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‘Will you be my best friend?’ LeUyen Pham and Shannon Hale Interview Each Other

Today the graphic novel memoir Best Friends is out in the world. It’s wonderful.

To celebrate, I thought it would be fun for author Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham to interview each other about the book. I figured they’d ask way better questions than I ever could.

And it turns out that’s the case:

Questions for Shannon

LeUyen Pham: You’re such a candid person about so many aspects of your life, but I’m wondering: What part of your childhood would you never write about?

Shannon Hale: Great question, Uyen! Well, I would never, ever tell anybody about the time I–wait a minute….you almost tricked me into writing about the parts I would never write about! You wily thing!

LP: Yeah, I’m tricky that way. Now for serious questions. Why do you think the 80s are coming back in such a big way?

SH: I don’t know! Is it cyclical? Because in the 80s they were all obsessed with the 50s (GREASE!). But my kids (8-15) are aware of 80s music, slang, fashion, movies, and stars suddenly. I do think Stranger Things helped that, but my kids don’t watch that show. They’re just absorbing it through the culture.

LP: Do you ever wish you could travel back in time to advise yourself as a kid? And what would that advice be?

SH: I wrote a scene that may be in a future book about just that. And I realized that no advice would really help. That kid still has to go through all that stuff, and advice is never as powerful as we wish. I do wish I could at least comfort her and encourage her, let her know she’s not alone and that it does get better.

LP: Did you ever perm your hair in that awful 80s way? (I did, and not successfully)

SH: I tried! Uyen, if we do a third graphic novel memoir together, I promise it’ll be in middle school and there will be perming. So. Much. Perming. Unfortunately red hair is very stubborn (you know those glass balls full of electricity that were big in the 80s? You put your hands on them and your hair rises? Doesn’t work on redheads.). So corkscrew curls on my hair looked like sad little ramen noodles.

LP: Sad little ramen noodles!! I SO want to draw that! Okay, tell me honestly — have you ever googled any of your friends from sixth grade? (I have, and not successfully)

SH: I did! As I was writing REAL FRIENDS I tried to find some people on Facebook, but it wasn’t informative. There were a couple I’m still in contact with. We emailed, and I took one friend to lunch to ask her questions. She sparked a memory I’d forgotten. I won’t say who it was, but she is awesome and doing great in life. It does get better!

Questions for LeUyen:

SH: So…when are we going to see a graphic memoir about little LeUyen?

LP: SOON! I’ve been wanting to do something for years, but scheduling and life has always gotten in the way. But I’ve been watching how you’ve approached telling story, and figuring out slowly the kind of story I want to tell. Memoir is hard, you have to really look at the history in an honest outside way, as well as acknowledging how you yourself felt as a kid. The writing can be all internal, but the drawings have to show everything, and I’m just starting it figure that out. I’m thinking, though, that I might write something about dealing with my insomnia, which I’ve had since I was a kid.

SH: I know that illustrating a graphic novel is terrifically challenging, and x3 when it’s someone else’s memoir. Would you do it again with another writer? Who is someone you couldn’t turn down?

LP: You know, it would have to be really special to illustrate someone else’s memoir. With a standard story, you can at least take liberties, but a memoir is something else altogether. It worked out so well with you because you and I are so similar — same age, same pop culture references, and we had such similar stories as well. You’re also very accessible to me when I’m doing these memoirs, which makes it easier to channel. I keep thinking if I had to illustrate someone’s memoir who I didn’t know very well, it would be tough. Who could I not turn down? Hmm, that’s a tough one. Lots of people I love to work with… I love Kate DiCamillo, but I’m not sure that’s her bag. Meg Medina would be fun! And I know this one is a long shot, but I’d LOVE to illustrate one of David Sedaris’s pieces.

SH: We know perhaps too much about sixth grade me from BEST FRIENDS, but what was little Uyen like in 6th grade?

LP: Pretty much like little Shannon, except her super power was that she could draw rather than write. I’m also an immigrant, and that shaped a lot of people’s thinking when I was growing up, though in a markedly different way than people are talking today. I did my best to fit in. We grew up in sort of lower middle class, on the edge of poverty. It’s hard to blend in with both the financial disadvantages and cultural disadvantages, like not knowing what pizza or yogurt was. I struggled with finding friends who could understand that. But mostly, I was the geeky class artist who read a lot.

SH: Okay, quick snapshot of 1985: what movies, bands, fashion was little Uyen into?

LP: Huge Star Wars Fan. Like, HUGE. Worship Indiana Jones. Goonies was my favorite of all time, I spent the better part of my fifth and sixth grade year rewriting the movie to add a female character as a girlfriend for Mikey. I listened to Madonna a lot, but I think it was only because she was played all the time. Fashion was all about flourescence — those horrible plastic shoes that snapped in two seconds, skater skirts. We were K-mart shoppers, which didn’t put us at the top of the fashion list.

SH: I guess this is a good place to finally pop the question: LeUyen Pham, will you be my best friend?

LP: Forever and ever, girl.

(Thank you Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham, and Shivani Annirood for making this interview happen.)

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. What a fabulous interview! And I’m SO glad LeUyen is thinking about writing her own graphic memoir! I heard her give an illustrated talk at ALA a couple years ago, and it was awesome. I’ve been hoping she’d make it a book.

    I hope to post my own review of BEST FRIENDS tonight! Wonderful book!