Remembering my favorite childhood book

by Sarah S. Brannen, author and illustrator

Ever since my first book was published in 2008, I have been asked the same question in dozens of interviews:

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

For years, I protested that I couldn’t possibly answer the question; I have a favorite painting, a favorite drawing, a favorite piece of music, a favorite sound, but I love far too many books to choose a favorite.

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When I think about books that I loved as a child, I visualize one picture book after another, some famous, some less so: Peter Rabbit, Blueberries for Sal, Prince Bertram the Bad, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, One Morning in Maine, Melisande, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, The Nutshell Library, to name just a few.

I was complaining about this to my mother one day, when she reminded me that I did indeed have a favorite book when I was little: Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey. As I look at the list of books I just spouted, it seems pretty clear that McCloskey was my favorite author when I was small. And my mother told me the following story, of which I have no memory.

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I was probably about four years old. My family was staying at Sand Beach Farm on Deer Isle, Maine. My parents had rented a small aluminum boat with an outboard motor, and we headed out for a picnic on an island. We motored along the shore, past McCloskey’s home. I had Burt Dow with me, which must mean that I loved it so much I took it everywhere. My parents pointed out McCloskey’s house and told me the author of my book lived there. I held the book over my head and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Mr. McCloskey, I love your book!”

As I said, I don’t remember doing this. I do remember seeing E.B. White’s sweet little wooden sailboat, “Fern,” on its mooring. The dingy was named “Wilbur.”

Well, after my mother told me the story, I bought a new copy of Burt Dow. (My childhood copy disintegrated long ago; I was the kind of kid who loved books to death). Just looking at the cover gave me a happy shiver. And the title page, with its pots of paint, big spill of pink, and a seagull happily leaving pink footprints? Heaven.

It had been far more years than I care to share since I read the story. But it was all there, so deeply embedded in my memory that I had forgotten where the images came from. The old dory planted with geraniums and sweet peas. The Tidely-Idely, with her make-and-break engine. The giggling gull. “Hit the deck, Burt, time to eat!” The peppermint-striped band-aids. “An old deep-water man like me always keeps a weather eye out.”

And the colors – murky green Maine water, the boat painted in all the colors left over from Burt’s odd jobs, the Pollack-like paint-splashed innards of the whale. And best of all, the spreads filled with whales of all sorts of yummy colors. Read it. You’ll see.

I’ll never know whether this is the book that made me want to be a children’s book illustrator. It was probably only one of many. But it was, definitely, my favorite.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Sarah S. Brannen is an award-winning illustrator of over 15 children’s books. She is the author and illustrator of Madame Martine and Madame Martine Breaks the Rules. She lives in Massachusetts but goes to Paris as often as possible. 

Remembering my favorite childhood book

Fall 2015 preview: Picture books!

In anticipation of Children’s Book Week (next week!), we’re giving you a sneak peak into some of our Fall 2015 picture books!

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In Sarah S. Brannen’s second installment of the Madame Martine series, Max sneaks into the Louvre and sends Madame Martine and her friend on a chase around some of the world’s most beautiful works of art!

It’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and children throughout the pueblo, or town, are getting ready to celebrate! They decorate with colored streamers, calaveras, or sugar skulls, and pan de muertos, or bread of the dead. Join the fun and festivities, and learn about a different cultural tradition!

Felicia Sanzari Chernesky is back with another season-themed picture book, which is a realistic account of how apple cider is pressed, flavored with the charm and vigor of a harvest celebration. Every apple does its part,, whether juicy sweet or tart.

Rudy's Windy Christmas

While Santa and Mrs. Claus eat their dinner, Santa sneakily feeds his sprouts to one of the reindeer rather than eat them himself. The result is, uh, smelly, to say the least. Now, Rudy can’t seem to stop releasing windy pops from his backside as he and the other reindeer help Santa deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

Which one are you most looking forward to?

Fall 2015 preview: Picture books!

An Interview with Madame Martine

Sketches and interview by author Sarah Brannen

Madame Martine is a long-time resident of Paris. She and her dog, Max, live in the seventh arrondissement, on Rue du Gros Caillou, near the Eiffel Tower. They try something new every Saturday. We spoke on a recent chilly fall day in a café on Avenue de la Bourdonnais.
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Sarah Brannen: It’s nice to see you again, madame. What new things have you and Max done lately?

Madame Martine: Well, we went to a tennis match last week! We saw Roger Federer play. He is very handsome. And also a good tennis player. In August we went to an opera performed out of doors.

SB: What opera was it?

MM: It was called Aida. We were very disappointed that there were no elephants. We wanted to see elephants. We saw elephants last spring in the circus—it was very exciting!

SB: Have you been back to the Eiffel Tower lately?

MM: Oh no. Dogs are not allowed, you know.

SB: Ah, that’s a good point. Now, madame, please tell me, what was the real reason you had never climbed the Eiffel Tower?

MM: Ouf. Alors. I suppose I must admit it. I am afraid of heights. My grandfather helped to build the tower. He hung on a harness from the highest level. He told me stories when I was a little girl, and I was terrified at the very thought!

SB: Well, you’ve climbed it now! By the way, what was the actual day you followed Max to the top?

MM: November 17. Do you want to know a secret?

SB: Of course! Do tell.

MM: It was my birthday! (Madame Martine got a fit of the giggles at this point and buried her face in Max’s fur.)

SB: What a perfect way to celebrate. Do you have any plans for your birthday this year?

MM: Well, since Max and I do something new every Saturday, we were thinking of picking one of our favorite new things and doing it again. I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps we’ll ride on the carousel again. Would you like that, Max? (Max barks.) Ah, you see, he likes the idea!

SB: Do you mind if I ask Max a few questions?

MM: Suit yourself. He doesn’t talk, you know.

SB: Max, sit! Good dog. What do you like best about living with Madame Martine?

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SB: What’s your favorite place in Paris?
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SB: Have you promised never to run away again?
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MM: He is a very good dog. He does run away from time to time. He keeps me young! (She laughs.)

SB: May I ask you a rather personal question? Is there a…Monsieur Martine?

MM: Ah, non. Monsieur Martine died many years ago.

SB: My sympathies.

MM: C’est la vie.

SB: As you know, this interview will appear on a blog about children’s books. What was your favorite book when you were a child?

MM: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Also Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, by your American author Robert McCloskey.

SB: Really?

MM: Mais oui. It is a wonderful book. You should read it.

SB: What’s next for you today? Shopping?

MM: Yes, we go to Rue Cler every day at about this time. I want to buy some cheese. And chicken and some mushrooms. (Max wags his tail.)

SB: Well, I won’t keep you. Thank you for chatting! Let’s do this again soon. Au revoir!

MM: That sounds delightful. À bientôt!

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*Arf

An Interview with Madame Martine