Robert Munsch Interview Transcript
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Where do you get your ideas to write your books?
I usually get my ideas by telling stories in front of a group of kids and I ask, “Who wants to be in a new story?” And I make up a new story. Usually they're no good, but sometimes they're good - the good ones turn into books. Sometimes I do the same thing with letters - people send me letters and ask for stories, and every once in a while they lead to books, too.
When did you start writing books?
A long time ago.
Hello, from Holy Family School in Paris, Ontario. We are excited about your newest book in our class. When will it be out, and can you give us a clue about what it is about?
My next book will be called Up, Up, Down. It's about a kid who likes to climb. It will be out in February or March. Paris is a nice town — I like it.
How did you get your idea for Thomas' Snowsuit ?
I was in Halifax and offered to tell stories for day care, and some bright person called all the day-care centers in Halifax. All the ones who wanted to come came to Mount St. Vincent University. Six hundred day-care kids all in snowsuits. That's what gave me the idea.
Does it take long to complete a book?
It takes a long time to make a book. I usually tell the stories for five years before they get good. Then I rewrite them a lot on paper. I'm a very slow writer — or teller!
What book did you put the most effort into?
Love You Forever. It was hardest to write and hardest to get published.
Do you have a dog?
I have a big black dog named Cinder. He likes to eat squirrels, rabbits, and beavers. Once he fell through the ice and I had to jump in and get him. He was fine; I almost died.
Of all your books, which seems to be the favorite among kids?
Stephanie's Ponytail or Mortimer. And Paperbag Princess. They sell really well.
How can you write serious and funny books?
Sometimes I'm serious and sometimes I'm funny and usually I am both.
If your dog came to our class, would he eat our rabbit?
No, he would not eat your rabbit, because I would have him closely under control. But if a wild rabbit runs in front of him, he chases it.
How do you pick your illustrators?
I want people who can read the story and come up with good pictures on their own. Usually that means Michael Marchenko. If I have to tell someone what to do too much, usually that means they're the wrong person.
What can we do for you to come and visit our children's school? Please!
I get almost 1,000 schools a year that ask me to come. The good news is I come for free anyplace in the world. The bad news is you can't book me. I just decide on a school and go there. Sometimes it's just luck because a school is near where I'm going to be anyway. Mostly I can't go to all the schools — too many ask. I write back, though, when schools write me.
Do you have any tips for writing?
To learn to write, write lots of letters, keep a diary — writing is like swimming, the more you do it, the better you get.
How old were you when you started writing stories?
I was 35 years old when I started writing, and I'm 54 years old now.
What do you like about your job?
I can pretty much do what I want. I like traveling and I like writing stories.
What is it like to meet different children every day?
I really like meeting different kids — it's how I get my stories. When I travel, I usually try to stay with families, because that's how I get story ideas. Kids are interesting.
Will you ever write a children's novel?
I don't think I will ever write a children's novel. I don't think I'm a good novel writer.
What is YOUR favorite children's book?
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. I like Dr. Seuss's wacko illustrations and his crazy sense of humor. He is my hero.
What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
When I was little, our house was white and I tried to paint it white, but I wound up using blue. I made a paint mistake. That got me into big trouble.
Do your children ever act like the children in your books?
Yes — especially since my kids are in my books. Tyya is in Something Good and she loves junk food. Julie is in David's Father and she was afraid of giants when she was little. Andrew was in Andrew's Loose Tooth and he hated having his teeth pulled. I got lots of ideas from my own kids, but now they're grown up.
Who is your favorite character in one of your books?
Andrew in I Have to Go. Because I had that problem a lot when I was little.
When do you decide it is time for a vacation?
When I am sitting at the computer and writing and all of the sudden I think that I am skiing or swimming someplace. Then I think that maybe I need a vacation.
What kind of stories did you like as a child?
I especially liked animal stories. And Dr. Seuss and Mercer Mayer.
Does one or more of your kids write books?
No — none of my kids are writers yet. But then, I didn't write until I was 35.
When you were little, did you know you wanted to be an author?
No, I didn't want to be an author when I was little. I couldn't spell, and I didn't like to write. I still can't spell — I wish I could spell. I wanted to be a clown.
How long does it take to get a story published? How long do you work on one story?
I work on lots of stories at once. So when I get a story done, it might still take a long time for it to get to be a book. Aaron's Hair took 15 years — that's because I had so many stories waiting to be published. My publisher has 115 stories on file now.
Do you have any hobbies?
Yes. I like to read books. And hike, and ski, and walk my dog. And I guess that's it.
What jobs did you work at before you became a writer?
I studied to be a Catholic priest, and I worked in day care. And I was a migrant farm laborer. And I taught university.
What were you like as a student in school?
I was a lousy student in school. I didn't get good grades. I never learned how to spell. And I never learned arithmetic. But I was very smart in some ways. I could always write poetry. I drove my teachers nuts!
How does it feel to be a famous author?
Wonderful. I like being famous. Especially since I'm not rock star sort of famous where teenagers want to rip your clothes.
Did you ever think of writing a story about your wife and something funny that she told happened that day?
Yes. She told me that she was throwing cardboard boxes down the cellar stairs to the garbage, and my son Andrew who was two took some plates off the table and threw them down there too. They broke.
What was your family life like growing up?
I had eight brothers and sisters, and it was noisy. And interesting. We lived in a big old farmhouse, with a big yard with lots of trees — apple trees, pear trees, and peach trees. Things like that.
Can you give me tips on editing? I'm nine and I LOVE writing!
Get your story in your head and tell it to five different people. It will edit itself.
Are you friends with other children's book authors?
Yes. Two Canadian writers live in my town: Jo Ellen Bogart and Jean Little.
What do you think is the best thing about reading?
Do you have a special place where you write?
I have an office in my basement. It has spiders. That is where I write.
Is it ever difficult for you to write? If so, what do you do?
If I have trouble writing, I go and tell stories. If I have trouble telling stories, I go and write.
Will you ever stop writing books?
I think I will stop writing books when I am dead.
Why do you always write about kids in your stories?
Because I like telling stories to kids. It's a lot more fun to tell stories to them than to adults. They just sit there like bumps on a lump. Adults are very boring.
What was your favorite subject in school?
Science. I liked bugs and animals and leaves and things like that.
Do you ever write books for adults?
No, I don't write stories just for adults, but lots of adults like Love You Forever and get it for other grownups.
Do you ever write poetry?
Yes, I write lots of poetry. If you look on my website, robertmunsch.com, there's a section of my poetry. None of it is published. It's lousy poetry, but I like it.
Do you keep a diary or journal?
No, I don't keep a diary or a journal, but I do write lots of letters that I save, which is sort of the same thing.
What is your favorite color?
Black. I am the only person I know whose favorite person is black. Maybe that is why it is my favorite color.
Since we know you like animals, why don't you write books about animals?
I might write a book about animals sometime, but when I am telling stories and I say, “Who wants to be in a story?” no animal ever sticks up its hand.
What inspired you to write, another author, a teacher?
I was telling stories to get kids to shut up during day-care center nap times and a librarian heard me and told me to write them down.
Do you have a hero?
Dr. Seuss is my writing hero. Steven J. Gould is my scientist hero. And I think that's all. And Batman is my make-believe hero!
How old were you when you lost your first tooth?
I was five years old. And it was just a little bit loose and my aunt pulled it out. I don't like that aunt.
Will you ever illustrate your own books?
No, I will not illustrate my own books. I am a lousy artist. I don't draw good pictures. I wish I were a good artist. If I were a good artist, I would not have to split the money from the books with the artists.
Do you write stories in other languages?
Most of my books are translated into French, Spanish, and Chinese. Some of them are in German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, and some languages I forget. Armenian - I forgot Armenian. And Greek!
What inspired Love You Forever?
I had two babies die when they were very little and I made up the Love You Forever song for them. About eight years later, the song turned into the story.
Have you ever been to Vancouver, B.C.?
Yes, I've been to Vancouver a lot. I have three unpublished stories about kids in Vancouver.
What is your favorite book that you have written so far?
I think one called Something Good. But that changes a lot.
Did you daydream as a child?
I daydreamed all the time. I never paid attention. I never knew what was going on at school, or at home. I still don't know what's going on. I still daydream.
What about writing do you not like?
I like everything.
Have you ever written a Christmas story?
I don't have any published Christmas stories. I have two unpublished Christmas stories.
Did you have any imaginary friends as a child?
Yes. His name was Bobby Smith. He did everything bad. I wasn't bad at all.
What is your favorite time of year?
Springtime, when the flowers just start coming up.
Are you making any more movies about your new stories?
I'm not scheduled to make any more cartoons or movies about the stories just now. Maybe I will sometime.
Was Mortimer a real boy that you knew?
No. Mortimer was not real. Mortimer was the first story I ever made up, and I wasn't using real kids' names yet. Most of the kids in my stories are real, but Mortimer is pretend.
Are you going to write scary books?
No, I'm not going to write scary books, because my books get read by very little kids, and scary books fry their brains and they yell and scream and their mommies and daddies don't like it.
Do you play a sport?
I don't play any sport like baseball or basketball. My only sports are skiing and bicycling.
Did your parents support you becoming a writer?
Yes, they were very happy to see me try writing. They didn't like it when I quit my regular job to become a writer, though.
Who was the funny one at you house growing up?
Me. Me, me, me, me, me — I was the clown.
You write a lot of funny stories, so who is your favorite comedian?
There are four Canadian comedians called Kids in the Hall. They have a TV show in Canada. I like them a lot. Bob Hope is my favorite old-fashioned comedian.
Do you consider yourself a 'big kid'?
No, I consider myself a small adult.
Would you ever consider writing a joke book for kids?
I have never thought of doing that. I will have to think about doing that.
Do you ever use ideas that kids write in to you? And where can we write to you?
Yes, I use kids' ideas - sometimes I stick kids into books from letters. My book Get Out of Bed is a letter book. You can write me at Bob Munsch Enterprises, 15 Sharon Place, Guelph, Ontario, CANADA, N1H7V2. I always answer kids' letters.
Do you have a favorite saying or motto?
First things first.
Do you have any closing thoughts for you fans?
I like to thank of all the kids who are reading my books and I hope that you're enjoying them. Tell your teachers that reading is supposed to be fun, so keep it fun! Let kids read lots of books for fun!