Tara Lazar is a kidlit rock star. She created Picture Book Idea Month — in which participants have to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days — in 2009 as a kidlit 30-day-challenge answer to National Novel Writing Month; PiBoIdMo attracted more than 1,300 participants last year from around the world (including me). Her debut book, “The Monstore,” was a finalist for the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2014.
In her newest release, “I Thought This Was a Bear Book,” out this month, the Three Bears (and Goldilocks) and a numbers-zapping alien prince get thrown together after their respective books fall off the shelf and worlds (and words) collide. How funny is the book? So funny that my kids stole it when it arrived in the mail, and I had to steal it back a day later just to read it. It’s a great fractured fairy tale, plus, you know, an alien.
Among her upcoming in-person book events is an appearance at the second annual Morristown Festival of Books in October, and if you’re a fellow Jersey person or somewhere in the vicinity, you should definitely stop by, because the inaugural event last year was really well done.
In the meantime, I’m happy to serve as a way station on Tara’s blog tour. Let’s get to the interview!
Q. What gave you the idea to mash up an alien story with Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
This is like the question “What came first, the chicken or the egg? The alien or Goldilocks?”
The alien came first. Kids love aliens, and by definition, aliens are not from HERE. So I knew he was not from THIS BOOK. At first, he landed in simply a book about bears. When Goldilocks snuck into the manuscript, I knew it was about THE THREE BEARS and not just some furry bystanders.
Q. Was the breaking of the fourth wall always part of the story?
Yes. If the character of Prince Zilch was going to crash into the story, I was going to bring the reader into the story as well.
Q. I love that the books that get jumbled up are a mix of genres – were you trying to sneak in a little “math is fun” message with Prince Zilch’s book?
No, I wasn’t! I just came up with this joke first:
Alien: “I have to save my planet from giant numbers!”
Papa Bear: “Giant numbers of what?”
Alien: “Just numbers! Giant Planet-Zero-eating numbers!”
That joke’s speech bubbles took up too much space, so we had to remove the back-and-forth between Prince Zilch and Papa Bear.
So the joke dictated the name of the planet, and the planet dictated the name of Prince Zilch.
Q. The Three Bears have this wonderfully dry, understated humor. What inspired your take on these characters?
I thought about how many times those poor bears had to endure their own story: bowls and bowls of gloppy porridge, tons of broken furniture. They had to be slightly thrilled by Prince Zilch’s arrival.
Q. There are some impressive vocabulary words here: “bizarre,” “citizen,” “formidable,” “earthquake.” Newbie picture book writers are often afraid to use bigger words in manuscripts. What would you tell them?
Children learn new words through context. And they love learning new words. Don’t be afraid to use big words, complicated words, especially when they fit the situation or character. I used “formidable” with “fuzzy forms.” An alien’s language doesn’t always sound normal, so I thought the unusual alliteration of these three words worked well.
Q. There’s a hilarious scene where the Three Bears are posing for tourists. Was that in your manuscript, or was that illustrator Benji Davies’ idea?
I did write “Yellowstone-like tourists” in the art notes. But Benji totally made them like “Far Side” characters, which I love. “The Far Side” is one of my all-time favorite comics.
Q. How are kids responding to the book?
Just last week I did an appearance at a library and most of the people bought a book. A young boy named Max came up to me, shook my hand and said, “Looks like your book’s going to be a big hit!”
My husband said that while I was reading, the kids were mesmerized. I do voices for all the characters. He told me Prince Zilch sounded like a cross between Kermit the Frog and Yoda.
Q. You’ll be appearing at the Morristown Book Festival in October. What should people expect if they go?
I’ll be reading, doing voices, signing books…and so will dozens of other authors for adults, teens and children. It will be a fabulous day of celebrating literature. I might be busy drooling over Rosemary Wells.
Q. What’s new for PiBoIdMo this year? When will registration open?
I’m currently organizing it, so I can’t say what’s new yet! Registration will most likely open the last week of October and run into the first week of November.
Q. What else is coming up for you in the next few months?
LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is being released by Random House BFYR in October and NORMAL NORMAN will be making his debut from Sterling in March.
Of course, I’ll be busy writing and blogging in between books!
Thanks for the fun interview, Tara! Looking forward to “Little Red Gliding Hood”!