In between changing diapers or dropping our kids off at preschool, a lot of us daydream about writing or illustrating books for the pint-sized set. It’s finding the time (and talent) to get the job done that’s tough. Aspiring authors can all learn a thing or two from Matthew Porter. He’s produced an armful of beloved toddler books, including ABC and Count the Birdies. The School Library Journal has called him “the undisputed king of the hipster board book genre.” This North Seattle resident is also a dad: Porter and his wife Andrea have a two-year-old son, Owen. Porter’s first title with Seattle-based publisher Sasquatch Books Tails Chasing Tails hits the shelves next month. Below, Porter talks to Red Tricycle about his studio, the bookmaking process, and how becoming a father has shaped his work.
RT: Talk a little about your childhood in the UK. Did you read a lot as a kid or pick up an interest in books later in life?
MP: I grew up in the village of Broad Oak in East Sussex which is in the south of England. It’s a tiny little place surrounded by fields. I could hear sheep bleating from my bedroom window. We lived on the busy main road, though, so I could also hear cars screaming by at 90 miles an hour.
As a child I struggled with reading and writing until my parents arranged extra lessons for me. Every Saturday morning I’d walk down the road for an English lesson. My teacher must have known I was into art because she encouraged me to draw pictures to go along with my writing. Everything seemed to fall into place after that.
RT: What did you want to be when you grew up?
MP: I wanted to be Robin Hood. Then I wanted to be a stuntman.
RT: How did you come up with the concept for Tails Chasing Tails?
MP: I fell in love with the idea of doing a book that has no beginning or end. So Tails is designed to be a loop. You can pick it up and start reading on any page and go through the loop as many times as you like and it still makes sense.
RT: Can you walk us through the bookmaking process a bit?
MP: I had the loop idea floating around for awhile, then one day the whole concept for Tails just appeared. I love drawing animals and wanted my next book to have more action, so once the tail chasing concept appeared it all fell into place. Then I thought, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” It’s such a simple concept. It’s playful and educational!
I sketched out most of the book and then presented it to Sasquatch at the School House Craft conference. Sasquatch was there to talk about the publishing business and were offering to review people’s book proposals. It was an amazing opportunity that I wasn’t going to miss. So I went along and showed them my proposal and the deal was done. Yippee! Then I finished the sketches, got them approved, and painted the pictures.
RT: How has becoming a father changed the way you approach your work?
MP: Tails is my first attempt at a page-turner and my first book that has been directly influenced by becoming a father. I’ve read a ton more kids books than I’ve ever read before. I don’t remember any board books from my childhood, so it’s been quite interesting seeing what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve really gotten into the idea of the page turner: How it’s nice when a book really flows along like a river and you get swept up in the current and it takes you away. Future books will be about monsters, robots, cars and monster trucks. Yes, that’s right, we have a boy!
RT: What’s your work environment like? Do you keep “normal” business hours?
MP: I love my studio. It’s full of cobwebs and covered in sawdust, but the spiders I rarely see. It’s generally a complete mess. Paper and paints and bits of wood everywhere. I work all the time. When I’m not working I’m looking after Owen and when I’m not doing that I’m snoring on the couch.
RT: Do you work on other projects in addition to producing books for kids?
MP: I’m lucky that my wife Andrea handles the business side of things. We used to run Bluebottle Art Gallery & Store in Capitol Hill but sold it in 2010 so we could focus on wholesaling and building up my book career. I do commissions all the time. Big ones and little ones. I also sell at street fairs and craft fairs and in a number of local shops. Prints and magnets. Keychains and books.
RT: What’s next? Are you working on any new projects?
MP: Right now I’m working with Sasquatch to put the finishing touches on the first book in my “Monkey World” storybook series. It’s called The Thunderbolt Express. It’s my spin on the “Oh no, the bridge is out!” situation. It introduces a lot of characters that I hope to follow in future books. It’s my first storybook and has much more detailed illustrations than any of my previous books. I’ve been thinking and working on it for ages, so I can’t wait for it to come out in September.
Will you be adding Tails Chasing Tails to your library collection? Do you have a favorite Matthew Porter book? Let us know in the comments section below.