Monthly Archives: March 2024

The Great Book ‘Nobody’ Will Remember

Kenny Brechner - March 25, 2024

Going through a picture book frontlist as a buyer is a bit like being the teacher on the first day of school. We are at one time assessing, connecting and preparing for extended relationships with the books we select to attend the store.

Few things are more complex, more in need of a delicate balance between formal structure and creative expression than being an elementary school teacher.

In his equally masterful and delightful new book, The First Week of School, author and illustrator Drew Beckmeyer brilliantly succeeds in embodying those complexities and more, in a narrative as smooth, elegant and immersive, as it was undoubtedly difficult to create. To test this hypothesis about my favorite new student in the frontlist book class of Summer 2024, I caught up with Drew and laid the issue before him.

Kenny:  I was really impressed by your ability to sustain simultaneous interconnected narratives throughout the story. I felt that I had really gotten to know each of  the students, even the individual sports kids. Did you develop that particular mental muscle doing your day job of being a teacher?

Drew: Yeah, definitely. My access to what kids are thinking and feeling and yelling at each other is almost an unfair advantage. But after 10+ years of elementary school teaching, I feel like I’ve earned a couple free passes to write what I know. I had stories for a lot of the other background kids as well, but keeping six stories going at the same time was about as many as I could manage logistically and spatially in a picture book format.

Kenny:  Was Nobody a homeschooler before joining the class?

Drew: I hadn’t considered that. Hmmm. I suppose he would have to be, at least for the time that his parents are exploring the galaxy. I’d like to think that on his home planet he has a classroom full of gelatinous friends that are awaiting his return.

Kenny:  Does Pat remember the week? I admit that I am convinced she does.

Drew: This is an interesting question. I won’t say yes, but I do think of Pat as being able to see truth in an almost magical way. So if that means that she remembers, I’m ok with that interpretation.

Kenny:   I loved that nobody but Nobody and Pat were referred to by given names but rather by their primary activity. What, The Author, was your thinking there?

Drew: In my mind, only Pat has a name. Nobody is referred to as “Nobody” first because he is secretly sneaking around. Then it just becomes what we call him, but he never speaks or tells us his real name. I doubt the human tongue could make the noises necessary to pronounce it properly. The other characters don’t have names for a couple of reasons. It helps to get the ball rolling to know what each character is about on the very first page, so that when they start moving, the impact of their decisions makes sense in the story. Also, I think it simplifies the flow….and I don’t enjoy the process of naming characters.

Kenny:  Were you, in creating this book, like The Inventor, “inspired to build a new machine from his old satellite parts and the new mysterious parts he found under his desk?”

Drew:  Well, I’m nowhere near as smart as any inventor, but the inspiration was how to solve a puzzle. How to weave 6 stories together where the characters barely interact, but each has an effect on the other and the other’s storyline. I like writing when the parameters are strict, challenging and weird.

Kenny:  As you created the story how did you approach the interplay between text and illustration?

Drew: This was tricky because on most spreads, in a single setting, you have each character doing their own thing and the text has to both explain what that is while also fitting on the page somewhere near them. There are pages where you have to read things in a certain order and other pages where you can read it in any order.  The illustrations are pretty simple because it felt like there was potentially too much already going on. I Initially tried to write each character’s story so you could also follow them individually throughout the book if you wanted to, but I had to abandon that on a few pages to have everything make sense.

Kenny:  Well,  to paraphrase the lead Sports Kid, “Who among us is worthy to judge any true expression of the human condition, but if there was a best one, it would be The First Week of School.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Drew.

Drew: Thanks for reading and believing in Pat.