WaaaAAH! Rraak! 'Everybody in the Red Brick Building' is awake!
In Everybody in the Red Brick Building, a howling Baby Izzie wakes up a squawking parrot, which wakes up a trio of flashlight tag-playing friends, who wake up a little girl who decides the middle of the night is the best time to set off her toy rocket, which wakes up a cat, who leaps onto a car, setting off the alarm. Soon, everyone in the apartment building is wide awake.
Author Anne Wynter says she based her debut children's book on her own experience living in the city, listening to a child sing Jingle Bells through the walls, or laughing along with a neighbor who was watching Parks and Recreation on TV.
"There's so many interesting things that happen in apartments," says Wynter. "And so, I just decided to try to write a book where the apartment building featured in prominently."
Everybody in the Red Brick Building is a cumulative story — like The House That Jack Built or There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly — it builds first to a cacophony of loud sounds.
Pitter Patter STOMP!
And then, as the residents of the apartment building are lulled back to sleep by the sounds of the city, it builds again to a cacophony of quiet sounds.
Anne Wynter and illustrator Oge Mora say one of the best parts of this book has been reading it out loud and perfecting their parrot sounds. "I watched a lot of videos of parrots," says Wynter. "I feel like the more I read it, the more, perhaps, loud I get, the more exaggerated I get."
"It's just kind of really interesting to see each particular reader's approach," says Mora, who adds that she's also been experimenting with stamping her foot on the floor while reading "Pitter Patter STOMP!"
Oge Mora illustrated Everybody in the Red Brick Building with collage art. There are painted papers and old book scraps. Mora even scanned a bathroom tile and used that to make a striped shirt for one of the kids in the book.
"That's really what I love about collage," she says. "There are no rules to it. And it just really gives you room to play and incorporate a lot of different materials and styles."
Each room in the book has its own color — Baby Izzie's room is pink, Rayhan's is green, Natalia's is yellow — so as everyone wakes up and the cacophony of sounds builds, the building itself lights up like a rainbow.
Wynter and Mora didn't collaborate one-on-one for this book. Wynter, who is also a playwright, says she was happy to write the text and then pass the baton to Mora.
"I had no idea what illustrations would even look like," she says. "I was picturing real people doing this. I was picturing it like I was writing a play ... And then it's wonderful to be so pleasantly surprised at the end of the process when you're like, this is more than I could have ever, ever pictured in my mind."
Mora, who is also an author (her debut picture book Thank You, Omu! was a Caldecott Honor book), says she loves illustrating books by authors who give her the creative freedom to play. "Even though we didn't know each other, I did always feel throughout that we were on the same page," she says.
At the end of the book, Baby Izzie is rocked back to sleep in her mother's arms, listening to the:
of her heart. Both Wynter and Mora say that this is their favorite page.
"I had been struggling a lot with that page," says Mora. Her illustrations are usually more simple, on the cartoonish side, and it was hard to convey the heartfelt moment at the end of this story. Until one day when she was flipping through photos on her phone, Mora found one of her sister holding her new nephew, Chiji (whom she thinks would love this book), and that became her inspiration.
"It was interesting collaging or working on this book during the pandemic, and being so far away from my own family and the things that kind of keep me whole and keep me really motivated," says Mora. Everybody in the Red Brick Building reminded her of that same kind of community, she says, "of how special those moments we have with each other are."
Wynter says the last page is her favorite because she, too, saw her family on the page. When she was writing it, her child was about the same age as Baby Izzie.
"I didn't know what each of these groups of people would look like. And so getting to that part and seeing a Black mother with her Black child ... I love it. It meant so much to me."
She says she hopes this book provides a comfort to both children and parents reading it.
"That's what I always look for in picture books," she says. "You want to feel that sense of OK. Even if we're all awake in the middle of the night and I'm tired, we will get back to sleep, and we will get some rest and it will all be OK."
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