everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Archive for Children’s Book Publishing

USHER reads IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD by the Dillons’ Book to 2 million children

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Today the R&B superstar Usher graced Scholastic with his typical generosity and warm respect for people of all backgrounds. In an event to promote reading–called “Open a World of Possible”–Usher spoke to an auditorium of excited students and also read Leo & Diane Dillons’ If Kids Ran the World. It was the perfect message of love, peace, feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, giving medicine to the sick, and providing good schools and loving homes to all children–something Usher has been doing in his own very powerful and inspiring initiative: Usher’s New Look.

Here is a link to the event, a webcast that occurred today:

http://usherwebcast.scholastic.com/

And here’s an article from Vanity Fair, covering the event.

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/11/usher-book-reading-tour:

We Watched Usher Read a Book to a Crowd of Screaming Children

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” he said.

NOVEMBER 6, 2014 4:46 PM

BY STUART RAMSON/INVISION FOR SCHOLASTIC/AP IMAGES

 

 

 

 

 

Usher treated an excited, decidedly pro-reading crowd of schoolchildren to a reading and performance in New York on Thursday. The kids were packed into an auditorium at Scholastic’s Soho offices for a “BiggerThan Words” Web cast, which marked the launch of the book company’s “Open a World of Possible” campaign.

“You’re all Internet stars,” Scholastic’s Billy DiMichele told the audience, who was quite pleased to hear that “as many as 2 million people” were watching the live-stream of the proceedings.

“I read to escape the reality that I have in my day-to-day life,” Usher said after emerging to a frenetic reception, telling the audience that his favorite books include Green Eggs & Ham and the Winnie the Pooh series. Usher said that while his mother and other relatives would read to him, it was his first-grade teacher, Ms. Harris, who first showed him “how to use my imagination beyond what’s on the page.”

He then read If Kids Ran the World, by Leo and Diane Dillon, and performed a stripped-down version of “Without You.” Scholastic peppered the event with pre-taped video interviews with children who explained what they think “possible” means. One boy said he thinks “possible” is about making the unusual normal, “like, pigs flying, or fish out of water.” Another pint-size reader offered this rationale for why he liked books: “There is no limit. Like in a car, there’s a speed limit. But there’s no limit on reading, you can read forever, unless if you have to go to a birthday or something.” Indeed.

VF Hollywood caught up with the performer and father after the event, and asked if he was able to reconnect with Ms. Harris as an adult. “I’ve tried my hardest to reach out to family members who had a connection, because the school I actually attended was torn down,” he said. “Ridgedale was the name of the school.”

Usher offered an eclectic group when asked by a student member if he could name five people he would invite to a book club: “Morgan Freeman, because he has the coolest voice, Scarlett Johansson, and not just because she’s hot, SpongeBob, Oprah Winfrey, and my kids.”

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” Usher told VF Hollywood. “One thing I will say about inner-city kids, is that a lot of what they say is, ‘When I have tough days, or I want to escape my reality, I go to reading.’ You might not realize it, but kids internalize things differently than we do . . . They’re just innocent, man. That’s what I keep in tact, and reading does that.”

Usher said he tries to read with his sons, ages five and six, as much as possible. “They’re now at the age where they want to participate,” he said. “It could be any of the library of books that we have in the house, but now it’s more about engaging them instead of just reading it to them. But sometimes they use that as an excuse to stay awake.”

“The imagination of my kids is pretty hard to keep up with,” he admitted. VF Hollywood asked if Usher thought he’d still be putting out music when the youngest elementary-school children in the crowd on Thursday grew up to attend high-school dances. “As long as I can make music, and as long as I have my voice, I’m going to continue to make it,” he said. “I could be any age.”

At 36, Usher is somewhat of a premature veteran (his self-titled debut studio album turned 20 years old this August). He recently kicked off his first tour in three years, though he’s doing so without a new album to promote. “When we finished rehearsing, we had an idea of what could happen,” Usher told us. “It’s kind of like you add water and stir—or milk, because it’s a little bit creamy. But it’s been a good trip back for me.”

“I was so happy that I didn’t have an album to promote, because this is really about talent,” he continued. “It’s about being able to communicate and connect through conversation. Maybe we talk about where inspiration came from, or an offbeat tribute, or a drum solo, or an ultimate soulful moment. All those things are what I wanted to introduce to my fans . . . every night is a different journey.”

“The reaction to ‘You Got It Bad,’ ‘Let It Burn,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘D.J. Got Us Fallin’ in Love,’ and ‘Without You’ is just incredible, on a consistent basis,” he said. “I feel like I’m living in a golden moment, man.”

In hyping up the crowd for Usher’s arrival, DiMichele told the children that, if children actually did run the world, “I guarantee it would be a better place.” They screamed their agreement.

Eat Spam, You Dumb Bunnies! Dav Pilkey and the Funny “Good Night Moon” Room Story

 

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A friend who loves Dav Pilkey’s funny books about the Dumb Bunnies recently asked me how we were able to get permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the first book, The Dumb Bunnies. Her question reminded me of a wild and unexpected series of events that happened as we created that cover. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I was not laughing.

Dav sent me the dummy for The Dumb Bunnies long ago before The Adventures of Captain Underpants made him a household name. I put the dummy in my work bag and took it home. I remember it was raining, because I was standing in my NJ kitchen in my wet, black raincoat when I pulled the package out of my bag and put it on my kitchen counter. I was still wearing my coat when I read the whole thing.

You probably don’t know my sister JoAnn, but one of the things we share is a passion for Jim Marshall’s picture book The Stupids Die. A million years ago when we both lived in Boston, we used to read that book together, over and over, with peals of laughter. I had the same kind of laughter when I read The Dumb Bunnies, and I knew my sister would love it. I had tears streaming down my face, and I called her on the kitchen phone to tell her about it.

In-house we had many discussions about this controversial book. Other than Marshall’s The Stupids Die and the other Stupids books, I’m not sure this kind of humor had seen the light of day very often in children’s books. But Jean Feiwel and Barbara Marcus both understood great humor and both had a wonderful sense of what appeals to children. They could see what was appealing about the book, and they both backed Dav and me–so we were able to proceed.

We were in a meeting talking about marketing and publicity one day when Barbara came up with the idea of putting a sticker on the cover—a gold sticker that would be the kind we use when one of our books wins an award. It was her suggestion that the sticker should say something to this effect: This book is too dumb to win an award.

Geniuses, both of them. So we found a nice spot on the side of the front jacket for the sticker and proceeded to have them manufactured.

Meanwhile I was biting my nails because we still needed permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the book. Good Night Moon is about as sacred and treasured a classic as any children’s book can be, so I was hyperventilating about getting permission from both Harper and the Hurd estate to use Dav’s funny parody of it. I had been Editor-in-Chief at Harcourt prior to coming to Scholastic, and it was my private opinion that at Harcourt I would not have had a prayer of getting approval to use that cover parody. Jean assured me that Scholastic had very good relationships with Harper, in part because of our book clubs and book fairs, and that she didn’t think they would object. Another major difference between Scholastic and every other children’s publisher—I was constantly being amazed by the contrast.

Time passed, and the job of designing The Dumb Bunnies was given to Kathy Westray, who was either freelancing or had just joined Scholastic full-time after designing From Sea to Shining Sea. Her office was a cubicle, and she brought the finished mechanicals to my desk and left them for me to proofread. She’d done a lot of innovative, interesting things with the cover and interiors, and it was the first book of mine she’d designed. I could immediately see her brilliance—in my opinion, she is the best living book designer in the world—and after I carefully checked the mechanicals, I went to her cubicle, dazed.

“In all my years of being an editor, this is the very first time I have ever received a set of mechanicals that is perfect,” I said. It was true. Every design choice she’d made on the book enhanced it. For more than a dozen years, I was used to designs that had to be done again and again with typeface changes, margins off, ugly borders, unreadable titles…and The Dumb Bunnies was perfect in every way. (I would soon ask Kathy to become the Art Director for my imprint, the Blue Sky Press, and more than twenty years later, she still designs all my books…and I am thankful every day.)

Not long after, I got the amazing green light from Jean Feiwel that she had gotten approval for me to use the Good Night Moon room parody on the cover. So we went to press.

And I am trying to remember when exactly it was that I saw I had made a very big mistake on the book cover.

It was so big a mistake that I have probably blocked it out of my mind.

There, on a table next to the fireplace, was a can of Spam.

Yes, Spam.

     A trademarked can of ham—or something like ham–manufactured by Hormel.

And had I gotten permission from Hormel to use Spam on my book cover?

No.

     I was so occupied with getting permission from Harper and the others for the Good Night Moon room parody that I hadn’t even thought about the Spam. There it sat, and the book was printed—not shipped, but printed—and I dashed out a letter to Hormel and politely gave them all the reasons why it was an excellent idea to have Spam featured on the cover of The Dumb Bunnies.

     I was very, very, very worried about getting permission, but I could not imagine that they would deny it. Surely they would see the humor, and there wasn’t any harm in it, and it was a relatively small print run of a book by a relatively new talent….

Permission denied.

Hormel did not see the humor in the way its “food product” (I quote) was presented on the cover of my book.

I drafted more letters. Made phone calls. Begged. Pleaded.

Permission denied.

     I believe we shredded 30,000 posters that featured Spam on the cover of the book. We used to make a lot of posters back then, and I remember that our Marketing/Publicity Director, Doris Bass, was sympathetic. But what to do about the cover?

Barbara Marcus had saved the day with her idea of a sticker on the book. The sticker looked great, and miraculously the glue on the sticker was like cement. Once pressed onto the cover, it would not come off.

And although we had not planned to place the sticker so close to the center of the book jacket, it did a terrific job of eliminating the can of Spam. (This isn’t a great reproduction, but you can see where the sticker was placed on this first edition/first printing. As well, you may be able to see that the author, Dav, called himself “Sue Denim,” and it was always interesting that a vast number of people wanted to know about “Sue”–I hope you get the joke. If you don’t, think about it. In later editions the credits both went to Dav Pilkey, and the display type was changed to match The Adventures of Captain Underpants.)

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So that is why, if you are lucky enough to have a first edition/first printing of The Dumb Bunnies, you now know that under that sticker is hidden a can of Spam. “This book is too dumb to win an award” is the perfect gold medal to cover it up, don’t you agree?

We removed the Spam in the second printing, and the third and fourth and fifth and who-knows-how-many since; all these years later the book is still fresh and popular–because Dav had created a magnificent book that gave millions of children (including my sister and me) many more opportunities to laugh.

And I was—and still am—the happiest Dumb Bunny of all.

Why Head Lice are More Popular than Congress: David Shannon Understood It First

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Last night on THE DAILY SHOW, Jon Stewart announced that Congress is currently LESS popular than head lice.
This past fall, I published David Shannon’s BUGS IN MY HAIR!–a funny book about head lice. And it’s true, they are much more appealing than Congress.

HEAD LICE GET MY VOTE!

Ten Reasons Why Head Lice Are Better than Congress:

1. Head lice don’t fight among themselves.

2. Head lice get the job done.

3. Although it’s a challenge, you can make head lice go away.

4. Head lice are honest about what they do (feed on your blood and multiply), where Congress does the same thing but pretends to be helping you.

5. Head lice do not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white. Head lice treat every American the same way.

6. Head lice do not spend money and bankrupt anybody.

7. Head lice do not lie about themselves and one another.

8. Head lice do not send me 20-30 emails a day.

9. Head lice don’t pretend to care about what people think, where Congress doesn’t care but pretends they do.

10. Head lice come, and head lice go, but they don’t permanently wreck our lives. Congress, on the other hand, is destroying democracy.

VOTE FOR HEAD LICE!

Bonnie Verburg

VP, Scholastic Inc.
Editorial Director of the Blue Sky Press, an Imprint of Scholastic.

I published this book, and I approve this endorsement of replacing Congress with head lice!

(August 1, 2014)

Leo and Diane Dillon: Diane Dillon interviewed by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com

I just read this lovely interview of Diane Dillon, written by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com–and I want to share it. Thank you, Julie…especially for celebrating the enormous contributions the Dillons have made to children for more than five decades.
See the original at this link (with photos, illustrations, and nice typography):

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/making-better-world/

Making a Better World
By Julie Danielson on August 7, 2014

The dedication of the upcoming picture book with the names Leo and Diane Dillon on the cover reads as such: “In Memory of Leo, who wasn’t able to finish this one.”

The pair, who had been writing and illustrating picture books since 1970 and were twice awarded the Caldecott Medal, did indeed collaborate on If Kids Ran the World, a book from Scholastic’s Blue Sky Press, scheduled to hit shelves in late August. However, Leo died in 2012, just as they were finishing the book.

It’s a tale spilling over with unfettered joy, one that imagines a world full of peace, purity and utter harmony in the hands of children alone. A book that strikes such an unsullied and merry tone is certainly the best possible one with which to leave readers. “Leo was a very positive person and had a great sense of humor,” Diane tells If Kids Ran the Worldme. “One of his favorite sayings was: ‘Everything is going to be all right.’ The book was in its final stage when he died. The preliminary decisions had been made about the layout and what style and technique to use, and the research and many of the drawings were finished.”

The book also includes a note about the very collaborative process involved in the writing—that is, between Leo, Diane and their editor, Bonnie Verburg. This note states that the concept and multiple drafts came from Verburg, and despite protests from Leo and Diane, “she chose to be publisher rather than author.” Diane adds: “We had many conversations with [her] for nearly thirty years about how we wanted to approach the book—especially in the beginning. For instance, the underlying issues include hunger, homelessness, poverty, and war, but we wanted to illustrate the positive and hopeful actions people are taking, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and promoting equality and peace.”

It’s a book that has been met with mixed reviews, given the pie-in-the-sky view of the world with children fully in charge. Think The Lord of the Flies and turn it on its head (or, really, just altogether throw it out the window): There’s no waste, no cruelty, no war, no strife whatsoever. But the Dillons, Diane explains, had their reasons: “We feel that children want to be needed and like to be helpful. They have an innate sense of fairness and honesty and a capacity for joy. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, children can be seen playing and laughing. They have an innocence that we tend to lose as we grow older. It’s true that If Kids Ran the World presents a utopian world, but why not aim for the highest possibility?”

In fact, it’s to this notion of underestimating children that Diane returns when I ask about diversity in picture books today. If Kids Ran the World is an overt celebration of multiculturalism and inclusion, something the pair had championed in their long and lauded careers. In Margalit Fox’s New York Times piece on Leo’s death, she notes the “stylistic diversity” that characterized their work, as well as their dedication to portraying people of all colors. “All schools should have the same quality teachers, equipment, and books, and the expectation that all children can learn,” Diane says when I ask what schools can better do to champion diversity today. “The best way to teach children about diversity and peace is to live it ourselves as parents, teachers, and leaders of governments and religions. Too often some children are underestimated and under-challenged. This book was meant to inspire them to be their best. They have a part in making a better world.”

And what’s next for someone who spent decades working so successfully in tandem with her life partner that their work was described (again by Fox) as “a seamless amalgam of both their hands”?

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“There is something in the works,” Diane says, “but it’s too early to talk about it yet. It’s a time of introspection and reinvention for me, and right now I am enjoying a life without deadlines.”

We fans can surely wait patiently for Diane’s re-emergence and for the stories to come.

Illustrations from If Kids Ran the World © 2014 by Leo & Diane Dillon. Used with permission from The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

Southie, Fergus, and Dog Heaven

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When my son was still in diapers, he met David Shannon’s dog, Fergus. They were the same age, and they played together as puppies. I have always thought of Fergus as my son’s first friend. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a Westie entered our family, too. We named her Southie, short for Southpaw, and at first we also called her Fergus’s fiancé–although when he came for a visit, the Westies weren’t remotely interested in each other. Southie was busy with her “gift” bone, and Fergus just wanted to get out past the kitchen dog gate and into the living room where his humans were. Yesterday, at age 12, Southie trotted off to Dog Heaven, where she is chasing rats and catching squirrels (finally). No more cancer, no more pain. And I am grateful to Cyndi Rylant for writing and illustrating Dog Heaven, a book I love and am very proud to have published, because it is that image of my dog running across God’s fields that allows me to imagine Southie is still loved and being petted by hands so great they know no bounds and are generous with the roasted chicken strips. I am counting on you, God, to have a generous supply of squeaky banana toys.

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The Dillons’ Kitchen Table: A letter about making If Kids Ran the World

I was recently asked to write a letter to librarians and booksellers about IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD. A few hours ago I returned from the American Library Association Convention, where the 45th Anniversary of the Corretta Scott King Award was celebrated. It is such a warm, welcoming, loving community, and I had just received the first hardcover copy of KIDS from the printer. i slipped it into my bag and carried it with me the entire weekend, sharing it with friends who had known and admired the Dillons forever…. Lots of memories, lots of hearts touched by the splendid art as well as the generous sentiment–so typical of Leo & Diane.

Meanwhile, here’s the letter:

A Note from Bonnie Verburg, editor of If Kids Ran the World

For more than twenty-five years, it has been my great privilege and honor to work closely with Leo and Diane Dillon. In 1992, when I left Harcourt to become Editorial Director of Trade Books at Scholastic, I founded an imprint called the Blue Sky Press, and Leo and Diane drew our logo: a heart with wings. That winged heart is significant, because everything grows with love. And on January 11, 2011, when we began talking about creating a book called “If Kids Ran the World,” love was at the center that discussion—and the hundreds of discussions that followed.

Our original idea was to make a book that would introduce children and their older allies to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity; Heifer International; Doctors without Borders; and a full range of people and groups who exist to help others. What was initially difficult was to create such a book without including poverty, starvation, disease, war, racism—frightening issues that are tearing apart our world. It was at Leo and Diane’s kitchen table that we decided to cut all of that out of the book; I remember saying that when I imagined reading this book to my son, I didn’t want it to be his introduction to the horrors of war and other nightmares he would eventually encounter. So Leo and Diane instead built a book of optimism. Children feed the hungry, give medicine to the sick, build safe housing for those who need it, and keep the air and water clean. Certain issues had to be resolved—what would the children wear? It was important to the Dillons that children could wear any kind of clothing without being ridiculed. A child didn’t have to have that popular brand of $250 sneakers to be cool; he or she could wear the pair purchased at the Salvation Army, and nobody would laugh. Every detail in If Kids Ran the World was discussed at length; for a book with a very whimsical, light-hearted feeling, it was in fact planned with great seriousness. What an education I have had with each book I have published by Leo and Diane.

The manuscript was re-written so many times I lost track, and the pencil sketches and most of the finishes were complete when Leo became ill. When he decided to have surgery, it was beyond comprehension that he would catch an infection in the hospital and not return home to the studio.

Leo and Virginia Hamilton were my mentors, and Diane is one of my closest friends. The loss is profound. Yet the shining light left behind—and it positively glows in If Kids Ran the World—can never be diminished. In five decades of working together, the Dillons have changed the very fabric of what we consider to be a children’s book. And their commitment to include all people in their books— every race, religion, and socio-economic group—has not always been popular, but it has changed the lives of generations of children who were finally able to see their own beautiful faces in the stunning library of books that emphasized the beauty in each one of us…including you.

I hope you love If Kids Ran the World as much as we do, and I’m including Leo here. Every thought and brushstroke is an act of kindness and grace.

May the sun always shine upon you, may you always remember to be grateful for your many blessings, and may you bask in the pure joy that comes from helping others. Thank you for sharing the light.

 

 

 

How Do You Publish How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? Snapshot of Working with Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

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When my son was a toddler, I read sixteen picture books to him each day—eight in the morning and eight at bedtime…and often more. I had stacks of “good night” books but only four that I could tolerate reading again and again. And that is why I needed to come up with a new “good night” book. The concept came to me one morning while I was brushing my teeth.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror with suds flowing down my chin, and for some reason this made me think about a little Tyrannosaur Rex and his father, who was standing over him to make sure he brushed those gigantic teeth properly. Who could write this book for my little boy?

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I called Jane Yolen and asked her to write “Dinosaurs Say Good Night” with Mark Teague in mind because he had just painted the most magnificent dinosaur in the final pages of Audrey Wood’s The Flying Dragon Room. Faster than lightning, she sent me a warm and funny manuscript about the Tyrannosaur’s bad behavior and then his good behavior. She also had him misbehaving for Mama and then for Papa. We worked on it editorially and then sent it to Mark.

What I got back from him was a complete surprise. Instead of the Tyrannosaur family I had imagined, he had sketched a different dinosaur on every spread. And the parents were all…human.

     The humor of the enormous dinosaurs acting out while their comparatively tiny parents pulled out their hair set up a really humorous tension and gleeful sense of children out of control. It was spectacular, and it was far better than what I had wanted.

Mark had created a jacket sketch with a tyrannosaur on the cover, and my  concern (having a young son who was now beginning the dinosaur phase) was that children and parents would see that engaging T-Rex on the cover and be disappointed when they opened the book to see that the entire story was not about that character.

Hmmmm. The dummy was remarkable—energetic and wild and very funny! The range of dinosaurs inside was fantastic. But how could we let readers know about them?

My father was a scientist, and in his spare time he used our basement as a laboratory, building solar heating units and photocopy machines and recycling silver out of film.  I loved being his best helper, and the process of taking things apart, putting them back together, and solving the puzzle of how to make a better solar unit was great training for making good books. Essentially you are doing the same thing. As a team, the author, illustrator, editor, and designer assess any problems and try to come up with the solutions that will solve them. Or at least hide them or minimize them.

We often use the back cover, endpapers, front and back flap copy, and front matter to address issues we can’t solve within the book—or add information This would be the key to solving the one-dinosaur perception. If you want to know how to make picture books, this will be part of what you’ll learn, because the problem-solving process is what takes a good book and turns it into an outstanding book. The best editors all do this in their own ways. Books rarely arrive exactly the way they end up being published.  The idea is to end up with a perfect book—one that flows at an even pace without a bump and feels as if it fell off the tree and into your hand like a ripe apple…effortlessly. (And as a side note, I have also watched as marketing and salespeople take over a publishing company with no concept of what editors do, and they assume the books arrived in neat packages exactly the way we publish them, with no concept of all the work involved to get them to be the magnificent final books they are; and editors are laid off or fired, again with no concept of how deeply involved they are in the process, and that string of bestsellers and award winners the publisher has had goes away when the editor goes away. It is a sad thing and unfortunately increasingly common.)

In How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? I asked Mark why he chose do draw a variety of dinosaurs rather than the one T-Rex family, and he simply told me it had been too boring to draw the same dinosaur over and over again. So he didn’t. And he came up with an absolutely brilliant concept that was far more compelling!

We used all those places—flap copy, back cover, title page, and endpapers to signal to the buyer (and the child reader…always most important) that this would be a book about many kinds of dinosaurs. The tyrannosaur on the front cover had a curious, mischevious, and inviting expression, and it was an outstanding image for the book, so I was thrilled with that. I asked Mark to draw a different dinosaur (he chose a triceratops) for the title page, so the variety of dinosaurs would be clear up front. And then I realized that if the endpapers were peppered with all the dinosaurs in the book, it would be most obvious that this was not a tyrannosaur story. As well, Mark had cleverly hidden the names of the dinosaurs within the interior art, so endpapers would give us a place to present all the dinosaurs with their labels—in case our young readers couldn’t find the names. And the children would also have fun using their visual, endpaper dictionary to go look up the dinosaurs inside…because so many children do love dinosaurs and learn their names and take great pride in accumulating vast knowledge about these diverse and larger-than-life reptiles. They are pretty unbelievable.

Last we used the back cover to add yet another dinosaur, and then the whole thing fell into place and was clearly a book that presented an entire world of dinosaur children and their human parents, a book I absolutely loved and hoped other people would love, too. There were issues—as there almost always are—with the text being bumpy in places, and the transition from mother to father wasn’t working, but Jane is superb at tackling these things, and in the end the book feels as if it has always been in existence. How could it ever be any different?

The final challenge was with the cover, and it wasn’t the art but the title. All along I had thought of the book as Dinosaurs Say Good Night, and that’s what my outstanding art director, Kathy Westray, mocked up. She took it a step farther (she always does) and curved the type and made it out of a kind of reptilian skin with texture, which worked really well and involved a great deal of trial-and-error on her part. But the title was not as interesting as the image of the giant T-Rex and the funny look on his face…contrasted by a parent who clearly had nightmares dealing with her oversized child. And I realized that although the visual image was compelling and drew me into the book, the title wasn’t doing that in equal measure. One day, when I walked into my home office and looked at the mocked-up comps of the cover, I realized that I could increase the drama if I changed the title into a question. It would ask the reader something, and that would draw the reader into the book more effectively. So we changed the title to How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? I am happy to report that readers immediately loved the book, and it has gone on to become a perennial classic. It holds up to repeated readings and never gets boring.

We followed it with other dinosaur books, and at the moment, How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? is for sale in hardcover, and coming along in proofs is How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? Now that the series is set and overwhelmingly popular (not a bad book in the lot, I promise, and each one has a purpose: table manners, being able to say “I love you,” how to behave in school, and so on) I feel more comfortable tackling serious issues we have to address as parents. Anger is a tricky thing—handling your child when he is angry–and handling your own parental anger. I had stepped into that snake’s nest when I published Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry…Really, Really Angry, and that book was a Caldecott Honor and has really helped a lot of parents. It’s something that needs to be discussed, but parents are so often baffled about how to deal with temper tantrums and “terrible twos,” and seeing anger in their children is frightening. It was also pointed out to me by a preschool teacher that the anger they feel often scares the children themselves. So there is a need for these books, and my hope is that they present the beginning of a discussion that goes further than what we can comfortably cover in our books.

How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? is a topic I’ve wanted to publish forever, because to my surprise, when I had my son, my joy was accompanied by my fear for his safety. I was surrounded by graphic stories about children who had been stolen or kidnapped and tortured and killed, and as parents know, the terror of those thoughts is very real. We also need to discuss important safety issues with our children, yet it is an uneasy, uncomfortable conversation. Who wants to talk about all the horrid things that can happen to your child? On the other hand, she needs to know that when Uncle David puts his hand up her dress, it is not OK, and she needs to tell Mommy immediately. So again I am hoping that when the book comes out, it will spark discussions between parents and children so parents cover all the really important safety issues I could never put in a funny, light-hearted “How Do Dinosaurs” book…but for the good of our children, we need to talk about it. My hope.

Once again, Jane and Mark have created a delightful book overflowing with laughter, and on the “stranger danger” page, Mark drew an adorable old man as the “stranger” and a ferocious, enormous dinosaur as the child, and once again it isn’t remotely frightening; it will be up to the parent reader to choose to discuss talking with strangers and going off with them. There isn’t anything frightening in this book at all.

It’s been very important to me, as the guardian angel of this enterprise, to also do two additional things. One is to make crystal clear—as is true in the case of every book I’ve published—that the behavior might be unacceptable, but the child is always loved. The attitude of the parent is this:I do not like it when you throw a book across the room, but it is the behavior I do not like. I always love you. This is something I strive to make clear in my own parenting, and when my son was little, one of the four good-night books that stood up to repeated reading in our home was Mama, Do You Love Me? My son is 18 now, and he will still occasionally ask me if I would love him if he put salmon in my mukluks. Of course I would. (And I do have mukluks.) I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I would still love him. Which he knows.

The second thing is this. I have wanted to build a dinosaur library where every book is of very high quality, and every book contributes something helpful in the parent-child relationship. I have known parents who could not say “I love you” to their children, and in turn, their own parents could not say “I love you” to them. Having a love fest is always feels wonderful to me, but in How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? I hoped that parents who have that difficulty could use the book to help them say those precious words. And now as we step away from issues such as table manners and going to the doctor and step into issues that are more challenging such as how to handle anger and safety, I feel confident that we are building a library of books parent can trust—meaning that if you see the book features Jane and Mark’s dinosaurs, you can be assured that you will have a good experience with it—and if the subject matter is anger, for example, you know you can trust a book in this series to handle it well.

It’s 5:53 in the morning, and I wrote this because I couldn’t sleep. Earlier today I was explaining all of this to my new editorial assistant in New York—why we’ve made the decisions we’ve made, and when I got off the phone it occurred to me that other people might find it interesting…to go behind the scenes and see how the first book came together.

Jane has extraordinary talent and an ability to zero in on what the most common and potentially funny issues are in a topic, and Mark takes off and invents a visual world I find irresistible. The parents, their reactions, and the homes and yards and neighborhoods Mark creates are beyond what I could ever have imagined. The angles he chooses, the facial expressions of everyone involved, and the wild collection of dinosaurs—he’s never repeated himself—is also remarkable. He manages to put a human parent and an enormous dinosaur in a room together in such a way that it feels believable to me. Yet the impossible nature of it all is almost hidden. Repeatedly I have asked him about some detail of something in a picture, and he’s laughingly pointed out that what the real issue the parent would have is dealing with a 30-foot raging dinosaur. Sometimes I forget about that.

Which is perfect.

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