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When Momo, a flying squirrel, visits his relatives, he has a tough time fitting in at first. But his cousins learn to give him some time, make him feel welcome, and be open to try something new.
That’s what’s behind Zachariah OHora’s book, My Cousin Momo, this year’s Pennsylvania One Book selection. OHora will be visiting Schlow Centre Region Library at 9:30 and 10:30am Monday, April 30.
A New York Times best-selling writer and illustrator, OHora took some time to talk about his book and how libraries made an impact on his life.
Schlow: Did you have a relative who was like Momo when you were growing up — or were you Momo to be in your family!?
OHora: Momo is a little based on my younger son, Teddy, which is why it’s dedicated to him. When he was really young he was quiet, a little mysterious, and he had large eyes that added to it. He was very observant and possessed a wicked sense of humor for a 4-year-old.
Schlow: A big lesson in the book for kids is to be open to try new things. Were you always someone who wanted to try new things?
OHora: I like to think I am. I have a curious mind. But I’ve also been known to make judgements on things, or assume it wasn’t my thing until later on in life I find I love that thing that I thought I didn’t care for 10 years earlier. So I try to keep that in mind and not dismiss things out of hand.
It’s also about managing your expectations. Sometimes that’s the key to being happier about a situation. Or maybe it’s just having flexibility in a situation and being open to surprises.
Schlow: Was there an inspiration for you to do this book, or how did the idea originate?
OHora: Someone gave me a picture of some Japanese flying squirrels and they were insanely cute. I got a little obsessed. The Japanese name for them is Momonga, which is where I got Momo’s name from. In an early version, he was clumsy on land but saves the day by becoming a living kite of sorts. But that was 16 or 17 drafts before the final one.
Schlow: There was another interview with you where you suggest to young artists to go to libraries, museums, and take walks. Were libraries an important part of your life growing up and also when you were aspiring to become an artist?
OHora: Taking walks and feeding your head at libraries and museums is crucial to any creative endeavor. But libraries have been a significant influence on my life. We grew up without a television, so we spent a lot of time at the library discovering books. But a library is also the place I saw Star Wars for the first time. I’m forever indebted to libraries and librarians for exposing me to all kinds of cool stuff. I tried to honor that in my book, The Not So Quiet Library. That has some basis from my childhood. Maybe not the giant monster part, but the rest of it!
Schlow: What is like for you to visit libraries and schools and see kids' reactions to something you created?
OHora: I find it very rewarding. Humbling, too. I feel lucky that there is an audience for the books that I do, and I’m blown away by the things that librarians and kids pull out of the books. If I have one of those moments where you know you are having a little positive impact on a child's life, that’s a real gift and one that keeps me doing what I’m doing.
A mantra that is a through line with all my books is “Stay Fuzzy and Hopeful,” and I hope that the books do just that for the folks that read and enjoy them.