doubt still are) for their goals without giving up, while others (including us) said they were too small to take care of themselves. Read the history of Cuba and you’ll see what I mean. I think there is a lot to learn there.
If you woke up tomorrow morning and all the fingers on your dominant hand had turned into art supplies, what would the best option be?
Oh, easy. Four pencils and one fat eraser. I love to sketch. And I don’t mind making mistakes.
Matt Myers Asks Sherri Duskey Rinker:
Matt Myers: If dogs could read, would you be excited or scared to show them Tiny and the Big Dig?
Sherri Duskey Rinker: For the last 10 years, my dog, Quincy, has been chasing chipmunks. Despite hours (and miles) of trying, she’s never caught a single one, and, yet, she is incredibly excited each time the opportunity arises. I admire her persistence and optimism — so, my guess is that she’s already read it, and so have all the other dogs I know. Dogs believe in themselves! (I am grateful that Quincy isn’t much of a digger, though.)
I also wanted to ask if you ever had a situation in your life, like Tiny, when you felt that no one was supporting you? Did you ever have a goal no one but you believed in?
One evening, I had a flash of an idea for a picture book titled, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. A few days later, I mailed in a manuscript to a single publisher. My friends and family just assumed it was another one of my “half-baked, crazy ideas.” A decade and 200+ weeks on the NYT later: here I am!
If you woke up one day as a dog, but still had the brain you do now, would you be okay with having to do tricks for treats? Would you even want the treats? Would you eat salad when no one was looking?
I assume you mean a simple trick, like rolling over or playing dead — so HECK, YEAH, I’d be game! And YES — I’d totally want the treats, especially if they were meaty treats (I’m from Chicago, after all) and NO, if I could skip seeing a salad for eternity, that would be A-ok with me. (I eat them, but my favorite parts are the meats, cheeses and dressings… so, do I REALLY like salad? I think not.) But I do love sweets… maybe some of those gourmet cookies from the dog bakery could be on the menu?
Do you see pictures in your head when you write? If so, how detailed are they?
I was a graphic designer for the first 25 years of my professional life, so YES! — I see pictures. Mostly, they’re vague, but, if it’s a character, setting or action sequence, I often envision more specific details. But the images I see are never, ever, EVER even remotely close to the finished illustrations. Thankfully, the final product is always WAY better than those of the crappy illustrator that lives inside my brain.
When I look at most of my illustrations, I see how I could have done better. But once in a while, I create an illustration that blows me away. I mean I actually can’t understand how I did it. Do you ever feel that way about a story, a part of a story, or a sentence?
So much time usually elapses between a manuscript’s acquisition and the first round of edits that I’ve forgotten much of the text’s fine details. Often, I’ll go in to start editing, and I get a pleasant surprise, “Hey! I really like this!” almost as if someone else wrote it. (Equally, though, I think, “Ugh. What the heck was I thinking?”)
As you get older, does it get easier to find the courage to reach for your goals, no matter what anyone thinks? Or was it easier as a kid?
Career, creative, social and “intellectual” goals: MUCH easier now. Anything physical: WAY easier as a kid (before I worried about hurting myself or breaking a hip).
Would you like to wear fur, so you wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear? Or do you like picking outfits?
I’ve worn the same pair of earrings (almost) every day for about two years. My basic uniform is a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved black Gap t-shirt. I’ll totally take some well-groomed fur, so I can just get up and get on with my day.
If ten different illustrators illustrated any one of your books, would they be wildly different, or just sort of?
When I look at illustrator samples, it reminds me of being a kid, walking into one of those awesome candy stores with all the glass jars and cases: Everything looks absolutely delicious. I want to try it all! My illustrator wish-list is incredibly varied.
When’s the last time you actually dug a hole?
I’m a gardener, so I dig LOTS of holes! I planted a hydrangea tree last fall, so that was probably the last one.
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrated by Matt Myers
Publisher’s Synopsis: Sniff! Sniff-sniff!
I smell a bone. A bone that’s BIG.
I’ll get it out, I’ll dig and dig.
A big, BIG bone! I know it’s there!
It will take work, but I don’t care!
Tiny may be a small dog, but don’t let that fool you. He’s a pooch with power who knows what he wants. And he’s going for it. But oh, those pesky pessimists — they’re trying to rain on Tiny’s dig-parade!
Thank goodness for one special boy who believes in Tiny, because in the end, this dog’s grit proves that he’s the little pup who could… dig up some giant surprises!
Ages 3-5 | Publisher: Scholastic Press | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0545904292
“The singsong writing and upbeat message make this uplifting underdog tale A SHOO-IN FOR STORYTIMES.” — Booklist
“HUMOROUS.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A very EARNEST story….Tiny digs on, and his grit (both literal and metaphorical) comes through in Myers’s HIGH-SPIRITED ink-and-watercolor cartoons.” — Publishers Weekly
About the Author
SHERRI DUSKEY RINKER is the author of #1 New York Times bestseller Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train, as well as Mighty, Mighty Construction Site. She writes books with hopes of happier bedtimes, wrangling some smiles, and encouraging kids to dig deep and dream big! Sherri lives in the Chicago area with her photographer husband, two sons, and one fluffy dog. Visit her at www.sherririnker.com.
About the Illustrator
MATT MYERS is the illustrator of many books, including the New York Times bestseller Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, A Is for Musk Ox, Scarecrow Magic, Tyrannosaurus Dad, and EIEIO: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (With a Little Help from a Hen). He lives with three little goblins in Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information, go to www.myerspaints.com.
This interview—A Picture Book Discussion with Sherri Duskey Rinker and Matt Myers—was conducted between Sherri Duskey Rinker and Matt Myers. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Determination, Dogs, Matt Myers, Picture Book, and Sherri Duskey Rinker.