WAIT by Antoinette Portis

Good morning, Antoinette Portis! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. As soon as I finished reading Wait, I mailed my copy to Lauren Castillo. I knew she would love and appreciate it as much as I do. What does it feel like when people say they cannot WAIT to share your books with readers?

Antoinette Portis: It’s exciting to have people responding enthusiastically to Wait. Every book I’ve made has my heart and soul in it, but that doesn’t mean the world responds with equal fervor. So it’s great when you feel some excitement out there. The true test is seeing how children respond. I’m looking forward to doing readings and getting into conversations with kids about the book. I find myself wishing my daughter was still 4 and I could read this one to her, sitting in my lap.

I hope Wait inspires adults to slow down and admire the world with their children.

Antoinette Portis: I hope it does, too. When my daughter was 18 months old, I took off work for a year. We would go to the park and dig in the sand and roam around and collect bark, twigs, seed pods, leaves, pebbles. I slowed down to kid speed and started paying attention to stuff that I’d been too harried to notice.  An unexpected bonus was I started making art again (which I hadn’t done since I started working after art school) and just generally felt more creative. Sasha was my life teacher in toddler form. Everything gave her joy. She beamed love at strangers. Life was an exciting adventure that she met with pure enthusiasm. Her attitude woke me up to a greater sense of joy at being on this earth.

I see “Wait” moments happening everywhere. Just yesterday, I walked out my door and a mom and dad were taking a stroll with their toddler. The little boy was stopped at our corner, gazing at two dogs across the street. His parents had moved a bit farther down the block, and I could tell they were a bit impatient for him to catch up, but they let him be.
Anything out of the ordinary drew his attention. Here was this free-ranging curiosity, just waiting to light on something. He exulted in each discovery: a tree stump makes an excellent dais. Suddenly the world was at his feet—I could read that on his face.
I see children’s curiosity as an expression of human intelligence, not an artifact of childhood. It’s the same curiosity that led us to figure out how to send a probe out 3 billion miles into space to send back pictures of Pluto.

Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
Was the working title always Wait? Did your manuscript always contain three different words?

Antoinette Portis: I have a giant file of dummies! There are over 30 versions. It was called “But…” for the first few rounds. There was more text. The mom said things like, “Keep moving, sweetie,” and “No time to dawdle.” And the boy answered “But…”, not “Wait.”
There was a version where only the child spoke. His “Wait,” was in answer to the mom’s silent prompts. The back and forth was only in the pictures. But gradually I got clear, after taking various versions to my writing group, that I wanted the textual counterpoint of “hurry/wait” as the story’s structure.
Neal Porter (my editor) and I tinkered with the ending a bit. The mom’s “wait” at the end needed an extra beat and that’s where the “yes” came in.
This book seemed to lend itself to a high-concept, limited-text treatment. The reader has to look closely at the pictures to get the most out of the story. Readers have to stop and observe, too.
Illustration Credit: Antoinette Portis
If we visited your studio, what would we see?

Antoinette Portis: A big fat mess, usually. I like to work in visually busy spaces. I have art that I love pinned on the walls (Donald Baechler, Margaret Kilgallen, my daughters childhood drawings, etc). Of course there are toys (like a Steiff tiger with eyes that glowed in the dark that my brother and I used to fight over), plastic cars, figurines, various tchotchkes from my grandmother or the flea market, beach stones I’ve collected. Just random objects that make me happy.
I have a wall of bookcases filled with picture books (it’s picture book school right there!) and art supplies, a small drafting table where I draw, a computer table with my mac and Cintiq tablet (a new acquisition), flat files, and a few other work tables that are covered in piles of stuff from a recent project that I need to put away. Clutter then clean/clutter then clean—that’s the circle of life.
When I’m in the illustration phase of making a book, on a wall that’s visible from both my drawing and computer tables, I pin up the illo spreads. (I think all illustrators must do this.) It’s a way of seeing the book as a whole—checking the color flow, composition and pacing. And having the book up there gives me a good sense of the progress I’m making (or not making) to meet the deadline.
The wall has helped me avoid a pitfall I ran into early on—getting into a death spiral with an illustration that’s not working—restaging it over and over as the days or weeks ticked by and the end date loomed. Now I know that if the wall is stuck, I’m stuck, and I need to turn my attention to another spread. Later I can circle back to work on the trouble spot with fresh energy and a clearer eye.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Reading is my life’s blood. And my main hobby. Can’t imagine life without it!

(from my 5th grade autobiography)

Picture books are my inspiration, addiction, current favorite art form. My job, my joy.

Not a Box and Not a Stick (my first two books) are the precursors of Wait. All three are books where it’s my intention that the concept resonates more than the text. The words create a superstructure for the pictures to tell the story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me...If you could have another life and be anything you wanted, what you be? And I’d say: an astrophysicist with a fantastic singing voice, working on finding the theory of everything (not the movie, the actual theory). Math is a language I would like to understand--but in this life, that’s not happening. And I can’t hold a tune, either.

Borrow Wait from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


  1. This book caught my eye @ Anderson's at ILA, so I picked it up. I've read it with my girls several times this last week, enjoying the time together to wait and enjoy life! Thanks for sharing the interview with Antoinette! Always love hearing the story behind the story!


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