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Look Homeward, Angel

Written by in Profiles

Planning to Run Away from Home?

This Book Tells How!

The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home
By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Illustrated by Red Nose Studio’s Chris Sickels

New York Times Best Illustrated artist Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio teamed up with Jennifer LaRue Huget to offer a delightful children’s book, “THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME,” from Schwartz & Wade Books, published by Random House and released in June 2013.

To illustrate Jennifer’s book, Red Nose Studio spent 15 months creating the art for the book — creating photographs of elaborately handcrafted sets made of found objects such as gum wrappers, gum erasers, magazines, spray caps, watch parts, fuse boxes, mercury thermostats and those little cups that contain those nasty sauces that they hand out at fast-food restaurants to dip your chicken fingers in. Huget’s text and Sickles’ art are masterful. We asked them to tell us more about the book.

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We know so much work is done long distance. So, have you two authors met face-to-face?

CS:  We haven’t met officially, only paired through the vision of the editors at Schwartz & Wade.

JH: But that’s pretty typical for picture book authors and illustrators, though. But I like to think we are kindred spirits! And I could not have asked for a better artist to bring my story to life. Chris clearly “got” it.

The story line and the illustrations are equally delightful. What child has not once pondered running away from home? I thought about it last night when we had a house full of dogs, barking during a thunderstorm. Jennifer, were you familiar with Red Nose Studio before?

JH: Of COURSE I had heard of Chris Sickels — or at least of Red Nose Studio. HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE!  It was the New York Times’ Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year 2010 [Random House]. It became an instant picture book classic!

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This “subversive tale” was your invention, Jennifer… What gave you the idea?

JH: As with my other books, it was inspired by my experiences with my own children, who are now 19 and 16 years old. Each “ran away from home,” and the memories of those episodes stuck. I tried to look at these events from a kid’s point of view, rather than an adult vantage point.

When an adult runs away from home it’s called “abandonment” or “selfishness”. Only kids are permitted the luxury of this experience. Did either of you try to run away from home?

CS:  I tried.

JH: I was too “fraidy cat” to do it, though I considered it a time or two. When my two kids ran away, a big part of me was proud of them for their bravery. As an adult, I still think it might be cool to run away — but just for a day or two. I would probably pack different things now than I would have when I was a kid, though.

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Now, Chris, if you ran away from your hometown in Indiana, wouldn’t your parents see you for 12 miles in any direction since the entire landscape is nothing but cattle pasture?

CS:  So that’s why my mother didn’t come looking for me! If you look closely inside the book, you’ll notice the hill that the little boy runs away to is visible from his front porch. And there are cornfields in Indiana too, sir, and you can hide in those.

Yeah, but you grew up on a dairy farm. You showed it to me. You could see your aunt and uncle’s house five miles away. So, when you did run off, Chris, how far did you get?

CS:  I made it to the creek down the road, about a quarter mile away. There, I was going to fashion a raft out of driftwood. I was back before dinner.

What made you change your mind? Police, fear or hunger?

CS:  Fear of muskrats.

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The book advises that you bring a pet that will not eat your snacks. Which of your pets won’t eat your snacks? Goldfish?  Surely, the rabbit the boy brings is going to eat his snacks.

CS:  You are right my friend, goldfish might not eat your snacks, but being that my backyard is the final resting place of more than 12 pet goldfish, a goldfish is not a roadworthy companion. Originally the pet was going to be a handicapped terrier with wheels supporting his hind end, you know, built for traveling, but when the revisions came around, the dog got nixed.

JH: Any kid who has a pet knows that you can arrive at an understanding with that pet. The rabbit’s not going to steal the snacks because a.) She knows you need them, and, b.) She knows you will take care of her and make sure she won’t starve.

Clearly, you do not know my three retrievers. They are existentialist. There is no tomorrow. Their motto: “Eat it all and eat it now.” Jennifer, what is your favorite object or scene in this book and why?

JH:  I love the rabbit an awful lot. But if I had to pick one image from the book that I love the most, it’s the one near the very end in which the mom hugs the runaway with all her might. There is so much honest, raw emotion in that scene. Chris NAILED it.

Chris, what is your favorite sentence, thought or point in this book? Why does that statement or concept resonate with you?

CS:  The point that resonated for me was the silent return home, the hug and the immediate forgiveness. Although it doesn’t always work out like that in real life, I still think it makes for a nice message.

Chris, the loaded red wagon is a classic Red Nose Studio — the detail is astonishing because I know you handmade all of it. How many hours did you put into crafting the wagon and packing it?

CS:  Honestly, if I kept track of the time, I’d probably talk myself out of the next creation.  The wagon was fashioned out of a flat sheet of copper. Copper is not cheap. Time is relative. I have a lot of relatives.

 

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Jennifer, is the father Amish? What’s with that beard? Did you give Red Nose Studio a backstory on each of the characters?

JH:  The look of the characters was my call; the backstory I created for the father is that he met his wife in art school. She’s a type designer and he runs a tattoo shop. Beards are hip but the wife doesn’t like mustaches. So there you go. If you look closely at the cut-away scene of the house you’ll see stacks of canvases from art school days in the basement.

Wow. What a great backstory. And I don’t blame her. I cannot stand mustaches. either. Chris, what did you use to create the boy’s drafting table and drafting stool?

CS:  The lamp is an old bronze box hinge, with a working bulb wired to a 9V battery attached to the underside of the table. The curved parts under the table were fashioned from an “old mercury switch” home thermostat. The table is made out of wood, which was then stained and shellacked. The stool is the same with the metal legs being thick aluminum wire. Don’t ask me how long these took to make our I will start quoting the philosophy of Kierkegaard.

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Jennifer, can you explain why your two children tried to run away from home?

JH:  My children, Sophie Jane and Charles Kane, showed me what it’s like to run away — and I’ll always be grateful that they came back home. My daughter tells me she ran away because a family down the street typically got pizza from a better pizza place than we did. My son doesn’t quite remember why he left. Neither of them made it past the top of our driveway.

Chris has a hard time admitting his reason for running away from his family’s dairy farm:  temporary lactose intolerance. Embarrassing for a farm boy.  Anyway, besides, better pizza and digestive enzymes, what insight does this book offer the adults who buy and read it to their kids?

CS:  Forgiveness.

JH:  Young children are always true to themselves. We adults could use a bit more of that. Also, tempus fugit — time flies. Kids make exceptionally good use of their time. We grownups waste too much of ours.

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Chris Sickels (wire frame glasses) is married to Jennifer, wife of 17 years. They have three children, Owen (8), Ava (6) and Otto (3) and a goldfish named Lucky Thirteen. They live in Greenfield, IN. Jennifer (coffee mug holder) lives with husband Kirby and teenagers Sophie and Charlie in East Granby, Connecticut.They have two brown dogs: Kitty and Trimper, both very lucky.
 

Hey?!! What’s the Big Idea?!!

Books are better on paper. The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home was printed on real paper. No LCD screen on earth can [yet] replicate the sheer joy and depth of detail visible to the naked eye when printed on paper. No robot or blog can recreate the depth of feeling and love that the words on these printed pages convey. It is more fun to cuddle up with your child in a chair and read him an oversized book than it would be to read to them from an Android or tablet. Kierkegaard preferred the existentialist reality of paper. We do too.

The Sickels’ Family Not So Lucky Pet Cemetery in Greenfield, INfishycemetery