An Interview with Author-Illustrator Jeff Mack
Mr. Schu: Good news! I adore Good News, Bad News. It is an ingenious picture book that I cannot wait to read to my kindergarten students. What should I say when they ask, “Mr. Schu, why do you think Jeff Mack wrote this book?”
Jeff Mack: Thanks, Mr. Schu. I'm glad you like it.
I wrote Good News Bad News to find an answer to this question: "Can two characters be friends when they have opposite attitudes about everything?" By writing it, I decided the answer is "Yes!" Not only that, they can become ever better friends once they learn to see things from each other's point of view. Plus, their struggles can be pretty funny. With a lot of bad news, if you look for humor, you'll probably find it.
Mr. Schu: Your mixed media illustrations are hilarious and expressive. How did you decide on the media for Good News, Bad News?
Jeff Mack: When I illustrate a book, I choose a style that suits the feeling of the story. For example, my first book, Hush Little Polar Bear, is a dream-like lullaby so I used a painterly style with soft textures.
On the other hand, Good News Bad News has lots of action and slapstick humor. The characters crash into trees and get zapped by lightning. If the illustrations didn't have an exaggerated, cartoonish look, they might be a little scary instead of funny. Plus, since there are so few words to explain what's happening, the exaggerated expressions help make sure that readers know exactly how the characters are feeling. I used pen and ink to draw cartoonish outlines, a cardboard collage to create textures, and my computer to add the color. Combining those tools helped me find the right balance of detail vs. simplicity to tell the story.
Mr. Schu: Are you more like Bunny (an optimist) or Mouse (a pessimist)?
Jeff Mack: The last time someone asked me that, I said I was more like the Mouse. But the more I think about it, the more I think I'm probably wrong.
Mr. Schu: Please share three of your favorite picture books.
Jeff Mack:I love books that stir strong emotions while showing me unfamiliar ways to look at the world. Three of my favorites that mix the clever with the heartfelt are:
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino
The Retired Kid by Jon Agee
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about…
Jeff Mack: why I make books. Because it's a question I ask myself every time I'm pulling my hair out over my fourth, fifth or sixteenth rewrite of a story. I want to take complex questions I have about life and invent simple, entertaining ways to address them for young readers. This can be a puzzling, frustrating, agonizing process, but when I finally figure it out, it feels great! Sometimes I find that a question leads me to write a long book, like the 250-page ones in my Clueless McGee series.
Other times, I find the best way to tell the story is with 32-pages of pictures and just four words, like in Good News Bad News. Whatever the case, it's always an exciting job. I get to make different choices and find different solutions every time.
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