During the summer of 2014, Dan Santat’s new picture book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown), appeared on a few mock Caldecott lists – attention that is both flattering and potentially nerve-wracking. The book’s editor, Connie Hsu, who left Little, Brown for Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press imprint the week that Beekle was published, did what she could to counteract the possibility of a jinx. “If it wins the medal,” she told Santat. “I’ll get a Beekle tattoo.”
See photograph, below left.
With Hsu’s commitment to Santat now branded on her forearm, it was perhaps only a matter of time before he followed her to her new editorial home. In December, he signed a four-book deal to publish with three of Macmillan’s imprints. Santat’s agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, negotiated the deal for world rights.
Santat agonized over making the change. “Little, Brown did no wrong,” he said, “but part of me feels like because [Hsu] had left, she didn’t get to experience the [Caldecott] success. She didn’t get a raise or a bonus and I feel like I really owe her. At this point, we’re like family. ”
“With all these imprints [at Macmillan], this is a great home for Dan,” said Hsu. “It’s like a one-stop shop for somebody as prolific and with as many interests as he has.”
Broken Eggs, Big Ideas
The first of the four books to be published will be After the Fall (Roaring Brook, fall 2017), which details the aftermath of Humpty Dumpty’s accident. In Santat’s version, Humpty is put back together again but is missing one piece of his shell – which he learns is still on top of the wall. “He’s going to have to go back up there,” Santat said. “It’s really about overcoming a fear and getting back on your feet.”
Hsu will also edit a second, as yet untitled, picture book which both author and editor agreed needs “more shaping.” “Dan thinks really big,” Hsu said. “He has all these themes and layers he wants to incorporate and the challenge is to do that and still keep the story simple enough that everyone can enjoy it.”
Santat said that Hsu’s ability to “keep me on my toes” is one of the reasons he chose to sign on with her again. “She will question my ideas if she doesn’t think the message is coming through the way I intended,” he said.
Santat will also work with Neal Porter, publisher of Neal Porter Books, on Dude, written by Aaron Reynolds, with whom Santat previously collaborated on Carnivores (Chronicle, 2013). Reynolds’s text has just one word, and features the exploits of a surfing platypus and beaver. A 2018 release is planned.
Finally, Santat will also write and illustrate a graphic novel memoir, You Bad Son, based on Dan’s experience as an only child in a Thai-American family, which First Second will publish in spring 2018. Hsu will edit.
Dr. Santat Will See You Now
The idea for the memoir sprang from a story Santat told at a NCTE conference a few years ago, where he was promoting Crankenstein. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor so they never let me take art classes because they didn’t want me to be distracted from the goal of medical school,” Santat said. The day before he was to start dental school, he screwed up the courage to tell his father he had instead enrolled in art school.
“I thought he was going to kill me but instead he said, ‘I just want you to be happy,’ ” Santat recalled. The day after the conference, a librarian who heard Santat’s speech called Hsu to say she thought his story of his childhood would make a good graphic novel.
The switch to Macmillan gave Hsu the opportunity to bring up the idea again. “One of the perks that came with the move was being able to acquire selectively for First Second, and Dan is a huge fan of their list,” she said. “He had visited the booth at Comic Con and introduced himself to [editorial director] Mark Siegel and [senior editor] Calista Brill.” Hsu has not edited a graphic novel before but is excited by the prospect. “It’s a dream come true for me and I have the best people to guide me. I’ll learn under their tutelage.”
For Santat, the new books mean a further shift away from illustrating the work of other writers to authoring his own titles. His next book, Are We There Yet? (Little Brown, Apr.), also features a text he wrote, based on his younger son’s impatience with car rides. The journey in Santat’s book is so long and tortuous it involves traveling both back to the Paleolithic era and then into the future. “At one point, you have to turn the book upside down to read it,” Santat said.
While he’s promoting it later this spring, he can show off his own Beekle tattoo. “I told Connie, if you get one, I’ll get one, too,” he said. For her part, Hsu says any future “bets made with the universe” won’t involve getting more tattoos. “It’ll have to be something that is less scarring.”