Last week an ARC of the sweet DADDY DEPOT (Feiwel & Friends, May 2017) dropped through my mail slot. Chana Steifel – part of my Picture The Books cohort — has written scads of non-fiction books, but this is her debut, fictional picture book.
In DADDY DEPOT, Lizzie discovers a place where she can trade in her loud-snoring, football-distracted, bad-joke-telling father. And she goes shopping!
About halfway through my first read, I recalled a favorite book from my childhood: Nancy Brelis’s THE MOTHER MARKET (Harper & Row, 1966 — more on it here.) The set-up is similar, though in THE MOTHER MARKET three children, not one, shop for a new mom. They are not looking for a replacement — they have no mother at all, just a housekeeper aptly named The Gloom. And: THE MOTHER MARKET is a chapter book.
I shot Chana a text. She hadn’t heard of THE MOTHER MARKET. She wrote, “My idea came from a bed time story. My daughter Maya was mad at her dad one night so we came up with a story about a girl who returns her father to the Daddy Depot…”
I’m sure my text gave Chana that sinking feeling that we all get when we thrill and labor over our fantastic idea about, say, a cat wreaking havoc while mom is out running errands, only to discover that some guy has already published a strikingly similar book.
My antidote to that sensation is the first chapter of Austin Kleon’s STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. It’s a tiny book. There aren’t too many words, and there are lots of illustrations. (a familiar set up?) And it overflows with quotes and truisms and reminders. Like:
-“Every new idea is just a mashup or remix of one or more previous ideas.” -Austin Kleon
-“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” -Andre Gide
-“there is nothing new under the sun” –Ecclesiastes
Everything has been done before. BUT NOT THE WAY THAT YOU DO IT.
And Kleon is right: originality a tiny fraction of great work. The bulk is borrowed, stolen or shared. Which is a good thing.
We land on similar ideas and set-ups because there is something inherently interesting or powerful about them. And there is DEFINITELY something profound in the idea of a child trading in a parent — something both empowering and terrifying. In truth, I’m surprised there aren’t more books out there that have taken the idea on, and I’m really glad Chana has — these fifty plus years later!
There is one spread in DADDY DEPOT that totally gave me a chill: Lizzie has strolled the aisles and tried out a few different dads. None of them are right. All are way more annoying than her own dad, and she is tiring of the whole endeavor. And so — down there in a tangle of dad legs — she does a little ballet spin, trying to get some attention from one of these potential dads. But none of them notice. And in that moment, when she flips things and becomes the ‘shopped for’ instead of the ‘shopper’ — there is this glimmer of the idea that this particular shopping endeavor is not just about what Lizzie wants, but is really about a match — a fit.
And happily, with the next page turn, she finds just that.