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The Joys of ROCKET SHIP, SOLO TRIP with Chiara Colombi and Scott Magoon

Five Questions with Chiara Colombi, Author of ROCKET SHIP, SOLO TRIP

From idea to pub date, how long did it take to cook up your book?

Like all good rocket launches, this book was years in the making—5 1/2 years, to be precise! The idea first came to me in late 2018, when my older son was just two years old. We’d been reading Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and I wanted an aerospace equivalent but couldn’t find one on the shelves quite like I envisioned. It took me about nine months to draft Rocket Ship, during which time I moved across the country and just about fully baked a proverbial bun in the oven, too! I landed an agent with Rocket Ship in the fall of 2019, and the book sold to Viking in January of 2020. Like so many other projects kicked off in 2020, the publication process took a bit longer than initially planned due to pandemic-related delays. Official launch date became February 27, 2024, and it was so worth the wait!

Describe your book in 3 words.

First, space, emotions.

What “ingredients” make a kidlit book “delicious” to you?

Quirky humor, and the funny thing about quirky humor is that the definition is different for each of us. Quirky humor is like the chocolate chip cookie of kidlit categories. You might like your quirky humor thin and crispy around the edges, or you might prefer it with big, gooey chunks of chocolate that necessitate a doughier consistency overall. There are so many ways to cook up quirky humor, which is why I think it appeals to so many of us—there’s a version of quirky humor for everyone. 2. Honesty, which is to say that I like kidlit that feels like I’m reading someone’s family recipe, written in their handwriting on an index card with a few cooking stains on it—a story that only its author could write and that shows its lived experience saturated among the words right there on the page. 3. Wonder. A story that makes your eyes light up at the feast of words and ideas on the page. Stories that inspire wonder, whether through their language, their art, or their ingenuity, are the ones that draw me in the most and keep me coming back for seconds.

When a book includes all three of these ingredients, to me it is perfection. An example? One of my all-time fave picture books: I Have a Balloon, written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon.

What book evokes a strong memory for you?

Meet Kirsten, the American Doll book. I clearly remember the moment my mom realized that I could read it on my own. We were curled up together in an armchair, me at seven or eight years old, when you’re starting to get too big to fit on your parent’s lap, and my mom, reading. She lost her spot on the page, and I promptly said, “You’re right here, Mommy.” The next thing I knew, she was singing my praises for being able to read it on my own, while also getting up to go fold the laundry because she had a ton of chores to do.  Which isn’t to say that she never read to me again—she certainly did. But it was a memorable moment of knowing I was now an “independent reader” and kicking myself for letting that secret slip.

What fascinates you most about space?

The possibilities. There is so much that we don’t yet know or understand, even within our own solar system—so much yet to uncover. Just thinking of Jupiter’s moons and the variety of their surfaces and compositions is awe-inspiring. Our solar system is a veritable playground of possibilities for both science and storytelling. Ultimately, science and storytelling both ask “what if...?” and help us uncover truths in the answers they find. I love learning about the truths science finds the further we explore, and also dreaming up further possibilities through science fiction that lead us to find inner truths closer to home.

Five Questions with Scott Magoon, Illustrator of ROCKET SHIP, SOLO TRIP

Were you interested in space as a kid? 

Space pulled me in like a black hole. What the Wild West was for our parents and grandparents generation in popular culture, space was for mine (and still is). Mid-century movies and TV shows like Shane, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, gave way to what was happening in the space race, giving rise to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Right Stuff, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and, of course, Star Wars. And so yes, I was into space—though less from the science standpoint and more as the ultimate blank canvas for adventure, for imagination, and for the future, to Chiara’s point. At some point in my youth though I did the math and realized that I’d probably never get to explore space like I was seeing in the movies—the technology would take too long to arrive!

Is there a picture book you remember reading in childhood that inspired you to become an illustrator? 

I was all about drawing scenes from TV shows and movies! Of course there I had no internet growing up and no DVDs or even VHS tapes there in the earlier years. When a movie left a movie theater, that was it—as far as I knew, there would be no way to watch that movie again (maybe on ABC’s Saturday Night at the Movies!). And so, to get back into those worlds that I saw in movies, I would draw scenes from them. Students I talk to today on my school visits do this too, even with all their tech—and they add what they see in video games to their list of favorite subjects/characters to draw. 

Are you willing to share an early sketch from this project with us? 

Yes! I’ve attached three. A note about my art in this book, I tried to have big negative/positive shapes fill the spreads. On page two, the hangar, sun and rocket/truck establishes an interesting graphic block, casting off the sky at the top of the spread. For page 4, two large and diagonal rectangular shapes on the spread where we’re looking up at Rocket and Tower, big circle of the sun in between. Very shape-oriented! I did this to give the book structure, especially in the open space so to speak. Another example: you’ll see a large cross shape in the International Space Station spread sketch for page 11. Lately I’m trying to envision my compositions as positive and negative space first and then go in to fill in the details and how they can fit best within that ’space.'

Don't miss out on this book or the delicious Joys of Booking recipes it inspired!

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