There’s Something About Ducks: Interview with Jane Kohuth and Jane Porter

Today we welcome DUCK SOCK HOP to the world.

How should we celebrate? I have some thoughts on this. How about a free signed copy? That’s a good idea, right? And how about an interview with the uni-named duo of Janes– Kohuth (writer)  and Porter (illustrator)–the fabulously creative team behind DUCK SOCK HOP.

Let’s get quacking.

You said, “I like to look in a new way at ordinary everyday things, like socks, and make them feel extraordinary.” I see you may also have an outsized interest in ducks. Can you tell us specifically how DUCK SOCK HOP came to be?

JK: There’s something about ducks . . . . When I started sending out manuscripts, and then when I signed with an agent, I had already written a number of picture book texts. They covered a range of topics and animals. Two of them starred ducks. Both of those have now been published. I actually think that children’s publishing has more of an outsized interest in ducks than I do!

But there is something about ducks. In their physicality — their roundness, their waddling movement — they lend themselves to humor. The word “duck” is goofy. The sound “quack” is even goofier. For me, ducks were a great vehicle for creating friendly silly characters.  At some point several years ago, I envisioned a group of ducks who arrived as house guests, created havoc, and wouldn’t leave. I liked the juxtaposition of lovability and aggravation that our most cherished companions can sometimes represent for us. Those ducks became the ducks in DUCKS GO VROOM. The DUCK SOCK HOP ducks had their origins there, too, but the idea for that book came directly from some words jotted in one of my notebooks — “sock hopping/sock shopping.”

Many of my ideas come from particular words that sound fun to me, and “duck” went great with “sock.” And it seemed natural that the fun-loving, high-energy ducks in my head would be the ones to put on socks and dance.  To me, socks are the clothing equivalent of ducks — not exactly elegant, but cuddly, exuding warmth. Socks are wonderful things and I loved the idea of giving them a celebration. I don’t claim a mature sense of humor, and ducks wearing socks strikes me as hilarious.

What was your reaction when you first read the text? Could you see it? Do you have to let it sit for a while before your approach reveals itself to you?

Indian runner ducks

JP: I loved Jane’s text when I first saw it, and was really excited about illustrating it – especially as it was also my very first picture book illustration commission. It’s such a lovely rhythmic text, and works so well for reading aloud. I could immediately start seeing how the ducks might look and interact, but before I started working on the pages I spent a few days at The Wetland Centre (close to home in southwest London) drawing and observing ducks. They have a huge selection of ducks, from the Eider to the black-bellied whistling duck. But it was the Indian runner ducks that proved most characterful and deserving of socks – so the ducks in the books evolved from the drawings I did of them.

Some writers/illustrators remain strangers to each other throughout the picture book process and some become friends. Can you both discuss what it’s been like to get to know one another in the course of creating this adorable book?

Jane Kohuth’s cat

JK: When I found out that the illustrator-to-be of DUCK SOCK HOP was also named Jane, I felt it was an auspicious beginning.  It helped, of course, that I loved the art in Jane Porter’s portfolio online. Hands down the most frequent question I get asked as a picture book author is how I find illustrators, and people are always surprised that A. I don’t find an illustrator, the publisher does, B. that I don’t actually sit down with or even talk to the illustrator while we work on the book, and C. that I haven’t met any of the illustrators of my books! I was surprised myself at how international picture book creation is.

The illustrator of my book DUCKS GO VROOM, Viviana Garofoli, is from Buenos Aires. After the art was done, I dusted off my high school Spanish and wrote to her. It was wonderful to have an exchange about something we’d created together. I’ve written back and forth with Jane Porter more than with any of my books’ other illustrators. It’s a bit magical to finally “hear” the voice of the person with whom you’ve shared the rather intimate process of creating a work of art. Jane P. has been wonderful about being a partner in promoting DUCK SOCK HOP, too, even though she’s all the way in London. And what a wonderful coincidence that she was planning a trip to a town in Massachusetts only twenty minutes from where I live! I’m quite excited to meet her and do a book event together. Oh, and we have matching cats!

Jane Porter’s cat

JP: Jane and I didn’t actually get to know each other until after the book was finished – and we still haven’t met in person! But we have been getting to know each other by email and will meet when I visit the US in August this year (in fact we are doing a bookshop visit together). It’s been great getting to know more about Jane and I am really looking forward to meeting her. We both have matching black cats.

Did you have a favorite children’s book growing up? What children’s book character do you wish had lived next door to young Jane?

JK: I had a number of favorites growing up. As I got older and read more, more books joined my personal canon. My very favorite picture books were probably the Frances books by Russell Hoban. There’s a famous story in my family about my preschool interview. My mom took me, at about two and half, to meet the preschool director, and brought along my infant sister, Emily.  When asked my name, however, I introduced myself as Frances and my sister as Gloria. I don’t have my own memory of this, but I do remember that I spent a lot of time when I was small in long, involved role-playing games, and I must have so identified with Frances that I was being her that day.

What character would I have liked to live next door to? Hmmm. I’m tempted to say Pippi Longstocking, but I remember dressing up as her, and, like Frances, I likely wanted to be her more than know her. I think perhaps Meg Murry and the Murry clan of A WRINKLE IN TIME and its sequels. Meg would have been just the kind of friend I liked — smart, unusual, creative — and with the advantage of being able to involve me in intense otherworldly adventures.

JP: One of my favourite books growing up was UNCLE by J.P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Uncle is a slightly pompous wealthy elephant who lives in an endless cluster of very exciting buildings — so I would have certainly been interested to live next door to that. Each chapter he would visit a distant tower — there’s a lovely one which is a huge waterfall covered in watercress, with a stubborn lion at the top who willfully makes himself heavy so he can’t be moved. And the arch enemies, the Badfort Crowd, are a creation of comic genius!

What are you working on now?

JK: I am finishing the author’s note for an early reader biography of Anne Frank, which focuses on Anne’s growing love of nature while in hiding and her attachment to the chestnut tree, which she could see from the attic window of the Secret Annex.  This will be my first nonfiction book, and was a huge challenge in terms of the research and the need to write a beautiful text within the strict parameters of a a Step Into Reading early reader. I am also revising several picture book manuscripts!

JP: I am currently working on a range of new book proposals, as well as some royal drawings for Kensington Palace and a map on a handkerchief which will be a guide to Spitalfields in East London. I have two books coming out next spring in the UK with Hodder: PAWS AND CLAWS and FINS AND FLIPPERS.

Thank you both for taking the time to stop by and happy publication day!

Okay, dear reader. All you have to do is leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the really and truly adorable DUCK SOCK HOP.

Winner will be chosen on May 16.

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About Audrey Vernick

Audrey Vernick writes books for young readers.
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6 Responses to There’s Something About Ducks: Interview with Jane Kohuth and Jane Porter

  1. If you are a duckling sharing cookies with pigeons, moooove over! Ducks with socks are coming to town! Fun interview. QUACK!

  2. Pingback: It’s publication day! | What's new @ Maxwell and Myrtle

  3. Does anyone remember the book about a duck named Ping? I loved that book as a child. My dad read it to us so many times that I thought we wore it out, but I just found it in an old box with some other cherished books.

  4. Pingback: Jane Kohuth: « NESCBWI Kidlit Reblogger

  5. I may be a wee tiny bit late, but am pleased to announce that Cathy Ballou Mealy is a winner! Cathy, could you please send me your mailing address so Jane Kohuth can send you your copy of DUCK SOCK HOP? (You lucky duck.)

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