Three Questions For Barney Saltzberg: Advice For Young Writers, Pencil Sharpener Inspiration and INSIDE THIS BOOK (ARE THREE BOOKS)
Barney Saltzberg is the author and illustrator of close to 50 books for children, including Beautiful Oops!, Arlo Needs Glasses, Andrew Drew and Drew, and the bestselling Touch and Feel Kisses series with over one million copies in print. Not only that, but he’s also recorded four albums of music for young people (!). See the children’s concert clip later in this post.
I was lucky enough to meet Barney at ALA earlier this year and more recently discovered his BEAUTIFUL OOPS!…I can’t believe I missed this wonderful book before! Those of you who’ve seen my found object art demos can guess why I fell in love with this book. Do check out Barney’s Celebrate Oops! campaign, an initiative designed to build confidence and turn accidents into teaching moments.
Synopsis of INSIDE THIS BOOK (ARE THREE BOOKS) from Abrams:
“Inside This Book is a tribute to self-publishing in its most pure and endearing form. Three siblings create three books of their own using blank paper that they bind together (in descending sizes to match birth order). One sibling’s work inspires the next, and so on, with each book’s text and art mirroring the distinct interests and abilities of its creator. Upon completion of their works, the siblings put one book inside the other, creating a new book to be read and shared by all!”
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
I photographed an electric pencil sharpener that my picture book writing teacher extraordinaire, Barbara Bottner gave me when I was working on my very first book which she mentored me through. It mean so much that she believe in me enough to work with me above and beyond, and for her to think enough of my work to give me a pencil sharpener to encourage my drawing. I couldn’t help but add the giant pencil to the photo. It is only fitting. This was a present from my wife and children many years ago. Talk about support and encouragement to dream big! Both of these are important mementos in my studio.
When I was in elementary school, my teachers often sent me home with notes; “Your son has potential, but we don’t know what to do with him.” I am sure that if I were in school now, I would be diagnosed with a number of learning issues. Luckily, I had a teacher, Mr. Maurer, in the fifth grade. He realized I couldn’t spell, (or multiply, or conjugate, etc;) but he recognized that I was a story teller. I wrote a book that was inspired by this years ago called, (Phoebe and the Spelling Bee) Every week, the day before our spelling test, Mr. Maurer would give me the spelling list and have me make up a story on the spot, in front of the class. I never practiced. I winged it every week. I loved the challenge. Looking back at my childhood, I realize that Mr. Mauer found a way to let me shine, in an otherwise, dismal time in an academic setting. He was a truly amazing teacher.
That’s a long winded introduction to my life as an author/illustrator. I find myself standing in front of thousands of students every year as I travel around the world. It never ceases to amaze me that I am being given an opportunity to address children. When I was in school, drilling a hole in the clock with my eyes as I willed it to be 3:00 so I could go home, I never imagined that I would return to so many schools as a published author. (And, love being there!) I always make a point of saying, “For those of you wondering, if you don’t give up, it gets better! I am the poster child for tenacity.” (Then I explain what tenacity means!)
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
My advice for any writer is to be open. So many of us are certain we have the next ‘big thing’. My story has seventeen sequels. I see it as a movie. If things go right, there could even be a theme park modeled after this book. Dolls, toys, etc. SLOW DOWN. Editors are really smart. Listen to them. I have learned to ‘sleep on it’ for a night (at least) when an editor makes suggestions. This would also go for a critique group as well. Try on the suggestions and see how it feels. I also recommend reading your work out loud while you are proofing things. Also, have someone else read it out loud to you. You will have an opportunity to ‘hear’ your story in a way that is only possible when someone else reads it to you. Also, you know how to read your own stories and it is really helpful to see if the reader gets tripped up or lost or better yet, if they fall in love with your story. That will usually only happen after a million and six re-writes.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
My current book is one I published with Abrams, Appleseed Press called, Inside This Book (Are Three Books). I am a huge Emily Gravett fan and she opened my mind when it comes to the physicality of books. I had done many interactive books like Beautiful Oops and A Little Bit Of Oomph before, but I started adding flaps to some of my picture books as well. Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep, and Andrew Drew and Drew are all picture books with additional flaps. As a musician, I am really aware of the rhythm of a page turn so having the additional flaps in a picture book adds to the way a story unfolds. (Literally and figuratively) Inside This Book (Are Three Books) is a story about three siblings who are given three different sized blank books and how each child creates their own, individual book and what they do with them. Physically, it’s like Russian dolls, with books. I was delighted that Abrams was open to the concept of binding three sequentially smaller books inside of one book. My hope is that this book will help to inspire a whole crop of budding writers and illustrators.
For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.