Jane Yolen and Mark Teague talk about why they made the book How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? and why they won't make a book about dinos using the potty!
Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating books together?
Jane Yolen: How does a writer who loves every word, work with an artist? Now don't be absurd. Actually, my editor has to love the text first, and then after we revise it several times (it feels like a hundred but I know it's not!), she sends the revision on to Mark who occasionally says, "I need something more visual here" or "How about different dinosaurs." And then I see his sketches and say "Great! Wonderful! Though the text says the dino is THROWING that not sitting on it." But always with great admiration, love-and good listening skills.
Mark Teague: The dinosaur books always begin with Jane's writing. She comes up with the verse, which tells me what I have to work with. Then I look at various dinosaur books I have at home and come up with a likely cast of characters. I look for dinosaurs that appeal to me, whether because they are strange or magnificent or just because they seem full of personality. Then I sketch them in different poses until they seem to fit the mood of whatever Jane has written. After that I give them families and homes and all the normal stuff that any kid might have. I try to create a world that is at the same time very ordinary and very, very strange.
What made you decide to send the dinosaurs to school?
JY: Why send all the dinosaurs off to a school? Did I think it was funny or daring or cool? Actually, I've been running out of topics for the big books. Still have lots for the board books. And since many of the boys and girls who began reading the dino books when they were barely toddlers are off to school this year, it seemed appropriate.
MT: Sending the dinosaurs to school was Jane's idea, and it was a great one, in my opinion. It gave us a chance to explore a lot of the issues that kids face in school — mostly issues about how they are supposed to behave — and how they aren't! It was great fun putting these huge, improbable creatures into a school setting, and letting them interact with their teachers and all the other kids.
Were you ever nervous about the first day of school?
JY: Was this old dinosaur nervous to go? NO. Actually it was so long ago, I haven't a clue. Though I remember being nervous going into ninth grade because we'd moved from New York to Connecticut and I didn't know anyone in the school — not a single person. But by day's end I had a best friend and a boyfriend!
MT: I can remember being very nervous about going to school, especially on the first day of kindergarten. I had no idea what was expected of me, or how I was supposed to act, and I didn't know any of the other kids. It probably didn't occur to me that they felt just like I did. As it turned out it was our teacher who should have been nervous!
Can you tell us what is next for the dinosaurs?
MT: It all depends on what Jane has up her sleeve. There's practically no end to the possibilities; so many dinosaurs, so little time!
JY: What is the next for the dinosaur crew? I've lots of ideas, and could use more from you. Actually, I have sent two board books to my editor, one about driving in the car ("Are we there yet?") and one about taking a bath, but I have not heard back from her. And despite many letters asking for a dino potty book, I am adamant about not doing that. The bad behavior would be too. . .well, yucky.