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Micro review: Who Will U Be? + an interview with Jessica Hische
Notes From the Reading Nook: April 18
Good morning 👋
I have a fun hybrid issue for you today, so let’s get right to it.
Multiply on the Fly by Suzanne Slade
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
My Parents Think I’m Sleeping by Jack Prelutsky (this is our current poetry at bedtime)
Micro review: Who Will U Be? by Jessica Hische (2023)
In this new book from multi-talented artist Jessica Hische, adorable little letter “u” goes on a class field trip to spot all the ways her 25 classmates — the other letters of the alphabet — appear in the world. This is a fun visual — but also personal — adventure story about, quite literally, spotting letters as well as finding out who you are. (Most of us master the former in childhood but the latter takes many of us years if not decades longer, am I right?)
Coupled with Hische’s bright, cheerful illustrations, this charming tale offers a delightful way for young readers (from those just beginning to recognize letters to those working on increased fluency and proficiency) to have fun with language while learning along the way. (The learning doesn’t stop there, either — throughout, Hische cleverly offers various subtle but clear principles about lettering and design in a way that’s still totally accessible and appealing to kids.)
This is a particularly unique and refreshing take on classic ABC books and is worth checking out.
And! A short interview with Jessica Hische
Unfamiliar with Jessica Hische? I’ve followed her online — and have been a fan of her and her work — for years and years, but in case she’s new to you:
Jessica Hische grew up in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in San
Francisco, where she works as a letterer, illustrator, type designer, and
relentless “procrastiworker.” Clients include Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers, The
New York Times, Tiffany & Co., OXFAM America, McSweeney’s, American
Express, Target, Victoria's Secret, Chronicle Books, Nike, and
Hische makes a lot of cool things, as evidenced on her website. I’ve coveted her amazing You Are Enough mirror since she created it in 2020 as the result of a conversation she had with her young daughter (you can read the story on Instagram, which is where I originally heard about it).
Anyway, I admire Hische as an artist but also as a working mother — she has three little kids and a legit empire and there is no one like another working mother (even one without her own empire) that understands what goes into that. (I don’t know how she manages to write and illustrate children’s books on top of everything else she does, but then again, people say the same thing about me and this newsletter 🤷🏻♀️ We make time for the things we want to make time for, I guess.)
It was an honor and a delight to ask her a few questions about this book:
Your first children's book, Tomorrow I'll Be Brave, came out five years ago. How did you make the leap from lettering artist to children's literature? What do you enjoy most about this work?
I think I always imagined I would end up creating children’s books — kind of like I always knew I would become a parent someday. I wasn’t sure when it would happen, but it felt like it was definitely going to be a part of my life. When I was in college, I took a class called “Art Direction” as a part of my Graphic Design program and one of the assignments was to illustrate a children’s book. I ended up doing a re-interpretation of Aesop’s fables and had so much fun illustrating the different stories and adding my own spin to them.
As I began my career as a designer and then lettering artist, I was a little intimidated to take my artistic skills over to the world of children’s book publishing because I felt like I didn’t really understand it fully. I remembered books that I loved as a child, but, to be honest, I wasn't a “super reader,” so they felt more like a distant memory than a fresh source of inspiration. I don’t like to make art about topics I don’t feel knowledgeable about.
But then I became a parent. Night after night, there were endless hours of “research” reading to my own kids. I loved seeing how other authors and illustrators created worlds and made learning about complex topics fun through stories and pictures. I started seeing gaps that I wanted to fill in my own library. And I finally understood that kids need a bottomless pit of books to pull from and that whatever book I wanted to make would find a home or audience.
The thing I enjoy most about the work is hearing from parents that a book I made really resonated with their kid. For example, for Tomorrow I'll Be Brave, I heard from a lot of parents and kids going through tough times — NICU parents, kids who have to spend a lot of time in hospitals, kids working through some big deal life stuff. I also heard from several parents of autistic kids who told me the book made them feel seen in a way they had never felt. One child was mostly non-verbal but would repeat the words from the book. So many of these emails brought me to tears just knowing that something I made could become such a special memory for a family.
Where did you get the idea for Who Will U Be?
While I was out on my book tours for Tomorrow I'll Be Brave and Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind, I loved teaching kids that I have the neatest job in the world drawing fancy letters all day. I would tell kids to look around them or even down at their own t-shirts to see that there are fancy letters just about everywhere. As a young artist, I remember the first time I learned that other artists drew the words on snacks I loved or posters I hung in my room. The idea that art is everywhere — specifically lettering art — was definitely an inspiration point.
Also, a big part of my professional life is trying to help young artists feel less intimidated about finding their passions and working toward having a life and career they love. One of those lessons is understanding what drives us personally and how we can find a way to do whatever that is more often. In the book, the little letters talk to big letters about their “jobs” and find out that each letter loves their job for different reasons. There’s a line that each grown-up letter repeats — “Ever since I was little...” — while you don't have to know what you want to be when you grow up as a kid, sometimes the spark that points you in the right direction is already there. You just have to listen to pay attention to it and follow it as it shifts and changes over time.
You have three young children — does your family have any regular reading routines? What have been some of your family's favorite books over the years, and/or recently?
Of course! We read with the kids every night before bed — everyone picks their own book. My big kids are into anything in the Pilkey-verse, [Diary of a ] Wimpy Kid, sci-fi/fantasy graphic novels for younger readers, Ivy + Bean, Mia Mayhem, and on and on. The Barnett/Klassen books (all of them) have been recurring hits (Square is my personal favorite — so profound!) as well as books by Adam Rubin and Dan Salmieri. My mom also saved a huge collection of my books from childhood and they repeatedly make the rounds.
Can we expect more Jessica Hische children’s books in the future?
Yes! Since I'm both writing and illustrating my books, I’m not on quite as quick a release schedule as some authors, but I am definitely planning to expand the “u”niverse and have a few more ideas I’m kicking around. 😊
On this week in the past…
Of course I adore any author who includes a pun in their responses and I especially love Jessica Hische. (Thank you to her for taking the time to do this interview and to Penguin Young Readers for the opportunity.)
Go find her books!
Read good books and take good care 😘