Monday, June 21, 2010

Interview #7: Laurie Keller

Laurie Keller is the author/illustrator of many beloved, quirky books: "The Scramble States of America," "Open Wide, Tooth School Inside," "Arnie the Doughnut," and "Do Unto Otters" to name a few.  The Z-Kids were very excited about their chance to interview her for Bookie Woogie.

I thought we were heading over to Laurie Keller's abode for a half hour interview.  Instead, she had in store for us an amazing 4 hour playdate!  We had fun with stuffed animals and doodads.  We thumbed through boxes of original art.  She set the kids loose with her large ink/stamp collection.  We watched commercials she made for Nickelodeon back in the day.  We had an advance look and round-table reading of her great next book (coming Sept '10).  Her boyfriend Scott gave Isaac great oil painting advice.  They fed us blackberries, apple slices, chocolate doughnuts, lemonade, and pistachios.  We hiked down to the shore of Lake Michigan where the kids ran, jumped, waded, dug, drew, shell-hunted, and driftwood-collected.  She sent us home with books, games, and DVDs.  Gracie was seriously attempting to weasel her way into a sleepover, and I think Laurie would have let her.

Laurie Keller was incredibly kind.  It was an amazing, unforgettable day. 
Pulling from the 4 hours of fun audio recordings, I am happy to present the following few (very condensed few) highlights for your reading pleasure.  Thanks again to Laurie and Scott for a great day!

(The portrait above of Miss Keller was drawn by Gracie.  Camera duties were given to Isaac, so we have him to thank for the photos below.)

Dad:  Before we share our visit, tell everyone about Laurie Keller's upcoming book...
Gracie (age 9):  "Birdy's Smile Book" has all these different facts about smiling.
Isaac (age 11):  Collections of facts.  Little snippets of things that have to do with smiling.  A girl named Birdy is the "host."  She talks to you throughout the whole thing.
Gracie:  It's funny.  The whole thing is super funny.
Lily (age 7):  Birdy likes to smile.  She says smiling is contagious.  She says if someone smiles at someone who smiles at someone who smiles at someone... it would go all around the world.  And if I got my smile to Timbuktu, it might even go to the mooooooon!
Gracie:  My favorite thing about all of Laurie Keller's books is the little "side guys."  There are all these little jokes she adds on, away from the main story.
Dad:  Funny little characters commenting in the margins.
Gracie:  Add-ons.  Just because.
Isaac:  The end of this book is actually a mirror for practicing your smiling.  And the cool thing about the mirror is that you can bend it into shapes like a funhouse mirror. Then you can make weird smiles.
Dad:  Thanks guys...  And now for our visit with Laurie Keller!

(Laurie Keller first took us to see her working area)
Gracie:  This place rocks!
Laurie Keller:  Thanks!
Lily:  Hey look -- It's doughnuts like in the doughnut book.
Isaac:  Where did you find all these little cool doughnuts?
Laurie Keller:  A friend of mine got those for me for my birthday a few years ago.
Lily:  Which one is Arnie?
Laurie Keller:  There's not one that's exactly like Arnie.
Lily:  Some of them are cream filled.  That's so cool.
Dad:  Those ones are a little drippy.  They look like they might need little diapers on them.
Gracie:  That just sounds disgusting.
Lily:  Hey - it's Arnie!  I found Arnie!
Laurie Keller:  Yes, a couple classrooms made me some different Arnie pictures.
Gracie:  Hey, those drawings are from "Do Unto Otters..."
Laurie Keller:  Yeah, some kids made those for me too.
Gracie:  I found a giant Arnie pillow!
Laurie Keller:  Yeah, isn't that funny?  A teacher made that for me.  And a friend of mine made me that pillow of Michigan... you can pick it up...
Dad:  Lots of gift-goodies here!
Laurie Keller:  That whole chest in the middle of the room is full of artwork and letters that kids have made.  It's crazy!
Dad:  Did you guys see that cool tin man?
Laurie Keller:  Oh, I made that one.  When I worked at Hallmark many years ago.
Gracie:  I love all your little stuffed animals!  You have the cutest stuffed animals ever!
Laurie Keller:  Aren't they cute?  I get them from art fairs and different places.
Dad:  What do you guys think -- would all these Knickknacks and Doodads help encourage creativity?  Or would they be a distraction while Miss Laurie works?
Gracie:  They would be so distracting to me.
Lily:  Oh!  Button snowman!
Gracie:  Do you know what my favorite parts about your books are?  All the little side jokes you make around the edges of the pages.  I love all your little side things.
Laurie Keller:  You might wonder why I put those little things all over the place.  Well, it's because that's how I live.  Right?  There's all sorts of little sideline things going on around me.
Isaac:  That's cool.
Laurie Keller:  Those extra little jokes -- a lot of them aren't in my initial sketches, or even in my original story.  I don't usually have a big plan before I start painting.  I try to plan, but I always change things.  Once I start painting the final artwork, these little ideas pop into my head, and I start adding all those extras.
Lily:  How did you come up with the idea of putting pencil, paint, and stamps all together in your books?
Laurie Keller:  That's called collage.  I think it's fun.  A lot of times I just start adding things in there... stamps or pencils...
Dad:  It grows on its own...
Laurie Keller:  Yeah, and fortunately my editor doesn't mind that I work that way.  Probably a lot of people wouldn't like that, because they'd want to know exactly what it's going to look like.  But if I make a big change, I'll let her know.  I'll email her my sketch, or I'll say, "Hey, is it okay if New Jersey says this?"  It's great that she lets me work that way.
Lily:  That's definitely not like Daddy's publisher.  One day she's like "Oh, I love these ducks!"  And then the next day, "I don't like these ducks. Change them."
Laurie Keller:  Ha ha ha ha!
Dad:  Yep, everybody's different...
Laurie Keller:  If you want me to show you the artwork from any of my books, I can pull it out.
Dad:  Oooo...
Laurie Keller:  We can take it outside and look at it.  Here is some of the art from "Arnie the Doughnut."
Gracie:  Arnie!!!
(we all move outside to the back porch)
Gracie:  How many times did you redraw Arnie?  How many ideas did you have.
Laurie Keller:  Oh my, I redrew him over and over and over again.  Mostly for the art style.  I already had his personality figured out.  That wasn't so hard for him.  He's just a chocolate covered sprinkle doughnut.  Now, here's the art for the cover...
Dad:  Isn't that neat guys?  That's the actual painting.
Gracie:  You can really see the little paint marks!
Laurie Keller:  Yes... and dust... and cat food... and all sorts of stuff.  I don't have the best archival system.
Dad:  Don't rub your fingers over it...
Laurie Keller:  That's okay, they can touch them if they want.  It's just acrylic paint.
Gracie:  I love acrylics.  I have a whole box.  I have either 28 or 52 paints.
Laurie Keller:  52!  Maybe I'm going to borrow some colors from you sometime.
Gracie:  What color pink did you use?
Laurie Keller:  I think I used Cadmium Red Light mixed with White.
Dad:  You were looking at the pinks at the art store the other day...
Gracie:  I found the prettiest pink.  It's called "Permanent Rose."
Laurie Keller:  Is it really pretty?
Gracie:  It's, like, the best pink EV-ER.
Laurie Keller:  I don't use a lot of colors straight out of the tube.  I usually mix different colors together to see what new colors I can come up with.
Lily: (pointing)  Uhhh... there's a spider on your chair...
Laurie Keller:  Oh.  That's Harold.  Where is he?  I don't want to squash him...  I didn't already, did I?  Oh -- hi, Harold.
Gracie:  What.
Laurie Keller:  That's Harold.
Gracie:  Harold?  You name spiders???
Laurie Keller:  Sure, why not?  You don't?
(grabs another batch of illustrations)
Laurie Keller:  Here's the art for "Open Wide, Tooth School Inside."
Lily:  I love that book.
Laurie Keller:  I did the art differently in this book.
Isaac:  This one is like a giant collage.
Laurie Keller:  I used actual photos of teeth and just painted faces on them.  I cut the teeth out of a dental book.  I went through three copies -- and the books were expensive too.  They were ridiculous.
Lily:  Aw!  Toothpicks!
Dad:  Yeah, actual toothpicks are glued onto the art.  Not drawings of toothpicks.
Gracie:  You can feel the cut papers overlapping.  And the toothpicks.
Dad:  And look, all these little pictures here are stamped with ink.
Isaac:  Hmmm... where's the page that has the acorn stamps?
Gracie:  You have such cool stamps.  I like the acorn stamp and the bumblebee stamp in this book.
Laurie Keller:  Should I go get my stamps?  I can show you some.
Lily:  Yeah!!
(comes back with boxes full of stamps and inkpads)
Laurie Keller:  Why don't you start playing with these...
Isaac:  The bumblebee!  The actual bumblebee from "Scrambled States!"
Gracie:  It's not as cool as the acorn.
Isaac:  Here's all her little bug stamps.  Yep - that's the bumblebee.
Gracie:  I want to find that acorn one.
Isaac:  Cool -- a random potato.
Gracie:  Every single stamp is so much nonsense.  Everything is just nonsense.
Laurie Keller:  I like nonsense!
Gracie:  You like stamps.  You have tons of them.  This is so sweet.  Look! A smoking cheese dude!
Isaac:  That's from the book!
Dad:  The cheese wasn't smoking a cigarette in the book, was he?
Laurie Keller:  No... I took the smoking part off the stamp.  I didn't think that would go over very well in a kid's book.
Gracie:  Look!  Awesome!!!  Ha Ha!
Dad:  What is it?  A stamp of skeleton...  drinking something...
Isaac:  Hey, Adam Rex has a picture in his book just like that.
Gracie:  She's a drunk skeleton!
Laurie Keller:  There's nothing worse than a drunk skeleton.  Hey, that's a good idea for a book...  "Drunk Skeleton and Smoking Cheese."  Thanks you guys.  I'm going to email my editor tonight.
Gracie:  "The Drunk Skeleton and the Smoking Cheese."  It could teach you about the dangers of alcohol and smoking.
Dad:  There you go.
Gracie:  Your books always teach something.  Like the tooth book teaches about teeth.  Scrambled States teaches you about the United States.  All of them do, except for Arnie the Doughnut... that one doesn't really teach much.
Laurie Keller:  No, no, no... it does teach you something.  If you are a doughnut and you don't want to be eaten, it teaches you how not to be eaten.  I wrote that one for the doughnuts.  See, they are all educational.
Gracie:  Do you feel really guilty now whenever you eat a doughnut?
Laurie Keller:  Oh, no, no.  I'll tell you why.  Kids always think I don't eat doughnuts anymore.  But all you have to do -- before you eat a doughnut, you hold it in your hand and you ask... "Do you mind if I eat you?"  Then you listen for a second.  And if it doesn't say anything, you go ahead and eat it.  I've never had one of them get mad at me.
Dad:  Lily, you'd better check with that apple you're munching on...
Laurie Keller:  I don't think apples mind so much.  It's usually just doughnuts.
Dad:  He's already chopped into slices anyway.
Laurie Keller:  I think he would have said something earlier.  It's too late for the apple now.
(Perfectly timed, Scott quietly slips out with a plate full of chocolate covered sprinkle doughnuts)
Dad:  Wow -- Here's our chance to get a picture of Laurie Keller actually holding sprinkle doughnuts!
(the doughnuts get passed around)
Lily:  Make sure you ask them!
Isaac: (to the doughnut)  Do you mind if I eat you?
Gracie:  Do you mind if I eat you?
Lily:  Do you mind if I eat you?
Laurie Keller:  Now, just listen...
Laurie Keller:  Nothing.  I think you're good...
Lily:  I think I heard him beep.
Laurie Keller:  I'll put the rest of these doughnuts back in the house so they don't run away.
(After doughnut-eating and ink-stamping, we went around the table taking turns reading aloud from an advance copy of Laurie Keller's upcoming book "Birdy's Smile Book")
Lily:  This is hilarious!
Gracie:  I love this book!
Laurie Keller:  Oh, I'm so glad.
Gracie:  That lady's name is Mrs. Flapjack?  And the dog is French Fry!  I love these names!
Laurie Keller:  Maybe I was hungry when I made up the names, huh?
Gracie:  The Smile Book sure got me to smile -- it's hilarious!
Laurie Keller:  Would you guys like to keep it?
Isaac:  Thank you!
Gracie:  Thanks a lot!
Laurie Keller:  And do you have the Scrambled States DVD yet?  Here you go.  And here's this little travel game I worked on...
Lily:  You are giving us everything!
Gracie:  You are like Santa Claus!
Laurie Keller:  Ha ha ha ha...
Gracie:  You give us doughnuts!  You let us use stamps!  You take us to your workroom!
Dad:  And what did you guys bring her?
Isaac:  Uh...
Gracie:  "Interview."
Dad:  You didn't even bring much interview - you guys have been so distracted the whole time!
Laurie Keller:  You brought me all this fun!
Dad:  Do you guys have any questions for Miss Keller?
Isaac:  Are the illustrations in the Smile Book just paint?
Laurie Keller:  Actually, it's mostly all done on the computer.  But I did scan in some paint textures.  I made all the shapes on the computer, and roughed up the edges with an eraser tool.
Lily:  Why was the Smile Book so long?
Dad:  Ha ha... I think that's only because we had 5 people taking turns reading it!
Laurie Keller:  Most of my books are kind of long, aren't they.  I am trying to think of some shorter ideas.  But I'm also trying to write a chapter book.
Isaac:  I'm trying to do that too.
Laurie Keller:  Really?  Mine's not going so good.  I haven't thought of any ideas yet.  The only idea I have so far is a Drunk Skeleton and a Smoking Cheese.  What do you think?
Gracie:  YES!!!

Birdy trying to use her smile as an umbrella, by Lily

Birdy's smile returns, by Gracie

smile! by Isaac

Author/Illustrator: Laurie Keller
"Birdy's Smile Book," coming Sept 2010: Henry Holt
Like it?  Find it


Grammy said...

Nice job guys! I like your interview and your pictures. Sounds like you had a great day. Miss Laurie sure seems like a nice lady who enjoys kids.

Unknown said...

This interview rocks! What fun to meet the author. We love Do Unot Otters at my house.

l said...

what an amazing experience! you and your children are very fortunate, but you must know that already!
Thanks for sharing your link on Book Sharing Monday.

l said...

I forgot to mention that we have read the Otters book and really liked it! I will have to check for the other titles at our library.

Lisa said...

Laurie Keller is GREAT! Thanks for this revealing interview with Laurie. I am so looking forward to her new book!

I love picture books, and have my own HUGE collection of children's literature. So, I need to take some more time to look around your wonderful blog!

Thanks again, for this peek in Laurie's studio and the creative drawings.

Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes said...

What a great interview. And what an adventure for you and your kids.

Charlene Juliani said...

What an incredible experience, I'm totally jealous :)

And such a great interview too. Laurie sounds like such a wonderful person!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Oh my! Whst a treat! I love every bit of this!

Gretchen said...

What a FUN interview! I love to see how she likes kids.

MommaHarms said...

how FUN!

Unknown said...

This post was selected as one of my great posts of the week. Here is the link to the post:

Z-Kids said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone! Laurie's books ARE great, and she's pretty nifty as well :)
And thanks for the link, JDaniel4's Mom -- glad you passed it along...

Julie P. said...

I absolutely love your post! Thank you so much for sharing!

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

How great it is that you get to meet authors and illustrators and capture their creativity in these discussions. We just now have Scrambled States of America to read for the next week, and I hope to read her other books one day too.

Pathfinder Mom said...

What a wonderful experience! We saw a video adaptation of Scrambled States this week. It was our introduction to her work. It was really fun - sounds like she is too!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

What an awesome experience! We love these books - what fun to get to meet the author.

Janna said...

All the donuts are really fun. Your kids will remember that forever!