Today, Brian Lies, author of the Bats (in the Band, at the Beach, etc.) series and author of the new upcoming title, Gator Dad, has dropped by my blog today to talk about his new book and other interesting aspects of his work!
Hello, Brian, thank you for joining me for an interview today, and for a look at your 2016 title, Gator Dad.
Tell us a little bit about Gator Dad.
Gator Dad is a celebration of dads who are involved in their kids’ lives. I started thinking about writing a “dad” book when my daughter went off to college a few years ago. Having a child leave home leads to contemplation, and I grew wistful remembering all of the time she and I spent together, going back to when I was a stay-at-home dad in the late 1990s.
My wife was a vice-president at a PR agency in Boston, and we agreed it made sense for me to care for our daughter after my wife’s maternity leave ended, as I already worked from home. We had wonderful days, and we had hard days, just as every stay-at-home parent experiences. Back then, stay-at-home dads were relatively rare, and there were some differences between moms and dads. Dads didn’t get invited to play groups. A man standing at the edge of the playground raised suspicion. At the store, there was the frequent comment about being “Mr. Mom,” or compliments on “babysitting,” and that stuff bothered me—I was parenting, and didn’t feel it was a lesser thing.
As well, I didn’t see my experience echoed in tv shows or ads. I was trying hard to give my daughter a rich and interesting life, but in media, Dad was always shown as an idiot who loved his kids, but was completely incompetent when it came to parenting or household tasks. Dad is cooking tonight? Call the fire department. Dad has to diaper the baby? The diaper’s going to end up on the baby’s head.
Things have changed quite a bit since then. There are a lot more stay-at-home dads now, and there are a lot more positive depictions of dads on tv. My thoughts about being a dad—then and now—coalesced in a book in which a loving father gets through a day with his kids . . . in ways that are sometimes unorthodox.
Is there a message you hope people will take away from Gator Dad?
I try not to write a story that’s “message forward.” It seems to me that as soon as you begin a story with the goal of advancing a moral or a message, you’re beating a drum, and people can hear that lesson coming. I can’t imagine any child begging a parent to read a book called Let’s All Be More Polite! or Mr. Fuddy Learns Not to Throw Things at the Zoo Animals. Certainly not more than once.
To me, Gator Dad is simply a slice of life with a dad and his kids. But at times, it’s an odd slice—for instance, when something goes bad in the fridge, Gator Dad will “let you smell it, too.” You might be able to convince Gator Dad to do something that maybe you shouldn’t have done (here, using a fallen tree as a bridge over a pond and ending up in the pond). It’s a celebration of what my wife calls “boy noises” —braking sounds as you stop a grocery cart, airplane sounds as a forkful of food heads toward a mouth. It’s “robot rides” on Dad’s shoulders at bedtime.
That said, many dads show their love through doing, rather than saying. I’d like to think that kids who have undemonstrative dads might read this book with their parents and make a connection: “Hey—my dad does this stuff, too. He must love me!” And for kids whose dads who do tell them that they love them, I hope this book will simply echo the positive parts of the relationship they have.
Are any of the scenarios in Gator Dad based on things you’ve done with your own children?
Absolutely! When I took my daughter out for a stroller ride, I was looking for ways to turn it into an adventure—perhaps making her laugh by speeding up and slowing down abruptly. When we went for walks in the woods, I was hoping to find salamanders under the rocks to show her, or turn going up a hill into a mountain climbing expedition. I tried to teach my daughter how to make those “boy noises.”
But some of Gator Dad comes from times I remember with my Dad— playing until he collapsed on the floor, though my sister and I would beg for more. Climbing onto him as though he were a raft, keeping us from the savage sea of the living room carpet. Giving my sister and me robot rides at bedtime—tug on one ear to turn left, the other to turn right—and we’d eventually end up in our bedrooms. There were certain kinds of experiences we got with him that we didn’t get from any other grownup. For instance, he was the one you could count on to buy wax teeth or “Nik-l-Nip”(little wax bottles with a small bit of sweet liquid inside) at the crumbling, ramshackle shop where he bought newspapers or pipe tobacco. These are things I’ll carry with me forever.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
How about two things?
1) When I was in high school, I was a pole-vaulter on the track and field team. I had lousy technique, but we hadn’t had many (or any?) pole-vaulters before, so I held the school record for three or four years.
2) One of my favorite candies is Bottle Caps, though they used to be bigger (by the way, did you know you can make “Bottle Cap flavored soda” by mixing all of the different soft drinks at a fast food restaurant?!?).
If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I headed to college convinced that I was going to become a clinical psychologist, because I’ve always been interested in how we think, how our thoughts can turn against us in an unhelpful way, and how we can try to bring them back around again. But I could also see myself as a paleontologist, an architect, or trying to be a “fine art” painter.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I hope they can expect the unexpected in future books. I’ve got lots of stories lining up to be told. I’ve got a book set in a blizzard, coming in 2018, and a book dealing with the angry part of grief (and renewal). I’m interested in expanding how I show a story, trying lots of new techniques and materials not only in 2D, but also in 3D media. There are lots of exciting ways you can tell a story. And I feel we’re in a new Golden Age of children’s literature, in which publishers and readers are more open than ever to exploring unusual ways to tell a story.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
One of my first pets was a white rabbit named Maximus Leppus (Latin for “the biggest rabbit”). He was a “rescue rabbit.” And I’m afraid he was never very friendly or cuddly.
Thank you, Brian, for joining me here! Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Gator Dad!