Dan Yaccarino is an acclaimed author and illustrator of many children’s books including ‘Doug Unplugged’, ‘Unlovable’ and ‘The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau’; the creator and producer of the animated series the Parents Choice Award-winning Oswald and the Emmy-winning Willa’s Wild Life, as well as the character designer behind the Emmy-winning The Backyardigans. His books have won a host of prestigious awards including the New York Times Best Illustrated award, an ALA Notable designation, a Parents Choice Award, and the Bologna Ragazzi. Dan lives with his family in New York City.
For what age audience do you write?
I mostly write and illustrate picture books, but I have a middle grade novel coming out next year. There have been quite a few robots and outer space themes in my picture books, but I’ve written and illustrated about all sorts of things like animals and people. However, the middle grade novel is most definitely science fiction, but also (I’m hoping) very funny. I guess there’s humor running through most things I do because I love reading humor and I’d like to think I’m a pretty funny guy. Just don’t ask my kids. They don’t think I’m funny at all.
Henry: I’m a fan of ‘Boy + BOT’, and now I know that was the start of your sci-fi writing journey! Don’t worry – no kid thinks their Dad is funny. We have to work hard to even avoid being considered embarrassing.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is a picture book called DOUG UNPLUGGED. It’s about a little robot who unplugs from his giant educational computer and goes out into the world to learn about things using his senses. I just finished up a sequel called DOUG UNPLUGS ON THE FARM. I’m not anti technology, but I feel strongly about kids (and adults) taking some time out of their day away from computers. I advocate balance.
Henry: My young co-author sons would argue that they DO achieve balance: some time on Vine, some on Instagram, some on YouTube, some on Netflix, and some on the Xbox. Sigh.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
My hope is that they’ll start to think about the idea that there are other ways to experience and learn about the world other than from a screen.
Henry: Wait, what? Note to readers: Dan is on Twitter, but has a grand total of four tweets under his belt. He has clearly mastered the art of being unplugged.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I sometimes find it difficult during the early stages when the idea is still unformed. I played with the idea of DOUG UNPLUGGED for at least a year before I had something I was happy enough with to show my editor. I knew I wanted to write a book about unplugging and I also knew I wanted a robot to be the main character, but I had quite figuring out how to fit the two things together.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Writing isn’t easy!
Henry: Unless you’re writing a wordless picture book. But then illustrating is harder than writing.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I do LOTS of school visits because I’m a children’s author and I find those experiences to be so fulfilling and fun. It’s my chance to connect with my audience and it reminds me who I’m writing for. At a school visit, one kid got so excited, he peed on the floor. If that isn’t a rave review, I don’t know what is.
Henry: When I met you at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference, my bladder control should in no way be interpreted as a lack of admiration for your talents, Dan. I did a school event where one kid’s sneaker looked like it had exploded, although I can’t take credit for that phenomenon. It did give me an idea for a picture book, though.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Two things: write and read EVERY DAY. Even if you don’t feel like reading and even if you write NOTHING. Do it every day!!!
Henry: The writing part is pretty obvious, but new authors often overlook the importance of reading in their genres.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach
Henry: Nice. I also like “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Nope. I just sit down and write.
Henry: Do you turn off the Internet and UNPLUG?
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To stop time. I never feel like I have enough time to do everything I’d like to do.
Henry: It probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that is a popular response among authors.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
William Tenn, Ted Geisel and Douglas Adams.
Henry: Fun! Ted Geisel is Dr. Seuss (and I see Seussian elements in some of Dan’s work), Douglas Adams wrote (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and wikipedia helpfully offers: “William Tenn was the pseudonym of Philip Klass (1920-2010), a British-born American science fiction author, notable for many stories with satirical elements.
His second story, the widely reprinted “Child’s Play” (1947), told of a lawyer who creates people with his Build-A-Man kit, a Christmas gift intended for a child of the future. After publication in Astounding Science Fiction (May 1946), Tenn was soon hailed as the science fiction field’s reigning humorist, and during the early 1950s, readers of Galaxy Science Fiction looked forward to issues featuring his satirical science fiction.
Many stories followed, including “Venus and the Seven Sexes” (1951), “Down Among the Dead Men” (1954), “The Liberation of Earth”, “Time in Advance” (1956) and “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi” (1974).”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The Lorax because he speaks for the trees. He’s cool.
Henry: Tolkien’s Ents are trees that speak for themselves. See you, and raise you.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Sleeping and eating. I know, I know. I should get a hobby. I do a lot of reading, too.
Henry: And answering interview questions.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
He left the world a little better than he found it.
Henry: Affirmative. Mission accomplished.
Where can readers find your work?
You can visit my site at http://www.yaccarinostudio.com. You can also find my books on Indie Bound and Amazon.
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.