Meet the Author:
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Meet Alastair Heim, our November Author of the Month! We’re featuring his book, Hello, Door in our subscriptions this month. We were delighted to hear from Alastair about the moment Hello, Door developed into a story, the experience of seeing his ideas come to life, and the importance of encouraging kids to be creative as they grow up.
Hello, Door is the story of a crafty fox in a big house who addresses each item he finds with a rhyming greeting before stealing it. Not long after breaking and entering into this lovely home, however, the fox is faced with with an unexpected encounter!
Your book Hello, Door is all about a mischievous fox who sneaks into a house that isn’t his and greets all the lovely things he finds along the way…until he encounters an unexpected trio! Reminiscent of a familiar fairy tale, this story is a fresh take on a classic. How did you come up with the idea for a book about a thieving fox?
Back in 2012, I was staring out of my bedroom window trying to think of some new ideas for picture book titles. As I stared, the words “Hello, door!” suddenly popped into my brain, and I wrote it down in an idea journal I keep – where it would sit for four more years. As I flipped back through the journal in the Spring of 2016, I spotted Hello, Door once again, and this time, inspiration for a story finally struck.
I looked at the title and said, ”Hello, door!” out loud. And then, without thinking, I said, “Hello, house!” And then, I pondered why someone would be saying “hello” to a door and a house. Which is when the story synopsis finally clicked for me: someone breaks into a house and says “hello” to everything they see…and steal. Almost immediately, the idea that the “someone” sneaking around was a fox – which cemented the idea into place.
The funniest thing about writing Hello, Door, though, is that I didn’t even realize I had written a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears until my publisher, Little Bee Books, had pointed it out to me. I just thought I had written a fun little story about a fox saying “hello” to everything he sees and steals.
Hello, Door is full of creative rhymes that describe what the fox finds in this big house. What inspired a story with such fun rhythm and memorable rhymes?
I’ve often been told that the narrative kind of reminds people of Goodnight Moon, which is a huge and humbling compliment and, perhaps, could very well have been a subconscious influence. But truth be told, it was the rhyming rhythm and cadence I started with “Hello, door. Hello, house. Hello, mat. Hello, mouse.” that inspired me to continue writing it. I felt as though I hit upon a narrative structure that would be fun for parents to read aloud, just as much as it would capture the attention of the children they were reading it to.
The book features many clever touches, sure to entertain kids and parents alike. Can you walk us through your creative process when developing this story?
I am a huge fan of clever humor, both, written and visual. When I write manuscripts, I always include “art notes” as suggestions for what happens in the scene. I can see my stories as clear as day when I’m writing them, but I cannot illustrate to save my life. I suffer from what I call the “curse of the writer who can’t draw” and my art notes help me articulate what I am picturing for whoever is going to illustrate the book. That being said, the illustrator creates half of the book and I’m incredibly lucky to have had Alisa Coburn as a partner on this. She brings such a rich, charming and timeless aesthetic to her work and a lot of the visual humor shown throughout Hello, Door came from
One of my absolute favorite spreads in the book happens early on when Foxy (as Alisa calls him) goes upstairs to keep thieving on the second floor. When he reaches the top of the stairs, he rolls up a rug, steals a plant and then pilfers paintings off the wall. The narrative goes, “Hello, rug. Hello, plants. Hello Mr. Fancy Pants.” and my art note said, “The Fox is stealing a painting of a bear in puffy, Renaissance-era pants.” I love how wonderfully Alisa brought this to life and, also, the way it gives the reader a hint as to whose house Foxy is brazen enough to rob.
Detailed illustrations enhance the playful humor of Hello, Door as the reader is introduced to each new room of the Bears’ house. What was it like collaborating with Alisa Coburn on this project and seeing the characters you created come to life on each page?
As I mentioned, Alisa Coburn is an amazing, one-of-a-kind illustrator that I was incredibly lucky to have been partnered with on Hello, Door and two of my other books. I really didn’t have any contact with her when she was illustrating the book. We have since become video chat friends (she lives in Great Britain) and actually collaborated a bit before she started work on the sequel called Hello, Tree that just came out in September. For me, seeing someone put so much heart and love into illustrating my stories is an absolute dream come true. Whenever I would receive rough sketches or finished art through email, it was like opening presents on Christmas morning.
What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
There are a lot of amazing things about being a picture book author, for sure. From writing new stories and seeing them illustrated, to holding a finished book in my hands and to reading to kids at schools, libraries and book events, I’m very lucky I get to have these experiences. My favorite part, though, is when I hear from a parent or child that one of my books is their favorite story to read at bedtime.
I realize this is a pretty common answer, but Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein were my two favorite authors when I was a kid (and still are to this day). Their command of language, ability to tell engaging stories through an economy of words and overall imaginativeness absolutely inspired me to want to pursue a similar creative path. I’m quite humbled, honored and grateful that I get to write new Dr. Seuss Books for Random House as an author – a dream come true that I never thought could be a dream come true.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
I actually think there’s a larger opportunity as it relates to creativity overall. As a dad of three kids AND a picture book author, the biggest opportunity I see for parents is to encourage their children to keep being creative as they grow older – no matter what kind of creativity their child is into. I’m often asked how I got to be an author and, the truth is, I’m someone who fought for my creativity as I grew up. It didn’t mean that me loving to write was always thought of as “cool” by the kids I grew up with, but I knew it was something I loved and wanted to stick with. I had people in my life encourage me along the way, which was very helpful.
There’s a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso that goes, “The creative adult is the child who survived.” There are so many pressures on kids to conform to what everyone else thinks is cool as they age up that creativity doesn’t always come along for the ride. Yet, creativity is one of the most important things in the world and a big part of what makes life as beautiful as it is. I want to see more creative kids make it to a creative adulthood and, as an author friend of mine eloquently put it, “When it comes to every child’s creativity, let’s not yuck their yum.”
Do you have any upcoming projects or books we can look forward to reading?
Yes! My next book publishes on January 24th, 2023 through Simon & Schuster/Simon Spotlight and is called Big Bub, Small Tub. The story is exactly as it sounds, where a big, dirty monster named Big Bub desperately needs a bath, but his tub is way too small for him to fit in. You’ll have to read the book to find out how it all turns out! I also have a few exciting new books coming out over the next couple of years that I can’t quite yet announce.
We can’t wait to read what comes next! Many thanks to Alastair Heim for explaining all the creativity that went into writing Hello, Door, and sharing a great message to encourage kids to embrace their own creativity! Check out his past and upcoming books on his website.
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