THE LOST PACKAGE: Interview with Richard Ho (+Giveaway)

Author Richard Ho is here to tell us about his brand new picture book with illustrator Jessica Lanan! THE LOST PACKAGE shows what goes on at the post office while also celebrating hope and new friendships. Hooray for mail! With all the emphasis on technology these days, it can be such a wonderful surprise to get regular mail. A package to open is especially nice.

In this story an empty box transforms into a package and then moves along through the mail system. But what happens when the package gets lost? Young readers will want to flip the pages to find out.

THE LOST PACKAGE is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly!

Now let’s hear from Richard!

What was your main inspiration for writing THE LOST PACKAGE? 

I’ve always been fascinated by mail, specifically the system used by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). My father worked as a postal clerk for the USPS plant in the Bronx for over 30 years, so I grew up with an insider perspective. I basically never had to go to the post office or a mailbox to send a letter—I just handed it to my father before he went to work!

As I got older, I started to appreciate just how amazing the USPS truly is. It connects every part of the United States, from the biggest cities to the most remote towns. It’s an American institution that’s older than the country itself! But what really captured my imagination was the question that puzzles anyone who has ever sent a package: what happens if it gets lost? What does that journey look like? Do lost packages ever find their way to their destinations? And if so, how? I picked my father’s brain a bit, and the contours of a story emerged.

Fascinating! What kind of research did you do on the mail process? 

My dad obviously was the best resource, with his firsthand perspective. He gave me a clear overview of what happens to a package—from the time it’s dropped off at a local post office to the moment it arrives at its destination. He explained some of the things that can go wrong along the way. And he fact-checked every detail in the eventual story. I remember an earlier version had the package being placed on a large tractor-trailer truck for a cross-country drive, and he pointed out that a package sent from New York to California would never go by truck—it would be shipped by air.

But the real hard work of researching the mail process was done by our incredible illustrator, Jessica Lanan. The manuscript had lots of technical details, including the names of machines used in the sorting facility. But there aren’t many images available online. So, Jessica had to dig deep to find the visual references she needed. Getting tours of local post office facilities is nearly impossible, so she ended up relying on an exhibit titled “Systems at Work” at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. When I showed her sketches to my father, he gave an enthusiastic thumbs up and confirmed that the details were exactly right!

Digging deep can really make a difference. And you have the best dad!! Tell us about your writing process. 

With every new story idea, I generally start by collecting all of my thoughts and dumping them into a Word document. These thoughts might include plot points, character names, ideas about settings, themes I want to address, random phrases, and even specific lines that sometimes end up in the final manuscript. Then I rearrange everything into a loose outline that serves as the bones or skeleton of the story.

For THE LOST PACKAGE, the seed of the idea was simple: follow a lost package on its journey from sender to recipient, with the package as the protagonist. Then it was a matter of fleshing out the details. Who sends the package? Who is meant to receive it? How does it get lost? And ultimately, how is it found?

Interestingly, the earliest version of this story had a much different structure. The text was originally a single word per page, each corresponding to a stage of the package’s journey. Some examples were “Packed,” “Sorted,” “Lost,” “Found,” and “Delivered.” This version intrigued Roaring Brook editor Emily Feinberg (who was also my editor on my first picture book, RED ROVER: CURIOSITY ON MARS). But she wasn’t sold on the one-word structure. So, I revised it, using a more traditional narrative style, and that’s the version she acquired!

What do you hope children will take away from your book? 

On top of giving kids a cool behind-the-scenes look at how the postal system works, I wanted to tell a story about friendship. At the heart of this book is the idea of mail as a vehicle for personal connection. The original backstory I had in mind was that the sender and recipient are pen pals. But with Emily and Jessica’s input, the relationship evolved into one of best friends separated by distance after one moved away. Exchanging packages is their way of continuing their friendship. I really love that tweak, because it makes the symbolism of the package so much more emotionally resonant. It really sends the message that friendship can overcome anything.

Jessica and Emily also added one more wrinkle: while I originally had an adult woman finding the lost package, they suggested we make it a woman and her young son (and their dog!). The addition of the boy into the story opened up another unexpected avenue for friendship, and I absolutely adore the result.

I love it too – so cool how this turned out!

Finally, I wanted to infuse the story with a sense of hope and the realization that getting lost isn’t necessarily the end of the road. The package’s journey reminds us that even when things don’t go exactly as planned, they can still work out in the end. Like a lost package, we might experience bumps and detours as we navigate life. But more often than not, we wind up where we’re meant to be.

What are your top 3 tips for writing picture books? 

1. Find your voice. Yes, it’s important to read widely, and you can learn a lot by analyzing the books of your favorite authors. But there’s also a natural tendency to try to imitate what’s worked for others. Don’t try to be a Mo Willems or Amy Krause Rosenthal or Mac Barnett clone. Write your stories, in a style and tone and voice that are uniquely you. It might take a while to discover what that is, but believe me—the more you write, the more your own voice will reveal and assert itself.

2. Read your drafts aloud. Picture book manuscripts are written with an audio component in mind. Words and sentences that seem perfectly crafted on paper might stall or clash in unexpected ways when spoken. Pretend that you’re reading the story to a classroom full of students, and see if there are any problem areas that need to be smoothed out. Then revise, revise, revise . . . and read it aloud again!

3. Let the illustrator work their magic. Jessica Lanan once told me that while she is open to authors including art notes in manuscripts, they should keep in mind that some illustrators can’t “unsee” those notes. In other words, if the author suggests one way to visualize the text, the illustrator naturally gravitates toward that suggestion—and potentially misses out on bringing their own solution to the table. Who knows what ingenious idea they might have conjured to elevate the story? That insight from Jessica totally blew my mind. From that point on, I resolved to use art notes even more sparingly, because the last thing I want to do is restrict an illustrator unnecessarily.

What’s new and exciting? 

My third picture book, YEAR OF THE CAT, will be published by Greenwillow in fall 2022. It’s a subversive take on the origin story of the Chinese zodiac, illustrated by the talented Jocelyn Li Langrand. I have a number of picture books coming after that, including A ROCK IS BORN, a millennia-spanning ode to the rock cycle illustrated by the amazing Lily Williams. The others are yet-to-be-announced, and I can’t wait to talk about them when the time is right!

So wonderful – congratulations.  Somebody, send me a package soon!

Richard Ho’s website          Jessica Lanan’s website

Richard Ho on Twitter       Jessica Lanan on Twitter

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a copy of THE LOST PACKAGE, please leave a comment by April 9. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner in my next post.

Congratulations to Dee Knabb for winning a HAZEL AND TWIG book from my last post.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!

–Michelle

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 books for children -- with more in the works. Michelle loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Her latest books are BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins and FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: www.michellemeadows.com

56 Comments:

  1. I love the idea and layers of meaning offered in The Lost Package. Can’t wait to read this one.

  2. I’m so intrigued with the back story of how this book came to be. I can’t wait to read it. And thank you, Picture Book Builders for my copy of Hazel and Twig. The text and illustrations have so much heart.

  3. What an exciting and unique idea for a picture book! Even as an adult, I’ve wondered what happens when a letter or package gets lost. 🙂 Can’t wait to read this!

  4. Love how you mined your personal experience, then brought others in. Wish I got more more packages (besides the Amazon kind)!

  5. This one seems exceptional in its marriage of word and image. I can’t stop looking at all the beautiful decisions made on the spread with the mail truck.
    Just.
    Wow!

  6. What a great message in The Lost Package! And, I know everyone loves to get packages in the mail!

  7. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Love this and love your advice for writers. Thank you!

  8. Avatar
    Danielle Hammelef

    Thank you for the interview. I know we rely on USPS even more now with the virus still raging outside and this book is so timely. I also love the deeper message of being lost doesn’t mean you won’t ever be found.

  9. This sounds like a book with a lot of heart! Can’t wait to read the copy we ordered for our library. Thanks for writing this!

  10. This book sounds great! I love snail mail. 🙂 The perfect story. Congratulations!

  11. I loved learning more about THE LOST PACKAGE from Richard and am excited that there are many more books in the works!

    Jessica’s tip about illustration notes is so smart and I am glad Rich shared it here.

    Congratulations!

  12. I love this story idea and the interview! (And, I currently have a lost package…it’s a book!)

  13. Love this one!

  14. What an interesting behind the scenes look at the post office and packages. My kids love getting mail and I can see them really interested in your story!

  15. As someone who’s been writing to the same 4 pen pals since I was 13 (I’m about to turn 50), I am super excited to see a book about the post. Cannot wait to read this!

  16. Oh I cannot wait to read this. Thanks for sharing!

  17. This sounds like such a wonderful story. I can’t wait to read it, Richard!

  18. I also love the post office! I’m fascinated with the how the mail gets processed and delivered. What a wonderful and interesting book! Congratulations!

  19. My father worked for the USPS for more than 30 years too. A postage scale was always on his desk.

  20. I have this one sitting on my desk, and can’t wait to read! It sounds fascinating!

  21. Book looks so fun, think my twins would love it!

  22. It was really interesting to read about how you and Jessica worked together on getting the details of the machines right.

  23. Avatar
    Jilanne F Hoffmann

    When he was young, my son was fascinated by a nonfiction book about how mail moves through the postal system. i can’t tell you how many nights we read it before bedtime. This new informational fiction book would surely have appealed to him. In fact, i’m tempted to get it for him, anyway, even though he’s now a teenager, LOL.

  24. Richard, what a wonderful tribute to your father and the USPS! I love mail and it is how my fractured family stayed in touch. What a treasure your book is going to be for so many. Congratulations!!! And I can’t wait to read your other books too.

  25. Thank you all so much for your kind and generous words! I hope you enjoy the book… and may your mail never be lost! 🙂

  26. Hi Richard, Thanks for sharing your research for THE LOST PACKAGE. I just picked up a copy from my library today. And I love the story!

  27. This book sounds like it could be a great conversation starter.

  28. What a cool idea and I love your three tips. I look forward to reading it!

  29. Thanks for the three excellent tips! Looking forward to reading your book.

  30. Great interview. Thanks!

  31. My kiddo is obsessed with mail delivery and would be so excited to see this book added to his collection. It looks amazing.

  32. Thank you for the three excellent writing tips. I look forward to reading THE LOST PACKAGE.

  33. Love the artwork and the story!

  34. This book looks wonderful! I love hearing how the book evolved in collaboration with the editor and illustrator.

  35. As a person who is constantly waiting in my privileged bubble in South Australia for parcels to arrive from Covid 19 ravaged countries, I worry a lot about the fate of things that are posted. I also post precious things to my grandchildren in Canada with my heart in my mouth, praying that they’ll reach their destination safely. This book would resonate deeply with my grandchildren, as their only physical contact with me and their other grandma at the moment is by handling things that we have made ourselves and personally packaged.

  36. This sounds like an amazing book! I too have always been fascinated by the mail. How can a tiny letter HERE get to THERE so quickly! Thanks so much for sharing the story behind your creation. Can’t wait to read it!

  37. Fun and informative book. Thanks for sharing and congrats on all your upcoming publications Richard.

  38. Thank you for the interview. This book sounds great and I have a soft spot for the postal system!

  39. I absolutely love this book and its creators…Rich’s artful text and Jess’s stunning illustrations!

  40. Great interview! While living in Korea, I never received one of the boxes I had mailed to myself from the states. It’s still LOST or someone else is enjoying all its contents.
    Great premise. And congrats on all your books, Richard!

  41. Oh! My son and I will love this one! Thanks for sharing your process and congratulations, Richard.

  42. This book looks beautiful.

  43. Great writing tips! Thanks for sharing.

  44. What a gorgeous book! I l have to get my hands on it!

  45. I’ve been seeing the book out and about on the internet…now I know I need to get my hands on it! Fascinating process!

  46. This is a wonderful topic for a picture book! Thank you for sharing it here. I enjoy following this blog because it introduces me to wonderful books!

  47. Just reviewed The Lost Package on my blog, A Kids Book a Day.

  48. Thank you for sharing your great backstory. We have had our mailman, Chris for the last 40+ years. All the neighborhood loves Chris imagine the stories he could tell!

  49. This is such a touching and gorgeously illustrated book! Congrats, Richard & Jessica!! The love oozes through every page, and it’s no surprise that Emily wanted to include a dog–it’s all the sweeter for it :).

  50. This brought tears, “Like a lost package, we might experience bumps and detours as we navigate life. But more often than not, we wind up where we’re meant to be.”
    This take away will resonate with anyone who reads it.
    So looking forward to reading your book. Such a fresh topic!
    Thank you for the amazing interview!

  51. Wow! This book is so timely–given what is happening with our postal delivery system. Congratulations, Richard. My dad was a rural mail carrier–I think there’s a story somewhere in that!!

  52. Avatar
    Cynthia Wyszynski

    Such an intriguing premise – I can’t wait to read it!

  53. I love how the different layers fell into place. Thanks for sharing.

  54. Can’t wait to see the journey the package takes!

  55. Such a wonderful resource person you used. Perhaps a father/son bonding moment? Congratulations

  56. If you want to see a surprise, type in 123 Sparrow St., San Fran, CA into Google. The reason to do this is that the book shows us that the little boy and his mother deliver the package to Sparrow St., and the house number is 123. One you find that place, zoom in and find a hidden treasure!
    Wonder if the author had this in mind.

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