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Transcript from an interview with David Shannon

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with David Shannon. The transcript is divided into the following sections:

David Shannon

Coming full circle

I had no idea there were all these great stories out there. So, I took another one and another one, and the more children's books I did, the more I realized that was really what I'd always loved to do. When I was a kid, that's what I did. I read books, and I drew pictures of what I saw in my head. So when I read The Hobbit, I drew lots of hobbits and Gandalf. I realized I was drawing the same subject matter that I drew as a kid, with baseball players and pirates and knights and things like that.

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Brighter colors

When I first began doing children's books, like when I did editorial work, my palette was a lot more muted and dark. It would slowly, but surely, become more colorful. And I just like the colors better.

But when I'm doing a book, I kind of think of it as directing a little movie. So, I try to make everything in the pictures reinforce the story in some way. And color can do an awful lot with conveying the emotion and mood and tone of the story. If you're doing a sad story, a lot of times bright colors aren't the way to go.

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The original No, David!

The original I made when I was a little kid. Then I saw it later and my mom had saved it, and I decided, "You know, this could make a good children's book." It had this sort of gut appeal to the kid that was still the kid inside me.

The only words in it were "no" and "David." So, I felt, "Well, 32 pages of 'no' and 'David' – that's going to get a little monotonous." I wanted to expand on the text, so I tried all sorts of different things. And what emerged was this idea of these timeless ways moms have of saying "no." My mom and my mom's mom and my mom's mom's mom have always said, "Don't play with your food," and things like that.

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How did the five-year old do it?

At first I drew David more realistically, like I draw some of my other books. And it just sat there. It just didn't have any of the charm or energy of the original. So, I went back to the original, and I tried drawing more like a five-year-old. And, all of a sudden, he just jumped off the page and started picking his nose.

But all the things like the pointy teeth and the hair and his little, round body – that's all from the original. The way the type is kind of scrawled – that's from the original. Whenever I got stuck on how to do anything, I just went back to the original and said, "Well, how did the five-year-old do it?"

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My Daddy made it!

So she's aware that I'm making these books. And if we're reading one of mine, I'll start by saying, "Duck on a Bike by…" And she'll say, "By Daddy!" And if we go into a bookstore, she's my little salesman: "Here. Buy this. My daddy made it." It's kind of embarrassing.

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Marshmallows or lima beans?

Oh, I hate lima beans. And I think most kids do. That was actually the last thing that changed in that story. Originally, the cure was marshmallows, just because they're yummy. She just ate something because it was yummy, and it cured her. Then my editor and I were discussing the ending, and we decided it would work better if we could come up with something that most people hated, but that she liked. That would be a more effective ending for the story.

So, I thought, you know, "Lima beans, of course." For kids, that's the international symbol of food hatred – lima beans. So I called my editor and told her. She said, "Well, why lima beans?"

I said, "Because everybody hates them."

And she said, "They do?"

It turned out that she'd always loved lima beans her whole life and had no idea that kids couldn't stand them. She didn't believe me. So she took a poll around the office, and called back and said, "Okay. You're right. Everyone hates them."

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Unruly kids

You know, a lot of people ask me for advice about unruly kids, and I'm not sure I'm qualified to respond to that, because I was an unruly kid. Let me think about this… When I was in school, I was an unruly kid. I wasn't as bad as David, but I was a handful. I never meant to be malicious or anything like that. I was just cracking jokes, you know. So, I would say if you've got a kid like David, just try to enjoy him as much as you can. And when he pushes it to far, send him out in the hall. That's how I was handled, and I think that did pretty well.

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"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan