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Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy: A Chat with Ethan Long about Happy County

I had the chance to chat with Ethan Long today about his new Happy County series. I definitely took that chance.

Travis: What was the initial spark for the Happy County books?

Ethan Long: Oh my gosh, back in 2004, an idea came to me called CATCH JAILBIRD, which was a Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry type book where there was a lot of things happening in the artwork. The idea was that Jailbird escaped prison (always a kid friendly theme, right? Right!?) and page by page the reader had to help two bumbling law enforcement officers find him. IT didn’t exactly go anywhere. After we moved around a little bit—3 homes in 6 years— we finally settled into a nice community and raised our kids. It was the first time in my life that I actually stayed in one place for a long time and after years and years of soccer games, carpools, community service, library volunteering, gardening, movie nights, it all became very inspiring as I sat down one day to think of a new book. The Happy County series is less about individual characters and more about relationships and community.

Travis: We had a lot of Richard Scarry books around when I was a kid – same for you?

Ethan: We had a few when I was young, but my brother always had them open on the floor and couch and we would look at them endlessly. It took a lot of concentration to look at each book because I didn’t want to miss any of his fun details. BTW,  Lowly Worm has a very funny wardrobe. Haha!

Travis: Lowly’s wardrobe is one of Scarry’s finest moments, I’d say.

There are a lot of details in this book – I would imagine Hello, World! took longer to make than many of your other books.

Ethan: Ummm . . . yeah. These books do take a while but I don’t really keep track of exactly how long. I do a little bit, and sometimes a lot, every day over a period of time and they just seem to get completed. The hard work is the overall theme and arc of the book, and as I add layer upon layer and revise the stories, the details just seem to appear.

The puns, the funny names, etc. those all come out of nowhere over the course of development. The trick with these books is a slow simmer. A lot of the funny parts would not have appeared if I rushed through the process of creating these books.

Travis: Slow and steady wins the race. A very important question: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode? Or what snack fueled the creation of Hello, World?

Ethan: I really can’t get enough of any sort of kettle-cooked potato chip.

They are a very important part of my process. But really any food is my favorite. I’m not a foody, but I love making and eating food. Oh, and I love Jelly Bellies, too. A whole handful at once. That’s how I roll.

This question has made me wonder if Happy County needs an official food. Hmmm. How about Broccoli? :)

Travis: A sensible choice! Thanks for taking my questions, Ethan.

Hello, World! is out now, and the next book in the series, Sun and Moon Together arrives on August 11, 2020.

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.