Everyone knows that you can give a preschooler the giggles with one simple word: Butt. Now Erica Perl has tapped that toddler tendency with a funny picture book sure to be a hit at homes and libraries, Chicken Butt! She’s been touring the blogs and stopped by to answer a few questions.
Chicken Butt is a title that’s sure to get some attention. What were your thoughts in putting the “B” word I mean the other “B” word front and center?
There was a time when we went back and forth on it. I think we actively considered calling the book “YOU KNOW WHAT?” and keeping the “b” word inside the cover. But that just seemed to defeat the purpose, which was to have 36 year olds spotting it, sight-reading the title (or having it read to them) and dissolving into giggles. Ultimately, we decided that since “butt” is a favorite word for kids (and many adults), why not put The Word front and center. The title also helps purchasers know what they are getting… if they’re not comfortable with the “b” word, good to know what’s in store with this book from the get-go.
There isn’t a lot of text to shape the ideas for the illustrations, so how did you work with Henry Cole to share your vision of the book?
I wrote the entire book in dialog between two voices, but it did not occur to me that the illustrations might depict people. I knew there’d be a chicken and I figured the voices would be offstage. However, since they were clearly the voices of a mischievous child and a long-suffering parent, I was pleased that Henry chose to depict them (and did such a great job… the eyebrows alone are priceless). I also loved the idea of chicken-as-alter-ego… when Dad sends his son to Time Out, the chicken ends up sitting and pouting, while the boy is already up and trying out his next joke.
If you’ve taken the book out for some readings, what have been the kids’ reactions to Chicken Butt?
It has been a huge crowd-pleaser. I usually invite kids to help me read it, en masse, which they looooove. I’ve been particularly pleased by the warm reaction from librarians and teachers, who see it as a fun read-aloud with rhymes and interaction rather than a “get-’em-all-riled-up” situation.
Why did you want to write this book?
I really wanted to depict what I call “the familiar face-off between a child’s exuberance and a parent’s exhaustion.” In other words, I try very hard to be a fun and engaging parent, but there are times when I hit my limit. My kids have an amazing capacity to keep goofing long after I’ve attempted to shut them down… which is a very common scenario, I think, but one you rarely see in books. I also wanted to do what I try to do in all my books: write stories that will appeal to kids and parents.
[Lightning round through the other “Ws.”]
When did you start writing?
As soon as I could grip a crayon, I guess. I’m a life-long writer. I’ve done a lot of other things along the way, but I can’t seem to stop writing.
Where do you do your best thinking?
While running when I forget my iPod!
Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?
Personally my aunt, Emily Perl Kingsley, who writes for Sesame Street, is a disability rights advocate, and is the most openhearted person you’ll ever meet. Professionally (in addition to Aunt Em, whose Sesame Street work is sublime), I’m in awe of Dav Pilkey, Beverly Cleary, Paul Zindel, Mini Grey and many, many others. Authors who can write humor and get the details so right have me bowled over.
How do you balance your writing and family life?
I don’t answer the phone during family dinner and I don’t get nearly as much sleep as I like. That may not be balance, but when it comes close, I’m happy.
What’s next for you?
My next book is my first YA novel, Vintage Veronica, which is coming out in Spring 2010 from Knopf. I also have Dotty, a new picture book illustrated by Julia Denos, coming out in 2010 from Abrams. I’m really excited about both of them, even though neither book has a chicken.
Visit the rest of the Chicken Butt! Blog Tour:
5/4 Maw Books Blog; 5/5 Tales from the Rushmore Kid; 5/6 here; 5/7 A Pen and a Nest; 5/8 Hen Blog; 5/11 Fuse#8; 5/12 Write for a Reader; and 5/13 Chicken Spaghetti.