Betcha Can’t Read it Just Once

Vegas Valley Book Fest’s star kids’ author on the search for the ‘again’

If you have kids, you’re probably familiar with children’s author David Shannon—you might even be able recite his books from memory, having read them aloud, again and again. Shannon is the internationally acclaimed author and illustrator of more than 30 picture books, including the award-winning No, David! (Blue Sky Press, 1998).

Shannon made his first book at 5, a story that depicted David in all sorts of trouble, and contained the only two words the author could spell, “No, David!” This project was the inspiration for the book that would lead the author/illustrator to success. Today, Shannon’s pictures, in vibrant and dark acrylics, lend depth to his stories.

At the Children’s Book Festival, Shannon will speak in a panel about storytelling to children and sign his newest release, Jangles: A Big Fish Story (Blue Sky Press, $18). It’s a tall tale about a boy who catches a fish named for the jingle-jangling of hooks and lures hanging from his lips.

Did you always want to be a children’s author?

I always wanted to be an artist. Most of my childhood, I was drawing and then I went to art school. I was an editorial illustrator in New York when I got into children’s books by accident, and realized that’s what I had always liked to do, even as a kid. Whatever I was reading, I was drawing.

You write of ducks riding bikes and a character that turns primary colors. Where do you get your ideas?

It always comes in a different way, and I’m always extremely grateful whenever it does, because that’s what you worry about—that the last idea was the last one, ever. Duck on a Bike—my daughter had just begun to talk and before she even said words she made animal noises, so I wanted to do an animal-noise book. I was thinking how funny ducks were, and a guy rode by on his bike—I went, “Hmm, duck on a bike, that’s funny.” A Bad Case of Stripes—I was just thinking, “Wouldn’t it be weird if, instead of chickenpox, you got stripes?”

What unique challenges does a children’s author face?

The biggest challenge is to pare it down so it fits in 32 pages. There’s an economy that you need to use in your writing to make it that short and still have several layers, or be interesting for more than just one read. The best compliment you can get is when a little kid goes, “Again! Again!” after you’ve just read it. That’s what I’m going for, the “again!”

Do pictures or stories come first?

I’m always thinking in terms of images, but I do sit down and write it before I do the finished pictures. …. Once I’ve got it written, it takes about a year to do the illustrations.

Often it’s parents reading your books to their kids. Do you consider your adult readers?

I definitely keep them in mind. If I think of something that the parents might get a kick out of, a little joke I can slip in there, then I like to do that.

Do you include morals?

If I try to do that, the story comes out really stiff and even a little preachy, which is the last thing I want. I pretty much just let the story tell me what it’s going to do. As it goes along, if you’re on the right track, those lessons will show up.

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