I first discovered Float sitting on the new books table of my bookstore. You see, I had a ritual of familiarizing myself with the new crop every Tuesday; excited to find a new favorite. I picked up the small gray book, took some time to flip through the pages…and kept the story with me.
When I started my blog, I knew I had to review it. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Daniel Miyares a bit and he was kind enough to let me interview him. Really, it turned into a great conversation. Hope you enjoy our chat.
Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?
Daniel: Ummmm…introvert, unorganized (or as I like to say intuitive), heartfelt.
Alia: I’m introverted too! Yay for introverts! 🙂
Daniel: Yay! Let’s get together and feel anxious.
Alia: Q2. I know you’re married with kids. Has your family given you any ideas/inspiration for projects?
Daniel: YES, absolutely my family gives me inspiration everyday. I am married. My wife’s name is Lisa and we have two little children together. I always like to say my best story ideas come from some sort of anxiety or character flaw that I have. Couple that with the fact that children and marriage can be some of the most honest mirrors you’ll ever come across and you’ve got a free flowing fount of possible story fodder.
I do see a lot of my children’s way of looking at and experiencing the world make it into my stories. Not just the innocence, but the honesty of their emotions. I see the ups and downs of Float almost everyday in my house in one way or another. It’s true and sweet.
Alia: Q3. My dad was an artist, so I grew up surrounded by art. Do you have artists in your family? Have you noticed your children taking a strong interest in art?
Daniel: My dad took a few art classes in college I believe, but he never pursued it. My daughter really loves art. She’s always got a project going. I can count on her to sit with me if I need a painting buddy. It’s fun to talk art and design with her. It’s like I have some inside track on all the stuff that hasn’t been “taught” out of her. She frequently schools me on color. My colors are never sparkly enough for her. 🙂
Alia: Cool! Yeah I agree with her. I love sparkly but then there has to be balance. I’ve also noticed that children often have insight that we are too old and too “trained” to have.
Daniel: So right! That’s why I feel like I’m continuing to learn about my own books. The more I share them with children the more insight I walk away with.
Alia: Kids are pretty sweet. I learned a lot from my students when I was a teacher.
Daniel: I bet you did! What did you teach?
Alia: I taught Elementary school English in Korea for four years.
Daniel: That’s so wonderful. I’m sure you’ve got stories. I should interview you about that!
Alia: Haha. Oh yeah I have a lot. It’s all kinda a blur of dirty noses, screaming kids and lots of laughs.
Q4. I love the paintings you post on Instagram and Facebook. Are you a paper margin doodler?
Daniel: I am a margin doodler, an over the important information doodler, an on my desk and chair doodler. It’s kind of an obsession. Thank God someone invented Instagram. Now I have a place to put all those random scribbles. Actually it’s been freeing to post things without much editing. I can get pretty calculated when it comes to making art and I need to be reminded to loosen up and not worry about it so much.
Alia: It must be nice to just make art for arts sake when it’s your JOB to make art. Just put it out there and go!
Daniel: It is nice to just make art without a big agenda. It also reminds me of the things I love about making pictures.
Alia: Q5. Okay big question. Why do you make picture books? What do YOU get out of it?
Daniel: Okay this is a biggie. Picture books kind of found me. I had always loved drawing and painting, as well as secretly writing poetry, but I never dreamed of making picture books. A friend introduced me to my artist rep and through working with them I realized that the things I love about making illustrations and telling stories could be really meaningful in picture books. I suppose what I get out of it is the sense that I’m using more of the whole of my creative self on a project. For me there is an emotional cycle to the process of making a book- the passion and uncertainty of conceiving an idea, the anxiety of pitching/selling it, the craft and focus of making it, all ending with the joy of sharing it with so many people. It’s a roller coaster and I feel in love with it.
Alia: Ah what a great answer. I love it! 🙂
Daniel: Great question!
Q6. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB&J? lol
Daniel: Grape. Absolutely, Grape. Smuckers if it’s on the shelf, but the generic store brand works too. Every now and again I do make a monster PB&J. You know the one with the extra piece of bread in the middle?
Alia: Classic. Good choice. But I’m more about Welch’s Grape. I’ve never done a monster PB&J and now I’m wondering why I haven’t. Haha
Daniel: Me too!
Alia: I guess I have to try it now!
Q7. Where did Float‘s story grow out of? The book-making process can be quite long. Can you remember any big or tough edits you made to the story or design of Float?
Daniel: I was on a plane flying home from my Aunt’s funeral. It had been raining so I did a drawing of a little boy floating a paper boat in a puddle. I wondered what happened before that moment and drew that. Then I wondered what happened after that moment and drew that. I went on like this until I found the beginning and end of the story. The book making process is quite long and requires you to stay focused on what’s best for the story throughout. That’s how I know I’m working with good collaborators- if they honestly critique with that lens. Hurdle one for me with Float was should it have words or not. It seemed like a strong visual narrative that took you to all the emotional places necessary without words, but I wasn’t sure. I tried a whole string of variations on the manuscript, but none of it seemed to say anything that the pictures weren’t. My editor Kristin Ostby at S&S was great about helping to weigh and measure that. At one point I wrote a sound poem for the story. I’d still like to do something with it someday. I’m actually thinking of trying to do some readings of Float in the music rooms of elementary schools instead of a regular class. I figured the children could help tell the story with the instruments. Kind of a rainy day orchestra! Another hurdle or edit was how to get all the emotional beats into the story in an interesting way. Panels seemed like a logical way to pace things out and reveal information as the reader needed it. It was just another layer of design that became really important once I got into building the book.
Alia: Doing readings of Float in music rooms sounds awesome! I can see kids really getting into that.
Daniel: Yeah I’d like to give the instruments a try.
Alia: Q8. I read Float as a story about imagination and delight in play. What were your favorite imagination activities or games as a child?
Daniel: My favorites were drawing, building forts or hideouts, exploring the woods, playing in the creek near my house. The spaces weren’t that big, but they seemed like whole different worlds. I don’t know how many makeshift boats and action figures met their end in that creek.
Alia: Me too. I grew up in the city but I loved making forts out of sheets in my room. Crawl inside and…read books.
Daniel: Those little hiding spots were the best.
Q9. Do you like origami? Origami used to be MY THING so I enjoyed the paper-folding element of Float very much.
Daniel: I do. I’ve worked at Hallmark Cards as an artist for the past twelve years. I’ve gotten to make a lot of things out of paper in that time. It has always amazed me how just a blank piece of paper can take on a life of its own.
Alia: Well that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about card artists. There are so many well designed and unique cards out there.
Q10. While preparing for this discussion, I realized that Pardon Me is your book and I got really happy because I think that book is a little dark and very hilarious. Can you share some background on that book?
Daniel: Absolutely, remember what I said about starting with an anxiety or character flaw for a story idea? That’s how Pardon Me! started. I’m introverted so I like to have my alone time and think space. With a family I’m often scheming of ways to find those quiet moments. So I imagined the little bird as me. I can try to cling to what I think is right, fair and deserved even to my detriment. In short, I just took a look at what was making my blood boil and I wrote it down. I just had to substitute interruptions with animals.
Alia: Ohhh, I see and I totally understand! Very cool. I’m imagining the animals as your family now!
Q11. What are you thoughts about efforts like We Need Diverse Books and the general push for diversity in publishing and literature?
Daniel: It’s so critical that children have access to books that celebrate a wide range of cultures and experiences. I see it either challenging and expanding what they know about the world or affirming who they are. I feel like I as an individual can choose to invest in projects that help to do that, but I have to tell stories that lean into my point of view. I have very specific memories from growing up where I read a book or a poem and it churned something up inside of me. It widened my gaze in a way that I never would have on my own. That gives me hope that if talented authors and artists from all different ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations continue to lean into their experiences to craft meaningful stories, then there will be those kinds of transformative intersections. Of course it’s important for that focus on diversity to be present at all points of the book making process-all the way to a child having the book in hand. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful book champions who strive to do just that.
Alia: When I think back to books that shaped me growing up, they’re all kinds of books but I definitely connected to seeing little girls who looked like me.
Daniel: Sure, we all want to feel like we belong and are understood.
Alia: Q12. I think I read that you’re from South Carolina? Serious question…Do you like grits?
Daniel: Oh my, yes I do love grits. I was raised on them and biscuits. One of my favorite breakfast foods.
Alia: Yes! Okay, even more important question. How do you like them? Butter? Salt? Cheese? I love biscuits too. My grandma made great ones.
Daniel: I used to take a serving of grits and put scrambled eggs, butter and bacon in them then cover it with cheese.
Daniel: I know…gross.
Alia: Hahaha. We cook ours with butter in the water, add a little salt and I like a side of scrambled eggs too. Sometimes I add cheese.
Daniel: This is all making me really hungry. I would’ve eaten just fine at your house.
Alia: Haha. Yes. My family is from Alabama and Mississippi so I grew up with good Southern Cooking.
Q13. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your next two books Surf’s Up and Bring Me a Rock!?
Daniel: I don’t mind at all. Surf’s Up is a collaboration with the amazing Kwame Alexander. He wrote it and I illustrated. It’s the story of two frog friends, Bro and Dude. Bro just wants to read his book and Dude just wants to get to the beach. It’s really a celebration of the power of reading and imagination. Kwame’s dialogue is fantastic. It is releasing Feb. 1st. Bring Me A Rock! is my next book with Simon & Schuster. I’m the author and illustrator on this one. In it a megalomaniac insect king demands that all of his loyal subjects bring him a rock. He’s going to build a majestic pedestal fit for a king. It’s about how his kingly plans don’t go as expected and how the day is ultimately saved by the most unexpected hero. It’s out June 7th.
Alia: They both sound really cool. I’m looking forward to both! I love the names Bro and Dude haha. That’s awesome.
Daniel: I know! When I read it with my kids we crack up so hard. They call each other Bro and Dude for the rest of the night.
Alia: I feel like teachers are going to enjoy reading that one aloud with their students!
Q14. ALA Midwinter Conference is underway and the Caldecott Medal winner will be announced on Monday. You already know I’m rooting for you…How do you feel about all the love you’re getting for Float?
Daniel: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine so much love being poured out on Float. You know when you’re making a book you do your best to craft the best story experience you can, but once it’s released it takes on a life of it’s own. I’ve been overwhelmed by all the kind and generous people I’ve gotten to meet along the way such as yourself! It’s given me a more well rounded view of the book community. I’m in awe.
Alia: I honestly think that when a book gets love like Float is getting, it’s partially a reflection of the author’s spirit because you put so much of yourself into every aspect of the book. Float has kinda flown under the radar and into people’s hearts because it’s that good. 🙂
So thank you for sharing stories.
Daniel: Alia, I appreciate all the support you’ve given to me and Float. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share them.
Alia: Of course! Okay final question!
Q15. Are you a fan of BBQ and if so, what’s your favorite place in Kansas City?
Daniel: I’m required to be a fan of BBQ if I live in KC. It’s in the contract. There are so many places to go if you’re coming this way, but by far my favorite is a place called Joe’s KC. It used to be called Oklahoma Joe’s. It’s in a gas station and it’s worth the wait every time.
I want to thank Daniel Miyares once again for taking time to talk with me. It was a fun chat and I wish you and Float THE BEST on Monday for the ALA Youth Media Awards!
Be sure to check out his: