Troy Cummings is the author of The Eency Weency Spider Freaks Out, More Bears!, and the Notebook of Doom series. He recently spoke at the Children and Young People’s Division (CYPD) of the Indiana Library Federation Conference and proved capable of making a bunch of librarians laugh just like he does his younger fans. Public Libraries caught up with the author after the conference to learn more about his books, career, and what it takes to host a successful author visit.
Public Libraries: Librarians probably know you best from your work writing and illustrating children’s books, but you have also illustrated jigsaw puzzles, birthday cards, a box of fish sticks, and an iPad popup book. Can you tell us about some of your most unusual work assignments?
Troy Cummings: One of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on was a series of lightly animated illustrations for an opera—Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges (The Child and the Spells). I designed crazy animals/characters/monster clocks/etc. to be projected onto a screen to coincide with the nightmare fantasies of the protagonist (who was a naughty little kid.)
PL: How is writing for kids different than writing for an adult audience?
TC: I’m not entirely sure — I haven’t written for adults yet! I think, when writing for kids, I need to try to avoid references to things that they may not have experienced yet. And for early readers, I try to steer clear of vocabulary/syntax that’s complicated to decode. But on the same hand, I never want to “dumb down” anything. Even if these young readers are just starting out, they’re still smart. They want to be surprised, and they want funny jokes.
PL: The book you illustrated, Little Red Gliding Hood written by Tara Lazar, came out in October. How is it different illustrating someone else’s work versus illustrating your own work?
TC: The cool part is that the book ends up being something entirely different than what either of us would have cooked up on our own. (SELFISH BONUS: It ends up making me look smart, even though Tara’s done the hard part of creating a fantastic world full of funny characters.) And if I’m doing my job right, I’ll draw things that reinforce/complement her text, without being redundant and stepping on toes…
PL: How did you come up with the idea for Notebook of Doom? Did you ever imagine that you would be about to publish book #9 in the series?
TC: I think the original idea for Notebook of Doom goes back to 5th grade or so… I would draw these crazy monsters on my long bus ride to school, and make up little stories to go with them. And no: I can’t believe how lucky I am. (I’m actually making plans now for books 11, 12, and 13!)
PL: Rumble Of The Coaster Ghost comes out in early 2016, correct? What can you tell us about it? Did you have to do any “research” at an amusement park?
TC: Coaster Ghost takes place at an amusement park called “Safety Land”, which is the safest place on Earth. All of the rides are extremely safe, to the point of them being no fun. (For instance: The Barely-go-round is a horseless carousel. You sit on benches with seatbelts and airbags, while the ride slowly rotates.) The kids are bored at first, but then danger comes to Safety Land when a ghost seems to be on the loose.
My kids helped me do extensive research for this book by dragging me to a couple of real amusement parks. (Oh, the sacrifices we make in the name of writing!)
PL: What other projects do you have in the works?
TC: I’m illustrating a picture book series called Mighty Truck, written by Chris Barton. (A friendly, muddy work-truck turns into a superhero monster truck when lightning strikes a car wash at bath time.) The first book comes out March 29. I’m also working on a few jigsaw puzzles for Crocodile Creek, and some illustrations for Highlights High Five.
PL: This blog is going to be seen by lots of librarians, many of which will be interested in having you visit their libraries. Do you do a lot of visits to schools and libraries and if so, what is the best way to arrange a visit with you?
TC: I love visiting schools and libraries! Currently, the best way is just to email me at email@example.com. (I’m working on a SCHOOL VISITS page for my website, www.troycummings.net , but it’s not up yet.)
PL: What tips can you give public librarians to help them work with authors and ensure a successful author event? Or what are some things that they should avoid doing?
TC: Author events go best when the students already “know” the author beforehand, so anything the librarian can do to introduce that author ahead of time is super helpful. Maybe read a couple of the visiting author’s picture books at story time. . .Or even activities connected to that author’s books. For instance: since a lot of my books are about monsters, maybe have an activity where readers make up their own crazy monsters the week before I arrive. Younger readers can just draw monsters, and older readers can write small descriptions, or even stories. Then when I roll into town, the readers are already invested—they’ve put work into this! And we can start from a point of talking about that work.