everything grows with love

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

Archive for Don & Audrey Wood

The Genius Club: Memorable Remarks from Memorable Writers

Every day something enters my mind that was said to me by a writer or illustrator I’ve published. 

“There is no such thing as a bad scene–just a badly written scene.”  –Cynthia Voigt (about The Glass Mountain, adult)

(Speaking on an ALA panel) “Every time a question about race is asked, all of you turn to me to answer it. Why is that? Am I the only person here who has any kind of racial or ethnic background?” –Virginia Hamilton (followed by a long moment of silence) (Plain City; Time Pieces; Her Stories; In the Beginning; etc.)

“There is no such thing as a coincidence.”  –Leo Dillon (If Kids Ran the World; Aida; Pish, Posh; Rap a Tap Tap; The Girl Who Spun Gold; To Every Thing There is a Season; etc.)

“We know there will be always be people who won’t like the book we’re making, so we may as well make a book we like ourselves.”–Diane Dillon (about If Kids Ran the World)

“Moderation in all things, including moderation.”  –David Shannon (No, David!; Duck on a Bike; Too Many Toys; Jangles; etc.)

“That shows maturity, when you’re beginning to notice the insecurities of other people.” –Arnold Adoff (Flamboyan; In for Winter, Out for Spring)

(After I asked him the location of Hidden Valley, where he had just moved) “If I told you, then it wouldn’t be hidden, would it?” –Harry Nilsson

“Let’s make a funny blog about the worst dates we’ve ever had, and all our bad boyfriend experiences.” –Dawn Barnes (laughing) (The Black Belt Club)

(As he’s about to step on stage at Irvine Meadows, we skid up to him, late to the concert because of my young son’s Little League game.) “Bon, don’t hug me because I’m all covered with wires!  (He laughs and turns to my son.) I heard )you had a big game tonight. And you played second base. Did you catch any fly balls? (My son, looking out at 16,000 screaming fans, is speechless.) Hey, I like that Red Sox cap. I like the Red Sox, too.” –Jimmy Buffett (concert while working on A Salty Piece of Land)

“Love is the path to forgiveness.” –Audrey Wood (Blue Sky; A Dog Needs a Bone; It’s Duffy Time; etc.)

“Whistle while you work.”  –Don Wood (Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear; Into the Volcano; Jubal’s Wish; etc.)

“Look at that man’s eyebrows!”  –Karen Barbour, who notices everything (Little Nino’s Pizzeria; A Sip of Aesop; You Were Loved Before You Were Born; etc.)

“Are you sure you want to leave a toy gun instead of a tip?” –Barry Moser (The Dreamer; When Birds Could Talk & Bats Could Sing; In the Beginning)

(When I asked her how she writes such impressive speeches) “I always prepare. Always.”  –Jane Yolen (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?)

“It’s catnip for boys.” –Mark Teague (about The Tree House that Jack Built)

(After I bragged that there was a blackout at the Algonquin Hotel, but I managed to grope through the room and find my high heels for dinner) “Look at your shoes. One is blue, and the other one is black.”  –Virginia Hamilton (The Bells of Christmas)

“Your son is the golden retriever of children.”  –Edward Gorey

(After I asked her how she was able to write an utterly believable scene where three angels appear in an ordinary American kitchen) “It’s the details.” –Nancy Willard (about The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake)

“The problem with illustrating this book is drawing and coloring all that plaid!” –Chuck Mikolaycak (about Tam Lin)

“People always tell you what you need to know about them–right away. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re willing to listen.”  –Steve Faigenbaum

(After I blurted out that I was intimidated by working with a writer who was Poet Laureate and had won two Pulitzer Prizes)  “That’s the nice thing about teaching at Harvard. You have to read the classics because you teach them. But I still haven’t read Anna Karenina.” –Richard Wilbur (adult)

“She pulled her lips back and snarled. Then she said, ‘I hate that book. It’s the only thing I ever wrote for money.'” –Barry Moser (telling me about his meeting with Miss Eudora Welty after I asked him to illustrate her long out-of-print children’s book called The Shoe Bird)

“I’d like to wear her guts for garters.” –Robin McKinley (The Light Princess)

“I don’t care what Harcourt wants me to do. I am leaving this party. Madonna’s concert is on TV.” (And when I asked her what she loved so much about Madonna she said:) “You never know what she’s going to do next. Never.”  –Virginia Hamilton (In the Beginning: Creation Stories Around the World)

(Talking about her cat, Blueberry, who had chosen to spend the night with her downstairs instead of upstairs in the big cozy bed where I had slept as the honored guest) “I was worried he would go sleep upstairs, because he’s used to that bed, but no, he came down  here and stayed with me.”  –Cynthia Rylant (my first visit, in Kent, Ohio) (Dog Heaven; Mr. Putter and Tabby; The Dreamer; Poppleton)

(Showing me a diagram he’s made on a napkin at our table at a Mexican restaurant) “Responsibility is here (he points to one end of the line), and surfing is here (he points to the opposite end of the line). I’ve spent the last two years at Art Center trying to get those surf colors out of my art.” (about the possibility of illustrating Jimmy Buffett’s first book, The Jolly Mon, which was all island, ocean colors)

“Just do the work.”  –Leo Dillon (To Everything There Is a Season)

“Bonnie, please come out from under the table.” –Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants; The Dumb Bunnies; The Hallo-weiner; Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot; Ook & Gluk)

“I would love to become a member of the Hearts Club.” –Michael Rosen (A Thanksgiving Wish)

“I used paper that’s recycled from elephant dung.” –Richard Jesse Watson (The Magic Rabbit)

“It’s the way the green and red vibrate.” –Lois Ehlert (about the cover of Growing Vegetable Soup)

“We do not approve of our food product being used on your book.” (Hormel Foods Corporation, manufacturers of SPAM, which was sitting on a table in the “Good Night Moon Room” cover of Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies.) “We deny you permission to use it.”

(After I asked him why he drew a different dinosaur on every spread of the book) “It was too boring to draw an entire book of Tyrannosaurs.” –Mark Teague (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?; The Tree House that Jack Built; LaRue for Mayor; etc.)

“If we don’t stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, we run the risk of climate change so drastic that the path of the Gulf Stream could change.” –Molly Bang (about her five books in the Sunlight Series, which began with My Light)

(After flying me into New York on his seaplane so I could get to work on time) “It’s worse than heroin.” –Jimmy Buffett (about the addiction of flying in seaplanes, while working on Swine Not?)

“Every year my grandfather sat us all down and told us the story of how he and his mother escaped from slavery in Virginia–so we would never forget.” –Virginia Hamilton

“This manuscript has to be published exactly as it is, without a single change. If you feel the need to change anything,  I will have to withdraw it and send it elsewhere.”  –Cynthia Rylant (in her cover letter enclosed with the manuscript Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds which happily was flawlessly written and did not require as much as a comma)

“I love Christmas.” –Bruce Wood (after inflating and enormous Santa suit that made him bigger than a VW bug) (Alphabet Mystery; The Deep Blue Sea; Ten Little Fish)

“Did I tell you that my friend Debra Frasier wrote a children’s book? And Crown Publishers is interested. Their sales rep saw it and sent it to New York, and they’re going to publish it.” (my sister JoAnn, on the phone) “Why didn’t you tell her to send it to ME?” (I ask, frustrated.) “OK, I will.” (JoAnn is a photographer and very close friends with Debra’s husband, who is also a photographer; Debra created the banner’s for Jo’s wedding. So Debra sends the dummy  to me, and although Crown is making her an offer, I am nuts-cuckoo-crazy about the book and persuade her to do it with me at Harcourt. That was On the Day You Were Born. Thanks, Jo!!!)

( During an interview, Jimmy Buffett was asked about several very attractive women characters in Tales from Margaritaville who were passionate but also very kind to their male lovers–and when it was time for the male lovers to say good bye and head off on another adventure, the women understood and warmly wished them well.) “Where do you find these women???” the interviewer asked. And Jimmy, with a pirate’s laugh, said, “It’s fiction! I make them up!”

“When I was little, I always wished I had a big robot friend.” –Dav Pilkey, about Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot

 

(to be continued…)

The Limitless Imaginations of Audrey and Don Wood

Let me tell you about Don and Audrey Wood. They are highly unusual people. I have known them for almost three decades, and I have never–not once–heard Don say a negative thing about a single person. Audrey is simultaneously one of the funniest and most spiritual people I know. They fit together seamlessly like yin and yang, except their colors aren’t separate, and instead of black and white, they are every hue of the rainbow, with new, invented colors from the ninth dimension mixed in to make it really sizzle. Cooking up anything with them, from a graphic novel to a concept book to spaghetti sauce, is a wild adventure. Frankly I don’t know where to begin.

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BEGIN WITH A SNAPSHOT, OF COURSE. (You can tell the boring stuff later.)

SNAPSHOT:  I am eight months pregnant, and I have swollen from 123 pounds to more than 200 pounds–I stopped looking at the scale at 201. This means I am so pregnant that if I crouch down, there is no possibility that I will be able to stand back up again. When I drop a slip of paper, for example, I watch it flutter to the floor, and it stays there. Trying to pick it up would be easier than crossing the Grand Canyon on a tight wire. I am that big.

I stopped going out a long time ago, because I got tired of all the pointing and laughing. My doctor, who has delivered more than ten thousand babies, says I am having one of the four biggest pregnancies he has ever encountered. Women in his waiting room see me and sprint back to his office in a panic. “I’m not going to look like that, am I?” He reassures them that they won’t.

I’m dying to have the baby, but being transformed into an orca-sized freak show is very disturbing. And that is why, when I drive my gigantic self up to Santa Barbara to see Audrey Wood, I feel very self conscious. My favorite Bed & Breakfast, the Villa Rosa, doesn’t allow children. I won’t be back for a long, long time.

Don is away, and Audrey and I will be dining at a very posh restaurant called Citronelle, At 7pm, she comes to pick me up. I am so big I can hardly move, but when I open the door, she is standing before me with her black sweater stuffed with pillows. She is almost as pregnant as I am, and I laugh so hard tears stream down my face.  One enormously pregnant woman is a lonely place to be. Two enormously pregnant women going out to an upscale dinner is hysterically funny. I can’t think of anyone else in the universe who would come up with the idea of mirroring my pregnancy; and when I say Audrey is highly creative and inventive, those words don’t even come close to describing her imagination. It is unpredictably wild and untamed and magical. It is always in motion, and it pervades everything she does, from her writing to her clothing to her lifestyle to the choices she makes in her daily life. It has no limits.

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We waddle out to her car, and of course everyone in the lobby is bug eyed. Next stop is the restaurant, where the valet almost chokes, and the maitre’d of the crowded restaurant tries to control the contorted look on his face. He leads us across the noisy, crowded dining room, and suddenly the room is silent. You could hear a pin drop. Every head turns. Audrey, doing a very slow, labored, convincing sway and waddle, leads the way.

The maitre’d has found us a table in a corner and as far of sight as possible, presumably so the other patrons won’t be disturbed again. Audrey is in high spirits.  I am so impressed with her convincingly awkward duck walk that I add a little swagger to my own. We thread our way slowly to the exit, and then we burst out into exuberant giggles. We dine with glee and then laugh the whole way back to the Villa Rosa. There is nobody remotely like Audrey Wood.

Eighteen years later, a photograph from that night is in my dining room, and I look at it every single day. There we stand, tummy to tummy, with no idea what the future holds, and no concerns about it, either. Audrey and Don will become the godparents of the baby I am carrying, and since my parents have both been dead a long, long time, that means they will step in to become my son’s grandparents, and a huge part of the best of him will be because of the imaginative, kind, gentle, funny, loving people they are.

SNAPSHOT: My son, Robbie, is six, and it is the first week of July. I want to celebrate an accomplishment of mine in a big, big way, and so I take my son to Hawaii for a week of vacation. We live in California, and I haven’t been to the islands since around 1984 when I left my job as a sales and editorial rep for Little, Brown; they rewarded me by adding Hawaii onto my L.A./Santa Barbara territory, and they sent me to the islands for about six fully-paid weeks a year.

A few months back, Don and Audrey Wood broke my heart by leaving Santa Barbara and moving to Hawaii, and not only that, they’ve disappeared from all contact. I know the reason they are impossible to reach is because they bought conservation land on one of the islands and have been living in a trailer in the middle of the jungle while they start building a house. The only thing I know about it is that a huge part of the land is taken up by an enormous, ancient banyan tree. Their cell phone isn’t working, the road where they live is a rutted lava path that is impassable, and although I call some people to try to help me locate them, I finally have to give up. My son and I are going to Hawaii anyway.

I am at the ALA Convention in Atlanta with a writer, and he is tan and relaxed and having a great time. As usual, I have been working myself into a frenzy, and when I see how calm and happy he is, I ask about his recent vacation. He and his family have just returned from Maui, he tells me, and it was paradise. I decide I want the exact same vacation he just took, and he gives me the contact information. Now my son and I are headed from LAX to the Ritz Carlton Maui, and still no word from Don and Audrey. That’s a shame, but the show must go on.

What I am celebrating will remain a mystery, but let’s just say it’s the accomplishment of my life. Big time. With this in mind, I rent a Mustang convertible and go all out. And our first night in Maui–where I discover that all Ritz Carlton Hotels are pretty much the same, and this one is quiet as a tomb except for us–I try once more to call the Woods on their cell phone.

Surprise!  Don actually answers.

They are not on Maui, they are on a different island, and they have not had cell service because Don dropped the cell phone into something–there’s static, and I can’t understand what he says. Later I will find out he had dropped it into a “pool of eels,” leaning so far over to watch them that the phone fell out of his pocket and into the writhing eels. Anyway, the phone is finally fixed, or maybe it’s a replacement, but they are on another island, they have been living in a trailer smaller than a compact car, they take their showers outdoors and have jimmied together an outdoor toilet, too. Audrey cooks under a tarp like a tiny tent using a gas grill, and except for sleeping, they seem to be camping outdoors 24/7.

Why don’t they come over to Maui and stay with us at the Ritz Carlton? I ask. They can spend a few days at the hotel and visit with us. Nothing would make us happier.

Amazingly they are able to do it, and in a day or two they arrive. The best part of the vacation is watching their reaction to the hotel. As I said, they have been camping in the jungle for months, and when Don walks into the room, his jaw drops. Let me tell you this–unless you are a rich person used to luxury hotels, the Ritz Carlton Maui is not your average hotel anyway. Thick white robes hang in the closet, terrycloth slippers are placed at the foot of your bed. The beds are long and wide and thick and heavenly, covered with heavenly sheets and pillows and blankets. The thick, soft carpeting helps to keep the room completely quiet, and everything is sophisticated, elegant, tasteful, and clean.

I think Don’s eyes are going to roll out of his head and across the floor. He is in a state of shock. He has not seen a bathtub for six months, a lot less a queen bed and feather pillows. If you know their work, you know that Don and Audrey created the Caldecott Honor Book King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, about a king who won’t get out. That night I make dinner reservations, and Audrey can’t get Don to get out of the tub. He absolutely refuses. I postpone dinner, and each time we get to the reservation time, Audrey calls to tell me that Don still refuses to leave the tub. Our vacation, I see, is going swimmingly well.

One of the odd things about the Ritz Carlton Maui is that you clearly can’t buy good weather, no matter how much money you spend. It seems to be raining most of the time at the hotel. What is strange is that down the highway, if you drive south, it is sunny. So my son and I have taken to leaving the hotel in the drizzle, then driving south into the sunshine where we can put down the convertible top. Then we find a sunny beach and spend the day there. We return back to the Ritz Carlton, and as we approach, the drizzle begins, and we have the convertible top back up by the time we drive up to the hotel.

Don and Audrey are happy to drive down the coast with us, and Don wants to take Water Boy out snorkling. My son is a fish, which means that since he was a baby, he has headed for the water. Even before he could walk, he would wait for me to look away from his beach blanket and then extend his turtle-flipper arms and try to push his way across the sand, headed straight into the ocean. How could he ever grow up to be anything but a swimmer?

A swimmer he is, and at six, Robbie is ready to go out to deep water, Don decides, to learn how to snorkel. I snap a picture as Don dresses Robbie in fins, snorkle, and mask. They have already practiced the whole routine in the Ritz Carlton pool all morning, and Robbie is ready to go. Even at six he is a very strong swimmer, and this morning he didn’t want to come out of the pool at all. “Tell me again, what’s the point of being out of the water?” he asks us. Now in the ocean, with Don in charge, I’m not worried.

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Don picks my son up, like a medium-sized sack of flour, and carries him under his arm across the sand and into the Pacific. Then they swim out to the end of Black Rock, a great snorkle spot, and my son experiences the thrill of seeing his first honu, or sea turtles, and schools of brightly colored fish out at sixty feet. He holds onto Don’s strong back, and Audrey and I sit on towels on the beach, talking as we watch them explore the deep water.

So begins our love affair with Hawaii, although it will be a different island that will win our hearts. Don and Audrey continue to be wide-eyed at their three days of supreme luxury–including food cooked by chefs in a kitchen–and then it’s time for them to leave. Saying good bye is really difficult, and ever since I published Jimmy Buffett’s The Jolly Mon, when my heart tears because someone I adore is leaving, I think of how Jimmy described the Jolly Mon: “They loved to see him come, and they hated to see him go.” My son and I hate to see them go, and every day of the rest of our vacation, we stop in front of the door to their room and look wistfully at it for a moment before we move on by to embrace the rest of our day.

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I met Don and Audrey Wood around 1985, when Maria Modugno hired me to become Editor, Children’s Books at Harcourt. I was living with my rock-musician husband, and the new job meant I commuted between Santa Monica and San Diego–a three-hour drive when there isn’t any traffic, and there is always traffic.

At the time, Harcourt was enjoying the enormous the success of Don and Audrey’s Wood’s The Napping Housetheir first book with Harcourt. Don was delivering paintings for their second Harcourt book, King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, and I remember looking a the original art for that book and noticing what I called the “Napping House blue” that to me was a signature of Don’s palette. I won’t get into those years except to say that the Woods became the toast of the children’s book industry, and for good reason. Their new books at Harcourt were warm, funny, and appealed directly to what occupied the minds and lives of children. They were winning awards and selling like hotcakes, the reviews were starry, and the Woods were talented performers. Their hugely popular book signings usually included a dramatic performance, and accompanying music was often created by Audrey’s talented sister Jennifer. As usual, the Woods broke new ground and turned their book signings into entertainment events–a success story that was imitated and has almost become the norm more than two decades later.

Although they had a backlist of books with a private British publisher, those early books (Quick as a Cricket; The Red, Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear) were purchased by the publisher for a small flat fee, although they sold millions of copies internationally and still do. It was never mentioned to me by the Woods themselves. That Don and Audrey moved on with no resentment–instead building a collection of superb new books–is typical of their compassion and wisdom.  My comments here are my own opinions and in no way reflect Don and Audrey Wood.

Fast forward to 1992, when I left Harcourt and joined Scholastic.

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The Woods have made books together and separately, and as of today, those combinations include picture books where Don and Audrey collaborate, usually crediting the the text to Audrey and the art to Don, although they are married and work flawlessly as a team, so every book is a melding of minds and the result of much discussion. Their most recent book is It’s Duffy Time, published this past fall, featuring one of their two pug dogs, although both dogs (brothers) posed for the paintings.

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Duffy reads his new book.

A second kind of collaboration is when Audrey writes the story and draws the sketches, and then Don makes the paintings. The first book of this nature was Elbert’s Bad Word, published at Harcourt, and they will have a new one, The Birthday Queen, to be published this coming fall in 2013, celebrating the 20th birthday of the Blue Sky Press. Audrey also writes picture books that are illustrated by painters other than Don, and the most popular of these have been collaborations with their son, Bruce, who created three-dimensional art on the computer. Audrey writes the story, Don art directs, and Bruce creates the art and sends in prints (as opposed to paintings), which are matched by the printer. Audrey and Bruce have published numerous highly successful concept books together, including the very popular Alphabet Adventure series as well as stand-alone concept books such as The Deep Blue Sea and Ten Little Fish, which continue to sell huge numbers and garner strong reviews. The alphabet books in particular were great for my own son, especially when he was learning the difference between the “big” letters and the “little” letters–something most alphabet books don’t address, and learning to read can be very confusing because of that. Audrey, Don, Bruce, and my son back in the Alphabet Adventure days:

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As well, Audrey writes and illustrates her own books, and she is a fifth-generation artist. The most recent book she wrote and illustrated was Blue Sky, which the reviewers loved, although I expect her most successful book in terms of sales was the popular (and addictive) Silly Sallypublished at Harcourt.

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And then there are the books that Don Wood writes and illustrates himself–such as the outstanding graphic novel Into the Volcano, which was applauded from coast to coast and impressed more than one librarian to comment that an entirely new award needed to be created just for Don’s new book.

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Every book has its story, but I have written enough for now, and none of it does the Woods justice. I often explain to my son that I find writing a mysterious process, and I really do believe there are times when a person writes well, and times when the writing doesn’t flow so well. It’s Mother’s Day today, and we are going to go do something special. Another Sunday I will come back to this piece and write about moments in bookmaking–afternoons where all the new paintings are spread out on a big table with lots of real sunlight so we can see the true colors. Mornings when we go over manuscripts and dummies and iron out the kinks, or come up with a new last line of the book, or decide to put it away until after dinner. Evenings when Audrey comes running out of her studio with a surprise–a new drawing that fits perfectly into the book and solves every one of the issues. Endless discussions of cover art, type designs, what will go on the title page, which endpaper color will make the interiors sparkle, how the copy has to change to direct the reader. As they say, another story for another day. But for now, let me share that my heart is very full, and there are no words to express my gratitude, professionally for the joy and honor, and personally for the bottomless generosity, love, and guidance.

And yes, I do have the best career in the world. No question.

Aloha and Hibiscus

Aloha and Hibiscus

Captain Underpants and the Big Pitch

We are in Chicago, sitting in the cafeteria of the Art Institute of Chicago. It is a modest lunch, and our sandwiches are still on paper plates on our plastic trays.

I brought Dav Pilkey to this museum because he likes Chagall, and I have been hoping he will love the stained glass windows here. He does. Last night, on the phone, he repeatedly told me to “bring a big glove” to lunch because today he is going to give me “a really big pitch.”  Now I am waiting.

The big pitch comes. I can see he is nervous, but I don’t know why. He tells me about going to grade school and being punished so often the teacher put a designated Dav Pilkey desk in the hallway.

Day after day he sat alone out there with pencils and paper, and what did he do? He drew.

He tells me he made up superheroes. His favorite, he says, was one called Captain Underpants. Superheroes, he says, all seem to dress in their underwear. He explains he wants to make a book that will feature Captain Underpants.

I laugh. It’s a great idea.  “I love it,” I say. “Let’s do it.”

He gives me a very curious look, as if I’ve just said something in Chinese.

“Really?” he asks.

“Of course. Why not?”

 

The first Captain Underpants book.

The first Captain Underpants book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We change the subject and talk about Chagall and some of the other artists at the Institute. Then we bus our trays and go back to the galleries.

It is only much later that I come to understand that something big has happened. Not to me, because I love Dav’s sense of humor. I get it. I always have. And I’m a happy camper because now I have a funny new book to publish.

But something big has happened to Dav Pilkey. All his life, grown-ups have ridiculed his humor. They’ve punished him for it. And they’ve sweetly added things like “you’ll never get anywhere in life with those stupid drawings.”  He is certain the answer to the Captain Underpants book will be a resounding no. Instead, his editor said yes. No argument, no persuasion, no resistance at all.

So he didn’t give a big pitch, and I didn’t need a big glove. And I don’t feel smart for saying yes, because humor is subjective. Millions of people find Dav’s sense of humor really, really funny. Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you don’t. In book publishing a lot depends on making a good match–the way Barry Cunningham loved Harry Potter, and some other editors didn’t. I’m a big believer in single editorial vision, because it works for me, and obviously it worked for Barry Cunningham. I don’t believe committees can have a single vision. And in humor that’s particularly deadly since a group rarely agrees that something is funny. You love the Three Stooges, and your neighbor hates them.

I’d like to say the road to publication of The Adventures of Captain Underpants  was simple and smooth, but because it’s humor, it wasn’t. A number of people along the way wanted the book cancelled, and they were very angry and vocal about it. But Jean Feiwel backed us up and drowned them out. Barbara Marcus and Dick Robinson gave their support.  Roz Hilden, one of the most respected sales reps at that time, boldly announced it was her favorite book of the season.  And although our initial print run was only 10,000 paperbacks, Alan Boyko, in Scholastic Book Fairs, was so wildly enthusiastic about the book that his division sold something like 700,000 copies in the first season. I may be wrong about the number, but whatever it was, it was astronomical. And the last time I looked, the worldwide number of books in print was hovering somewhere around 60 million. What these books have done to promote literacy is one of the great victories of our time.

What’s my point?

This is a simple story with a happy ending. Volumes could be written about Dav Pilkey and his wonderful books, and they probably will be written–someday. I skipped past the fascinating stories behind Dogzilla and Kat Kong and Dog Breath and The Hallo-wiener, but I wouldn’t have been able to publish Dav Pilkey at all if Dogzilla, Kat Kong, and Dog Breath hadn’t been rejected elsewhere. That never stopped Dav. He is such an inspiration. I guess what I’m trying to say is that many of the most accomplished writers I’ve published–Dav Pilkey, Virginia Hamilton, the Woods, and Rodman Philbrick, for example–have had an unflagging willingness to take risks, and in many cases, they failed repeatedly before they became successful. Most people don’t know that it took Virginia ten years to get published. Rod wrote novels for twelve years before he got his first contract. In her inspiring TED talks, Dr. Brene Brown calls the collective TED speakers “the failure club.”  Why? Because before they became the genius successes that brought them to TED, they failed–and usually failed repeatedly, sometimes in very public arenas. ” Take risks,” she says. “Do your best. And if you fail, you fail having dared greatly.”  Just because you’re assigned to a desk in the hall, and your teachers say your drawings are worthless, it doesn’t mean they’re right.

During my divorce, Dav gently reminded me that if those teachers hadn’t belittled and punished him, we wouldn’t have Mr. Krupp, and George and Harold, and Captain Underpants. Sometimes very happy things come out of pain, he said.

And that’s the truth.

Cover of

Cover of Dog Breath

 

The Hallo-Wiener

The Hallo-Wiener (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Kat Kong

Kat Kong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of

Cover of Dogzilla (digest)

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