Most bookstores have yet to return to in-person author events and do not expect to begin again until fall. The same is true for many publishers. But on June 5, three children’s author-illustrators will put a toe in the water at a Brooklyn café, setting up a table outside and offering illustrations of dogs (and the occasional cat) for young readers.
“I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to have conversations that actually overlap, with eye-to-eye contact,” Caldecott Honor artist Elisha Cooper told PW, adding, “also drawing dogs, with eye-to-snout contact.”
Published in April, Cooper’s most recent book, Yes & No (Roaring Brook), tells the story of a friendship between a puppy and a cat. To celebrate, his cousin Jenny Cooper suggested that he do an outdoor, Covid-safe event at her Brooklyn café, IXV Coffee. With vaccinations increasing and restrictions dropping, Cooper jumped at the idea.
After 15 months without events, Cooper said he misses “those wonderful moments when you connect with someone for whom your book was meaningful. Those in-person moments make me humbled to be an author.” It is a feeling shared by many authors, including Cooper’s fellow author-illustrators Ruth Chan and Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Cooper and Chan launched Kid Lit Art Surprise to help indie booksellers boost sales by providing them with original illustrations made by themselves and other children’s book artists, including Floca. When Cooper asked if they would join up for the June 5 event, Chan and Floca eagerly agreed.
“I’ve been sharply aware of missing family and friends since this thing started,” Floca said. “But I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve missed interactions with people I don’t know particularly well, if at all, too—those small, humanizing moments of finding connection with total strangers. I’ve had my two servings of Moderna and I’m ready.”
Like Cooper, Floca and Chan also have picture books that were released in April. Floca published Keeping the City Going (Atheneum/Dlouhy), an ode to essential workers, and Chan published The Alpactory (HarperCollins).
“I’ve really missed seeing kids’ faces when they see a drawing or their name being written in a book, and then watching them hug it with a sudden understanding that it is now their book as they walk away,” Chan said.
Continuing in the spirit of their work together on Kid Lit Art Surprise, the authors are partnering with nearby indie bookstore Books Are Magic, which will have a bookseller on hand while the authors draw and talk with readers.
With the pandemic far from over, the authors said a return to in-person events does not spell the end of online ones. Cooper was just interviewed for a podcast in China—something that he said he would have been unlikely to do before the pandemic—and Chan said online events have taught her new technological skills and given her insights into different audiences than she customarily read to, all without the hassle of traveling.
“One thing I have learned from the last 15 months is that kids are way more patient and adaptable than adults are,” she said. “They aren’t freaking out like we are when there’s a technical glitch or some awkward silence during an event. It’s a nice reminder that I don’t need to freak out either. I also learned that I love speaking with high schoolers, even if I am still secretly terrified of them.”
Chan joked that she also has at least one more fundamental skill to master online. “I still haven’t learned how to hold a book up to the camera in a way that isn’t crooked and out of focus while I read it,” she said. “So clearly, I still have a lot to learn.”
But for the first time in more than a year, the authors will set their screens aside for pens, café tables, and readers out for a walk with their pets. And while the event is framed around dog illustrations, Cooper said the authors are open to nearly anything young readers want. “If someone shows up with an alligator, I’m jumping in the Gowanus Canal,” he said. “But I’ll draw anything and anybody. Bring your pot-bellied pig.”
Who: Ruth Chan, Elisha Cooper, and Brian Floca
What: Book signings and free dog drawings (plus cats, trucks, puppies, and alpacas)
Where: IXV Coffee, 497c Pacific St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: Saturday, June 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.