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Author Showcase

Welcome Terry John Barto to the Reading Tub

RT: Welcome to the Reading Tub, Terry! And congratulations on your debut picture book! Authors often talk about the importance of reading, but I was struck by your note on the back of Gollywood, Here I Come! Could you tell us more about what you mean by “reading with kids is becoming a lost art”?

Terry: Everything is so fast now. Video games and all kinds of entertainment comes flooding to kids on their tablets and smart phones. If they're not on the computer or using a screen, they're involved with various activities. It seems like fewer kids want to just sit and read.

RT: It sounds like you value reading a lot. Would you characterize reading as an important part of your childhood? What kinds of books did you like to read as a young boy? preteen? teen?

Terry: Unfortunately it wasn't and I wish it was. I come from a musical family. In grade school, I was practicing my saxophone all the time. Then in high school I was singing and dancing. I was an honor student, too, but all that reading was for my schoolwork.

As a kid, I liked adventure stories, and I count Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn among my childhood friends.

RT: Speaking of coming from a musical family ... You have had a very successful career as a choreographer and authoring screenplays. Was it easy to “translate” those skills to writing picture books for children?

Terry: Yes and no. As a choreographer and theater director, I am very good at storytelling. These are other artists' stories I am conveying. I can do that very well and I am always true to the piece.

In general, screenplays are written in the absolute present whereas stories are what happened (Once upon a time ... ) or what might happen. Going from screenplays to children’s books was a harder transition. There was more to learn, too.

RT: Given your experience with performance - telling the story, creating the scenes and moods, etc. - what was it like to turn over your vision for Gollywood Here I Come (link to book trailer) and Nickerbacher the Funniest Dragon to illustrators?

Terry: Both artists had a different way of working. Each of them took my vision for Gollywood and Nickerbacher where I wanted it to go, and then went above and beyond what I had envisioned.

Whenever I'm working with artists I always try to be clear about what I want but at the same time give them the freedom to be creative. With Mattia (Gollywood's illustrator), I was specific about each scene and gave ideas for the overall feel as well as the specific characters. He lives in Italy so we did everything by e-mail. The results were incredible ‘cause he truly grasped every nuance.

Kim and I spoke on the phone for hours to discuss the concept of each scene for Nickerbacher. I wasn't as specific with her, though I did send her my thoughts on Nickerbacher. We spent a ton of time getting him just right. After the pencil sketches, I had some changes but overall she really took the story and brought it to life.

Back to your point about looking at the whole story, not just the main characters ... I sent Kim some suggestions for the Prince and Princess but she made them better then imagined.

RT: In Gollywood Here I Come!, Anamazie Marie LaBelle and her mom are the lead characters. In Nickerbacher the Funniest Dragon, Nickerbacher and his papa are the central characters. Was having a girl and boy character a purposeful choice for your first two books? If so, why?

Terry: Yes. I wanted Gollywood, Here I Come! to be more for girls. Even so, there are guy characters boys can relate to, so I hope they like it, also. My hope is that young girls will be inspired by Anamazie like Shirley Temple was in her time.

With Nickerbacher, the Funniest Dragon I definitely wanted a story for boys. Boys love dragons and there aren't a lot of stories for boys. BUT girls like dragons, too; so I think they'll enjoy Nickerbacher. The dad thing seemed to flow for me with the story. I wanted to convey how dads may expect a certain path for their kids but will love them no matter what.

Interesting side note. I dedicated Gollywood, Here I Come! to my mom. When Nickerbacher, the Funniest Dragon comes out in 2015, it has a dedication to my dad.

RT: Anamazie’s mom plays a big role in Gollywood Here I Come!. She is (what I think) is stereotypical stage mom. Do you see Gollywood Here I Come! as an opportunity to help parents reflect on their own behaviors?

Terry: Funny you should ask. My editor was on me about that. We didn't want Henrietta Pearl to be awful. I tried really hard to make her fun. In all honesty, I wasn't trying to convey anything to the parents really.

In my mind's eye, I saw Henrietta Pearl in the same way I saw my mom. She was always there. Sitting on the curb watching me play my saxophone in marching band, then watching me in the Disneyland parades. My mom was never a stage mom, though.

RT: In our interview for the Family Bookshelf blog, I asked you about the quotes you've pinned to your Inspiration Pinterest board. Taking that idea of inspiration in a different direction, if I asked Anamazie and Nickerbacher who their inspirations were, who would they be?

Terry: For Anamazie it is most definitely Shirley Temple. For Nickerbacher, it would have to be Groucho Marx. Groucho was the inspiration for Kim and me - along with other comedians and creatures. Nickerbacher has those Groucho kind of eyebrows.

RT: Terry, thanks so much for finding the Reading Tub and spending time with us. It was fun to collaborate on this interview, as well as our chat with Anamazie and Nickerbacher, too!


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