7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #769: Featuring Steven Weinberg

h1 November 14th, 2021 by jules

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Today, I’m happy to welcome author-illustrator Steven Weinberg, who is here to talk about his new board book series, the Big Job Books, as well as the illustrated chapter book he released earlier this year, The Middle Kid (Chronicle, March 2021).

The Big Job Books — Fridge and Oven’s Big Job, Washer and Dryer’s Big Job, and Dishwasher’s Big Job (all released in August by Roaring Brook Press) — are unusually shaped board books (complete with googly eyes!) all about the large, busy machines (in this case, everyday appliances) of modern life at which young children stare in amazement. I don’t aspire to be a children’s book author myself, but the very premise of this series is so smart, I wish I’d thought of it. The books are sturdy (for those small hands), funny, and instantly child-friendly. They are also engaging; Weinberg personifies these appliances as they demonstrate their roles in a household. There are no longer any newborns or toddlers in my life (though the house next door is for sale, and I may or may not have been consistently wishing for neighbors with a baby and/or kitten), but the moment I meet one (human baby, that is, not kitten), I will be thrusting these books at the wee child’s parent.

The Middle Kid, formatted in spots to look like a composition notebook, captures with humor and poignancy the day-in-a-life struggle of a middle child who works to find his place in the family. A middle kid, Weinberg writes, is:

The one who gets blamed when your little sister is CRYING.
The one who gets BEAT UP when your big brother is mad.
Not the youngest. Not the oldest. SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE. …
Right in between.

While I’m at it and before I introduce Steven, let me add: If you’ve missed them, by chance, don’t forget the AstroNuts books Weinberg has co-written with the great Jon Scieszka (book one released in 2019; book two, in 2020; and book three in September of this year).

Without further ado, I turn it over to Steven. And I thank him for visiting.

* * *

Steven: I first made these Big Job books for my daughters, Amina and Felix. Like so many kids, they love the appliances in our house, because they’re such cool, kinetic, process-based machines that do such tangible tasks. I love them too for all the obvious reasons, but I became especially fond of them when I realized they could not only, say, wash and dry my clothes but also entertain my children and give me a few elusive work-from-home-parent moments to myself!


Amina in front of the dryer


With my kids in mind, the first versions of the Big Job books were little “dummies” I drew digitally on my Wacom Cintiq, printed out, cut, folded, and taped together with some blue tape. This way I could read these to them in something approaching a real book experience. I read them hundreds of times to my little familial test audience, and I can’t stress enough how helpful that is. Reading handmade dummies aloud is how I work through every potential book now. For me, it’s not a real book idea until I’ve hastily taped it together and read it to Amina and Felix.


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I did all the line work for these books with a brush pen. I love painting, and sometimes I fear the joy of a brush is lost when I do line work in pencil or digitally. Brush pens have been a staple of my traveling sketchbook art kit since I made the graphic novel/travelogue/memoir To Timbuktu with my wife, Casey Scieszka, in 2011.


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I always wanted to do more than one of these books. I mean, how to choose between all of our favorite appliances? I settled on washer and dryer, dishwasher, and fridge and oven. Once I narrowed it to these three stories, I thought: Okay, it’d be really cool if they could all stack in an unusual but very satisfying way. Dishwasher makes sense as a square; washer and dryer as a vertically-stacked rectangle; and … OH! WAIT! Could fridge and oven be a weird “L”? This ended up being a massive, self-imposed design challenge, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in any other way.



The “L” layout probably makes Fridge and Oven’s Big Job my favorite of the three books. It’s such a wild frame through which to progress a story. I think I’d never be comfortable that it visually worked if I hadn’t gotten to test-read it aloud so often to my kids. I also love this book, because I’m totally outing my mom’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Well, I’d foolishly thought this was a secret family recipe until asking a few years back and she said: “Oh, that’s just what’s on the back of the Tollhouse bag.” I still can’t make them as good as she can, though.



But okay, as any self-respecting parent would say, I actually do love all of these books equally. My favorite moment from Washer and Dryer’s Big Job is when I make the reader literally spins the book to simulate the best part of being a dryer.


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Overall, I wanted to celebrate the realities of life with kids: dirty dishes piling up; the French press you wish was still full of hot coffee; and, of course, the dishwasher you will endlessly be filling, emptying, and refilling until the end of time. (See: Dishwasher’s Big Job. I love you too!)


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I also wanted to celebrate googly eyes! I wish I could take credit for those on the cover. My amazing editor, Kate Meltzer, at Roaring Brook had that idea. The really fun part of making board books — something I’d never done before — is that the printing technology is changing so fast. Sometimes you just have to ask if it’s possible to do something new, and it very well might be. Kate dared to ask about googly eyes. It was complicated. There was a lot of making sure things lined up exactly right (as you can see on this cover sketch full of confusing markings), but I think it was very worth it.


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So if the Big Job books celebrate the messy cycles of daily family life, my early reader chapter book, The Middle Kid, celebrates the endless frustrations of being stuck in the middle between an older and younger sibling in which there’s never enough pizza, where your big brother beats you up, where you’re always blamed when your little sister cries, and on and on and on …!


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Yes, I based this book on my childhood but purposefully set it where I live now: the Catskill mountains in upstate New York. Before moving out here eight years ago, I lived in Brooklyn, San Francisco, Rabat, Beijing — basically, a lot of spectacular cities. They’re delightful, but it turns out I am such a sucker for painting mountains, and the fact that I get to do that out here every day is one of the best parts of living here.


“My mom and dad look in the box. Then they look at me. The box is empty.”
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Growing up, my favorite book was Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and his recent passing saddened me and got me thinking again about how as a little kid I was fascinated by the almost horrifying amount of freedom that boy has in the woods. It was something I really yearned for, growing up in the suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland. That’s another reason I wanted to set this book in the mountains. Kids can have an added level of agency when nature is involved. Parents become so secondary. I like working with that as a storyteller.



Two images above: Click either image to see spread in its entirety


My other main reference for illustrating The Middle Kid was my notebook from first grade. Every morning, our teacher had us write and draw quietly, and while I was honestly kind of scared of her (she was so stern!), I loved the feeling of escape once I got into it. I collaged it in directly up there on the top right of this page spread [below], and I used it as inspiration for the book’s endpapers and case.


“I am in the basement. Alone. Finally. I am drawing the tree house from the woods. At first, I draw what I remember. Then I add what I want in my own tree house.
I really like that part of drawing.”

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I’ll end here on my other favorite escape, besides the woods and drawing: books. My mom (of the famous Tollhouse cookie recipe) is a librarian, so the library has always been a very special place to me. I made sure it was for The Middle Kid too. This is the library I wish was right down the road from me and my family: warm, full of people, and with a view Thomas Cole would have painted.


“We get to the library, my favorite place.”
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* * * * * * *

All images reproduced by permission of Steven Weinberg.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) The 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books were announced on Friday.

2) Leonard Marcus’s Horn Book tribute to Eric Carle.

3) This tweet sent my youngest daughter into hysterics. It is pretty damn funny.

4) Eugene Yelchin’s The Genius Under the Table. So good.

5) The Danielsons finished watching Star Trek: Voyager, which has taken us many years to do. (We watched it sporadically and slowly.) Admiral Janeway 4-eva.

6) I was sorry to read about the death of April Pulley Sayre (not a kick), but I’m grateful for the tall stack of beautiful picture books she left behind in this world. A small portion of them are featuerd: here; here; here; and here.

7) Long walks and bike rides.

Bonus) I’ve been humming this great new song by Julie Doiron all week. I’m always up for hand claps:



What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #769: Featuring Steven Weinberg”

  1. Steven Weinberg has fun books. I can see kids really loving them.
    Jules, The Twitter post, oh so hilarious. I love hand claps too.
    My kicks:
    1. Subbing my friend’s library all week.
    2. A student who said at the beginning of class, “I hope you are better than the last sub.”
    3. A kinder who asked, “If you are an author, why are you still teaching?”
    4. A day with oldest grand girl.
    5. When a favorite art thrift store (Scrap) was closed to flooding, oldest suggested we detour to other places. (“Detour” love that)
    6. Detour One: Powells Bookstore.
    7. Detour Two: A new shop in SE PDX filled with all things Anime and Manga (Oldest was in heaven)
    have a great week.

  2. Wowee! I am so happy to see Steven Weinberg featured here today. I love his The Middle Kid book and I am the proud owner of his new board book series. They are pure delight. I also love going to his Instagram account to see his latest artwork, usually featuring the area where he lives.

    I, too, know it is not a kick Jules but the passing of April Pulley Sayre really hit me. She is another huge loss in the children’s literature community this year.
    I sort of burst out laughing at that tweet, too. Aren’t children wonderful?
    Jone: Any time a detour takes you to a book shop, it is truly the right route to follow.

    My kicks:
    1. Four days ago two wonderful lawn guys cleared out a lot of leaves in my front and back yards (Alas, they are covered in leaves and snow again.)
    2. Autumn leaves and breathtaking sunrises
    3. Baked stuffed peppers
    4. Picture books
    5. Storm clouds over Lake Michigan
    6. End of daylight savings time
    7. Walking with Mulan

    Have a super week everyone.

  3. Hi Imps! Happy mid-month. Hope the weekend is treating you well.

    Hello Steven, and to your books, machines, future works, and future neighbors (especially if they are kittens!)

    Jules and youngest daughter of Jules: Save the cat! Always!

    Jone: Sounds like interesting detours and classroom encounters!

    Hi Margie and Mulan!

    My kicks:
    1) Taste
    2) Tries
    3) Responses
    4) Plans
    5) Stories
    6) Cinematic
    7) Sensory

  4. What fun books! These are definitely going on my list for some of the younger readers in my life.

    Jules – that tweet is pretty funny. Yay for long walks and bike rides, catchy songs and good books.

    Jone – Love a fun detour that lands you at places like Powells and unexpected new shops.

    Margie – stuffed peppers and storm clouds over Lake Michigan and walks with Mulan sounds like a great week.

    Little Willow – really love kicks 5-7 and how they flow together.

    My kicks this week:
    1) A great resolution for a client that took a lot of work, and was well worth it.
    2) Got my Covid booster yesterday! Yay science! (Again)
    3) Got takeout from a new vegan restaurant in my neighborhood afterwards – vegan mac n’ cheese, roasted broccoli and cauliflour and tater tots – perfect comfort food that was so so good.
    4) Dean Stockwell died last week, which isn’t a kick, but what a life and what a career he had. Gave me an excuse to re-watch the pilot of Quantum Leap and he was just so good. (And now I’m re-watching the whole series.)
    5) Participating in Rachel Syme’s Screwball Fall movie watching group. We watched The Lady Eve on Thursday and The Palm Beach Story this afternoon. Screwball comedies are so silly and so much fun. Katherine Hepburn week is next.
    6) Wrapping Christmas presents today to get in the mail early.
    7) Daisy having fun at underwater therapy and coming with a big case of the zoomies.
    7.5) The silly neighborhood feral kitties, especially the one who flips over to get his belly rubbed every time he sees me.

    Have a wonderful week Imps!

  5. Rachel: Screwball comedies are the BEST! Hi kitties! Hi Daisy!

  6. Jone, good to hear you had a detour-filled week. Lucky students to have you for a sub. And I mean, we already know they’ll love you, but we now we reeeeeally know they will, given kick #2.

    Margie, I can’t believe we’re already talking snow again. Hugs to Mulan.

    Little Willow: I may not have a new neighbor with a kitten, but I DID see a kitten on a Zoom call the other day. Love those evocative kicks, as always.

    Rachel: My husband was talking about Quantum Leap the other day, which I’ve never seen and should fix! Congrats on the booster. (I got mine last week. WOO HOO FOR SCIENCE, YES.) And NEIGHBORHOOD KITTIES. YES AGAIN. Hugs to Daisy. Love your first kick the most.

    Enjoy your week, everyone!

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