He's the author of Thank You, Octopus; Doug Dennis and the Flyaway Fib; Stop Following Me, Moon!; and his latest, Letter Town.
He recently visited my school in South Korea; he also lives here. So I thought I'd pick his brain on school visits and writing.
Congratulations on his newest picture book,
Letter Town, which debuted in June, published by Scholastic.
How did you get into writing and illustrating for kids?
When I moved to New York City out of college to work in advertising, I wanted to write one of everything - books, tv shows, children’s books, movies. I was a creative director at a large ad agency and it was my job to brainstorm ideas all day, pitch ideas, hire directors, work with editors and make these little mini-movies - aka tv ads. For me, the leap from making these little concept driven ads to making little concept driven books didn’t seem crazy. I love picture books - nyc is the home of publishing - so I just thought I’d make one. How hard could that be? In actuality, it took me years to make my first book. I had to learn how to write for the young child audience - it helps that my sense of humor is already at that level. I also ended up becoming an artist - which is not something I intended to do. It has been a lovely process of growth and exploration.
|Talking about and reading his picture book, Thank you, Octopus.|
How has living in Korea influenced your books?
I definitely sprinkle the occasional reference to Korea into my books. But overall, the ideas come from a conceptual space that is anchored in my head. I’m sure our six years and counting in Seoul will always influence my work in subtle ways especially as I attempt middle grade books. Actually I do have a book in the works that I am making the art on Korean paper with Korean ink and brush techniques. And I am working on a book with a Korean author - so I guess Korea is more and more influential.
What is the back story for your new book Letter Town?
I had this idea for a town full of letters and originally pitched as a set of books and a tv show. My book agent wanted to make a “world of” book first and that book became letter town. After finishing the book, I went back into pitching the tv show and next week I’m off to London to meet with some studios. So far lots of people are liking the show concept and I have big hopes and prayers that it will be a special property one day.
|Reading Letter Town in my classroom|
Regarding school visits, how are international school visits different from U.S. school visits?
School visits are always awesome and pretty much always the same. I LOVE visiting schools. Sharing my books with students is pure joy and I honestly enjoy every minute of my time with students of all ages. The only difference is in the US, my humor comes across a little more clearly. But net-net, reactions are very similar no matter where I am.
Since you work full time at an international school yourself, when do you find time to write and draw?
I either have to wake up early. Or stay up late. Or both. Sometimes I stay at work late. I try to use all or part of my Saturday. I do get to use the whole summer too! When I am in the heat of making the art for a book, I turn into a hermit for a few months and never get to do anything fun or see anyone. I just hunker down and make art :) - it’s VERY time consuming for me.
|Drawing for my students, and he added our chicks.|
I’ve always got a TON of books going. Ideas that are incubating, some that are done and just need a tweak... a computer full of books in various stages of gestation.
How do you market yourself for school visits in Korea? post cards? cold calls? word of mouth?
When I first came, Penguin Korea promoted me. Now it is all word of mouth. I barely have any time to visit schools because of my job at Dwight School, which relegates author visits to holidays that Dwight has off - and if nobody requests a visit - I just enjoy a day off or work on a new book.
|Working on a mural for Letter Town|
What programs do you offer in your school visits?
When I visit schools I do anything from art projects to writing projects to talks about brainstorming - and I give plenty of performances of my books.
|My students are making their own illustrated letter people to hang on the mural after he read his new book to them.|
Thank you, Darren, for allowing me to interview and for visiting my school in Pyeongtaek, South Korea!
You can find Darren at:
**One last thing for Grog readers:
A prize from the July 4th drawing:
Patricia Nozell wins a copy of Lindsey McDivitt's new book, NATURE'S FRIEND.Congratulations!