I recently had the pleasure of interviewing children's book authors Jim Averbeck and Dashka Slater for their “Dragon and the Dangerous Princess” blog tour. Jim Averbeck is celebrating the release of his latest picture book, OH NO LITTLE DRAGON and Dashka Slater is celebrating the release of her new picture book, DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER. I just love the fact that the two authors have teamed up together to shout-out their books and each one presents a new take on your typical dragon and princess characters.
What was the inspiration behind OH NO LITTLE DRAGON?
Dashka and I have been touring the blogs and I’ve mentioned
elsewhere about the name of my guide on a trip to China being “Xiao Long” which
means “Little Dragon” and how I wanted to write a story with a positive
attitude toward boys. So maybe for this blog I’ll talk about inspiration for
the visual look of the book. I saw that someone on Goodreads said the art was
“Charles Schultz - inspired” and, while I didn’t think of it while I was doing the
art, I am an admirer of his work. I grew up drawing pictures of the Peanuts
characters, particularly Snoopy, who had a sort of pop culture blossoming in
the 70s. I can definitely see his influence in the art for this book. I was
also inspired by the clean feel of books by someone like Oliver Jeffers.
I love how he uses lots of white space around his boldly colored
characters. That’s why the backgrounds in my book have been set in white and
simple grey, bringing all the focus on Little Dragon and his awesome fire.
Why were you determined to show that boys have another side
than just the rambunctious one?
Because they do. But lately in kid’s lit there has been a trend
toward loud, crude depictions of boys for humor’s sake. I like a lot of
those books, but I wanted mine to have a boy who sheds a few tears.
I noticed on your website, you have a unique way of making
dragons--out of toilet paper tubes! How did you come up with that idea?
Dashka and I had a booth at a “mini-maker faire” in Oakland. I
knew I wanted to do a craft that was cheap, easy, and dragon related. I saw a
blog online about making dragons out of TP tubes. It was very simple- basically
coloring the tube, drawing eyes and sticking a red streamer in its mouth for
fire. I thought it might be good for the smallest kids. But older
kids needed something more challenging. Then I saw these:
and I thought, I could actually sculpt dragon heads with the kids.
So I figured out how to cut fold and bend a TP tube to get what I wanted. The
results are here:
What was the inspiration behind DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER?
When my son was in first grade, he came home from school one day
and announced he was going to write a story about a queen who wants to plant
rose seeds but ends up planting nose seeds instead. I immediately pictured all
the comic possibilities of sneezing, snoring nose plants and I was wild to read
the story. So I did what any mother from a writing family would do -- I
pestered the poor child incessantly. “When are you going to write that nose
story?” “Are you still planning to write the nose story?” “How are you coming
on that nose story?” Finally I asked him if it would be OK if I wrote
that nose story. In my version the queen became a princess, and the princess had
a fondness for dangerous plants. The tone of the book was inspired by E.
Nesbit’s fairytales. I discovered her when I was about ten and I instantly fell
in love with her sly humor. I loved the way she talked to the reader, as if she
understood that children are much more clever and perceptive than anyone gives
them credit for.
Why were you determined to show another side to princesses?
I actually never set out to write an unconventional princess tale
-- it just never occurred to me to write a conventional one. I made Amanita be
the kind of character I like to read about -- someone feisty, unusual and a bit
bossy (kind of like me, in fact). Because the story idea came from my son, I
wrote it imagining boys reading it as well as girls and I’ve been delighted to
discover that boys like it as much as girls do. But really, I just wanted to
write a funny story that takes place in a slightly off-kilter fairy tale
universe and that I hoped would appeal to everyone.
What effect has having two parents as writers had on your
I suppose it made the life of a writer seem both more and less
possible. I grew up reading, being read to, and discussing books, and books
were constantly being quoted or referred to when anyone tried to describe
something. (Conversations in my family tend to begin with, ‘What are you
reading?”) Because they are both writers, my parents always encouraged me
to pursue my love of words -- and gave me lots of feedback (not all of it
positive) on whatever I wrote. So I understood that writing was something that
people actually did for a living and that it was hard work and required lots of
revisions. I also understood that it involved lots of rejection and not very
much income, which made me think I had better find some sort of alternative
career. Unfortunately for my bank account, I never found anything else I was
willing to work as hard at. Yet here I am, making my living as a writer, which
is something that still seems miraculous to me. I still send early drafts of my
books to both my parents for critiques, too.