I'm happy to bring you my interview with Kim Norman, author of Crocodaddy.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing?
It's funny. If you read my report cards from grammar school, all my teachers commented on my writing, so I'm not sure how I ended up becoming a graphic artist, but that's what I've done for my "bread and butter" for the past few decades. I still do freelance graphic art, but I'm lucky that I can now divide my time between my graphic art clients and my duties as a children's book author.
As an adult, I became interested in writing again around the time I had my first child. I tried a variety of genres, including poetry and even romance novels, but I'm not a big romance fan, so that didn't feel like a good fit. With children's writing, I finally felt at home.
What was the inspiration for Crocodaddy?
The dedication of my book to my husband, "our own beloved Crocodaddy" hints at the terrible truth: there's a REAL Crocodaddy in our backyard pool! Haha! Well, okay, he's not so scary. My kids loved playing the pretend game of Crocodaddy, doing all that splashy roughhousing dads are so good at. It took a few years, thinking about that word occasionally during my morning walks, for a story to evolve. And then, of course, there were several revisions before I sold the book.
Crocodaddy stars a little boy with an active imagination. What do you think parents can do to help nurture their children's imagination and creativity?
Ooo, great question! Well, reading to them, every day, if possible, is essential. Around our house, bedtime and nap time were both called "storytime." Books before sleep were an absolute must.
I liked creating make-shift toys with my kids, rather than expensive toys that do the play FOR them. That old joke about kids preferring with the box to the gift it contained... it's so true. We'd create a "fishing pond" with a box (the pond), a stick, a piece of string with a magnet tied on the end, and homemade cut-out paper fish with paperclips taped on the back.
Another favorite activity was the "wind tunnel." We devised it out of desperation during the dreadfully hot summer that my younger son, not quite two, was encased on a body cast from a broken thigh bone. It was a way to entertain him while keeping him cool. I'd clothespin a sheet to the top of a box fan, making the sheet billow up like a tunnel, over my plaster cast little boy. The wind tunnel remained a favorite long after the cast was removed. We'd read books under the billowing sheet, or they'd play with their action figures there. It was just a way to add an element of fantasy to a play area.
In the fall, when the boys were younger, we would rake fallen leaves into a maze. My sons and their friends would tear around those mazes, inventing all sorts of fantasies. No parental input needed. The kids' imaginations supplied all the "rules" that were needed.
What was your first impression on the illustrations by David Walker? Did his vision match your own?
His gorgeous colors still take my breath away. I was so inspired by his gorgeous blue-greens that I even painted a room that color. And I think his style adds such sweetness and tenderness to the story. I love the milky, hazy landscapes with the cool colors that he has still managed to look very warm, exactly like a southern swimming hole. I'm in Virginia and David is in North Carolina, so I know we've both seen that lazy summer haze many times. The jacket flap mentions Kezar Lake in Maine, near where my family vacations every year. It's true that I wrote a strong revision of the story, looking out a window every morning at the lake, but David's illustrations feel like a warm southern pond to me... or like the marsh near where I live. I know I'd feel at home if I could jump into his paintings the way Jane and Michael Banks jump into the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
Words words words. I just love playing with words, picking better words, finding just the right word. Writing for children, I have to be careful not to rely on a thesaurus too often. Finding a big juicy new word is great, but if the young reader doesn't understand the passage, I've made a poor choice.
I also enjoy doing school visits, which I didn't even know was a part of being a children's writer when I started out. But it's a good match for my theatrical and teaching skills. I really enjoy interacting with students. They keep me on my toes and connected to the way children think and behave.
What are some of your all-time favorite picture books?
I have some I remember from my own childhood, and some who became favorites as I read them to my children. We didn't own a many books when I was a child, but I did have several Dr. Seuss books. I especially liked his On Beyond Z, which is hilariously imaginative. Another favorite, although not strictly a picture book, was a collection of stories I read over and over. It was published by Better Homes and Gardens and was full of great old poems, fables and nursery rhymes and songs, like "Over in the Meadow." I memorized a favorite story from that book, "The Old Woman and her Pig" which I retooled into a modern story of my own.
For my own kids, there are almost too many to mention. Chicka Chicka Boom, Ruby the Copy Cat, There's a Monster at the End of this Book, (I do a great impersonation of Grover's voice, if I do say so myself)... and many older, more obscure titles that we loved checking out from the library, like Mrs. Gaddy and the Fast-Grown Vine.
What qualities do you think make a picture book timeless?
Fun, read-aloud language, such as the hypnotic rhythm of Kapiti Plain. Have you ever heard that read by James Earl Jones on Reading Rainbow? Wow, it's so powerful. Humor will always sell. My kids and I had a lot of laughs over The Stinky Cheese Man. And then books that touch on something familiar, such as family traditions, holiday celebrations and the like. For that matter, I hope Crocodaddy is timeless in that way, since splashing with dad is such a familiar summer tradition in many families.
If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?
It wouldn't take much money, but I'd probably choose to go back to my late teens, early 20s, to give myself a good talking-to about my insecurities. When I look at photos of myself then, I realize I was really quite pretty, but I just couldn't see it then. Girls (and women) are so hard on themselves! And while I was there, I'd be multi-tasking, because of course I'd also get to spend the day with my dad who is no longer living. He was Crocodaddy at heart, even though we hadn't invented the word back then. I'd love to spend one more day with him. He was proud of my writing. I was writing humorous verse while he was still alive, but I think he would be very proud that I'm now a published author.
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Saturday Review of Books: April 19, 2014
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