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Behind the Scenes with Children's Book Author Bob Staake

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Guest blogger Michelle Kemper Brownlow: As a children's book author and illustrator, I am always thrilled to pick the brain of others who are years ahead of me in their careers. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Bob Staake, renowned children's book author and illustrator -- and his passion was contagious! As a mom, I love knowing behind-the-scenes details about the books I read to my children. It's fascinating to find out what makes today's children's authors tick ....

The Donut Chef
Bob Staake has been freelance-illustrating since 1981 and has worked for Disney, the Children's Television Network, the Cartoon Network and many more household names. He's had dozens of children's books published and has designed, written and co-directed numerous episodes of "The Ren & Stimpy Show," "Dexter's Laboratory," "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Samurai Jack." I'm not sure that he has any free time, but luckily he did make the time to chat with me!

Michelle Kemper Brownlow: What was your favorite book as a kid?

Bob Staake: When I was a kid in L.A., I remember seeing a Golden Book with Popeye on the cover. In the story, he and Brutus dug a trench to the Atlantic Ocean. I was so completely mesmerized by the scenery and taken by that book, I decided that's what I wanted to do.

MB: How many books have you written?

BS: I've had 50 books published, but for every one book I've published, I have written eight that I realized sucked!

MB: Do you prefer books with a message or books that are just plain fun?

BS: When it comes down to specifics, it's really whatever it takes to make the story work. I look at it as a challenge. When I wrote "The Donut Chef," there was no message; it was a story about how competitive a small town gets when the Donut Chef's lines go out the door. New donut shops pop up, each trying to outdo the other. In the end, the chef sits back and decides to bake bagels instead. My editor at the time thought this ending was too sad, so I changed it. In the finished book, a young customer wants just a plain donut and has a hard time finding it. This is where the Donut Chef comes through with one of his original donuts. So, I allowed the editor to change my story, and it ended up with a universal message.

MB: These days, picture books are getting shorter and shorter. As writers, we are told to keep them less than 500 words, because parents are busy and have less and less time. The theory is they won't purchase longer books. What are your thoughts on this?

BS: My number-one thing about children's books is, never in history has a 6-year-old walked into a bookstore and laid down $16 for a book. My first line of defense is through the moms. My art and story need to appeal to them first. You gain their trust, and they pass it on to the kids. Kids are easy to win over. When a mom tells me, "My child loves your books," I am honored, because I know what today's distractions are for kids with gaming systems, TV, etc.

MB: Are you worried about the Nook/Kindle/iPhone trends and their threat for picture books becoming obsolete?

BS: I have a pragmatic point of view, so I don't think it affects me. I like adapting. If an editor said I could only do a book in yellow and green, I say, "Bring it on!" I look at the Kindle and iPhone being essentially the pop-up version of an ebook. Some books are so intricate in design they end up exploiting the potential of the paper; you can't get the same result with technology. On the flip side, with the animation for the iPhone, the opportunity for writers and illustrators is mindblowing. Tactile benefits of a book are wonderful, but everyone thought TV would destroy radio. We have a long history of fear of technology. We'll get through it. My bigger concern is doing what I can as a creator that doesn't impact negatively on the traditional publishing world. However, I believe if there ever is a lone survivor in publishing, it will be picture books.

Moms, keep an eye out for Bob's new books, "Look! A Book!," "Cars Galore," "Bugs Galore," "I'm a Monster Truck," "Shapes Around Town," "Letters About Town," "Colors in the City" and "Baby Burp #1."

next: 'Older' Moms Have No Regrets
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