Whether her characters are fashioning a community garden from a vacant lot, as in Cat and Chicken, or creating an oasis for a city block within a bakery, as do the characters in Bake Sale (First Second, August 30, 2011), Sara Varon explores connections between people (or chickens, cupcakes and eggplants) and the neighborhoods that help to shape them. She comes out of the graphic novel tradition, and she writes for all ages. As Sara Varon's editor, Mark Siegel, has said, adults think Varon wrote Robot Dreams for them; children think that it's a book for children.
On your nightstand now:
For the past several months, my friend Eddie has been feeding me YA books about the zombie apocalypse. They are quick and action-packed, and they feel a lot like eating candy. I'm a little embarrassed by how much I like them, and too embarrassed to list them by name. I have a "to read" stack of those. The next adult book on my "to read" list is Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I remember some favorite picture books, but of course my pool of books was selected by my mom, so I'm not sure if they are my favorites or hers. I especially liked all the Richard Scarry books; Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber; and Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. I also loved the book Stewed Goose by James Flora, which I discovered one day at the library and liked so much I photocopied it. A little later, I really liked the books about Paddington bear, The Wind in the Willows, the Matthew Looney books by Jerome Beatty, and I also read and liked all of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia.
Your top five authors:
William Steig, Joan Sfar, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami (I hope four is enough).
Book you've faked reading:
I had Moby Dick on my shelf for years because it seemed important, and a friend with good taste in books told me it was his favorite book. After many attempts to read it, I finally sold it back to the used bookstore. I drew a panel in my book Robot Dreams where someone is returning Moby Dick to the library, and I actually got an e-mail from a reader specifically asking why I put that book in there. I had to confess that I had never read it and had only put it in because the title was very short, enabling me to fit it on a tiny drawing of a book. Busted!
Book you are an evangelist for:
I am a big fan of William Steig's book The Real Thief, and would recommend it to anyone who likes Steig's work. As far as I can tell, it hasn't gotten as much attention as his picture books--it's sort of a novella with just a few line drawings. It's about a duck who is a very loyal guard for the king. One day, he is falsely accused of thievery and exiled from his community. The motivations and emotions of the characters seem so true to life, which is the case for all William Steig's characters, but maybe this one is a little meatier simply because it is longer. In the end, the duck is so admirable, and it makes me wish I could be friends with him, which, for me, is the sign of a good book.
I always recommend the Aya books by Clément Oubrerie and Marguerite Abouet, to readers of graphic novels. It's a series about a girl named Aya who lives in the Ivory Coast in the '70s. The story is really funny, and the drawings are so beautiful--so loose, with great colors and patterns. I feel like the author and illustrator do such a good job of showing what it's like to live there, and the books are just a lot of fun.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I am a sucker for a nice book cover. One book I bought for the cover and which paid off was Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Another book I read for the cover (so beautifully designed by Chip Kidd!) was The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon, but I had the opposite experience with that one and gave up around page 100. Penguin Classics put out a series a few years back of classic reprints with covers by contemporary illustrators. I used to salivate over those books, and finally read The Quiet American by Graham Greene. I definitely would not have chosen that one if it hadn't been for Brian Cronin's lovely cover illustration, but I did like it.
Book that changed your life:
I wouldn't say it's my favorite book anymore, but the book that changed my life was Goodbye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson. I was looking for zines at Quimby's books in Chicago in the late '90s when I first saw it, and it kind of blew my mind. "Graphic Novels" as they are today did not exist then, and I had never seen a comic book that did not feature superhero-type characters. The main characters were a mouse and a turtle, the story totally appealed to me, and I thought the art was beautiful. After that, I was hooked on indie comics, and I set out to find more.
Favorite line from a book:
I'm not great with words, which is why most of my stories have none, but I do have a favorite picture from a picture book: it's the page in Doctor De Soto, by William Steig, where Doctor De Soto (a mouse dentist) is giving his fox patient laughing gas through his nose, and the fox is smiling and asleep. The line in the book says:
"Soon the fox was in dreamland. 'M-m-m, yummy,' he mumbled. 'How I love them raw... with just a pinch of salt, and a... dry... white wine.' "
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Rabbi's Cat by Joan Sfar.