I’m thrilled to welcome Danny Schnitzlein and Anca Sandu here today to answer some questions as part of the Gnu and Shrew Blog Tour.
Without further ado, here are Danny and Anca- My questions are in bold, Danny’s answers are in BLUE and Anca’s answers are in RED.
Hello! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Tell us a little bit about your new book, Gnu and Shrew.
Hi, Mr. Teut, this is Danny, the author. Gnu and Shrew is my fourth book. Gnu is a wildebeest and Shrew is a little mouse-like creature. The two friends come to the river each morning to get a drink of water. Gnu tells Shrew about diamonds in a cave on the other side of the river. But the river is deep and wide and filled with hungry crocodiles. Gnu begins digging a tunnel to reach the diamonds, while Shrew works each night to build a boat. Gnu quickly grows tired of digging, but his ideas inspire Shrew’s invention. The story was inspired by my bad writing habits. Dreaming up ideas for stories comes easily to me, but I’m not always great at turning those ideas into completed manuscripts. So Gnu and Shrew are really two parts of me.
The story is inspired by African and Caribbean folk tales. There is so much beauty in the language of those stories. They’re meant to be read aloud. I tried to capture some of that flavor in Gnu and Shrew. My previous books were all written in verse, so Gnu and Shrew was a new experience for me. When you write in verse, you spend a lot of time with the music of language, getting the rhythm and meter just right. If you change one word, you have to change twenty other words. In folk tales and fables, each word is essential and carries a lot of weight, so you spend a lot of time shortening, paring, and sifting to find the simplest way to say something. The language is musical too, but it’s a different kind of music.
Hi there! I’m excited to be here!
Gnu and Shrew is the story of Gnu, a funny and imaginative wildebeest that never acts on his dreams, and his friend Shrew who is determined and an incredible hard worker.
Tell us a little bit about your writing/illustration process.
I don’t outline very much. Usually I plunge blindly into writing and then get stuck somewhere in the middle. I have to work like Shrew, chipping away a little each day, little by little until the manuscript is completed. The writing process for me is kind of like a conversation. I write a little, then the story talks to me, changing my original ideas, inventing characters and situations I didn’t plan for. We talk back and forth until a compromise is reached. After the first draft, I generally revise for months until I can’t think of anything more to change. I belong to a weekly writing group and they give me honest critiques and ideas. Being part of a writing group is really helpful for me because it gives me a weekly deadline. Also, writing is a solitary process, and it can be lonely. It’s nice to have friends who are writers because they understand the difficulty of the journey. We cheer each other on.
I usually start with lots of researching, and maybe a bit of procrastinating through research… I like to get a sense of what style direction would work best for the story, so I read other picture books, watch inspiring documentaries and shows, or go to a museum. I research the characters and my initial sketches are very realistic. If they are animals, I try to understand their shapes, their movement, their environment. After I feel like I understand them, I start creating whimsical versions, where I use only the elements I deem necessary to build their personality, their essence. This is probably the most difficult part, but once you have the characters, everything else, such as colors, technique, compositions, flows organically.
Have you always been into writing/illustrating?
I had great English teachers all the way through school and in high school I was given an award for my writing. I studied fiction writing in college. After two years of college my dad wouldn’t let me major in English because he was worried I wouldn’t find a job, so I was forced to switch gears and got a degree in television production. After college, I wrote and edited television commercials and worked my way into writing for children’s television. One day I was reading an interview with a children’s author and I thought, I would love this job. Writing children’s books is a good fit for me, because I feel like a big kid most of the time. When my first book was published, I don’t think anyone was more proud than my dad. I’m pretty sure he’d forgotten all about forbidding me to major in English.
I have been drawing perfect circles since I was 2. My grandma’s words, not mine. I’ve been drawing since I was small, and it always felt like it was my superpower. It helped me spend hours alone lost in my own world, but also connect with other children. I think it still does that.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I love the beginning of the process, brainstorming the idea, when everything is wide open and ideas are pouring out of me. I love holding a finished book in my hands and paging through it. It’s also fun visiting schools as an author and getting to feel like a rock star. My first book, The Monster Who Ate My Peas, was adapted into a touring musical by ArtsPower. Seeing my book brought to life on stage, with musical numbers and choreography, was a big thrill for me. It was also kind of surreal because the boy in the play is named Danny, which is my name. In the book, the character didn’t have a name.
Seeing a book in a store is incredibly surreal! But even more exciting is probably seeing a child enjoying your book. That brings me so much joy.
What inspires your creativity?
I love reading, watching movies, listening to music. But probably my biggest inspiration is boredom, quiet, and solitude. Being alone (which doesn’t happen much these days) and doing repetitive tasks like sweeping, going for a walk, or mowing the yard. That’s when I get my best ideas.
Everything around me, especially when I pay attention, put my phone away, and just listen to the world around and inside me. I find great inspiration in silence and solitude.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I have a good singing voice, but I’m shy about singing and playing guitar for people I don’t know. Except when I visit schools and sing with kids. My shyness goes away.
All my personality tests say I should have been a scientist.
If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?
Editing movies, painting imaginary landscapes and portraits of funny monsters, writing songs, or writing screenplays.
Perhaps I would have been a scientist… Or maybe an interior designer, an architect, or a full-time plant mom.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m working on a middle grade sci-fi manuscript. I’ve been writing a lot more for older kids. I’m superstitious about talking about projects too much because when I discuss a manuscript in progress, it never seems to get published.
I have been staying really busy this year, working on illustrating several books and also writing a few stories of my own. There might be a fish involved, one of those guys that always think they are the center of the big pond…
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
Thank you for reading. Thank you for loving books. Readers tend to have more love, respect, and empathy for their fellow humans and for nature. Our world is lacking in those things right now. If you’re a parent, thank you for reading to your kids.
I would love to encourage everyone to draw, create, and read. This year has been incredibly hard for all of us, but art and creativity has always helped people persevere, imagine better worlds, and inspire them forward.
Danny Schnitzlein social handles:
Anca Sandu social handles:
Peachtree social handles:
Additional resources, if you’d like to include links:
Website with book summary and author and illustrator bios: https://peachtree-online.com/portfolio-items/gnu-and-shrew/
Teacher’s guide: http://peachtree-online.com/pdfs/TeachersGuides/GnuandShrewTG.pdf
Stops on the blog tour:
Monday (10/5): Reading Style Guide
Tuesday (10/6): 4th Grade Unicorns
Wednesday (10/7): Geo Librarian
Thursday (10/8): Mile High Reading
Friday (10/9): The Baby Bookworm