Kim Norman, author of Crocodaddy, answered some questions for me. Thanks, Kim!
The book is partly inspired by your own young sons. How does being a mom affect your writing?
When my boys were little, I loved reading to them. I find reading children’s books to be very inspirational. My creativity is particularly sparked by wordplay, so I really miss those whimsical conversations you can have with a 4-year-old. Because they lack a long vocabulary history, they take words very literally, which can lead to a delightfully fresh use of words. Like the writing contest I judged recently: One child had been assigned to write a poem about “sneakers.” People don’t use that word as often as they used to. It was clear the child didn’t know the word, so he wrote about burglars who are sneaky — so they’re “sneakers!” I loved that his innocence led to a new way of hearing the word.
Just today, I was interacting with the toddler grandchild of a friend, and found myself slipping into that fun wordplay, seeing things from a child’s perspective and hearing words in the open, creative way they do. I should probably make a point to have a conversation like that, with a small child, now and then.
You’ve dabbled in many different art forms, both performing and visual. How do your varying interests work together, especially as it relates to Crocodaddy?
When I started out writing children’s books, I had no idea there was a sidebar “job” that often goes with children’s book writing, and that’s doing school presentations. I’ve found that school presentations are a perfect match for the performing & teaching skills I’ve developed over the years. Even before Crocodaddy came out, I had the illustrations on visuals I could share with school children. The red letters stand out, helping them spot the refrain, “Crocodaddy, Crocodaddy…” They love reciting the words along with me. I have also turned my books as well as the books of some author friends into readers’ theater scripts, which give students an entirely different way to experience the story.
Where did the name “Crocodaddy” come from?
I wish I could clearly remember who came up with the name. It was definitely related to pretend play in our backyard pool. I’m a wordsmith, so it was probably me, but not necessarily. My husband has been known to come up with clever puns, too, and — of course — kids are brilliant at inventing new words. My younger son was a toddler when we invented the game. “Look out! The Crocodaddy is going to get you!” Splash! Splash! It was great fun.
Can you describe the experience of working with illustrator David Walker?
I didn’t actually work with him — or rather, we didn’t work together at the same time. Most of the bigger publishers hire illustrators who are unknown to their authors. By that, I mean, we don’t know them personally, even if we’re familiar with an illustrator’s work. But we’re not generally consulted much about who will be hired. We are sometimes asked what SORT of illustrations we see, and it’s helpful, at that point, to name illustrators whose work matches the images an author sees in his or her head. The publisher won’t necessarily hire that illustrator, but they may find one similar. Or not. The editor’s vision is important, too.
I don’t mind that, because I know my editor and all the book experts at the publishing house have more extensive knowledge of which illustrator(s) might be the best fit for my book. This book is a clear case of that. I confess I did not know David’s work, but my editor did, and knew he’d be just right for the project. She was so right! I did comment on the sketches a bit. I love getting a glimpse of sketches before the illustrator does the finished paintings.
In your opinion, what are the essential ingredients for a good children’s book? Why?
I enjoy great word play. Not rhyme or verse, necessarily, but clever word choices that surprise the reader. I love the work of authors who employ various poetic devices such as repetition or alliteration.
I’m always drawn to humorous picture books, not only in the text, but enhanced by the illustrations. Also, a solid childlike mindset is important in a successful book. That’s sometimes hard for writers trying out children’s writing for the first time. It’s hard to throw off that adult perspective and really get into the mind of your child protagonists. Often, first attempts at children’s writing turn into what I call “grandparent books.” Those are books with children IN them, but the story is told from the viewpoint of a doting grandparent. That’s not a children’s book; it’s a grandparent book.
And, of course, I love great characters like Olivia, or — further back — Ruby the Copycat. Margaret Rathmann does such an amazing job of building Ruby as a great character, not by TELLING us who Ruby is, but by SHOWING us. That’s just a gem of a picture book.
What are your favorite children’s books?
Ah well, you caught me spilling the beans early in that previous answer. So, obviously Ruby the Copycat, which I discovered as an adult. When I was little, I loved repetitive stories, like “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and “The Old Woman and her Pig,” “The Magic Fish,” and “I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly,” (upon which, by the way, one of my own books is based. It’s called I Know a Wee Piggy who Wallowed in Brown, to be released next year by Dutton.)
I also borrowed the rhythm and repetition of a new-found favorite, (a book I discovered as an adult) when I wrote Ten on the Sled, which is based on a book my younger son ADORED, called Ten in the Bed. He howled with laughter and surprise the first time we read that book. I remember hoping a child would laugh like that at one of my books someday. Maybe they will, when Sled is released next year!
When I was about 10 to 12, I read all the great series during what I call my “golden age of reading,”: the Oz, Little House and Black Stallion books, as well as the Freddy the Pig mysteries, (which have been reissued, I believe.) My next goal is to write a novel for that age range.
I guess that wraps it up. Thanks for the opportunity, Annie!
Author Kim Norman’s first picture book, JACK OF ALL TAILS, was released by Dutton, a Penguin imprint, in 2007. CROCODADDY, (Sterling, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble), makes its grand debut in May. She is looking forward to the release of two titles in 2010: I KNOW A WEE PIGGY WHO WALLOWED IN BROWN, illustrated by Henry Cole, (Dutton); and TEN ON THE SLED, (Sterling.)
Kim is active in community theater and her church’s music program. (She loves pretending she’s a pop star singing into a mic for the praise & worship service.) She lives in Virginia with her husband, (the REAL Crocodaddy), two sons, a dog and a cat.
The rest of the participating bloggers:
A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes, Elizabeth O. Dulemba