Interview with The Undies founders

Undie-Awards-Logo_605TundiesHey it’s the Tundies (the most adorable nickname bestowed on us by Carter) here after the glorious long weekend. Ever since we found out about The Undies, there has been a buzz of excitement in the office. We submitted our 2016 case cover contenders and even searched through our back list to share some older case designs online. Our joy that such an award has surfaced made us reach out to the founders themselves – Carter from Design of the Picture Book and Travis from 100 Scope Notes – for an interview. These two creative librarians sat down, took off their jackets, and gave us a closer look at what The Undies are all about:

Carter HigginsCarter: Travis! The fine folks at Tundra are abuzz with Undies fever. We did it! We made people talk about underthings on the internet in a clean kind of way. This thing can only get more fun.

Was there a moment that inspired The Undies? Do you remember its origin story?

Travis JonkerTravis: I’m glad you asked because, in the words of Big Boi “I can remember that damn thang like it was yesterday.”

Way back in 2015 there was some good Twitter conversation going on about endpapers in picture books – as happens on Twitter – when author Julie Falatko came up with the idea of an award just for endpapers. Author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli named it: The Endies.

Julie tweeted out her nominees for the award. Then illustrator Carolyn Fisher joined the discussion and another idea was born.

This was all fun, but when I see a blog idea I grab on and death-grip that sucker until it becomes real. So a few months later, I sent you an email to turn The Undies into a thing.

Is this how you remember it? Do you remember our first email exchange about it?

Carter HigginsCarter: Oh wow, Twitter is some time capsule, huh? Leave it to Pizzoli to be so perfectly quippy. No wonder he won a Geisel.

I had forgotten about The Endies, though – so, what’s your 2017 looking like?

When you emailed a few months ago (subject line: Case Cover Awards), I was on board before I even opened the message. You threw out some ideas for names (The Casies! The Undies!), and I will quote my own email back to you:

“If it’s not called The Undies I quit everything about books.”

Although I’m pretty grateful that you said to limit how much searching on Twitter I did with that kind of hashtag. ALT+J, people. Always listen to Jonker.

What’s your history with case covers? Do you remember the first time you peeked under the jacket?

Travis JonkerTravis: Don’t search “The Undies”, people. Just don’t.

I’ve always loved case covers, but I didn’t become obsessive until 2013. That was the year I was on the Caldecott committee. It was also a year with some great case covers. My favorite from that year was Bob Staake’s Bluebird. With its excellent use of perspective and sense of story, that one was unforgettable. Let’s see – almost all the books our committee chose that year had cases that deviated from the cover image: Journey, Mr Wuffles!, and our winner, Locomotive.


I feel like you can do a better job than I on explaining what exactly is appealing about a unique case cover. You’re good at that.

Carter HigginsCarter: You guys did a really great job in 2013. That’s a solid Caldecott legacy.

Locomotive is such a great example of why case covers are so appealing. That is one beefy book, and the illustration of the bison underneath the jacket added another smack of story that the pages themselves couldn’t hold. Using every square inch of surface area for storytelling is something that is so dazzling and magical and feels like you’ve stumbled on a secret. It’s a great experience as a reader, one that only holds up in print.

The same goes for endpapers that further the story, or even tell a different one. And have you noticed this – lately, I’m seeing a bunch of stories that start before the book’s title page, so that the title lands as text itself. These book openings are super resonant of films in that way, and I’m into it.

I don’t think it was until I worked in graphics that I understood the picture book as a physical piece of art itself, and now I’m making up for lots of lost time studying books and celebrating them on my blog.

As far as story time goes, I think I’ve ruined hundreds of kids who are bummed when the jacket and the case are the same. And it feels extra hidden and Easter-egg-y when you have to work around the book having already been processed and taped up. Kids love that. Instant scavenger hunt.

Are you surprised at the response we’ve gotten to The Undies? How do you think this thing will grow?

Travis JonkerTravis: I’m glad you mentioned story time, because a case cover reveal does make a great “Oh, you liked that book? Well here’s one more cool thing about it.” I still remember taking the jacket off Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown and seeing the delight on everyone’s face. That case cover, by the way, had the added bonus of having texture as well. Good work all around on that one.

Side note: Something we’ve tried in my library to keep the cases viewable (including that Locomotive case) is wrapping the jacket in mylar but not taping the jacket to the book. Not for the faint-hearted librarian, but so far so good in my school library.

The reaction to the award was really cool to see. To be honest, it was more enthusiastic than I expected. It will be fun to make the shortlists come November and get the vote going. I will let everyone know now: IF YOU ARE ONLY GOING TO VOTE IN ONE ELECTION COME NOVEMBER, MAKE IT THE UNDIES.

One thing that I see growing out of this process is an Undies Hall of Fame. Soon, I see us working with developers to break ground on a state of the art facility to properly honor and display the best case covers of all time. What city, though. What city?!

Wait, I glossed over the shortlist/voting thing – can you help me out with that?

Carter HigginsCarter: The great thing about starting an award is that you get to make up all the rules, right? Which we may or may not still be doing. But we are professionals with a plan, so here’s what the people can expect. Travis and I will do the really great homework of looking at all the submissions we’ve received over the year. Picture Randy, Paula, and Simon spreading out Polaroids of wannabe-Idol-faces and sending some to their glory.

We’ll create some categories for cool things we notice, and lump cases into shortlists. We might have a Best Use of Photography or Most Surprising Feature or Shiniest Foil or Hey, What Are the Caldecott Winners Up to Now?

Then: the people vote. And Wolf Blitzer can call it a win for the books.

Sound good, boss?

Travis JonkerTravis: I like to think I’m Simon, but I’m probably really more Randy. You’re (and I mean this with a lot of love and admiration) definitely Paula. Paula before season 5, when we all started to worry about her.

That’s how I envision things going down in the fall as well. And I like how everyone can get involved by voting for the final winners.

So keep sending in those case cover pics, people! But check the gallery first to see if your nomination has already been nominated – that could save you some time.

TundiesTundies: Thank you Carter and Travis for taking the time to chat Undies with us! Everyone else, stay tuned as we share our Undies contenders for 2016 and some from our backlist!