When Potato—the star of Potato Pants! (Holt/Ottaviano, Oct.), Laurie Keller’s first standalone picture book in eight years—hears about a one-day sale on potato pants (pants made out of potatoes, of course!) at Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store, he is so excited, he starts doing the robot. And that’s the same dance move that Keller broke into when she finally solved the puzzle of how Potato’s story would play out. “I don’t even really know how to do the robot, but I was just that excited,” she recalls.
Keller had taken a bit of a detour from the picture-book path to work on a variety of projects, including a series of chapter books featuring one of her other characters, Arnie the Donut. Then, in 2016, she wrote and illustrated We Are Growing! (Disney-Hyperion), a beginning reader in Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie Like Reading line, which won the 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. “That kind of got me back into working with color again,” Keller explains. “I hadn’t done it in a while, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! I really miss doing picture books.’ ”
The idea for a story like Potato Pants!—and a mental image of a snooty shop owner having an animated conversation with another kind of vegetable—came to Keller years ago, but she shelved it when she thought it needed more development. After finally settling on the perfect pants-shopping protagonist and a misunderstanding he has with an eggplant, Keller brought the project to her longtime editor, Christy Ottaviano.
The publication of Potato Pants! marks the 20th anniversary of the duo working together. “We’ve gotten really close over the years,” Ottaviano says. “I think that my job with Laurie, who is an idea machine, is to help her winnow through those ideas to try to find the most market-viable idea, but also an idea where she can bring her sense of humor to the subject matter with her inventive eye.”
Keller has equally kind words about their partnership: “I’m always amazed at how open-minded Christy is. She encourages me to just go with it and do my thing, and she never minds when I make changes along the way. We share a sense of humor—we both like zany things that have some heart. It’s a great working relationship.”
Cue the robot dance music.