Thank You, Neighbor! by Ruth Chan

Hello, Ruth Chan! I had so much fun celebrating Have You Seen Gordon? with you and Adam Jay Epstein a few weeks ago. I’m so happy you’re back to celebrate Thank You, Neighbor! I loved, loved walking around Brooklyn with the main character and her dog. Can you tell us about your neighbors who inspired this picture book?

Ruth Chan: Thanks, Mr. Schu! I’m so excited to share this book with you and everyone, and especially my neighbors!

The idea for Thank You, Neighbor! came in April, during the worst of the pandemic in NYC. My editor, Nancy, and I discussed making a book about the essential workers helping to keep the city going. But the more I thought about how the pandemic was impacting all of us, the more I kept asking myself, “What makes me feel safe, connected and cared for in my 0.2 mile radius?” I realized it was my neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean the people who not only live here, but also the ones who work here, every day, and many of who I’ve come to know over the years on my daily walks with my former dog, Feta.

On my little Brooklyn street, there are people out all hours of the day. Early every morning, Gregory is out feeding the pigeons and I love it, even though pigeons terrify me. Just a few buildings down, Ms. Denise (the unofficial “Mayor” of our street, and who sadly passed away during the making of this book), sat with her dog Max and and chatted with anyone and everyone. In the afternoon, Tommy comes around with the mail, squeezing by other neighbors who have stopped to admire Margiann’s garden (the floxgloves this past summer were a huge hit!). The supers of the block-- Euri, Michael, Baldo, and Herbert-- zip in and out of buildings all day long, and as the day fades into night, Mohammed is behind the counter at the bodega, never forgetting to give free candy to his customers (jelly ones for me).

Whether they mean to or not, every one of these neighbors is doing something to help make this neighborhood feel like home. When I first moved onto my street, Feta and I would pass these neighbors every day. Saying “hello” to each other was a way for me to start planting down some roots. Exchanging “thank you”s as we held doors for each other was a way for us to acknowledge and appreciate our shared space. Pretty soon, those “hello”s and “thank you”s turned into short chats and those chats turned into the sharing of stories. Some of the guys on the block planted the trees on our street 40 years ago. Others advocated for speed bumps to keep the kids on the street safe. And still others, like Ms. Denise, simply used a huge smile to brighten anyone’s day.

I originally wanted to write this book as an ode to the diverse patchwork of people who are my neighbors. But as I worked on this book during the pandemic, something really lovely happened. We all got to know each other even more! Perhaps it was because we were all struggling through something new and big together. Or because I got to ask them all sorts of questions and show them progress on this book (Is there anything cuter than a man in his 70s giggling at a drawing of him? The answer is No). But now, this street feels even more like a home than I had ever thought it would. We’ve got inside jokes and share snacks. We check in on each other and take walks together. And now I have a new dog, Leroy, who I walk multiple times a day. Every time he and I pass by our neighbors, they yell his name in greeting, as if he’s been part of our neighborhood for years. And to think, it all just started with a “hello” or a “thank you!”

Wow! Thank you for sharing the inspiration for Thank You, Neighbor! and for additional individual information about the real people featured in the book. Even though it is -3 degrees outside right now, you've inspired me to take a quick walk around my neighborhood. Bye, Ruth! 

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 Thank You, Neighbor! on September 7, 2021.


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