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Q | How did the book come to be?
A | It all started innocently with a hole puncher. I was punching holes into a stack of paper and I thought of a bookworm, and so I created a story called “A Week With Willi the Worm.” Then later, my editor, who didn’t like the idea of a worm, suggested a caterpillar, and I said, “Butterfly!,” and the rest is history.
Q | What was your editor’s role in shaping the book?
A | I have a wonderful editor, Ann Beneduce, whom I have worked with over the course of many years. In the past I have described the editor–writer relationship in this way: The book is like a bridge over which the story travels from the writer to the reader, and the editor is like an inspector who makes sure there are no rough places or holes in the bridge. Also, the editor can be a source of support for the writer, offering encouragement when you have a creative block or are just feeling discouraged about a book.
Q | What is the book’s message?
A | It is a story of hope. The story says that you, too, little caterpillar, can grow up and spread your wings and fly into the wide world. And I think this is what has struck a chord with so many readers. If there’s a sense of hope that is taken away from my book, I am very happy.
Q | Can you tell us about any special teachers in your life?
A | There have been many “door openers” in my life, including one of the most influential and important people, my first-grade teacher in Syracuse, New York, Miss Frickey. Miss Frickey encouraged my creative interests at that early age and impressed upon my parents that they must nurture and encourage my talents as a visual person, which they did.
Q | Does your wife, a former teacher, ever offer advice on your stories?
A | It is true my wife, Bobbie, was a teacher and I am very grateful to and inspired by teachers. Bobbie understands, though, that while I try to include a little learning in my books, it is not where I begin. I always start with the child I once was; I try to entertain the child inside me.
Q | What’s next for you?
A | After every book is finished and I’ve sent it off to the publisher, I have this empty feeling and I think I am done. But then I get another idea. Even though I am retired, there is often a project that I am thinking about.