Episode 76: Whimsically Spooky Books with Author & Artist Ken Priebe

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our Library Laura Podcast guest is author, illustrator and animator Ken Priebe. He's the author of several books for children, including The Ice Cream Truck at MidnightLet There Be Owls Everywhere, and Gnomes of the Cheese Forest And Other Poems. His next book, Goblabet, is coming in 2022 and being published by Bandersnatch Books. This episode is a treasure trove of book recommendations for kids and kids-at-heart. We talk about influences on his work and art, his love for whimsically spooky monsters, the joys and trials of having multiple library cards, and the delights of reading with your children. 

Follow Ken @booksbykenpriebe and @ken.a.priebe on Instagram, and check out his website

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Ken Priebe -- Author, Illustrator and Animator 

Ken Priebe's Books

Ken's first collection of poetry, Gnomes of the Cheese Forest And Other Poems, got its title from an improvised rock song that he still has on cassette tape from his young adulthood. And who doesn't love cheese! 

He followed that up with his second volume of poetry, Let There Be Owls Everywhere, which is more poems and drawings. 

His most recent book, The Ice Cream Truck at Midnight, is a bit different in style. It's a series of short stories and flash fiction that are meant to be read in order, much like you would experience a record album. The art style is also different, as it is charcoal pencil drawings. 

We have another Ken Priebe book to look forward to next year! Goblabet is a murder mystery in the form of an alphabet book, with 26 goblins (one for each letter of the alphabet!). Readers will have to figure out which three goblins murdered the goblin king. It's coming from Bandersnatch Books in 2022. I interviewed Carrie Givens from Bandersnatch Books on episode 45. 

Books from Episode 76

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt - a fun series of books about a squirrel too scared to leave his tree, which Ken worked on a team of animators to turn into videos. See more here. This team also adapted The Librarian from the Black Lagoon

We talked about our mutual appreciation for the works of Shel Silverstein. I grew up on books like A Light In The Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Ken compared some of his volumes of children's poetry to Silverstein's style...with shorter and longer poems and ink illustrations. Ken said his work ranges from creepy to funny, poignant to whimsically spooky. 

One of Ken's favorite picture books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. That book is just the tip of the iceberg of Sendak's work, however. Ken also recommends The Sign on Rosie's Door and The Nutshell Library. He collects and studies Sendak's work as inspiration for his own children's books. 

We talked about how Ken's parents read aloud to him as a child, and how much he's enjoyed reading aloud to his children as well. He firmly believes that reading books out loud to children is one of the best things you can do for them. It's a great way to develop their intelligence (by introducing new vocabulary and concepts) and empathy (by helping them see the world through the eyes of book characters and meet people different than themselves). He says you should keep reading as long as possible...not just until kids learn to read for themselves. There's so many books that are great for reading to older kids, too. 

As a child, Ken's favorite book was The Song of the Day Birds and the Night Birds by Dahlov Ipcar (which appears to be out of print). He explains that he fell in love with birds and books around the same time, and this book from his mom's collection had a lot to do with that.  

Based on his love of birds (and there's a Canadian connection here too!) I recommended Field Notes From An Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin, which is a memoir that I heard about from Anne Bogel's 2021 Summer Reading Guide. 

Ken also grew up on Dr. Seuss, which taught him rhythm and goofiness, and Mercer Mayer's books which had a big impact on his love for monsters and goofy characters with weird names. 

Books mentioned by Mercer Mayer:

Ken's favorite novel is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. That made my day, because this is the book I chose to leave on the shelf of books chosen by Honors program graduates at JBU...so it's one of my favorites too.  Ken loves any book that involves a child going into a fantasy world and then coming back. Some other examples he mentioned are Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, and The Neverending Story. Based on this, I recommended the Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow, which is also portal fiction and is lovely and surprising. Ken actually read it between the time we recorded and released this episode, and you can see what he said about it here

Ken recommends The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. Meloy is the lead singer for The Decemberists and has also written a trilogy of children's books that are illustrated by his wife. They also wrote The Wiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid

Carson Ellis has also written and illustrated some children's books on her own, such as Du Iz Tak?, a whimsical book where the insect characters all speak gibberish but somehow readers can still tell what's going on in the story. Ken said this one is great fun to read aloud. 

A hidden treasure of an author is Matilda Woods, a social worker living in Australia who writes children's literature. Ken says her books are magical and would make great movies. She's written: 

Ken has read Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo at least three times. He saw it at the library originally and after reading it to his daughter they concluded, "we're buying a copy of this one!" He has enjoyed many other works by DiCamillo as well. 

He loves to read the characters of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson out loud with Irish accents. Andrew Peterson does some pretty great accents as well when he read aloud the re-released versions of the audiobooks! (Find on Amazon or Libro.FM)  Ken has already read the new Wingfeather Tales book (I still need to!) and we talked about how, with his love of monsters and creatures with weird names, that the forthcoming Pembrick's Creaturepedia should be right up his alley. We're both also excited for the animated series that's in production, and generally excited that Wingfeather is so popular right now. 

Ken also recommends the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith. 

Some more more beautiful picture books to enjoy include Ocean Meets Sky and The Antlered Ship by The Fan Brothers, and books by husband and wife team Philip & Erin Stead (e.g. they won a Caldecott in 2011 for A Sick Day for Amos McGee). 

Ken also loves older style British fiction, and is currently reading The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights by John Masefield, which he described as having a similar feel to Lewis Carroll, Harry Potter, Bed-Knob and Broomsticks, or Narnia. 

I was reminded of A Place to Hang The Moon by Kate Albus and recommended it to Ken. This book has a charming British feel to it and the kids read so many lovely older style British books throughout the tale. 

Finally, I thought Ken might enjoy the art style of my friend from college, Chloe Burgett over at Chloe B. Artistry. She even made a little illustrated video game that you can play! 

Ken explained that he has two Instagram accounts -- @booksbykenpriebe and @ken.a.priebe. The Books by Ken account is where you can find updates and sneak peeks into his book writing and illustrating. Meanwhile, the Ken A. Priebe account is where he currates books that he's geeking out about, with photos and mini-reviews. Check out both of these accounts and his website for more information on what Ken is reading and writing! 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours! 

~ Laura 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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