If you, like me, have children, the children’s book author Oliver Jeffers is likely the most famous author in your day-to-day universe. He’s the one you come into contact with most. Some might argue that Tolstoy, Hemingway or Houellebecq have added more to the literary canon, but my kid doesn’t ask for The Old Man and the Sea five times a night. He asks for The Day the Crayons Quit, Stuck and How To Catch A Star. Jeffers’ work is, in the best way possible, The Postal Service (the band) of children’s literature: seemingly naive, glancingly profound and a little precious. His tales are fantastical combinations of the real and unreal: Sentient crayons, a boy and his penguin, a whale stuck in a tree.
But two years ago, something happened to Jeffers that rarely happens to children’s book authors: he had a kid. And this November, the first book he wrote post-partum is coming out. Here We Are differs substantially from his pre-child work. Namely, it’s heartfelt but also non-fiction. In it, Jeffers basically explains how the universe works in a half-sciencey / half-it-takes-a-villagey way from molecules to mankind.
Speaking to Jeffers on the phone before he headed to Northern Ireland, where he’s from, he said, “When my son Harland was born, I realized he was a blank slate. He didn’t know anything. This book came out of my explaining the world to him.” What Jeffers realized is that what adults see as fantastical tales are, to children with no basis in received knowledge, undifferentiated from “real” stories. There can be no B-level without an A-level. This book represents a departure in the sense that it is laying out the facts that underpin the universe and mining those for wonder, as opposed to creating a fictional layer above it. It’s an impulse, I think, that rarely occurs to children’s book authors without children. And, to me, it’s wonderful to see Jeffers turning his talents towards the actual universe he and his son now inhabit. The book comes out in November but go behind the scenes in this exclusive trailer.