Travis Jonker and I named Paul Schmid's A Pet for Petunia one of the best books of 2011. Here's what I shared on Mr. Jonker's blog...
I read 2,094 books in 2011. If you asked me to name every title, I could not. If you asked me to name the picture book I recommended to the most kids during 2011, the answer would spring from my mouth in one billionth of a second: A Pet for Petunia. Paul Schmid’s charming picture book screams to be read aloud. He makes the lives of librarians, teachers, parents, and storytellers much easier. Whenever I find Petunia in the book drop, I seek out her next reader. I tell the potential reader that Petunia desperately wants a pet skunk. She would do anything to get one. She delivers a rant comparable to Sam's meltdown in Leonardo the Terrible Monster. That is all it takes. Sold.
You know when I get behind a book I want everyone to read it. I throw it a birthday party, hang signs in the bathrooms, and give away copies. A Pet for Petunia will make you laugh, smile, and feel an urge to share it with every child in your life.
I'm honored that Paul agreed to finish my sentences. We "chatted' about Petunia, Oliver, school libraries, and picture books. I wrote the words in purple, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Paul!
The illustrations for Oliver and his Alligator were a pleasure to develop. Designing a character is one of my favorite parts of illustrating a book. You must imagine them thoroughly, as every line or shape can express personality. Oliver is a shy, sensitive kid; he wears an oversized, comfy sweater, long bangs to hide under, and has rather small hands and feet. All are clues to who he is.
The book is about children’s’ anxieties when facing new situations, but I wanted my readers to feel secure while reading the book. I consciously designed the characters in the book to be as nonthreatening as possible. Oliver’s schoolmates are cute as heck, and even his alligator has no visible mouth with which to swallow Oliver’s anxieties, and remains calm and collected throughout.
Maurice Sendak is a friend I miss very much. During the Sendak Fellowship and up until he passed away we had many wonderful talks. Maurice was one of the most loving, sensitive, generous, intelligent and courageous people I’ve ever met. I cherish our brief friendship, as he left me with a shining example on what it means to be an artist and whole human being.
If you visited my studio you would find an odd combination of clutter and order. I love to be organized, as I don’t want to waste time looking for tools or references. But during a project I get so deeply focused that at some point I’ll look around and there will be these messy piles everywhere!
School libraries are our greatest treasure as a society. ...are mind-expansion facilities. ...are spaceships for desperately curious kids. School librarians are... the REAL heroes of society. How utterly rewarding it would be to be a school librarian: a child comes to you with a shining interest, a hungry mind, a desperate need, and you point the way!
Picture books are a perfect tool for introducing children to read words, and a perfect vehicle for developing the love for reading. But beyond that, it is a focus for carrying on an important storytelling tradition. What is it like being alive? What is important in life? What makes me laugh? What makes me cry? How do I handle...? Who else feels as I do? Children will find discussions of these things in books.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my next books! Oliver and his Egg is out this July, wherein Oliver finds what he imagines to be a dinosaur egg.