Have You Seen Gordon? by Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan

Hello, Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan! Wow! There are so many wonderful details to take in while reading Have You Seen Gordon? I loved books like this one as a child. I would have checked out Have You Seen Gordon? again and again and again from the school or public library. Adam, what planted the seed for Have You Seen Gordon?

Adam Jay Epstein: I have two daughters and they both loved "look and find" books. At bedtime, they would pull them out and insisted on finding everything. Everything. I had to set a three-spread maximum so that we wouldn't be reading until midnight. When I was a kid, I loved them too. I remember being obsessed with Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg.

One of the things that I craved as a parent was a "look and find" with a great story. When approaching Have You Seen Gordon?, I wanted to explore the perspective of the hiding character in this type of book and combine that with an exploration of identity and consent. What if Gordon decided that he no longer wanted to hide? How would he react? How would the narrator react? How would the reader react? Without giving too much away, I am also a huge fan of breaking the fourth wall in picture books. I still have my slightly torn copy of The Monster at the End of the Book by Jon Stone from when I was a toddler.

Ruth, what an exciting task you had creating all the characters and settings and scenes...oh, my! I would love to know about your process working on Have You Seen Gordon?

Ruth Chan: Phew, it was a process! The first step-- to my great delight-- was researching how other seek-and-find books looked. I picked up Where’s Waldo? as an obvious first go-to, and also pored over Benjamin Chaud’s Little Bear series as well as B.B Cronin’s Lost series. Then I had to think about how I wanted my own style to reflect in making Have You Seen Gordon? while also telling Adam’s story well. I started off with the main characters, since they’re so crucial to the book. I knew I wanted them to be animals you wouldn’t always see in a picture book and were both likeable and funny yet imperfect at the same time. Next, I sketched a few different scene compositions for each scene keeping in mind it was ideal to fill the whole page. Once I had the compositions, I plugged in the bigger setting elements like buildings, landscape, and other structures, followed by hundreds of animal characters. This is when the animal randomizer came in handy. When I started adding animal characters into the first scene, I thought, “this is easy! I love animals!”. And then, very quickly, I ran out of animals I could think of. So I googled ‘animal randomizer’ and now the book is filled with a ton of animals (most of who are recurring characters across the book).

Because I was making this book during the height of the pandemic, I didn’t have access to my studio and decided to make the book digitally on my iPad. It’s the first time I’ve made a book digitally and it turned out to be a great way to make an insanely detailed book!

Scenario: Adam, a bookseller at Vroman's asks you to fill out a shelftalk for Have You Seen Gordon?

Adam Jay Epstein: It's a look and find book with a story! Gordon, an adorable tapir, is supposed to be hiding on every page of the book but he has other plans. He's proud of who he is and no longer wants to blend into the crowd. Which is fantastic for Gordon! But not so great for a book with the title Have You Seen Gordon? With gorgeous illustrations by Ruth Chan, every page is overflowing with details and hidden jokes that will keep kids and adults returning over and over. For lovers of Where's Waldo? and Dragons Love Tacos.

Ruth, please finish the following sentence starters:

Have You Seen Gordon?’s cover hopefully makes you laugh. There was something so funny to Kendra (Editor), Chloe (Art Director) and I about having this bunny right in your face, grinning at you, even while he was looking at something else. We also had to balance out making a simple, understandable cover while also conveying a clear message that this was a seek-and-find book. I hope it works!

Picture books are, to me, the most beautiful form of creation. To have this intersection of wonderfully crafted writing, exciting illustrations, deep meaningful themes, humor, and emotional truths all in one object you can hold in your hand? Amazing.

Adam, please finish the following sentence starters:

Ruth Chan’s illustrations superseded my highest hopes of what this book could be. As a first time picture book author, I knew that I would be putting my imagination into the hands of an artist. For months, I painted pictures in my head that my hands would never be capable of creating. I am so fortunate that Kendra Levin, my editor extraordinaire, had the vision to bring Ruth on board. I am still finding new adorable character expressions and details in the book that make me smile.

Picture books are more than words and pictures. They can create these incredible shared experiences when read aloud between parents and children, teachers and students, or librarians and kids. I remember my school librarian reading Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig to my class and the emotional impact that made on me. When I first read it to my own children, I began to weep. Kid laughter should be bottled and sold; it is the most life-affirming sound in the universe. A funny picture book can generate those delightful belly laughs. I am humbled to have had this amazing opportunity to bring a book like Have You Seen Gordon? into the world that might get a few (or many) of those laughs.

Adam Jay Epstein spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, when he wasn't aboard his father's sailboat. He spent many days sitting in the neighborhood park, traveling to fantasy lands in his head (occasionally when he was supposed to be doing his homework). In college, he circled the world on a ship and studied film at Wesleyan University. He is the co-author of the internationally bestselling middle-grade fantasy series The Familiars and the middle-grade sci-fi series Starbounders. He has written film and television projects for Disney, Sony, Fox, MGM, Paramount, MTV, Hulu, SYFY, and Disney Channel. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and dog, Pixel.

Ruth Chan is an illustrator and author who spent her childhood tobogganing in Canada, her teens in China, a number of years studying art and education, and a decade working with youth and families in underserved communities. She now writes and illustrates full-time in Brooklyn NY.

Look for Have You Seen Gordon? on September 9, 2021. 


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