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March 26, 2019 58 mins

Children's books are part of the fabric of parenthood. We read them. Then we read them again. We come to know them as well as our kids' stuffed animals (and better than their friends). But what makes one of these deceptively simple tomes tick? Fatherly Podcast host Joshua David Stein, a children's book author himself, and co-host Postell Pringle speak to editor Kate Harrison of Dial Books for Young Readers about what makes a good idea great and how a great idea can evolve into a class. Also, Joshua sings.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hello, and welcome to the Fatherly Podcast. I'm your host,
Joshua david Stein. Everybody thinks they've got a children's book
in them, but do they? Today we're gonna talk to
Kate Harrison, executive editor of Dial Books for Young Readers,
about what it takes to make a successful children's book.
Plus a musical performance by my band, the Band Books,

(00:26):
rocking out to Dragon's Love Tacos. Stay tuned. Welcome, fair
Foggy Podcast. I hope you are doing this show. Okay, well,
welcome to the Fatherly Podcast. I'm your host, Joshua david Stein,
joined by my co host Postel Pringle. Yes, you can

(00:46):
call me pass or pas. Yeah. I just felt like
I should give the full thing. Yeah, no, no, no,
I A I appreciate the full thing. I do appreciate
the full thing, but also the short thing is nice.
You know, short people. It's like kind of like I
think there's a song I Randy Newman called like short things.
Short names are important too, So I think that's the title. Okay,

(01:08):
than keep for the Brandy Newman shoutouts. Early Um and
Kay Harrison, the executive editor of Dial Books for Young Readers,
nailed it. Um so today we're gonna talk about children's books. Um,
I have children, I read them books. I was once
a child and I read books. Um everyone in this

(01:29):
room is involved in some way in children's books. But
you know, as an author of three children's books, I
get asked a lot, and also working at Fatherly, I
get asked a lot about like writing children's books and
the process. And um, I think like in general, we
as parents read an inordinate amount of children's books, often

(01:51):
though the same one over and over and over again,
and so I hope it's a good one. Yeah, I mean,
I mean that's really the thing is, like what other
book is, like you you need to review it, not
about reading it once, but reading it like every night
for five years. You know what I mean? Make them good? Yeah,
well you're the one. You're responsible for making them good.

(02:13):
I mean, just before we like launch into it, I
did want to call out that you are the editor
of Dragons Left Tacos. Hold for applause, Hold ye okay, okay.
Uh So for our readers, I think it's by Adam Ruben,

(02:36):
illustrations by Dan Sammieri. It's one of the most read
books in my house, and I think universal universal universally loved. Um,
so we'll get into why that book is so joyous
it's successful. Yeah, I kind of can answer that for you.
What's your take? Tacos and dragon Tacos is a really

(03:01):
funny fun word. I read it funny yeah, tacos. Yeah,
but I mean they are also like I mean tacos.
I mean I recently listened to a kids podcast where
it was like one of those like battles between foods. Um,
and it might have been brains on or something like that,
but um, it was like pizza versus tacos and I
can't remember which one one. But like that's like a

(03:25):
hands down like decision. It's not even like a question,
you know, no, I like strong disagree. Are you kidding? Alright? Alright?
I mean rings, rings are coming off? Before we get
into that, which I'm clearly right on. I mean, are
you seriously arguing for tacos over? Oh? Yes? Oh yes.
Their second book was about pizza. Oh okay, a party,

(03:50):
I suppose, I suppose, but it isn't the first one.
Always liked the best, I mean the first copies. Sorry.
Did the Pizza book have dragons in it? Though? Racco
Oh see, well see there's a problem there. Um, can
you tell us a little bit about how you got

(04:10):
into editing children's book? Yeah, I mean I think I
sort of came in at a time when it was
still there, weren't quite as high expectations coming in, like
now we're actually interviewing for assistant jobs now, and people
come in and have already had like twenty internships and
taken the publishing course at Columbia or Pace. Um, but
when I came in, I had major and creative writing

(04:32):
and college and just really loved the kind of workshopping process.
I had originally thought that I was going to go
into journalism and discovered the like daily Deadline, living down
in a dark basement while you make phone calls to
people who never call you back is not It was
not the life for me. So, Um, you wanted to
be the motherfucker the people called back Exactly, they're begging.

(04:55):
They're begging me to call ni or in my personal life.
I'm sure that you're right for more the publications that
will get called that clorin than the daily tar he'll
even see Chappell Hill. But but yeah, so I just, um,
that was the first time it kind of occurred to

(05:16):
me that that could be a job. So after college, Um,
I just did some interviews. I came up to New
York and completely lucked out and got hired as a
publicity assistant in children's books. Did you know you wanted
to do children's books? I did? Yeah? What was it?
What was it about kids books? I think just I've
always been an obsessive reader of kids books. Um, I

(05:39):
grew up reading even as a young adult. Yeah, even
as a young adult, and the market was different than
like I would I think then, you know, I was
reading up more. There wasn't as much specifically young adult
stuff as there is now. I was. I'm kind of
embarrassed to say some of the stuff I was reading
a lot of a lot of hit US, hit US

(05:59):
with some japan king. I mean yeah, I was kind
of going more into the adult not always high quality adults.
That's my favorite with my kids too, as long as
you're reading. Yeah, I was gonna say. My my father,
like we my brother and I and a couple of
my friends, we would make pilgrimages to a to a

(06:21):
comic book store that was like a couple of miles away,
like literally, we would like take to two different buses.
I grew up in Atlanta, so you could like have
to take multiple buses to get anywhere, just to get
down the block. But like we would, we would make
pilgrimages to a to a couple of different um comic
bookstores and spend all our money on comic books. And
some of my some of my friend's parents would be

(06:42):
a little bit disparaging about like the quality and stuff
like that, But my parents were always like, especially my
dad was like, they're reading that, it's funny. I mean,
it's my kids are five and seven and there, you know,
because I work at Fatherly, I get a lot of
kid's books in. But when they are left to their

(07:03):
own devices, they read dog Man Kept in Underpants over
my House too. Yes, And I read it and I
hate it, Like I think that I don't like the story.
I don't think it communicates positive morals at all. Um,
I don't like the format very much. It's by this
guy da have pilgi extremely kept on both. But then

(07:28):
I also realized that like, that's my kids. They're on
their own journey, and like if I just let them
hang out there, they'll develop a love for reading, which
can then UM, you know, be applied to different material. Yeah, definitely,
so go on. So yeah, so you came here, you
started as a publicity on the publicity side. Yeah, I'm

(07:49):
not sure how I got hired, because I'm pretty sure
I went in there and told her I wanted to
be an editor, and she's still very kindly hired me. Anyway,
I don't know, Like I said today, I don't think
this would happen. But and then she actually ended up
leaving soon after, UM, going to a different company and
told me about an editorial job that was open over there.
So I was only in publicity for about four months, um,

(08:11):
which was the best for everyone. I was not very
com publicist. Write about this book, I mean if I
always editing it. Yeah, I don't know how I'm going
to sell this Indian. Have you thought about changing that? Um? Well,
I think one of the things that I have always

(08:32):
been curious about about children's books now is that like
Dial has a specific like any other, UM segment of publishing. Um,
different houses have their kind of different house styles and
the things they excel in. What would Dial as part
of Penguin Random House? Um? What is kind of dials? Yeah,

(08:54):
I mean we're kind of going for the blend of
commercial and literary, so we always want to be publishing
things that we think are going to get the start
reviews and really make an impact on kids and kind
of um dive a little deeper than maybe some of
the more commercial books that other imprints would do. UM.
We have a big focus on diversity and inclusion, just

(09:16):
trying to get new voices in. UM. Yeah, I mean
I think that's our kate. What attracts you like what
when something, when something comes across your desk, when that
submission comes in, what makes you say like uh, not
quite you know? And what makes you say like yes,
you know. I mean, for me, it's so much about

(09:36):
voice and if someone's doing something different or really affecting
with the voice. UM and giving. I mean, there's only
so many things you can write about, right, so I'm
not expecting completely different, this totally new, out of the
box idea. But if you can put your own spin
on it and use a really unique, compelling voice to

(09:58):
tell me that story, I'm much more willing to kind
of dive in and work with someone if I don't
think the plot is quite working us to be there too.
But one of the things when I So, I wrote
a book called Can I Eat That, which was based
on Achilles not eating anything, which he still doesn't need anything. Um.

(10:21):
But my background is in food. So I was a
food critic and I would a restaurant critic and I
would go out and I would have all these amazing
meals and I loved food, and I would come back
and in my house, food was just a battle ground.
Every dinner was like fighting. And I wanted to create
a book that was playful and not really didactic, like

(10:41):
I'm not telling him you have to eat. It's no pressure,
it's just kind of like, hey, food is food is fun,
Like food is something to talk about, it's something to
have wordplay about and whatever. Um. It was published by
fid In and one of my big the biggest challenge
I think for me when I was writing that book
was who am I talking to? And like, how am

(11:05):
I talking to them? Because you know, um, and I'd
love for you to talk a little bit about you know,
you have obviously like the preschool to three, three to five,
five to seven, and I think seven to nine is
like the yeah for the girly chapter books. Yeah, and
each one of those demographics has like a pretty different

(11:27):
way you talk to their kids. Um, so when you're reading,
like when you say voice, I feel like it's not
it must not only be style, but it's also like
what is the author's relationship to the reader? Yeah, I
mean I think I think you can tell when an
author has a lot of respect for the kids they're

(11:48):
writing for, um, and they're not talking to them like
they don't know anything and their baby in this sort
of very um, you know, cloying. Yeah, basically like talking
down to them. Yeah, exactly exactly. But then you also
want to have them in mind, you know, so you're
not you're not writing for another adult. So it's kind
of finding that balance of and I think a lot
of it can be done um through humor, through rhythm,

(12:11):
through um, yeah, just really trying to get in there
and speak directly to a kid and not write what
you think you should be teaching a kid or like
the lesson you want to impart, like really making it
a story. And I think it's hard as a writer
because I'm an adult. The people who are making the

(12:32):
purchasing decisions are adults, and so you really you're kind
of relying on them to be able to also put
their kids first. A lot of books come across my
desk which are like absolutely beautiful and like super trenchant
and emotional stories, but for like a thirty eight year
old dude, And like I'm sure when I when I

(12:54):
read it to my kids are like the melancholy and
of it all just kind of like but to that end,
to that end, like you are actually writing for two
different audiences to some extent, Yeah, the audience, the audience
that's receiving it, and also the person who is disseminating
the words, the vessel with which it gets to the kid.

(13:17):
So you are you kind of have to. I mean
I always think about that in terms of like you
mentioned NPR, I think about it in terms of like
Pixar or like a lot of the great like dreams Work,
DreamWorks sort of films where there's jokes and humor, um
and storylines that are impactful for the adults, and also
stuff that's like themes that are very central to whatever

(13:39):
kid is feeling, something that hits them very like, very intentionally.
But if you don't have those overarching things, then like
you know that the no, I don't want to take
my kid. I don't want to take my son Otis
to like to see a really terrible movie. And I
remember doing that when he was I think two or three.

(14:00):
I can't remember what it was like somebody, for some reason,
I had a day off. I had to take him too.
I took him to the the Pavilion movie theater, which
I don't know. Ye Burgers, yeah, park Slope um. So, yeah,
bourgeois Burgers, Park Slope, Um. But I took him sound

(14:20):
like it sounds like a children's book. Yeah, bad Bad
Bogie and Burger's um. But yeah. So I took him
to the Pavilion to see I can't remember what it was.
I don't know whatever it was. It was terrible. It
was really really like bad and I and I felt
like and I don't even know if he got that

(14:40):
much out of it. I think he did get something
out of it, but it was really hard for me
to sit through. And when I think about actual like
like books speaking, actually, this is a question that I
think you both should answer um, which is like, how
do you when you begin the process of editing a
book and you begin the process of writing a book,
how do you actual like approached those two different like

(15:02):
those two different pathways of like gathering making sure you're
writing something for the adult and making sure that this
is something for the kid. I mean, as a writer,
I'm not that concerned about writing for the adult. Like
I'm an adult. I am passing it through. An editor
is gonna look at it. An editor is an adult

(15:23):
and they have expertise as well. Um, But I think
my main focus is how do I make something that
I find interesting, Like I'm the adult, like I'm also
writing for myself writing for kids, Like if you don't
think it's dope, then it's not gonna be dope, and
and and I have full faith or if you know,

(15:45):
if it's a successful book that um that it'll appeal
to adults. But my main focus is the kids. I mean,
at the end of the day, they're the demographic. And
I think my editor, um Cecily Kaiser at fighting, she
was very good at saying, well, you're a little bit
above here, or like you're a little bit below or
like word play is something that I'm I'm obsessed with.

(16:09):
But it is true that for a lot of kids
it just doesn't register because they're not quite there yet.
It's like sometimes when you're so much humor relies on
like this absurdity, but absurdity relies on knowing what's real
and what's absurd, And so for a lot of kids,
they don't have that baseline understanding of what's what's what's

(16:31):
so funny about this? It's like, yeah, they just ingested
as something normal. They don't know any different. Um, I
don't know, how about for you? Yeah, I mean I
think things can work on two levels your point, Like,
I think there can be humor in a story that
maybe the kid won't get every single reference, and there's
some things in there that they'll get when they're a
little older that the parents can appreciate. But then you

(16:52):
also have to make sure that's balanced out with humor
that's really at their at their level. And sometimes even
if they don't fully understand it, I think they get
a good laugh at. Like my son has this joke
book that he doesn't understand. I have to explain the
half of the jokes, but still it's his favorite dog
eared book. Yeah, he doesn't get because sometimes it's like
the inflect, Like they can tell the inflection that it's

(17:14):
a joke, and that's what the idea of a joke
is funny exactly. Yeah, there's a punchline there, just the
idea that there's a punchline. Um. Well, that's like a
great segue into Dragons Tacos because um, I also think
although this so I was telling pause. Um, I'm in
a band called the Band Books, and we set children's

(17:36):
books to rock and roll. We do a version of
Dragon Flift Tacos. We're kind of new, but we're performing
and broken Public Library on Tuesday. Um. So we do
Dragon Flift Tacos as a mashup of like an Ennio
morriconey um spaghetti Western in the beginning, and then there's

(17:57):
a build up because it's like a long bill up.
The build up is House of the Rising Sun. Um,
and then there's I'm like I've ever done in my life,
I have to say. But the thing that one of
the reasons I like doing it so much, and the
reason we do it is to show kids that there's

(18:17):
kind of rhythm and there's music in books. Um. We
do Where the Wild Things Are, which when you read,
you know they gnash their terrible teeth, they rolled their
terrible eyes. Like there's a beautiful rhythm to that book.
It's castor sale it's like caps caps capstor sale fifties
cents a cap, you know, like um, but the language

(18:40):
itself is immensely appealing to adults. Okay, we're gonna have
a musical interlude. This is my band, the Band Books,
performing live at the Brooklyn Public Library. Self aggrandizing, sure,
but also fun. Uh. Feel free to read this with
your kids with the music. It's our version of Adam

(19:01):
Rubin and Dance Almieri's masterpiece. Dragons love tacos, they kid?
Did you know that dragons love tacos? They love beef

(19:22):
tacos and chicken tacos. They love really big, gigantic tacos
and tiny little baby tacos as well. Why do dragons
love tacos. Maybe it's a smell of the sizzling pan.

(19:43):
Maybe it's a crunch of the crispy tortillas. Maybe it's
a secret. Either way, if you want to make friends
with dragons, tacos are key. Hey, dragon, why do you
guys love tacos? But wait, as much as dragons love tacos,

(20:07):
they hate spicy salsa even more. They hate spicy green
sausa and spicy red salsa. They hate spicy chucky salfa
and spicy smooth salsa. If the spuzzles, if the sausa
spicy at all, dragons can't stand it. Why do you

(20:30):
dragons hate spicy salsa? Well, just one drop of hot
sauce makes a dragon's ears smoke. Just one single speck
of the hot pepper makes a dragon snort sparks. Spicy
sausa gives dragons to tummy troubles. And when dragons get
the tummy troubles, oh boy. If you want to make

(20:53):
tacos for dragons, keep the topics filed tomatoes, lettuce, gee me,
they are all good. Topics are tacos for dragon? Hey? Dragon?
How do you feel about spicy sauce? Dragon love parties?

(21:16):
They like topsy party is at wool party. They like
big gigantic party for the cordions and tiny little parties
with shreds. Why the dragon love parties? They need the conversation.
Maybe it's a dancing, Maybe it's a comforting sound of
a friend laughter. The only thing tragon from parting parties

(21:41):
were tacos are taco parties. Taco parties are parties with taco.
If you want to have some dragons open for a
taco party, you'll leave suckings of tacos. Hey, loads of tacos.
The best way to change is to get a boat
and do the boat with tacos. That's about how many
tacos you need for a taco party. After all, Dragons

(22:03):
love taco. Hey, dragons, are you excited for this big
taco party? Just remember dragons like the salza. Before you
hunt for taco party with dragons, give it them all
this fussy salza, the dry bury the salsa in the

(22:26):
backyard so the dragons can't find it. Dragons love your party.
They love the music, love the decoration. They especially love
the tacos. Congratulations, I said, bright my love for tacos,

(22:54):
and deep inside of hope you also like taco. It's
a good thing you got rid of all that spicy
Wait a second, what are those little green things in
the salsa? You didn't read the fine print? Totally mild sausa.
Now with mod the Alabadia prappers, listen to me, Do

(23:20):
not eat those taggo don't little green spatch in the salsa.
Do the Helabegia rollers They are super spicy. I know
you love talk those dragon, but you are not gonna
love those taggo Do not let those giants eat no tago?
Cry ah? Why would dragons help you rebuild your house?

(24:24):
Maybe they're good Samaritans. Maybe they feel bad for wrecking it.
Maybe they're just in it for the taco breaks. After all,
dragons love tacos, thank you very much. Hey you there's

(25:32):
this the part that's like there's a repetition. There's the
repetition in this book. I'm just gonna read a little
bit where I read it out. It's like, hey, kid,
did you know that dragons love tacos? They love beef
tacos and chicken tacos. They love really big, gigantic tacos
and tiny little baby tacos as well. Why do you
dragons love tacos. Maybe it's a smell from the sizzling pan.

(25:56):
Maybe it's a crunch of the crispy tortillas. Maybe it's
a secret, you know, like you read that very well.
I mean a hundred times. I've read this book more
and more and more. You should. You should audition for
the audio version of um But tell me about the
your work on this. How it came in was a

(26:17):
rhythm there? Tell me about it was actually a totally
different book. When that one came in, I got it Adam.
Um was so no, he didn't even have an agent
at the time. It came from Dan's agent, m time out.
Adam Rubin is the author and Dan Telmieri is the illustrator.
Side note. Um. So yeah, so it came in and
it was at the time just a list of things.

(26:38):
It was like dragon slip, tacos, werewolves, live waffles yet
he's loved spaghetti, and there was kind of no story
to it. At the end. I think they had like
a big picnic and got food everywhere. Um. And I
met with Dan a few times just looking at his
portfolio and really loved his work. So um double time out. Um.
So as an editor, you also get the illustrators. Yeah.

(27:01):
A lot of times I'll meet with our art director
at the same time with illustrators. But yeah, a lot
of times illustrators will come in, um, and they may
have a story that goes along with it. Um. So
we'd be maybe signing something up that way, but then
also just looking to match up with texts. To me,
the story is I mean, I love the story. It's
pretty straightforward. I mean, like, I think it's a really
nice point you brought up earlier that the there does

(27:23):
need to be a plot, but so much of the
success or failure of a book is just in the
language and that voice. But this in particular, I think
this book is such a joy to read out loud
because it has a little bit of that call and response.
It has a little bit of the that one, two

(27:45):
three repetition. Maybe it's just maybe it's a maybe, Like
it's just a verbal book. And I think that's something
that is really unique to children's literature in the sense
that for the vast majority, for a big part of
the way the book is going to be consumed is
by reading and by listening. So the language needs to work, um,

(28:09):
you know spoken. I mean I don't know, Like, so
Pass's other job, or one of his many jobs, is
uh hip hop writing rhymes basically yeah. Yeah, So like
what's your experience reading children's books? Do you fall back
on that rhythm and meter? Yeah? No, definitely, definitely. I
Mean I started off like the first, um, the first

(28:31):
artistic endeavor I was ever interested in was actual rap
and actual rhyme. And then got into acting and and
you know, went into a lot of classical theater when
involving like Shakespeare, and that's all obviously involves meter. So
like rhythmic language, poetic language, rhythmic poetic language was something
is something that I always look for just as a person,

(28:54):
and so when I actually sit down to read a book,
like generally the books that I want to read to
my kids are generally rhyme, and if they don't rhyme,
they have a like intrinsic like rhythm in them, because
I think largely like that's also the thing that keeps
me interested in the process of reading it. Kind of

(29:15):
either that um or because I'm also an actor, either
that or the characters are so um are so strong
and jump out of the page. One of my favorites,
uh is the Olivia series, and like my I have
more fun. I think I have more fun reading that
book than my kids have listening to that book because
I get like to do the different voices, and my

(29:39):
dad don't read like that they flip out. Yeah, but
I definitely like yeah with with without doubt, Without doubt,
I think there's a the poetic language and the cadence
is something that I always made into. Yeah, Yeah, there's
always something that I look for um in in a book.
I was just thinking, um, oh, yeah, that Shel Silverstein

(30:01):
was like by far growing up like my favorite. Well
that's interesting because um, I also love Shel silver Silverstein.
But I'm curious for you. Just talking to other folks
in the industry, they say that like rhyming, rhymes, rhyming,
it's quite difficult and maybe, like my agent says, it's
not selling as much these days. What's your that's what

(30:24):
she says. She's not a children's book agent. I mean
she's great. Love he now you are the best agent
in the world, Thank you so much. But rhyming, I
mean it can be hit or miss, honestly, Like I'm
not there are some editors who are just like kild
send me rhyme. The rhyme's got to be good, be good,

(30:45):
and it's got to be unusual. I think when you
get into that sort of lulling every two lines rhyme,
and then they're trying to tell this complicated story and
you just kind of fall asleep in the meter of it,
and you can tell that they're going out of their
way to rhyme and curving the story around the rhyme.
So yeah, it's all about the rhyme and not the
story at all. And yeah, I feel like rhyming couplets

(31:07):
you cannot have like a six hundred word manuscripts, right,
It's like this isn't like Dante. Yeah, it's kind of
the difference between like the book version of like Chuck
d Like who has all these he's rhyming, he has
all these important political things to say and like tone.
Look I'm I'm dating myself here, but like who has

(31:30):
Who's rhyming but has absolutely nothing important to say? Right? Well,
you don't want the you don't want the artifice of
the rhyme to trump the narrative. You know, you don't
want to be aware of the rhyme is like I
mean to your point, it's like so much of a
kid's book experience is having it read out loud. So
if you have something that just puts you in the
rhythm and makes it superfuntury, the kids feel that too.

(31:52):
So I'm all in if somebody doesn't rhyme, well yeah, yeah, yeah,
and and so, uh, I actually have a question for you.
I have to answer. Um, So you've written three books?
What are your three books? Again? Can I eat that?
What's cooking? And Brick who found herself in architecture. And
then next year Can You Eat? Which is a board

(32:16):
book version of Can I Eat That? And I don't
know if it's announced yet whatever. Um the Book of
Balls but favorite balls, not not balls but balls balls, yes,
like eyeballs, golf balls, footballs, pinballs, softballs, disco balls. Um. Yeah,

(32:41):
So you have talked about how repetition is a very
important and and something that came to my mind was
when you're talking about repetition. Probably also one of my
very very favorite books was We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Yeah,
I just I love I just hate that book. Do
you really? Yeah? Why do they run away in the end?
Why do they run away at the end? I don't

(33:01):
understand why they's a bear? But do not enjoy that.
I don't like that book. I don't like reading it.
To my side, I just well, look, I'm gonna preempt
your question. I don't know if there's a question there
whether what they what? The question was just about how
you find like, how do you find um, where do

(33:24):
you insert the repetition repetition in into your writing? So like,
for it depends on the subject matter. For Can I
Eat That? It's so much a um. It's like there's
a lot of wordplay. So it's like if I eat
jelly and I eat fish, can I eat jellyfish? You know?

(33:46):
So a lot of it comes from whatever the subject
matter is. UM. I don't really even though I talk
a lot about repetition, I think it works for like
castor sale and Dragons Left Tacos um Maris Sandak used
repetition really beautifully. I don't use it that much. I

(34:06):
try to. The thing that I think about when I'm
writing for kids is, you know, I read a lot
for adults, right, and you have so many words to
communicate what you want to communicate with adults, and they
can go with you, and it's a little bit like, hey,
I'm taking you on an adventure word adventure and it

(34:26):
might be a crazy metaphor here and whatever. For kids,
you it's like you have to make a rue out
of the words. You have to distill it into what
like a crystalline form, which is so basics like writing
a haiku instead of writing a villainel and you you
have to just pick the right words that it is

(34:49):
that's accessible to them. But I always try to have
it be still beautiful like you don't want it to
just be utilitarian. Like I'm getting the point across. That's
that's and that also actually makes like the editing process,
Like I've gone back and forth with my editor for
like weeks for something like for one word, and it's

(35:09):
like that's absurd on one level, but on the other
it's like, well, there's only like a hundred fifty words
in the book, you know what I mean. I think
that's a big any ideas if you're making something that
somebody who's going to continuously go back to, so every
single word is important. Yeah, I mean there's like for
like you read it so much. There's things in these books,
in the books that like for Instantance caps for Sale,

(35:33):
it's um, it's like first head on his own checked
cap in a bunch of gray caps, brown caps, blue caps,
and red caps, and it's like that's not brown, that's
like OK. And every time I read it or yellow

(35:53):
and I have this. I had the board book version
at home and like I've crossed out brown and put
yellow because it's not out. It's like you're gonna obsess
over those books. I have to say, dragon stuff Taco
it's like really stands up to that level of obsession.
Moon Man is one of my other favorite ones. I
was gonna ask you so so JD s brought Um

(36:14):
brought a bunch of books in and I was gonna
ask you why you brought those in? It? Well, I
brought so. Tommy Younger, who is a hero of mine,
recently passed away. He was a children's book author, big
in the sixties and seventies. He's French. UM. And the
reason I brought in moon Man is because it's a
very well to honor Tommy Younger's legacy, um, but also

(36:39):
because it's a very melancholy, an uneasy book. Tommy Younger
grew up in Strasbourg. He there was a contested area
between the French and the Germans during World War Two.
He's like really obviously scarred from World War Two. Um.
The same thing with Marie Sundak, who in jested the

(37:01):
trauma of the Holocaust, and it comes across in a
lot of his work. And you know you were saying
you read Olivia to your kids. I really tend towards
these darker, melancholy books because that's who I am. I mean,
those are the books I grew up with. But that's
also I'm a little bit more. I mean, I have

(37:23):
my own issues and like I find those to be
really beautiful to have those a sense of unease and
mystery in the books Um and moon Man is a
great example of That's about the man in the moon
who comes down to the earth. He wants to play
with you know, he wants to dance, he wants to
be part of society, and he's kind of driven away

(37:44):
as an outcast, and it ends with him back in
the moon, um, you know, realizing that he can never
be a part of society. Like my kids would much
prefer Captain Underpants to that, But to me, it's like
really important to you let children's literature reflect some sense
of it models a way of sadness that I think

(38:08):
has been useful. And or like Where the Wild Things Are,
there's a moment in it where Max is not quite
held hostage by the wild things, but he wants to
leave and they won't let him. Or Mickey in the
Night Kitchen, he's getting baked in a fucking office. Yeah, yeah,
that is super That is super dark, and that was
always actually one of my favorite Yeah, but there's something

(38:30):
that like sticks like a like an irritant becomes a pearl.
And so Tommy Younger who I I met him once.
It is the best moment of my life. Um. You know,
he was a really interesting dude because he was flying
pretty high in the children's book scene. And then he
also made adult comics called he has a book called

(38:50):
for Nicon and um at an a l A and
am X rated comics. Yes, okay. Um so was an
American Librarians Conference Association conference, the a l A. And
someone got up and he also made like very political
cartoons for the Bill Choice or whatever. But um librarian

(39:11):
got up and she was like, how can you write
books for children and make these comic books of make
these adult comics And he's like, well, without fucking we'd
all be out of business, and such as the power
of the A l A. Pretty much after that he
was blacklisted and his books really fell out of favor

(39:31):
for a long time. He moved back to Strasbourg, Prance
and that was kind of the end of time. After that, well,
he piste off a room full of librarians like librarians
and you can speak to this. I mean, librarians have
an enormous amount of power. We'll be right back with
more of Kate Harrison from Dial Books. What role does darkness,

(40:15):
those heavier emotions play in children's books, Yeah, I think
and I think that's coming in more and maybe not
in specifically the style of Um of Sindac and Hunger,
but like John Klassen is another good example that we
were talking about earlier. I mean, I think I think
there is really something to it just gets kids thinking,

(40:36):
and I think sometimes parents and gatekeepers tend to be
overprotective what kids can understand and question and maybe you
have to be there to kind of talk it out
with them. So like as an editor, you are one
level of gatekeeper, but it must be and you also

(40:56):
have to make business decisions. So if you're if you
have this fear or concerned that the other level of gatekeeper,
the parents aren't gonna allow the book in, how do
you make that Like is it a gut judgment or yeah,
I mean I think a lot of it is gout
and talking it over um. And then I mean sometimes
you still like I published a book that came out

(41:17):
a few years ago, Um, that's hilarious. It's called Somebody
Please Scratch My Back, and it's this really um, rude,
oblivious elephant who um just not em who's like bagging
all these other animals to scratches back the whole book.
And then finally a hedgehog comes along and saves the day,

(41:38):
and he just like flings them off at the end
like he's gotten what he wants and then kind of
moves on. And it's just like about you know, being
so inside yourself you can't pay attention to anyone else.
But a lot of the reviews like, oh, I can't
believe how mean spirited this is, right lesson, But the kid,
I mean, the kid picks up on that. The kid
realizes what a jerk. That's it's kids aren't writing, Like

(42:02):
it must be complicated as an editor because kids aren't
the ones writing the reviews. Like if you had reviews
written by kids, they're like, yeah, clearly this is what's
going on. But you do have those gate keepers or
um librarians or whether it gets into schools, it's like
a huge part of it. You rely on those gatekeepers.
Do you see you said you saw getting the darkness

(42:25):
creeping in more and more or has it? I don't
know if it's so much darkness. I mean, I think darkness.
Picture books are taking a turn to try to do
more than they have in the past, and not every book.
I mean, there's room for like the Wacky Silly too,
but I think that the industry as a whole has realized,

(42:46):
um that there's just there's a lot more room for
what kids can understand and take in and what you
can do with a picture book to sort of expand
the worldview, get different voices in, show kids different experiences
like you were talking about. You know these authors that
have these experiences that kind of come through into their
books and kids take a lot from that. Yeah, well,
I can say as a parent, I actually I particularly

(43:08):
appreciate the books because it feels like it acknowledges something
that they're going to come across, that they're feeling, and
it allows it allows room for that, you know, to
something in their own minds. Well, it's like for you, like,
you know, you're black and when you were what that's true? When?
When did it? Heaven? I feel like we have to
mention that every time at the top, Yeah I'm black. Um,

(43:37):
when you were growing up, did you see adequate representation
for you in children's books without even initiate for you?
Or like I mean, it was certainly an issue. Um
but no, there was no adequate representation. I mean I
think that there has since been a you could probably
speak to this better than I can. I think there
has spence been like pockets and moments where where they've

(43:59):
tried to create, um, afrocentric sort of leaning books. Um.
But that was that it felt like all of that
stuff happened way after I was when I was a kid,
um and there was a um yeah, that there was
a representation of of of kids books that specifically addressed

(44:22):
like black kids. Now, there were there's stuff like uh
Ezra Jack Keats and yeah exactly, and you're in Atlantis.
Although although if you know, the few times that we
did have snow in Atlanta, I was definitely as fascinated
by that snow as the kid is in that book. Um.

(44:43):
But um yeah, So there there were there were very
very few, like actual representations. It wasn't until actually I
got into like why A reading a lot more of
that kind of stuff, um, um, that that I've actually
found like actual black African American presentation in the books.
And even that sometimes it was like kind of like

(45:03):
job Turkey kind of kind of stuff. We're written by
white authors. Yes, yes, yes, exactly. So, Um, I think
we would be remiss if we didn't also ask you
what you are reading at home to your kids. Um. Well,
it's funny. It's kind of the same thing that you
talk about, like there's the books that well, I actually
want to know. I want to know what you're reading

(45:24):
to your kids and also what you were your personal favorites. Sure,
I mean I think my daughter. I have a three
year old who I think is very into the kind
of comforting series sorts of things right now like Olivia
Ladybug Girl, Llama Lama. Um, exactly ludicrous that it was

(45:47):
it was me goes. Yeah, yeah, it's pretty funny. Actually,
my son is into dog Man as yours is like
just over and oh, I mean I just didn't even know. Yeah,
I mean, the the interest never dies. He has all
six of them and just will go and go and
go and go. My thing about dog Man is, um,

(46:08):
I mean it speaks to a bigger issue like whether
you think books should have messages or not, because there's
definitely nothing uniquely meaningful you know about that book, and
in fact, like there's a lot of bullying, there's a
lot of mischief, which I don't want that, but but
that but that is part of that's part of a

(46:30):
kid's like environment, that mischief that you know, I know,
but have you read the books. I haven't actually flip,
but they're kind of like they're intensely um free from virtue.
But don't you think that kind of comes back to

(46:51):
what we were talking about before, that they can like
read that and recognize that it's crazy and silly and
funny and yeah, but you I mean, I hope so.
But it's kind of like I mean, maybe it gives
them a sort of naughty like naughty pleasure a little
bit like were you talking about like uh, one of
you were talking about like your kids telling you jokes

(47:12):
Like I know, like my son whenever he tells a joke,
like he really wants to like nail it, and particularly
if it's um, if it's something that if there's some
mischief attached to the actual joke, like he really like
you know, he's he's very apprehensive of it, but also
very proud, very proud. I feel like he gives you

(47:37):
he looks like, you know, it looks like a cheshire cat,
Like yeah, um, okay, So your kids like dog Man,
really graphic novels. Now he's six, He's six, Yeah, so
hilo um zita. He started reading like roller Girl. I
feel like I'll keep moving him up, but it seems

(48:00):
to be a good I love graphic novels, so I
have yeah, yeah, yeah, I want to keep keep pushing that.
And when you were a kid. When I was a kid,
I also I loved series I read. I mean, Ramona
Quimby was like my favorite. I read all of those
over and over, and then like the Anastasia books. Um,

(48:21):
what else did I read? I mean I read a
lot of stuff that I'm not super proud of. My
mom was an English teacher, so she would be bringing
home the like Newberry Winners, and I would read those
two and bald stuff like Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley
Twins and you know, I'm reading The Borrowers to my kids.
It's um pod Homily and variety. He's a it's like

(48:42):
about these small people who live under the the floor.
It's actually interesting that so that book was I think
publishing the fifties and like of the physical things in
that book are totally obsolete now that kids have no
idea what any of it is is Um, so it's

(49:02):
this is so funny. It's almost like kind of like
a little history lesson. Yeah, trying to explain all the
physical objects of the eighties when I was like, Dad,
can you just read dog Man? Okay? Um? Oh yeah,
so I wanted to. So this podcast can be actually
useful for people? Can it could be? Hypothetically? You're really

(49:27):
I mean, you're really blowing my mind this podcast for people.
Let's go down like I mean again, I mean, there's
only so many things I can deal with in one day. Um,
what would you know? I get asked all the time,
how do I get a kid's book published? Questions? Do
you need an agent? And what would you recommend to someone?

(49:49):
The questions I get most. Do I need an agent?
Do I have an illustrator with sign? Do I sholl
out for an illustrator and have an illustrator before I
submit the manuscript? And? Um, just like to whom should
I like? How do I find who is admitted to? Yeah?
I mean I think the first thing I always tell

(50:10):
people for writing children's book is there's this great group
called the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators that
have chapters all over the country. UM, and you can
just they have conferences and you can meet up with
other writers and they'll have editors and agents come in.
You can pay extra and have an editor agent critique
your work and give you feedback. UM. That has been

(50:30):
a place where some people meet their editors or agents
and um sign on with them, though that's kind of
more uncommon. More it's just kind of really learning the
craft and learning what the market is and you know
what goes into the process. UM. So that's where I
always tell people to start, because it's just a great
way to have resources at your fingertips. UM. But yeah,

(50:52):
I mean I do. I think it's super helpful to
have an agent. Can do you recommend a specifically a
children's book agent or yeah, I mean there are some,
there are some that do both, UM, but I think
in general you want to have somebody who has the
children's book editor contexts UM for sending things out and

(51:13):
just making sure that your book gets into the right hands. UM.
That's not to say, like, you know, there's there's plenty
of adult agents who do kids also. Yeah, I don't
mean like a kid age for lunch and about parent

(51:37):
with an illustrative illustrator, I would say no unless I
think sometimes agents will pair up an author an illustrator
if they have somebody's specific in mind and they might
have a better sense of what will really work with
your manuscript. Again, like sometimes like Adam and Dan for
Dragon's l Tacos came in like just met each other
at a party and that time it worked out. Usually

(51:58):
a lot of times, um, when people send something in
that they've just had like a neighbor illustrate, it just
it takes away from the text because it and yeah, yeah,
I mean I think that people are often surprised that
it makes lets that you shouldn't have that people think
like the more work you do before you submit, the
better chance you have. But actually kind of like on

(52:20):
you guys to see what visual style of fits. Yeah,
it's kind of fun to pair and you can put
in art notes like if your text is really spare
and you have a specific illustration in mind that you
feel it's important to convey to get the story, then
by all means, right, are there's certain are there certain
questions that you that because I'm assuming that well, I mean,
actually I don't know. You tell me whether or not

(52:41):
the process is you telling the authors and the illustrator
like what they should do or what's missing? Or they're
like do you do that sort of thing like a
director does, where you're like, just ask the right questions
of them, you know, Um, I mean I try to
just ask a lot of questions and lead people into
the thing. Really need this line? That's actually good? Did

(53:06):
you mean to repeat this word? I mean, if you did,
that's totally fine exactly, but it's not what what did
your what did your editor? So I don't know if
this is industry standard, but the way that it worked
with me and Cecily was that they wouldn't acquire the

(53:28):
book until the manuscript was already edited and in good shape.
So like with my other books for adults, obviously that's
not the case. You get the deal, you work on it,
and then you submit at the end they buy it
up front. But with kids books, at least in my experience,
you and maybe because I know them now, I would
have the conversation to get it into a place where

(53:49):
they would acquire it, and then basically then they would
go to an illustrator it becomes it would get illustrated.
I would be able to give feedback on the design,
and I wouldn't really mess with the text until like
copy edit, um and fact check and then if there's
like my big thing is uh, all these books have

(54:12):
wordplay and food and IFIDON does a lot uh internationally,
so there's a UK edition and like I went back
and forth for months on whether you call peas peas
or mange to, which is what you call him in
the UK, or like, um, I think there's a difference
between like what broiled means here and there and so

(54:34):
you get really into the weeds and that. But or
like in the ball book, like football was problematic, um
mats of ball was problematic. I did do like like, um,
softball doesn't exist there. So but all that stuff is
like way after the fact. So I went through very
rigorous like what I said earlier, because every word is

(54:58):
a huge kind of fraction of the text because there's
so few words. UM. I went through a very vigorous
editing process. The book was acquired and then at that
point it's done. I mean, like for me, kids books
have been great because they're not like a ton of
money like I don't I would not be able to
make a living slowly as a children's book author. But

(55:19):
the work, it's a lot of work, but not obviously
as much as doing a novel or a memoir. Um.
And then it's done, you know, like you're put in
the time to do the text and it's and it's
did you choose your illustrator? No, um, fin didn't connect
me with Julia Rothman, who illustrated the first three books

(55:41):
for and we have a different illustrator for the ball book. UM,
but like two, I think it's common for a lot
of illustrators. But what I valued about that is I
would never have been able to come up with the
ideas and the visual solutions for the text that national
illustrator could um and the style really matched. And I

(56:05):
think like that is a they have such a wide
breath and a creative director and art director knows so
many people that they can really find and pair, you
know correctly. Is it a particular challenge when you work
for some when you work with someone who is writing
and illustrating it, um, You know, I think there's challenges
both ways. It's kind of in some ways it can

(56:25):
be easier because they already kind of come in with
a vision and already know how they want the two
to interact, and it can just be kind of easier
to see that upfront when you first see a project. Um,
and sometimes it can be hard to find an illustrator.
Just people's schedules are super booked up, and which is
crazy to me. I mean, I know it's not crazy,

(56:47):
but sometimes it's like, dude, really you can't take this on.
It's like you have eight months to draw so hard
makes me want to be an illustra, to be for sure. Okay, well, okay,
thank you so much for joining us. Really, um, maybe

(57:07):
we'll put up a reading list online so you can
read some of the books we talked about. I think
that would be yeah cool. Can I see you a question?
Oh jeez, no, I'm just saying quick. It's a quick
I don't know it's quick. How do you feel about
Pink Collious? I'm not a big fan. I mean either
my daughter is. I haven't. I haven't brought it home.
I have to read it like multiple times in one sitting. Yeah,

(57:32):
what's pink Delicious? You don't want to know? You don't
want to I won't. Okay, So listeners, don't read Pink Collious,
read all the other books, all dial books, are amazing.
They're all amazing. Okay, great, that's a wrap, thanks guys. Okay,
well that's a rap for us At the Fatherly Podcast,

(57:53):
I'm your host. Joshua david Stein also produced it with
Anthony Roman. Executive produced by Andrew Berman. This episode was
recorded at Duo Tone Studios in Manhattan with Juan our engineer.
If you like the podcast, find it, rate it, review it.
If you don't like it, keep it to yourself. Okay,
talk to you next week. And Donald

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