Hi, Joseph Kuefler! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I cannot believe this is your first time visiting.
Hello Mr. Schu. I can’t believe it either. Watch. Connect. Read. has become such a regular presence in my Twitter feed, I was beginning to think I’d created it myself.
How funny! Well, I am glad you're here today to share the GORGEOUS cover for Rulers of the Playground. Please tell us about the characters on the cover.
Thank you for the invitation and thank you for the compliments. Well, the characters on this cover are a few of the many children cast in RULERS. The book centers around Jonah and Lennox, the two children dressed in formal attire. Both are attempting to take over the playground and claim it as their own. Both are full of confidence—they’re wearing clothing from the French Revolution to the park, so that’s probably pretty obvious. And both take their conquering just a little too far.
On the far left you’ll see a redhead and her dog. That’s Augustine and Sir Hamilton Humphrey Hildebrand III. They come into play at the end.
What planted the seed for Rulers of the Playground?
As I was exploring which book to write as a follow-up to Beyond the Pond, so many social issues were coming to a head at once: Black Lives Matter was in full swing, the Middle East was (and still is) managing a number of conflicts, Russia had moved into Ukraine aggressively, and closer to the world of picture books, We Need Diverse Books was transforming the discourse within our industry. The recurring theme in all this was, to me, a question of territory and ownership. What can we call ours? How do we coexist? What impact does power have on the powerful and those subject to their rule?
I know this is probably a heavier set of topics than you were expecting, but for me, picture books are a vehicle for processing the world—its pains, pleasures, tensions. Picture books allow me to explore and process the existential.
So, back to the book, I realized, for a child, the playground is a microcosm of the world. The same dramas I was witnessing in my community and in the media unfold on the playground every day.
The last thing I’ll say is that I really wanted to contribute to the Diverse Books movement. I’m white and male, and I didn’t experience a great deal of adversity as a child, but I still felt obligated to contribute in whatever way I could. I wanted to write a story that made room for a child of every ethnic background. And I really wanted to cast a black female character in a lead role. Whew…that was a lot. Still with me?
I love how Jonah’s park is featured on the front endpapers, and Lennox’s park is featured on the back endpapers.
The end papers for this book were so fun to create. I love to play with the end papers for each book and make them a player in the story in some way. Alessandra [Balzer] and I played around with a few options for end papers. When the idea of the maps was brought up, we all knew it would offer kids two corners of the book to get lost within.
I think Sir Hamilton Humphrey Hildebrand III is the perfect name for Augustine’s dog. Did you play around with a lot of different names? (Did it come to you while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack?)
Haha. No, I had no idea Hamilton would become the craze it is today. And, sadly, I’ve never heard the soundtrack. I’m more of a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix soundtrack guy myself. I was going to name the dog Harry Potter, but I didn’t want J.K.’s lawyers to come calling.
Given the baroque qualities of the main characters, I knew a ridiculously ornate name was needed. Throughout the book, Hamilton also expresses a certain pretension. Sir Hamilton Humphrey Hildebrand III had the right rhythm and grandiosity. It came pretty quickly.
Please finish these sentence starters:
I think Minnesota is America’s best kept secret.
Picture books are an artist’s confession pounded into pulp and ink. They have been for me, anyway.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how I came up with the names for the book’s main characters.
Jonah, Lennox, and Augustine are the names of my children. It’s such a rare treat to find your name in a picture book. I wanted to give that gift to my kids.