Tell us a bit about what inspired this book.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where inspiration comes from, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the idea for a potty training-themed children’s book came to me when my kid was starting to outgrow his diapers. Leaks and kid’s lit were on my mind. And what better way to dramatize a diaper’s demise than by pinning it on a porcupine?
Is this your first children’s book?
Yes! I’m thrilled. I’ve been banging on the door of the publishing industry for almost a decade, and to finally break in with a picture book dedicated to my son is a dream come true. He calls it “my porcupine book,” which is the best review I could ask for. Although I might have accidentally given him an unrealistic notion of how the business works; whenever I’m working on a new idea for a picture book, he’ll say, “Can we go get this one in the store tomorrow?”
Kids and their unrealistic expectations! What was the publishing journey for this book, did you approach an agent, or did they approach you, was it your idea or theirs?
It started with the title. That came to me first: HOW TO POTTY TRAIN YOUR PORCUPINE. It immediately communicated the fun and conflict of the concept. I could see it right away: a porcupine’s quills poking holes in its diaper. That’s pretty funny! I’m a gag cartoonist, and so I’m always looking for single images that humorously mash two unlikely things together. Porcupine; diaper; leaks–problem! Now there’s a story to tell. I sketched up a full dummy of the book and showed it to my agent at the time. She liked it, and gave me some notes, but I didn’t quite know how to incorporate her notes, and so I put the project aside for a few years. Time passes in strange ways when you’re a parent.
A while later, I found myself with a new agent, Julia Eagleton, with whom I was working on totally separate project, and I happened to remember PORCUPINE was just sitting in a folder on my laptop. I sent it to her. She thought it was great as-is, and she submitted it to publishers right away. The next thing I knew, it was selling at auction. PORCUPINE went from hibernating in a hard drive to finding a home at Little, Brown in the span of a week. It was a joyful whirlwind. And things kept moving fast. The wonderful editor at LB, Megan Tingley, had a spot suddenly open up in her spring 2020 slate of new releases, but to make the deadline I had to finish all 40 pages of artwork in a month. Luckily my training in the weekly grind of New Yorker cartoon submission had prepared me for just such a moment. I put my quill to the grindstone, so to speak, and I cranked out PORCUPINE in the nick of time. Now here we are!
Here we are, indeed.
I won’t lie, it is bittersweet to debut my first children’s book during a global pandemic. The tour is off, and the public readings will have to wait. (Somehow it’s less charming to read to group of children while wearing a face mask.) But my hope is that PORCUPINE will come as a reprieve to parents and kids who’ve exhausted their home libraries while stuck indoors. As the old saying says, “When the going gets prickly, the prickly get going (to the potty).”
This post is part of a series promoting books by some of our favorite cartoonists. You can find previous book posts here.