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Three Questions with Timothy Young: Toy Shelves, Advice For Young Writers/Illustrators and THE ANGRY LITTLE PUFFIN

Timothy Young has been an animator, puppet maker, toy designer, sculptor, art director and graphic designer. He’s designed for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the Muppets, Disney, and Universal Studios. Tim is the author/illustrator of 5 picture books with a sixth out this fall, Do Not Open The Box. He lives in Easton, Maryland.

You can find out more about Timothy on his websiteFacebook and Twitter.

Synopsis of The Angry Little Puffin (Schiffer Publishing):

“Look at the funny little penguin” and “What a silly-looking penguin!” Puffin is upset that he’s constantly mistaken for a penguin. He reaches the last straw and rants about the differences between penguins and puffins until a girl comes along who explains why puffins are her favorite. Just when you are feeling alone and mis-understood, sometimes it only takes the understanding of one small person to turn things around.

1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Ok, so I sent a series of photos to put my answer in context. As you can see, I have a lot of “somethings” in my office. I have books, toys, animation models, all kinds of stuff.

Some of them are things I’ve designed or sculpted, some of them are things I’ve collected over the years. So narrowing it down is going to be hard.

Do I choose my copy of The Lorax, signed by Dr. Seuss? Or the Simpsons dolls that I designed and whose heads I sculpted? Pretty much everything on my shelves has a story behind it. I’ll narrow it down to one special thing. This duck.

He sits on a shelf between a giant sloth and a dog. These 3 toys are the 3 toys I’ve owned the longest. I don’t know why I still have them. My parents moved a couple of times and most of my toys were thrown away. The giant sloth is the only one left from my many sets of plastic dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. The dog is the only survivor from my huge menagerie of little plastic animals. For some reason, this duck is what I’m most fond of. He’s just a cheap little rubber duck eraser. He was probably bought for about 5¢ sometime in the mid to late 60’s. He’s got a puncture wound on his beak from an accident with a pencil. I love this duck. He’s not an identifiable character. He wasn’t from a book or TV show (as far as I know). Many of his brethren were rubbed to death, absentmindedly used to erase some mistake or other. He escaped that fate. He’s just this cool little orange duck that I’ve owned forever.

2. What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators?

I like to tell people that I’m an illustrator who figured out how to write. Heck, it wasn’t until after I wrote I Hate Picture Books! that I felt comfortable even saying I was an author. When I was young, I hated writing. I loved reading, I read a lot of books and I loved the pictures in picture books and I loved doing art. I found writing to be a chore. I had lots of ideas for stories but I never thought I’d be the guy to write them.

Two things changed that for me. One was the computer. I found that part of the reason I hated writing was that I could not write with a pen or pencil and get my thoughts out quickly enough or in a way that I could even think about editing. Using a computer to write, I can write very quickly and I can go back and edit easily. I didn’t get a computer until the Apple computers came out just after I graduated college. I might have gotten better grades on essays if they had been invented sooner.

The second thing that taught me that I might be able to write my books was a job I had. I was the design director for a toy company and we were creating these toys called The Meanies.

These toys were parodies of Beanie Babies. Our characters were kind of sick and twisted, like Splat the Road-Kill Kat and the one-footed Lucky the Rabbit. Since Beanie Babies came with poems, we decided to write limericks for The Meanies. Everyone in the office began writing limericks for our characters and then we had meetings to decide which ones to use. Many of mine were chosen. That made me realize that maybe I could write my book ideas.

Ok, I can’t tell that story without giving you one of my limericks.

This is the one I wrote for Heartless Bear.

“I never loved you from the start,
and now I’m afraid we must part”
you said with a grin
as you reached right on in
and yanked out my still beating heart.

So I suppose my advice is, you never know unless you try to write…and write it on a computer.

3. What are you excited about right now?

School visits! I’ve done some great school visits this year and I have six more coming up. I decided at the beginning of the year that I would give a puffin sculpture to every school I visit, in honor of the release of The Angry Little Puffin. I did a Kickstarter to raise some funds to do it. Little did I know how many I’d end up making.

When I got into writing my books I wasn’t really thinking about school author visits. Then I met some educators at various book events and started getting invitations. I’m having so much fun! The students are great, they really seem to enjoy the way I read my books, the interactive drawing demonstration I do and they ask great questions. It gives me an opportunity to travel to towns I’ve never been to before and visit school libraries and i find that talking to students sparks all kinds of ideas for new books.

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.