Interview with Maya Tatsukawa— The Bear in My Family

It was a privilege to interview author and illustrator Maya Tatsukawa about her debut book The Bear in My Family! This delightful release has received wide praise, including a starred review from Kirkus!

The Bear in My Family offers a welcome take on sibling dynamics, at once humorous and heartwarming in a way that feels deeply relatable for families.

If the story resonates with you, I hope you will:

  1. Find your favorite indie bookstore online (mine are Books, Inc. and Keplers)
  2. Order The Bear in My Family for yourself or someone you love
  3. Spread the word! Share this post, write about the book on your own platforms, keep the buzz alive. It is a win : win : win for your community, the author, and for YOU. You will fall in love with this story!

My oldest cannot get over the surprise twist at the end of the story. He demands we read it over and over again— the ultimate sign of a beloved picture book! Where did the idea for The Bear in My Family first spark?

I enjoy books with a surprise or plot twist. And one day, I was walking back to my house when I suddenly thought, wouldn’t it be funny if a kid is living with a bear. But at the very end, we find out it’s an older sibling! I quickly wrote it down on my list of ideas in my phone.

What is your favorite line from the book? 

“The bear sleeps there.”

Our two sons each take turns being like the bear in your story. It has become such a helpful metaphor for when one kid provokes the other, but also for the importance of protecting each other. What do you hope kids take away from this story? 

There are so many take-aways that emerged in this story from when I first started this book. But my original intention was, even when we’re annoyed by family members, we love them and they love and care about us too! 

What is a meaningful moment in your journey of bringing this book to life?

This is my first picture book, so there have been many meaningful moments throughout the whole journey. But the best part was probably when my editor surprised me with an offer for a contract. I used to work as a designer with the awesome Dial team before I moved abroad for a bit. It was almost 2 years since I had been back to the states, so I had to include a visit to the old Penguin offices. Until then, I occasionally shared dummies but never expected anything. I was just grateful that my former colleagues would take the time to read them and offer any feedback. I also became close friends to an editor (who became my editor for the Bear book) after I left Dial.

A couple of weeks before my visit, I sent her an email reminding her of the date but she never responded. I thought it was strange but later realized, it was the only way for her to keep the offer a secret until she could surprise me in person! 

Plot or characters first? 

Hmm… It depends. I feel like both are very intertwined when I get an idea. 

Illustrator hero?

So many and I’m always discovering new ones! But my favorites as a kid were Gomi Taro, Tove Jansson, James Marshall. I still look to them for inspiration. 

Words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators? 

I don’t know if I qualify to give words of wisdom since I’m always questioning myself as an illustrator. But I try to remind myself to not be so hard on my work or my pace. And to not compare myself with all of the talented artists around the world. If I start to feel lost, I remember what I hope to achieve through my art and stories — making the reader/viewer smile or laugh, and hopefully add a small piece of happiness to their day.

What is giving you hope today? 

The acts of compassion and love I hear about, especially with everything that’s going on right now.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

It feels strange to be promoting my book with the current global situation. So I’ve been trying to find a way I can do that while also helping out the indie bookstores, libraries, and publishing industry. I’m hoping to draw some Instagram posts to create awareness and remind people of ways they can support the book industry, so all of the people behind the scenes can continue providing great books to readers! And maybe make some coloring pages for the kids (& adults!) cooped up inside.


The Bear in My Family is published by Dial Books and launched on March 10, 2020

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