Ever seen a Peter Pavey book? The Australian author/illustrator is best known for his award-winning One Dragon’s Dream, published in 1978 in Australia but also rereleased in the States a few years ago. His picture books were surreal, elaborate and often fantastical. During my own formative years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were many illustrators like Pavey working.

You could call their style funky. And I mean this in a good way.

Or “delightfully strange.”

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In the Kirkus review for Matt Furie's The Night Riders, a new picture book from McSweeney’s children’s book imprint, now in its second year, that phrase is put to use.

I think it sums up most, if not all, of the offerings from McMullens. In fact, many of them to me give off this late ’70s/early ’80s vibe. Perhaps you could say some of them look like lost Pavey books. Something about them makes me think of artists from decades past.

Curious to know more, I spoke with Brian McMullen, art director, imprint editor and namesake for the imprint, who says what guides him is a “desire to tell a compelling story to real children.”

Why create a new imprint?

The tiny staff here at McSweeney's is aging, and children have started showing up. I have two sons under four, Dave Eggers has a couple of young kids, and two more McSweeney's babies are on the way this fall.

McSweeney's has always published all kinds of books, including the occasional children's book. With McSweeney's McMullens, we're taking the next logical step. The goal is to publish a handful of great books every year for young readers. The focus so far has been on picture books, but we'll release our first middle-grade novel, The Expeditioners, in December.

Genre isn't so important to us. McSweeney's McMullens is open to publishing any kind of book that we, ourselves, would enjoy giving to a child or sitting down and reading with a child. 

We're doing this now—building a kids' book department—because now just feels like the right time.

What did you learn in your first year?

We've learned a lot in the year since our first titles were published. We've learned that dads, grandmas and god-uncles are generally willing to pay a dollar or two more for a picture book constructed of top-quality materials.

We've learned that there are people out there who agree with us that a kids'-book subscription plan—eight books in the mail for one price—is a cool gift idea for a child.

We've learned that, since we have an annual marketing budget of $76, we'll need to work triple hard and be extra creative with our outreach, every time, in order to have a good chance at getting our books onto library shelves. We're still figuring out the best ways to earn the attention of adventurous children's librarians.

On July 19, the wonderful book blog, 50 Watts, called one of our new books, Matt Furie's The Night Riders, its favorite book of the year. Kirkus and Publishers Weekly liked the book a lot, too. We hope the word reaches libraries, because our next three books—The Night Riders, Benny's Brigade and Stories 1,2,3,4—are exactly the kinds of book that I, as a child, would have loved to discover at the library.

Tell me about this year's offerings, particularly the decision to reprint Eugène Ionesco's children’s stories, illustrated by Etienne Delessert

Maurice Sendak was a lover of Ionesco and Delessert's Story 1 and Story 2, two picture books about a dad improvising silly stories for his 33-month-old girl, Josette. Sendak called these books, which were first published in English in the early 1970s, "among the most imaginative picture books of the decade."

But they'd been out of print for 30 years or so. After a colleague found and showed me an old copy of Story 2, we looked into a possible reissue of that book and discovered, in the process, that Delessert had recently illustrated two more Ionesco stories, 3 and 4, for the French publisher Gallimard.

The McSweeney's McMullens edition of Stories 1, 2, 3, 4 matches Delessert's classic art for the first two Ionesco stories with all-new art for the last two Ionesco stories. Our edition is also an all-new translation. It was an honor to have the chance to work with Delessert on the new edition. He's a master of the form.

Arthur Bradford is an O. Henry Award–winning story writer, and Lisa Hanawalt is an Ignatz award–winning comic-book artist, but neither had made a picture book before we matched them up to collaborate on Benny's Brigade, which comes out this month. Kids love the weird humor of this book even more than most adults.

Matt Furie's first book, The Night Riders, is a tour de force. It's a wordless 48-page picture book—very easy to follow—about a band of four nocturnal creatures who wake up in the middle of the night and take an exciting, meandering journey toward the sunrise. Matt drew this book entirely by hand in colored pencil, and the result is just jaw-dropping. I've loved children's books my whole life, and Matt's book isn't quite like anything else I've ever seen. It's a great children's book that also happens to be a great art book.

As a special treat, all three of our new books come with sturdy jackets that unfold into posters full of bonus artwork. The jackets aren't essential to the stories inside the books, and that's part of why we love them. With each new McSweeney's McMullens book, we'd like to go beyond what's essential.


STORIES 1, 2, 3, 4. Original text copyright © 2012 the estate of Eugène Ionesco. Illustrations and translation copyright © 2012 Etienne Delessert. Spread reproduced with permission of the publisher.

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.