Meet Suzanne Bloom: Creator of Classic Books That Celebrate Childhood

Author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom reveals what makes a great picture book and tells the story behind her new title Zack and Ike Are Exactly Alike.



Author and illustrator Suzanne Bloom is an award-winning creator of books for the youngest of readers. With her signature pastel and watercolor artwork and simple, accessible stories, Suzanne’s charming books portray fundamental childhood moments and are a perfect choice for a story time or emerging readers. Here, Suzanne talks about her career in the world of children’s books and her newest title, Zack and Ike Are Exactly Alike, which will be published by Astra Young Readers this June.

How did you get your start in children's books?

According to my 6th grade autobiography, I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I’m not sure I believed that was a real job. But I was smitten with Garth William’s Mr. Dog (Margaret Wise Brown) and Joan Walsh Anglund's Golden Treasury of Poetry (Louis Untermeyer).

After art school at Cooper Union, I was a freelance architectural renderer. Then I designed and made wooden toys. And searched for a story.

Finally, half a lifetime ago, a preschooler sang a song to me that included a line about keeping a pig in the parlor. Its potential became clear when, at my friend’s farm, in her little barn, I saw a pig jump out of the window. The seeds were sown. Because I had no idea what I was doing, I kept knocking on doors until after two years of rejections (electronic submissions were a thing of the future) Shirley Wohl from Clarkson Potter saw some potential. And after what felt like 302 rewrites, We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was a book. Though Potter published one more of my books, A Family for Jamie, it was a long wait before I connected with Boyds Mills Press (now Astra Young Readers, part of Astra Books for Young Readers) and found a publishing home. It still doesn’t feel like a real job.

All of your picture books for kids uniquely capture the essential and common moments of childhood, and many of your books offer opportunities for social emotional learning. Why do you feel it’s important to write about these topics?

Life is big for little people, and sometimes overwhelming. Building an emotional vocabulary can help to name and claim those feelings.

My characters Goose, Bear, and Little Fox respond to each other with lots of emotions: annoyance, frustration, anger, exasperation, comfort, gratitude, admiration, love. This is where discussions start. You can read their faces, imagine what they feel, and figure out why.

Third graders feel Goose’s consternation when Bear is excluded by Little Fox. They may have experienced or caused that themselves. A kindergartener told their teacher, “I’m feeling a little like Bear today.”

Children who soak up songs, rhymes, and multisyllabic words, and those who can identify every dinosaur and digger, deserve to have an emotional vocabulary too.

Young lexivores, whether listening or reading, prize words that are challenging, precise, and fun to say.

These books end with words that I hope listeners will take to heart: “You are my splendid friend”, “You are my treasure”, “I’m so glad you’re back”.

Talk about the inspiration behind your newest picture book Zack and Ike Are Exactly Alike. What’s unique about this friendship story? Do Zack and Ike exist in real life?

The title came first. It’s so absolute that it can’t possibly be true. And yet the attributes they share form the basis of a beautiful friendship that weathers small disagreements and lets them face the next challenge together. The boys are able to show a range of emotions. They are by turns tough, tender, bold, and curious.

In over thirty years of school visits, I have seen so many true and earnest buddies like Zack and Ike. As in previous books, my sons—when young—were the touchstone for their antics.

Zena Lola-Jo Lee, however, is based on a particular girl whose stunning ensemble stuck with me for years until I found a place for her with Zack and Ike. I hope readers will decide for themselves whether she is exactly different from the boys or exactly the same. And does it matter?

A Splendid Friend, Indeed, the first book in the charming Goose and Bear series, received an inaugural Theodor Seuss Geisel Award back in 2006. What makes a great picture book for young children, in your opinion?

According to my 3-year-old grand, if it goes vroom and shows wheels, it’s a winner.

For me the magic is in the pictures that deliver moments of truth through a gesture, facial expression, and eye contact. And certain color combinations make me swoon.

I want phrases that flow and words thoughtfully chosen that linger in the imagination because they are fun to say; like bamboozle, occasionally, and splendid.

Whether wordless or wordy, a book is a love letter, and its pictures are a portfolio. A book has the power to expand and enrich the child’s world.

But the real magic is when reader and listener choose a book over and over, affirming their affection for the story and each other.




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