It’s a fact: Reading is important to children. Very, very important! Statistics after statistics prove it. But facts aside, the real beauty is seeing the pure, unadulterated joy in a child’s face after having read a good book — or having been read to. Which is exactly why we at Blue Mountain are so thrilled to promote International Children’s Book Day, being celebrated on April 2 this year.
Created nearly 50 years ago as a means to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books, this holiday also pays tribute to all the great authors of those books. Included in this elite group are two of American Greetings’ very own in-house senior editors: Brian P. Cleary and Caroline Leech!
Besides writing for American Greetings and Blue Mountain (which happens to feature lots of really cute Kids eCards), Brian and Caroline are also the award-winning authors of numerous highly successful children’s books. We’d love for you to get to know them a little better. Let’s get started!
What are the titles of your books? And what age group are they for?
I have more than 50. They are for kids ages 4-10. (Click here for all the titles.)
What are your books about? And do you have a favorite?
My books usually rhyme, and often teach something to the reader. My favorites are Rainbow Soup: Adventures in Poetry and Peanut Butter and Jellyfishes: A Very Silly Alphabet Book.
How long does it take for you to write a book? And what’s the process?
It totally depends on the book. For example, a picture book with 13 stanzas (sort of like paragraphs for poetry), might take only 2 hours a day for 6-7 days. Rainbow Soup had almost 5,000 words, and so it took a couple hours a day for a whole summer. As for the process, I can get inspiration from anything from song lyrics to signs to conversations, and I always write notes that I might find useful next time I write. For me, the key is to capture that inspiration immediately.
What do you think makes for a really great story that resonates with kids?
My books usually don’t tell stories per se, but kids usually like stories that either have a central character who is a lot like them, or is a child who has more control of his or her life than the reader does. Harry Potter did a great job of that, and its themes of friendship and loyalty and bravery and overcoming challenge really captivated kids as well as adults.
Will you have a new book coming out anytime soon? If so, can you share a few details?
A book of concrete poems (these take on the shape of the subject of the poem) will be out by summer, published by Lerner Publishing Group. It’s called Ode to a Commode and Other Concrete Poems.
What’s the best part of being a children’s book author? The worst?
It’s great that your work can reach people all over the world. I’ve had books translated into Mandarin and sold in China; I’ve spent time with students and faculty in Germany; and I’ve gotten to visit more than 500 elementary schools in 40 states in the past two decades. In 1996, when a list of the top books of the year (as chosen by 10,000 school children) was published, I made the list alongside Shel Silverstein. The worst part? So far, there isn’t one.
Tell us a cute/zany/touching story about a child and one of your books.
One of the many cool things about being a children’s author is the fan mail. This one says: “Dear Brian P. Cleary, I love your books. My name is (child’s name). I go to Jackson Elementary in Morgan Hill, CA. I absolutely love your creativity. I visit your website when I’m done with my homework, or have nothing to do. Your books cheer me up when I’m sad. Your books make me laugh when I’m glad. My favorite book of yours is Hairy, Scary, Ordinary; What is an Adjective? I think your books are very clever. Do I think they’re boring? Never! Even though I’m only in 5th grade, I’m thinking about writing books. Do you have any advice for me? Your friend, (child’s name).”
When you were a kid, what was your most favorite story in the whole wide world, and why?
It wasn’t really a story book, it was called Your Own Joke Book, and it was packed with puns and riddles and song parodies and funny poems that I can still recite to this day.
What was your inspiration for writing children’s books?
My wonderful son, David. I’ve always written poetry, so when I was expecting, writing a poem about what I was feeling for my baby-to-be came naturally.
How did you get from poem to published book?
On a whim, I sent out 10 copies of it to the top publishers. I promptly received nine rejections. Then four months later, I got a phone call from Golden Books, wondering if it was still available. They wanted to turn it into a book. I nearly went into labor on the spot!
What was the book about?
Wonderful You is the story of a mama bear telling her cub all the fun and lovely things they were going to do together. My son is 21 now, and we still look back on it and smile because we did do all those things. (Except inviting a fox for tea, which seemed a little risky.)
You’ve written other books?
Yes, four Winnie-the-Pooh books, a couple of Mickey and Minnie Mouse stories, and some Kate Gleason books — 10 in all.
How did you find time to write while taking care of a young child?
I came up with a very low-tech solution. With Barney on the TV, I used to sit on the couch holding my son in one arm while writing on a clipboard with the other.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes—manuscripts left in drawers never get published. Get your work out there. You may be very happily surprised. Fortune favors the bold!