David Shannon Interview Transcript
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
David Shannon, the author/illustrator of the No, David series and other books, was interviewed by Scholastic students.
Good afternoon, Mr. Shannon. Is your book A Bad Case of the Stripes based on someone in your family?
No, it's not. That story started with a single idea, really. I woke up one morning and thought, “Wouldn't it be weird if instead of chicken pox you got stripes?” And then I had to figure out what the rest of the story would be.
Mr. Shannon, our class would like to know if you plan on writing a sequel to A Bad Case of Stripes.
No, I haven't thought about writing a sequel. I think your class should write a sequel and see what happens.
A Bad Case of Stripes had a great lesson about nonconformity. Did you plan it that way or did it just happen?
I never plan what a story is going to be about. I just start making up a story, and then the story tells me what it's about. A Bad Case of Stripes started out as a picture in my head, like the cover of the book. The message of the story came later.
I love the books about David. I have a 3½-year-old son named David who loves them as well. Some of the scenes in your book are frequently acted out by my David. I'm just curious to see what David would do at a wedding or at church. Maybe these could be future books.
I'll certainly keep that in mind. I'm afraid to think of what he'd do at a wedding, especially with that big cake.
The children of my second grade class love all of David's books. They recently asked me if there was anyway we could write him a letter to tell him. How could we send him a friendly letter? Is there an address he could be reached at?
Yes, the best thing to do is to send a letter c/o Scholastic inc., 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012. That will take a little while to get to me, and sometimes I take a little while to answer, but I will.
How did you decide to write books?
I started as an illustrator, so I painted pictures for other people's stories. People liked my pictures, so they said, “Why don't you try writing the words too?” That turned out to be a lot of fun. I had all these ideas for stories, and I wanted to see how they turned out. I try to make the stories fun for grown-ups as well as kids because lots of times grown-ups are reading the stories to kids — sometimes over and over — and so it's important that they have fun too.
How did you come up with the ideas for these books?
Ideas — no one really knows how that works. Some people think that you get a visit from the story fairy. So what I do is I keep a notebook, and I write down all the ideas I think of, even the dumb ones. Sometimes the dumb ones turn out to be the best ones.
I would first like to commend you on an excellent job of relating real life through your books. I use David Goes to School at the beginning of school each year to discuss rules and why we have them. This book illustrates perfectly how the majority of my students behave. It's funny how they can see the misbehavior when David does it, but not when they commit the same act.
I'm wondering, you are sure they can't see it when they commit the same act? David does take the sting out of being told no. I even call my daughter David sometimes.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? If you do, did they also get into trouble when they were younger?
I have an older brother and a younger sister, and my brother got into trouble — usually because I set him up.
You mentioned that you put your dog Fergus in all of your books. Do you ever put your daughter, Emma, in any of your books?
In spirit I do, and the next book I'm going to work on, the main character is based on Emma — which has really annoyed Fergus.
Do you think you'll write books for older kids? What about adults?
I can't rule anything out. I won't in the near future, but maybe some time if I get the right idea I'd love to try that.
Will David ever grow up? Will he ever stop getting in trouble? Will he ever get punished?
He gets punished, but he'll never grow up. He hasn't yet anyway and neither have I. Do you want to see David Goes to Jail?
What kind of mediums do you use to do your illustrations?
Mostly palm readers. I use acrylic paint, with a little bit of prisma color pencil.
We would like to know more about your sketchbook. We are fourth graders who use notebooks for exploring our writer's territories and to gather ideas.
I think that's great that you're keeping notebooks. My notebooks are filled with little doodles and half ideas and titles. Sometimes just a title will be the start of a story. That's what happened with Duck on a Bike. I wanted to do a story with animal noises because at the time, my daughter was just learning how to talk. She was really good at making animal noises. So I was thinking about that while I was taking a hike one day. Someone rode by on a bike just as I was thinking about a duck. And I thought, “Duck on a bike? That's funny.” So I wrote it in my notebook. That made me think of more ideas about a duck on a bike, and I wrote them down too. Pretty soon, I had a whole story.
Why did you do the characters in No, David with such child-like drawings? Our students at Tuolumne School really like them.
No, David is based on a book I made when I was 5 years old. When I decided to remake it as a children's book, I drew it like I usually draw, which is fairly realistic. The story just sat there. It didn't have the energy of the original. So I started over, drawing like a 5-year-old. And all of a sudden, the little troublemaker came to life.
Hi, from second graders in Austin, Texas. Where are you today? Did you want to be an author or illustrator as a kid or not until your mom sent you the childhood pictures you drew? Do you like to do the story or pictures first?
I am in my house. I'm in California. I wanted to be an illustrator as a kid. I've always liked to draw. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a baseball player and an artist in the off-season. And now I'm an artist, and I play softball every Tuesday night — so that's pretty close. I like to do the story first. The pictures and the story take shape at the same time. I have to have a finished story before I do the pictures to make sure it fits in the number of pages that a children's book is. Thirty-two pages is a standard children's book. That's because the printers print eight pages to a sheet of paper; then they cut it up.
Do you use colors in your stories to set the mood of the book?
Yes I do. That's a good question. I try to make every part of the picture tell part of the story, and a big part of the story is the tone or mood. Color plays a big part in setting the tone. Bright colors are usually happy. Dark or muted colors aren't.
When your daughter gets older, would you let her illustrate one of your books?
Yes, that would be fun. She's making her own books right now. She's four. She made a book last week called “Puppies and Cats and People and Babies.” That's everything she knows how to draw.
Where do you write? Do you use a computer, pencils, pens, what?
I write on good old-fashioned paper with a good old-fashioned pen until the story is almost done. Then I write on a computer because it's easier to make lots of little changes.
Do you write nonfiction books?
That is a matter of debate. The question is, “Did David really do all those things?” If he did, then I write nonfiction.
What type of mood were you trying to create in A Bad Case of Stripes?
I think the overall mood that I was looking for is what it feels like to be sick. So it's a little bit sad in parts, and it's uncomfortable to be sick. It's lonely to be sick.
Did any of your teachers encourage you to write books?
No, they didn't encourage me to write books, but they did encourage me to draw a lot because that's what I really liked doing when I was growing up. I usually did the Christmas mural and some of the class projects which involved drawing.
What has Emma said she wants to be when she grows up?
Believe it or not, Emma says she wants to be a mommy.
Did you take classes at college to prepare for your work as an illustrator/author?
Yes, I went to an art school for college. It was called Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. We took every kind of art class you can think of. It was really hard. I had to stay up all night making paintings and drawings.
What is the hardest part about writing? And the easiest?
The hardest part about writing is getting a good idea or at least recognizing it's a good idea when you get it. The easiest part is just having fun writing a story.
How much time do you spend every day writing?
That's hard to say because most of the time my writing comes in little bits and pieces while I'm painting. But usually I spend eight to fourteen hours a day painting. These are all illustrations for books.
Do you have a special place in your home you go when you are working on a story?
Yes, I have a studio above the garage. It's like my own little tree house or fort. I write stories up there, and I paint my pictures up there. Sometimes I call it “the laboratory.”
Which do you like better, writing or illustrating?
I like both. They are both fun ways to tell a story, but they have different problems and different solutions. People say a picture's worth a thousand words, but sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures.
What was the first book you wrote?
Other than the early version of No, David, it was How Georgie Radburn Saved Baseball. When my editor asked me to write a story, I thought I would write about something I liked a lot, which was baseball. But at the time, I liked painting pictures of cold, gray days. So that's how the idea of making a baseball book about winter came about. For anyone who hasn't read it, it's about a time in America when baseball is illegal, and without baseball, spring never comes.
What was the hardest book you have written or illustrated?
The hardest book that I've written is probably How Georgie Radburn Saved Baseball because it was my first book and it was a very complicated story. The hardest book that I've illustrated might have been The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza because there were so many Christmas lights in it. I almost went blind painting Christmas lights.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
I never know how long it really takes to write the story because I do it in little bits and pieces, but it takes six months to a year to do the illustrations.
How many times do you edit a book before it's published?
However many times it is needed. Some stories are almost right the very first time. Other stories I wrote over and over and over. The same with pictures too. I do a lot of erasing and crumpling of paper.
How many books have you published so far?
I've written eight, I think. Overall I've illustrated about 20.
What types of books do you like to read for fun?
My favorite fiction to read is Charles Dickens. I like all his characters and their funny names. But I also like to read nonfiction, mostly about history or biographies. The last book I read was a biography of Jesse James. He was a very bad man.
Do you read to Emma? What books does she like?
I read to Emma every day. She likes all kinds of books. Luckily, she likes my books, so I let her stay here (in the studio). But she doesn't like my books all the time. She likes Dr. Seuss, and she likes Mark Teague and Don and Audrey Wood and Eric Carle — and just about everything. She likes some of the classic books that I liked when I was a kid like Blueberries for Sal and Ferdinand the Bull.
Is Duck on a Bike the only animal story you have written?
Yes, although the book before it, The Rain Came Down, started off with chickens, a cat, and a dog. I especially like drawing chickens.
Besides softball, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to fly fish and play guitar.
Could you help us and tell us where the dog is in your book No, David?
He's in the piece that is everybody's favorite: the one where David is running down the street naked. The dog is in one of his favorite areas, right by the fire hydrant.
Have your parents always encouraged you to become a writer/illustrator?
Yes. I'm very lucky that they did. Some of my friends at art school were not encouraged by their parents, and it made it really hard for them. My dad wanted to be an artist too, so he always made sure I had paper and paints and crayons.
What advice would you give to kids who want to be authors when they grow up?
My advice is to write lots and lots, and write about things that you have fun writing about because you'll spend more time and see the story more clearly if you're having fun.
What's the best advice Emma has given you?
“Calm down, Daddy.”
Do you have advice for teachers?
My advice to teachers is, “Don't worry; that noisy kid in the back row will probably turn out okay.”
How many projects do you have going right now in your fort?
I have really only one that I'm working full-time on, but I have two or three others that I'm working on in my head and jotting down notes.
Would you ever write any songbooks since you like to play the guitar?
I used to write songs, but I don't seem to ever have enough time these days — or solitude. But some day it would be fun to write songs again.
Would you ever write stories about your own life?
In some ways, every story I write is about my own life. Little things I've learned or I've done or I feel can't help but creep into each story.
Anything you'd like to add?
I'd like to thank everybody for all the great questions. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Emma's bugging me right now; she just finished the pictures for her book, and she needs me to take dictation for the words.