Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Barney Saltzberg (who shares his favorite exercise for picture book writers~)

Howdy Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!  Today's Guest Teaching Author shares a poem about bullies with us at the end of this post.

YAY!   We Teaching Authors are thrilled to have our dear friend and Guest Teaching Author Barney Saltzberg drop by for tea. To celebrate Barney’s appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed copy of his mind-blowing book, Beautiful Oops.
To enter the 
drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.  
Author/illustrator extraordinaire, Barney Saltzberg,
Junebug (black and white) and shoulder-leaner, Arlo
Doesn't Barney look like someone you'd want to have a hot dog with? I met Barney,who was born in Los Angeles and has published nearly forty picture books, a gazillion years ago through our teacher Barbara Bottner (Her own Teaching Author interview is here). Barney's two kids live in Boston and New York, so he and his wife fill their home with art, toys, blazing colors and dogs.

Barney, who is smart and funny and...well, funny and smart, is also a musician. His songs have been on the PBS show Arthur, and he has recorded four children's music CDs. He teaches writing and illustrating picture books in UCLA Extension's Writers Program, and travels a ton, speaking about writing and illustrating and wowing the crowds with his toe-tapping and tender songs.

And here's where you have to sit up straight and be impressed: he was recently in China, as part of the US State Department's cultural exchange program, performing at schools, libraries and universities.
His latest book, BEAUTIFUL OOPSfrom Workman Publishing, is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, and smudges show readers--young and old--how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. It demonstrates "the magical transformation from blunder to wonder."

Howdy, Barney--welcome!  How did you become a Teaching Author?
I was encouraged to teach by two friends who are both, teaching authors. They assured me that it would be a rewarding experience.  I was a bit reluctant, but I am so happy I jumped in.  I am now in my eighth year at UCLA, where I teach Writing and Illustrating Picture books.

Here's 1:41 minutes of Barney in a somewhat younger classroom.
(For a longer version, click here)

What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
So many of us were raised reading Dr. Seuss.  His rhymes are brilliant. I have so many students who assume that rhyming is easy.  I have to say that I fell into that category as well.  I've been a song writer since I was eight years old.  I know how to rhyme.  Writing poetry, on the other hand, is a different animal.  I can fudge meter and rhythm when I sing.  Out of close to forty children's books published, I've only made four books with poems.  Many first time students are very frustrated that I encourage them to write their stories first, without thinking of the rhymes.  My suggestion has always been to write the story so you have a road map, and if at some point you want to make a poem, you at least know where you're going.   Most new writers begin to rhyme and get backed into a corner without any regard as to where they want the story to go.  One of my jobs as a teacher is to help steer students away from rhyming 'for a while'. I'm more concerned with students finding their own voice in their writing.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
I borrowed a suggestion from Anne Lamott's wonderful book Bird by Bird. She reminds her readers that school lunch is something we all remember.  Given that I want to help my students find their voice for writing a picture book, one of the very first assignments I give is to write anything you want about your elementary school lunch.  Did you bring it in a bag or a lunchbox?  If so, did you draw on your bag?  Did someone else?  What kind of lunchbox?  What was in it?  Who made your lunch?  Did you even get to have lunch?  Did you eat in the cafeteria?  Maybe you went home for lunch? Maybe your parent packed a type of food that embarrassed you?  Maybe you participated in a food trading frenzy! Any memories of your school lunch are encouraged.  We just want to have you go back to that time in your life.  I'm always amazed at how many people have so much to say about their lunch!  It's a wonderful exercise to dig into a rich batch of memories.

What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
Find and say at least one thing positive in every assignment before you give any feedback.
Character studies by Barney Saltzberg for his book Andrew Drew and Drew, Abrams 2012
Tell us how you sold your first book.   
I'd drawn a batch of cartoons with captions and went to New York.  I had no idea how the business worked, but if I saw a sign on a building with a publishing company, I would knock on doors.  Ultimately I came to McGraw Hill, who was publishing educational books.  I asked a security guard, "Where do I go to get a book published?"  He said, "You don't".  I said, "If you did, where would you go?"  He told me what floor the editorial department was on.  I rode the elevator to the 36th floor (I believe) and showed the receptionist my artwork.  She told me to sit down and she left through a door behind her desk.  Ten minutes later she asked me to call back the following morning, and that they liked my book idea.  The next morning I called in and found they wanted to publish a book of my cartoons.  A year later, my first book came out called, Utter Nonsense!

I am wild about your new book, Beautiful Oops--it's fabulous.  How did you get the idea for it?
In my school visits I talk about a dog of ours who was accidentally locked in my studio.  She attempted to climb out the window and stepped all over an illustration I had finished.  I thought the artwork was ruined.  After careful reflection, I found I could turn each paw print into a cloud. I also show a picture of a sketch book where I spilled coffee and turned the stain, into a monster.  Teachers asked me for years to write a book showing how I fixed my mistakes.  One day while sitting in my studio, I tore a piece of paper about half way across the page.  I realized it looked like an alligator mouth. I knew then I had a book and a year later, Workman published Beautiful Oops!

Finished drawing by Barney Saltzberg for his book Andrew Drew and Drew, Abrams 2012
What's on the horizon for you?
Lots!  I just sold a book called Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep to Hyyperion based on photos my wife took when we were in China. (A panda in a tree, having a really squirmy time trying to sleep!)

I have an app called Nibbly's Nose, based on a lift the flap book. It also just became available as an iBook.

Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon?, my first picture book app, will be available soon

And I have two books coming out in 2012: Andrew Drew and Drew (Abrams) and Arlo Needs Glasses (Workman)
Wow, Barney—we can't wait!  And finally, since today is Poetry Friday, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?
Sure!  I was asked to write a poem about bullying.  I didn't want to write something neat and tidy. This is a sticky issue. Ultimately my poem was rejected because there was concern that kids would see the name Roy the bully boy and that would encourage them to make a sing-songy rhyme and tease someone. My thinking is, here's a chance to broach an uncomfortable subject and begin a dialogue.  See what you think.

That Big Bully Boy
by Barney Saltzberg

You know that big bully boy
In my class named Roy?
Well, he thinks I’m his personal toy
He twists both my wrists
And he calls me a goose
With his garlicy breath 
Roy smells like a moose
He’s making me nervous
He’s drinking my drink 
He’s eating my snack
He says that I stink
When the clock hits three
I am safe, I am free
I hope and I pray 
Aliens take Roy away
You know, that big bully boy
In my class named Roy
poem and drawings © Barney Saltzberg 2012

Thanks so much for stopping by, Barney!  

To enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops, post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th.   Good Luck!
And thanks to Tara at A Teaching Life for hosting Poetry Friday!


Dianne said...

What a great interview! Thanks for hosting Barney and giving readers a peek into his creative life. My oops isn't necessarily the best example, but what came to mind were the many times, as an elementary teacher, I've had think on the spot and turn around an unexpected glitch and/or "oops" in a lesson and make it a "teachable moment." Often those "oops" moments turn out to be the most memorable.

Dianne said...

Oops! My email address is diannewrites at gmail dot com .

Linda B said...

My 'oops' had to do with plans for the first day of school & walking to our capital to climb to the top & say to my students that our world is out there for us to explore & write about-inspiration. That morning, a student showed up on crutches, a broken ankle. With help, we climbed to the roof of the school instead, still a challenge, but we did it!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dian--yes, "teachable moments"--I finally figured out that that's really what LIFE is all about, right? Sometimes I'll turn to my students and ask them how to do something I've just messed up.

And Linda--another life lesson: showing up--we'll figure out how to do it another way.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Great post, April - thanks! It's obvious kids love Barney's presentations. An oops at a school visit - referring to a very young boy as a girl when he raised his hand (what gorgeous, long hair he had!) - taught me never to make that assumption. :o! The book sounds wonderful. robyn at robynhoodblack dot com

Robyn Hood Black said...

Um - I guess I forgot the "how you or someone else turned it into something beautiful" part (see, I "oops" all the time!)... Well, the kids were willing to let the presentation move on, and forgiveness is a beautiful thing!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Robyn...yep, forgiveness makes everything beautiful...

(And Dianne--sorry for misspelling your name!)

GatheringBooks said...

Hi April,

Truly a beautiful interview. I love how poets visit schools and share their passion for painting through verses in schools - I feel that music and poetry are largely marginalized. Kids also often have the misconception that poetry is boring or difficult. It's lovely to see images such as this.

Oops moment: Visited Bahrain two years ago for a teaching consultancy on how teachers can become effective 21st century educators. I thought I had all my slides/presentation prepared - only to discover that the language barrier was simply too overwhelming for my teacher-students to really understand anything that I was saying. Great thing, I found English teachers who translated much of what I was saying - and it ended up being one of my most meaningful teaching stints, ever! Bar none. :)

My email address: myra (dot) bacsal (at) gatheringbooks (dot) org

Blessy Mathew said...

Hi April! I enjoyed reading this post, and you introduced me to a new author at the same time. It's so exciting when a blog I discover teaches me something new. Thanks for sharing this inspiring interview with Barney Saltzberg. Now off to check out some of his picture books.

Amy L V said...

What a delight! I love this book and am so happy to know where to find Barney in the print and internet world. Thank you for this post!

As for an OOPS, mine may be about cats. Cats find us here in the country, and each time we think, "Oh, no...not a one-eyed cat" or "Oh no, not a feral" - and then we fall in love again!

I have this book, so no need to enter me in the giveaway. I want someone else to own it too.


tammi sauer said...

Looooved this interview. :)


At a book signing, I messed up on a kid's name. Lucky for me, I figured out how to turn those messed up letters into an on-the-spot doodle of a chicken. OOH.

My email:
tksauer at aol dot com

Melanie said...

I really like that poem!

Sarah Albee said...

Hi April,
What a lovely interview.
My oops moment happened when I was a very junior editor at Sesame Street. I was editing my first big book, a SS songbook (because I was the only editor in my dept who could read music and play piano). I went over to Jeff Moss's house (composer of Rubber Duckie) to show him some song arrangements, and when we got to People In Your Neighborhood (his song) we both stared at the composer credit, which read Joe Raposo (his long-time rival and writer of Bein' Green, among many others). Jeff was notoriously curmudgeonly, and I knew there was a good chance he would flip, even though of course it was just galleys and there would be plenty of opportunity to change it. So I quickly made a joke about it (along the lines of how interchangeable he and Joe were, whatevs). After five tense seconds, he grinned broadly. And we became fast friends.
Thanks for getting me to drum up that pleasant oops memory! Sarah (albeesATTaftschoolDOTorg.)

janet wong said...

Fabulous story about how you first got published, Barney! "Breaking the rules" in style!!

And I love the way you've coaxed us to share our Oopses, April! I will return to post an Oops if I can think of one "turned beautiful," but my usual technique is to move on very quickly so that I can forget them...

JenFW said...

Such a great perspective to share with kids! I look forward to seeing this book.

As for my own oops, I embroidered and rejected a number of wild animals for a cross stitch pattern booklet. The darn caribou antlers were harder than you might think, and the grizzly background kept changing.

In the end, I had enough animal rejects to make a nine-square pillow that became a very nice gift for my mother.

jen AT funkandweber DOT com

MotherReader said...

I loved that he talks about how hard it is to write in rhyme, encouraging students to think of story first. Oh, if we could get that message out now so that the poorly done rhyming picture books would stop happening. ;^)

Great interview!

Z-Kids said...

Thanks for the great interview - I love reading about process and inspiration.

I have an "oops" that doubles as a "school lunch" story as well:

In high school my PB&J sandwiches would often get flattened or mashed under the rest of my lunch. One day I looked at my partially mushy, squashy, jelly-soaked meal and decided to finish the job. I grabbed the plastic bag and kneeded it between my fingers... I swung it around my head and whacked it repeatedly on the table. In the end I had a perfectly spherical, firm, moist "Peanut Butter and Jelly Ball." And it tasted amazing. Henceforth, for the rest of my highschool career, I intentionally created Peanut Butter and Jelly Balls at every lunchtime. It drew quite a bit of attention.

And actually, I continue to make them to this day for my kids. They often ask for them, so we pull out the plastic bags and smash ourselves a treat.


zenzart at hotmail dot com

Cathy Mealey said...

My 'oops': Telling my first year students that they could turn in their weekly composition essays one day late if they also brought me a cup of coffee with their papers. I received only 25% of the papers on time. The following day received 9 papers and 9 cups of coffee. The upside? Learned that offering 8 cups of coffee to colleagues would create 8 opportunities to laugh and learn how to be a more effective teacher!

cathy54321 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Geo Librarian said...

Oh, goodness. What oops to talk about. I seem to make them all the time and children are not usually shy about pointing out to me. I know one area that I make oops all the time is consistency in class management. Sigh. I can only keep trying.

hg195 at yahoo dot com

Annie said...

Great interview! I just bought BEAUTIFUL OOPS for my niece, but I haven't mailed it yet, because I really want to keep it for myself!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Tammie—I've done that, autographed the wrong name or the wrong spelling—and then cartooned it away. Once when I wrote “Judy” instead of “Judi,” I asked if there was another Judy in line for an autograph...and—hallelujah—there was!

And Jen—that pillow sounds wonderful. I stitch together rejected lines of poetry sometimes...and though mostly they are not so great, sometimes they are., a peanut butter and jelly ball? Kids'll love that, no doubt about it. It's slightly weird...but art is so subjective.

Cathy—nice that you shared the coffee with your colleagues. Probably better than being a super-caffeinated teacher!

I didn't comment on everyone's comment, but thanks to ALL who have shared your Beautiful Oops!