Evanston author Jarrett Dapier with some of his books. Credit: Submitted

Evanston resident Jarrett Dapier is an author, librarian and lifelong drummer. His debut picture book, Jazz for Lunch!, illustrated by Eugenia Mello, published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, received a starred review in Kirkus Reviews

Dapier’s second picture book, Mr. Watson’s Chickens, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was chosen by NPR and Bookpage as one of the best books of 2021. His third picture book, The Most Haunted House in America, a goofy, ghostly, rhythmic romp based on his experience drumming at the White House in 2009, is illustrated by Lee Gatlin and is out now from Abrams Kids. 

Wake Now in the Fire, Dapier’s debut young adult graphic novel, is about student resistance to book censorship in Chicago Public Schools and will be published by Chronicle Books in 2023. 

Please give us your cocktail-party description of your booksMr. Watson’s Chickens is the story of two men who have way too many chickens that cause a whole lot of chaos and silly antics in their house. When it all becomes too much, they have to figure out what to do with them, but before they can, the chickens escape and they have to find them all (with a little help from the reader). 

Jazz For Lunch is the story of a boy whose Auntie introduces him to cooking and jazz. They spend a long afternoon together inventing new dishes and desserts and name them after famous jazz greats. A surprise ending gets the reader dancing. 

The Most Haunted House In America is the story of three skeleton drummers who play the drums at First Lady Michelle Obama’s Halloween celebration at the White House. When they go inside and take a wrong turn, they run afoul of a real ghost party and learn just how haunted the White House actually is. 

All three books are beautifully and comedically illustrated by three different up-and-coming talents in the children’s book illustration world and emphasize the joys of music, community and togetherness. 

When you realized you wanted to be an author: I knew I wanted to be an author for children and teens when I started my first job at a library in 2009. While working in teen services at Evanston Public Library, I read piles of young adult books and connected with the issues, the narrative styles, the heart and the edge to so many of those books, I felt naturally drawn to wanting to create my own. While working there, I had young children, so I spent a lot of time in the children’s room browsing books for them and rediscovered my old love for picture books and quickly started writing my own in my journals and notebooks.

How writing a book impacted you: Writing books for kids and teens has taken so many seemingly disparate loves in my life – drumming, language, social justice, play and imagination – and allowed me to mix them altogether in one big stew. Children don’t usually silo their passions and interests the way adults do, and they see no problem with blending their interests during play and make-believe. I’ve loved feeling continually connected to kids and teens as I think through and work on stories that I think will connect with them. It’s kept me in hope during dark times.

Author you most admire, dead or alive: I can’t choose just one. Willa Cather because she was a master of poetry and language that resonated with feeling and vulnerability; Francisco X. Stork because his books for teens are so open-hearted, forgiving, and spiritual; James Baldwin because his novels are master classes in scouring the deepest corners of the psyche as it pertains to sex and love and race and friendship; and Louise Erdrich because her novels are always shot through with a sense of love – for her characters and for the reader.

Your favorite detail about a character in your book: I love the facial expressions my skeleton drummers make throughout The Most Haunted House In America. They’re very expressive, and their emotions range from joyful and wild to comically freaked out in the most hilarious ways. I’m similar in the way I express my feelings.

The last time you read aloud to someone/someone read aloud to you: Every day! My wife and I have been reading aloud to our kids every day since they were born. While our daughter, who is in high school, isn’t really down with sitting for read-aloud any more, our sixth grade son still loves to hear us read to him every night. I imagine there will come a day when he will want us to stop, but, until then, I cherish it every time.

Book you love the most: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It’s the perfect book. 

Book you hate the most: Anything by Ayn Rand.

Book you think should be in every child’s library: I think every child should own The Rooster Who Would not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy. It’s a funny and dramatic story that shows how defiance in the face of oppression can be infectious, can lift up others, and break the chains of conformity dictated from on high. It may sound heavy for a children’s book, but it’s not! It’s a wonderful, classic-feeling fable that will make young ones, who understand fairness and injustice well, feel empowered. 

Book you are reading now and want to recommend to others: I always have a book for adults going at the same time as a book written for children or teens. My adult book is The Overstory by Richard Powers. Incredible juggernaut of a book that is written with so much force and eloquence and gives scientific and poetic voice to the natural world – especially trees – in a way I’ve never read before. He captures the spiritual sense I feel about the natural world and its wonders in a way I didn’t know was possible.

Things you like most/least about living in Evanston: I love the incredible, staggeringly beautiful lakefront. We tend to forget it from day to day, but we sit on the shores of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world – Lake Michigan. I also love how the lake’s shores attract so many migrating bird species in the spring and fall. I’m thankful for the volunteers that have created and tended to the bird sanctuary up near Clark Street Beach. I also absolutely love how many artists, musicians, readers, and thoughtful people live here. The music put out by Touch & Go Records and coming out of local studios like Electric Audio and Idful Studios in Chicago in the ‘90s played a massive part in shaping who I am today. It’s incredible to live in town with some of the same musicians who actually made that music and occasionally run into them at coffee shops and local shows. It keeps me in touch with the creativity of my teen years and encourages me to stick with my art.

I think Evanston could be a national leader in reducing driving and encouraging biking way more. I also think there should be more theater on offer in our parks and storefronts. And downtown could be a lot livelier with just a few adjustments of how the streets are used. What I like least is how we don’t entirely live up to our incredible potential. But we can! 

Where you’ve lived besides Evanston (or Chicago): I was born in Evanston and have stayed pretty close by my whole life. The furthest away I’ve ever lived was in Urbana, Illinois, another town that had a big, positive impact on my life. 

Three favorite local shops/restaurants: (B&B is just assumed, so you can leave us out😄)

Squeezebox Books & Records: Great people, great vibe, great selection of music and books always. 

Sol Café: Their coffee and doughnuts are hands down the absolute best and I find the staff really welcoming and the café itself unique and unpretentious. 

Brothers K: I’ve spent so many wonderful hours talking with friends and new acquaintances, drinking their excellent coffee and eating their pastries, and reading there, it sometimes feels like I’ve been going there my whole life. Also, [original co-owner] John and his brother Brian [current owner] made our family feel so welcome when we first moved to Evanston in 2008, and they always made sure to make our daughter, who was 2 at the time, giggle. 

Question we should have asked you but didn’t: What is the best way to ensure you raise a reader?

Read aloud! Read to your child from the day they’re born until they won’t let you anymore. And especially remember to keep reading aloud to them after they’ve started to learn to read to themselves. In many ways, that’s one of the most important times to keep read-aloud going. While they’re wrestling with learning how to read, you provide a model of what a confident, fluent reader sounds like and relieve the pressure of all that work it takes to read so they can lay back and enjoy the book, which is an experience you don’t want them to detach from while they’re learning. It’s also just a great way to snuggle up without phones or other distractions and be present with one another. Those are moments you’ll never forget.

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