Kyo Maclear is one of my favourite children’s book authors and one of the loveliest people I know. She’s the author of many acclaimed picture books including Spork, Virginia Wolf and The Fog, and her writing is the perfect balance of beauty, whimsy and laughs.
In her latest picture book, Yak and Dove (Tundra Books), Yak and Dove navigate the highs and lows of friendship. This collection of three interconnected tales (think Frog and Toad style) is imaginative, funny and gorgeously illustrated by Esmé Shapiro.
Kyo was kind enough to let me ask her a bunch of questions about her new book, why she thinks humour is important in writing children’s books, and her stance on fart jokes.
Tell us about your new picture book, Yak and Dove. It’s adorable!!!
Thanks, Naseem! It actually started off as a six-page chapbook my husband (Dave) and I made a number of years ago. We chose the characters because “Yak and Dove” is an anagram of “Kyo and Dave” and because we thought the contrast in their size and bearing was funny. We kept it super simple, but it is essentially a portrait of an odd couple and their various likes and dislikes (e.g., “Yak likes toast. Dove likes tubes.”). I have always loved odd-couple stories (Ernie and Bert, Peppermint Patty and Marcie, Felix and Oscar, Harold and Maude) and knew I wanted to eventually write one. I also knew I wanted to set “the action” somewhere unexpected and beautiful—hence the Himalayas.
I love the dynamic between Yak and Dove. There are a lot of humorous exchanges between the two characters. I especially laughed when Yak and Dove start listing off their differences in the “If We Were Twins” chapter. What are your favourite funny moments in the book?
My favourite would have to be the talent show scene. I originally scripted it as a singing contest (à la “Himalayan Idol”), but Esmé wanted to branch out and have some animals playing bongos, doing a fan dance, you know, the usual stuff. That whole wordless spread really cracks me up.
So many of your books—Spork, The Liszts, Yak and Dove, for example—balance comedic moments with dramatic moments so well. Do you find it easier to write comedy or drama? Why do you think humour is important in children’s books?
I like funny. I like funny-sad, funny-weird and funny-funny. I like funny-absurd because that’s what the world feels like a lot of the time. Not to get too heavy, but I have a favourite quote from the South African artist William Kentridge, who, reflecting on the apartheid years, said, “… the absurd for me is always a species of realism.” (Hmmm. Could this perhaps apply to 2017?) But to answer your question, what I enjoy most—even if it’s not necessarily easier—is using humour to get at the oddness of the world so that kids see things from a different angle. Note: I’m lucky to have a brilliant editor-in-crime, Tara Walker, who seems to share the same slanted sense of humour.
Yak and Dove feels delightfully reminiscent of Frog and Toad at times. Are you a fan of Arnold Lobel? He also does such a good job of balancing quiet, poignant moments with splashes of humour! I especially love Grasshopper on the Road. What do you think makes his style of humour so appealing to kids and adults?
Frog and Toad are the best! I think you’re right about his balanced use of splashy and quiet scenes. As a kid, I always found the quiet domesticity funny and reassuring—i.e., no matter what dilemmas his characters faced, there was always a cozy nook with dependable furniture awaiting at the end. As an adult, I still totally resonate with the stories and particularly with Toad’s neurotic instincts. In fact, I think the comedic genius of Lobel was to show that childhood concerns and adult preoccupations are basically one and the same.
Fart jokes in children’s literature: Yea or nay?
Yea for sure. Especially if they appear in books by Naseem Hrab! Yes to fart books in general. Shinta Cho’s The Gas We Pass is wildly popular at our house. (And in case any of your readers are interested, onara is the word for fart in Japanese.)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Naseem Hrab is a writer, a storyteller and a pretty good friend. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. Naseem worked as a librarian for a time and now works in children's publishing. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.