Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In the Coop with Bonny Becker

Children's book author Bonny Becker stole our fowl hearts many moons ago with the world's most lovable (and hungriest) crocodile. Bonny's playful language and wry humor sparkle again in A Visitor for Bear, her most recent picture book gorgeously illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, about a grumbly bear and a wee mouse who won't take no for an answer. It was our great pleasure to ask Bonny a few questions.

How do you know when what you write is funny?

When it makes me laugh. But, maybe that’s not such a good test; I’m a shamefully easy laugh. My husband’s been counting on it for years. In fact, he doesn’t have to do his comic bits at all anymore. All he has to say now is “Punchline #25” and I’ll laugh.

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

Go with your own sense of humor, whatever it is—dry wit, slapstick, gentle smiles, bodily functions. Maybe for younger kids you should go a little light on the irony. Although if it were an ironic fart…

Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?

Once I thought it would be “funny” to tie my brother to the bathroom sink with a rope. My brother thought it would be “funny” to tickle me as I attempted this. Then funnily enough my hands slipped out from under me; I hit the bathroom floor with my mouth open and shattered my two front teeth.

Oddly, my father didn’t think it was funny at all.

What are some of your favorite funny books?

The Wayside School books by Louis Sachar

“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein

“Shrek” by William Steig

“Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” by Judi Barrett

“Me Talk Pretty Someday” by David Sedaris

“Cheaper by the Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

“Auntie Mame” okay it’s a movie, but it makes me laugh every time I see it.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

“The Christmas Crocodile.” I love the grand old house that the illustrator David Small created and the absurd family. I want an Uncle Carbuncle who sends crocodiles for Christmas.

Do you prefer The Marx Bros or Three Stooges?

Hands down the Marx Brothers. Give me “the secret word” over an eye poke any day.

What was your best Halloween costume ever?

In our family there were no store-bought outfits; we couldn’t wear masks because you couldn’t see well so they weren’t “safe” and my mom was not into sewing, so I alternated between a ghost in an old white sheet with cut out eyes (yeah, that was a lot safer) or a gypsy with a long skirt, a scarf around my head and a bunch of my mom’s costume jewelry. My brother had it worse—I think he was a bum every year.

What is your Dream Job for a Day?

To be a great singer/songwriter. After a day of good food and schmoozing with my fabulously funny friends in New York, a visit to the beauty salon (where I’m mysteriously 20 years younger), a little shopping, museum going and fending off fans, I’m whisked off in the limo to my performance at that great little club where I sing my heart out. Then I stay up all night writing songs. Okay, so it’s a really long day.

Clown V. Mime Deathmatch. Pick your winner.

Mime bores Clown to death.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet?

Groucho Marx

BONUS QUESTION: Word on the street is that there will be more Bear books to come. Can you give us the scoop? What's up next for Bear?

In 2009 is “A Birthday for Bear” where Bear reprises his grouchy role, but this time it’s about his birthday. Mouse eventually tricks Bear into having a happy birthday—it involves lots of cake.

After that is “A Bedtime for Bear.” Bear has his first ever sleepover. But there is one problem—Bear needs quiet, absolute quiet to sleep. And Mouse, well, he tries to be as quiet as a, well, you know. But Bear hears every whisper and rustle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Come and Play

Come and Play:
Children of Our World Having Fun

Poems by children
Photographs by Magnum Photos
Edited by Ayana Lowe
Bloomsbury Children's Books
ISBN 978-1599902456

We chicks have never had any use for "coffee table" books, given that (a) we can't even find our coffee table, due to the heeps of books we have stacked all over the coop, and (b) the idea of books being used primarily for decoration or pretense tends to ruffle our feathers in the worst way. But gosh darnit, if we could find our coffee table and if we did put just one book on it for show, it might very well be this one.

Come and Play is a gorgeous photo collection of children all over the world having a blast doing what kids do best: playing. Chilean kids hanging from monkey bars. Chinese goobers playing ping pong. Norwegian peanuts building an ice sculpture. Accompanying poems written by elementary students in editor/teacher Ayana Lowe's classes in New York City provide the perfect, child-friendly complement to the luminous photographs.

We dare you to flip through the pages of this book and not feel like planet earth would be a better place if we could all play a good game of freeze tag together, or paddle around the world's shorelines in styrofoam boxes. And we bet you a pint of whoppers that you (and the kids in your life) can't get through this book without a huge smile on your face. Come on, try it. Come and play. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mary Had a Little Lamp

Mary Had a Little Lamp
by Jack Lechner, illustrated by Bob Staake
Bloomsbury Books
ISBN: 1599901692

Some kids like cuddly bears. Some like fuzzy blankies. Some like the comfort of a binky. But Mary isn't like other kids. Instead of a bear, a blankie or a binkie, she carts around a lamp.

Mary had a little lamp--
The bendy, gooseneck kind.
And everywhere that Mary went
She dragged the lamp behind.

We love this fresh take on the classic nursery rhyme. What's especially fun about this zippy, silly book is Mary's attitude. This perky little individualist doesn't give a flying fig what others think of her appliance. Her teacher scolds her, the kids tease her and her parents worry. None of this matters to Mary. She simply likes her lamp, and that's that!

When Mary's parents, sure that she has some strange affliction, take her to the doctor, Lechner delivers one of our all time favorite lines:

Their doctor said, "I've never seen
so puzzling a condition.
But lamps are not my specialty
You need an electrician."

Staake's brightly colored illustrations use simple shapes and lines to create a lively, graphic style. Sure to be a favorite at storytimes everywhere--this book will light up your libraries!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

In The Coop with Katie Davis

She writes. She illustrates. She makes fabulous jewelry, sculptures and sweaters. Her hysterical books are loved by children all over. What's not to love about Katie Davis? We can't get enough of her, and we think that after reading this interview, you won't be able to either. In fact, we think you'll love her so much you'll want to sign up for her "every so often announcements" on the homepage of her website, Lots of fun stuff--check it out!

How do you know when what you write is funny?
Laughing is a dead giveaway.


Actually, I’ve thought a lot about this because in my new book, The Curse of Addy McMahon, I use humor a lot as a way of leavening the serious aspects of the story.
I also used illustration in addition to writing, because the main character, Addy, keeps her diary in graphic novel format- it’s her life in a comic book so she calls it her
autobiogra-strip. I used it as a humorous vehicle to carry the most emotional and serious parts of the book. It makes it a lot easier to absorb sad things if you get some comic relief.

One scene at the end was resolved as I was driving. The solution came to me in a flash, and I burst out laughing in the car. Readers will laugh when they get to this passage too, but they’ll have been reading something emotionally intense. Without the humor to balance the impact, it would be too hard to take.

Do you have any tips for writing and/or illustrating funny books?
Yes. Be funny.

Actually, simply being funny doesn’t always lead to the desired effect. I can write funny, but learning to balance that with the poignancy in The Curse of Addy McMahon was really difficult. But I now think it’s that hard-won balance that gives depth to both the humor as well as the heartrending moments.

In fact, the manuscript was rejected a few times because though editors overall loved the voice, they weren’t comfortable with the juxtaposition of the comedy and the reality of Addy’s losses. Her father had died, her mom has a love interest, Addy loses her best friend, who then becomes BFF with her archenemy… I thought it was just like life, but novels are NOT like life. They have to be constructed for maximum effect.

That’s when I thought of using the graphic novel structure for Addy’s diary. I extracted all the hardest emotional scenes and put them in the autobiogra-strips. All of a sudden, the comedy stood out, and instead of fighting with the poignant moments, they supported each other.

It took me years to figure out that balance. So I guess it’s not just your average “Gee, I’d like to write a funny book” kind of situation.

Has being funny ever gotten you in trouble?
I wasn’t aware of my ability to make people laugh waaay back when I was a kid. Now, though, I’m pretty sure I’ve been considered rude at times because I’ll interrupt to get a laugh. I tend to be funniest in a crowd so I might blurt out something – though when people get a good laugh they’re usually pretty forgiving, luckily for me.

What are some of your favorite funny books?

Present company excluded, I love the picture book, The Cow That Went Oink by Bernard Most. When my son was little he would shake silently, he was laughing so hard. Of course it was contagious, and we’d laugh until we were both crying. I also just read the middle grade novel, The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton and was caught laughing out loud in public, same with The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, and I love A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer. And I love Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and the Minnie and Moo series. Oh, and I love anything by Mo Willems – the Elephant and Piggie books just slay me. So do the Lemony Snicket books. I just re-read this answer and there is a lot of love here and who can blame me? Funny books are like potato chips, once you eat one, you can’t stop.

Yes, I do eat books.

What is your dream job for a day?

To sing like Aretha Franklin. The fact that I can’t sing would not be a problem, since you did say it was a dream. And if I can’t have that for real, then the job I have now is pretty dang dreamy.

Clown vs. Mime deathmatch. Pick your winner.

Everyone knows mimes do not deserve to live, so I’d have to go with the clown. However, since my daughter is afraid of clowns, I’d be compelled to at least bend his pinkie back.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?
I’d like to live in The Curse of Addy McMahon because Addy is funny and can draw and write, and I’d love having friends like that. Wait. I do have friends like that. Never mind. I’d choose Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job because if I were a tooth fairy I could fly and I would like to do that. Notice it never occurred to me that I’d be the dentist.

Do you prefer the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges?

Marx Brothers, hands down. Are there girls who like The Three Stooges?

What was your best Halloween costume ever?

Uncle Harry’s Human Head Soup without a doubt.
It won me $2,000 in a costume contest!

I made a life-size oven out of foam core and used cables for 3 stove coils, but cut a hole where the back burner should’ve been. I bought one of those disposable heavy foil bastings pans, cut a hole in the center, and wired it over the “back burner” hole, attaching smaller foil tins inside that and put dry ice in them. I placed carrots with long green stems over the edges so you couldn’t see the dry ice. After I stuck my head up through the hole from underneath, a friend dressed like a chef basted the dry ice with water, making “steam” and voila! My head was cooking on the stove. It was proportionally correct so the effect was fantastic!

However, my mime costume was scarier.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet?

Danny Kaye, even though I already met him. But he wasn’t dead at the time, so can I still count him? (If you haven’t seen his funniest movie, Wonder Man, check out the “Palpably Inadequate” scene. When I watch it’s good to keep a diaper handy, because I laugh so hard. That might have been TMI…)

Do you have any new books coming out?

Why yes, as a matter of fact, funny you should ask. My first novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon just hit the bookstores. If you see it, buy it. If you don’t buy it, it would be nice if you put it face out. Don’t worry, no one at the store will yell at you. And if they do, threaten to sic a mime on them.