Annie Barrows On Her New Picture Book, Like
Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Photography by Photographed by Ike & Tash
Can a children’s book stop the growing division in our country? It’s hard to be sure, but Like, by bestselling author Annie Barrows is here to remind us that we’re all more alike than we are different. Or, at least, more like each other than we are like…a tin can, swimming pool, mushroom, hyena, and so on!
Barrows, also the author of the mega-popular Ivy + Bean series (now a Netflix Original series), explains the roots of her latest project: “In a certain recent period of history when everyone in the country, including me, was furious with everyone else in the country, I suddenly imagined myself as a kid, looking at my adult-self with disgusted curiosity—you know, like you’d look at a big, hairy bug. And I got it: from a kid-perspective, all the arguing and ranting and opposition was about the theoretical, intangible world. Why, my kid-self was thinking, do adults spend so much time fussing about that stuff, when the actual, visible, tangible world is where we live? And is, in addition, full of cool, interesting stuff we can all agree on.”
And that’s where Like comes in. Vividly illustrated by Leo Espinosa, the book kicks off with a child introducing himself, before he launches into charming, science-driven facts on how we, as humans, are like and not like so many other things on earth. And how ultimately we have a lot more in common with each other—human to human.
We asked Barrows about the inspiration and creative process behind the adorable and colorful new book.
“I scribble all my book ideas in my writing notebook, and when I look back to the year of Like, I see that my preparatory notes for the book consist—in their entirety—of the following: ‘We are not at all like tin cans. Huh.’ So: I had the first sentence of the book from the very beginning. I’d like to think that indicates inspiration,” she says.
As for how she narrowed down the list of objects and animals to explore in Like, she says: “I included excavators to please a little cousin of mine who was obsessed with excavators at that time (now his baby brother is obsessed with them). Hyenas were a late addition to the story. Originally, I wanted to compare humans to lemurs, but yikes! Lemurs are so much like humans it’s creepy. I was in the midst of searching for an animal when I happened to go to the zoo with my daughter, and there, on my way to the Meerkat Mound, I encountered a hyena. I had forgotten how they looked—like two animals sewed together—and I stood there staring until my daughter dragged me away. When I came home, I did some hyena research and discovered many shocking hyena facts (look them up!), which persuaded me that I had to have a hyena in Like.”
Thanks to illustrator Espinosa’s mixed-media technique, each page bursts to life in unpredictable ways.
“With Leo’s art, Like became an entirely new book,” says Barrows. “And an infinitely more exciting book than the one I had been lugging around in my brain for several years. The color was pyrotechnic, the style was sharp and fresh, but the storytelling was the real surprise. The book is a genuinely collaborative work, and nothing is more fun than that.”
While we had Barrows, we had to ask how the pandemic had been affecting her—as an author, and as a parent.
“I began 2020 touring for my mid-grade book, The Best of Iggy, so when in March the lockdown came along, I was ready for a break. Ah, I thought, just what I always wanted: found time! I will write and create and enjoy the hermit lifestyle. And for a while there, I did. I wrote and read and thought and even took up painting and made some enormous, not very good pictures,” she says.
“But my children were miserable, and the truth is that you are only as happy as your least happy child. Even if I wasn’t worried about myself, I was worried about them, and as it dragged on, my hermit lifestyle began to seem seriously bleak. I had underestimated the importance of talking to other writers, seeing new things—not on a screen, but in real life—and I could feel my imagination wither from lack of nourishment. Never having withdrawn from the world, I had always idealized solitude, and for me, the lesson of the pandemic was that my creativity depends upon the rich, complicated, present world.” Amen to that.
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