This old van,
she passed one,
shining in the rising sun.
With a click clack rattle rack,
ready for some fun,
This old van says,
I remember fondly the song, “This Old Man” from my childhood. We had a small white children’s cassette tape player that included a red topped microphone. Mom bought us tapes from Wee Sing (anyone remember those?), and on one of the tapes was “This Old Man.” I remember that cheesy red topped microphone, and blaring out the lyrics to the songs we knew and loved. When my sister and I had a hold of the mic, our voices inevitably overpowered the jolly woman on the Wee Sing tapes.
So you can imagine my joy when this past week, I picked up Kim Norman’s This Old Van, a spin off of that song we so loved as a child. I’ve been singing it ever since. After some investigation, I entered the world of Kim Norman and have made a connection to several spin off songs she’s done, as well as many other marvelous books.
Kim took some time to stop by my blog today to answer a few questions and to reveal the cover of one of her 2016 titles, The Bot That Scott Built.
My questions are in black and Kim’s answers are in blue.
Hello, Kim, thank you for joining me for an interview and to show readers everywhere an exclusive look at one of your many upcoming books, The Bot that Scott Built, from Sterling!
Thanks, Dylan. It’s great to be here!
Tell us a little bit about The Bot that Scott Built.
I have always adored cumulative rhyme, and “The House that Jack Built” was one of my favorite stories as a kid. Since someone else had already written the exquisite Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, I decided the next best thing I could do would be to incorporate my elder son’s passion, robots, with the Jack story I loved so much. It was a blast, thinking up all the mishaps that could happen at a science fair. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to mention a Tesla coil in a picture book? (I’m a closet science geek.) In fact, I have to credit Janee Trasler, a member of my “PB Jeebies” critique group for suggesting I move the setting from a mundane classroom to a science fair, which offered so much more scope for hilarious actions. Illustrator Agnese Baruzzi had quite a task on her hands, squeezing all that mayhem onto the page!
(The cover reveal is at the end of this post! Keep reading!)
Check out Kim’s “PB Jeebies Group” here!
You have done quite a number of children’s books that are spin offs of folk songs. Does that come naturally for you?
I’m also a theater geek, and one of my favorite hobbies over the years has been writing a song parody for the closing cast party of many of our musicals. So it’s cool, now, to actually get paid to do essentially the same thing. My dad was a wicked punster, and often my song spin-offs start as puns based on song titles. Or, at least, tweaked versions of song titles that spark ideas. That’s how This Old Van came about. “This Old Man” was a popular song in our house when my boys were little, so one day, when “van” popped into my head, I knew instantly the book would have to be about a happy hippie van. It took longer to realize the counted items in the story would be vehicles, and even more revisions to lock in a rhyme scheme where I set myself the task of rhyming each number TWICE. (Why do I DO these things to myself!?) I was thrilled this year, as the book was coming out, to discover hippie-inspired fashions were everywhere. Thank you, Mad Men! Carolyn Conahan did a far-out job, filling the hippie characters with groovy joy.
Tell us a little about the trio of books you have done with Liza Woodruff, and notably the title that’s coming this fall from Sterling, She’ll be Coming Up the Mountain.
Love to! That was a moment of inspiration (replacing “bed” with “sled” in the song “Ten in the bed”) that has led to a wonderful series of collaborations. And I also credit another illustrator, Joe Kulka, with making the suggestion, years ago, that I turn the falling-off actions into a sled race. In the first draft of Ten on the Sled, I was a little too tied to the original. Sure, it was fun to substitute the bed occupants with arctic animals on a sled, but it was really Joe’s suggestion, that the whole thing become a race, which turned the manuscript from a series of aimless happenings into a real story. And then, of course, Liza imbued each animal with a specific personality while adding humor and many delightful story-within-a-story moments in every spread. I just love what illustrators do to bring a book to life!
The first book did well, so our editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested we try a second. Often, the hardest part is finding just the right song. It needs to fit certain criteria: It must be instantly recognizable, even though the original title has changed, because we have never added anything like “To the tune of…” as a subtitle to any of the books. Preferably, it’s a public domain song. (Not strictly essential, since – as I said – we don’t explicitly name the song on which the book is based. But it does keep things simpler if the song is public domain.) It has to be a song with enough complexity and syllables per line that I have room to write action into each line, so there’s something for Liza to show. And, of course, it needs to be about those same ten animals. For the second book, once I had settled on turning “If you’re happy and you know it” into If It’s Snowy and You Know It, this southern girl enjoyed the fantasy of thinking up with wintery activities for the animals.
I sing in a women’s harmony group, (yes, I realize that makes me a THIRD type of geek), so to publicize the book, I recorded myself doing 4-part harmony on a little book trailer. The video shows the origin of the idea, which goes back to when my son, then under two, spent a very hot, smelly summer in a body cast. Hey, with a book to show for it, that’s a happy ending, right?
Here’s a link to the video:
Harvesting another song for the “three-quel” (third book in the series) was even harder, since it still needed to fit the above criteria. I spent hours trying this idea and that and finally decided to “sacrifice” another manuscript based on “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain.” I had told a different story in that manuscript – nothing related to the sled books – but it never sold, so I decided to retool the song yet again. I think this third book, She’ll be coming up the mountain, is Liza’s best work yet! Even as we speak, she’s hard at work on the final art, but watching her tell the story through her early sketches has been a joy. In this installment, Bear is absent from the group and the others are making festive, frosty plans for her return. When she finally comes up the mountain, she dazzles her old pals with a surprise of her own.
Have you always been into writing?
If you look at my report cards, my teachers always commented on my writing, so I’m not sure how I ended up being a graphic artist for several decades before I tried my hand at writing. As I mentioned, I enjoyed writing those Broadway song parodies, and then segued into writing light verse… even tried my hand at a romance novel, but it just wasn’t my thing. By then, I had two young children, and I loved reading to them, so one day, after a meeting of romance writers at a local library, I headed to the children’s section and checked out a mountainous selection of books. I had found where I truly belonged.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
My family and friends know about this recent development, but readers may be surprised to learn I’ve returned to my artistic roots, and am re-honing my art skills to attempt illustrating. Funny thing is, as a newbie writer, I assumed I’d illustrate my own books. So many newbies make that mistaken assumption. Then, the more I watched illustrators in my critique group, the more intimidated I became by the magic they perform. A good illustrator doesn’t just duplicate what’s in the words of a story. A good one does what all the illustrators of my books have done: they ADD to the story, perhaps with little visual jokes, even taking over and directly telling the story in their pictures. I discovered illustrating was way harder than I ever realized, so I backed away and decided to concentrate on writing for a while. But I’d hate to reach end of my career and know I had never really tried. So I’m back at my drafting table several times a week now, if only painting collage papers I’ll use later. Here’s some of my recent output. Not bad for a few weeks work!
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?
Gosh, I can’t think of a single activity that more perfectly blends all of the talents God gave me. Aside from writing and art, being a children’s book author allows me, when visiting schools, to employ the skills I learned on the stage, and even ham it up now and then with a big assembly closing number, my Storytime Boogie. (I still think it’s a good song, if you overlook my lame video-making skills.)
Tell us more about Still a Gorilla!
I find just being in the presence of children’s books sparks my imagination, so I think I recall that phrase, “Still a Gorilla,” popping into my head one day, on a break during a school visit, when I was wandering around the school library. I scribbled the words on a scrap of paper, stuffed it into my wallet and forgot about it for weeks. Found it during another school visit, and thought about it during the drive home. By the time I got home, four hours later, I had fleshed out in my head the story of a gorilla who keeps trying out the habits of other animals, (“Will Willy be a billy goat? Will he?”) always discovering he’s “still a gorilla!” It’s a fun, “shouty,” phrase I enjoyed hearing students repeat last week during a Skype visit to a Hong Kong school. Chad Geran has brought Willy to life in the most adorable way. His images surprised me, because I originally pictured Willy as a grownup, but now I’m in love with that sweet little gorilla. That’s the power of collaboration.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m proud to say that last year I sold a book to Candlewick called Give Me Back My Bones. It’s a rhyming pirate tale that incorporates the scientific names of the human bones. (Also kind of proud to produce a rhyming manuscript that uses words like scapula and mandible!) Candlewick has just started querying illustrators for the book. Can’t wait to see who takes it on! Even more recently, my agent struck a deal with another prestigious publisher I’m tickled to be working with for the first time, but that’s not officially announced yet, so I’ll keep the details under my hat.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
Just that I’m happy for the wonders of Facebook, where I have had the pleasure of getting to know you, Dylan. Thanks for all you do. Oh! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I maintain a blog called COOL SCHOOL VISITS, where I post articles to help authors learn more about doing author visits. http://www.coolschoolvisits.com
Lastly, I’d like to say to your readers that if they have a dream of doing something, to keep at it, perhaps trying it in different forms, until they find a way to make it happen!
And now… an exclusive look at the cover for The Bot that Scott Built!