Soon after college, I was living overseas where I was lucky enough to land a job as a copywriter. I was the only foreigner in the Osaka office of a well-known Japanese ad company. My job was to tidy up the English in product descriptions written by earnest, if sheltered, Japanese translators. Sometimes it was easier to translate the Japanese from scratch! (I had earned a second major in Japanese from the University of the Pacific.) The best part of the job was I only had to work for four hours a day. I had books to read, journals to write and, like many recent college grads, just wanted time to “be.”
Was your first book accepted immediately or did you experience a number of rejections?
My first book was titled THE TWENTY-FIVE MIXTEC CATS. It was rejected twenty-five times, once for each cat! But then it was recommended in the New York Times Book Review, so I learned early on that this is a game of patience. Now that I’m a publisher, I have to write my own rejection letters. Well, OK. I don’t actually write rejection letters to myself, but I do have to take a long hard look before deciding whether to devote time and resources into turning a story into an illustrated book.
Do you do other types of writing, for example, educational, nonfiction, or magazine work?
My most recent book is a parenting book titled Give the Gift! 10 FULFILLING WAYS TO RAISE A LIFETIME READER. I’ve also been writing articles, speeches, book chapters for anthologies, and I post literacy tips around the Net both in English and Spanish. Demonstrating the benefits of reading with kids has become a kind of mission.
Have any of your books earned special recognition?
Yes, I’m pleased to report, I’ve been fortunate. My books have won dozens of awards and distinctions including starred reviews, Benjamin Franklin Awards for Excellence in Publishing, and a National Self-Published Book Award. My parenting book, GIVE THE GIFT! just won a NAPPA Gold Award (National Parenting Publications Awards) and was selected as a Finalist in the Parenting/Family category of the National Best Book Awards of 2007 (USA Book News.) COOL MELONS -- TURN TO FROGS has been in five of the California Collections.
How did your life change when you got married and had children? Did it become easier or harder to find time to write?
Things got busier, especially after my wife and I had a kid. Now that kid is 12, and while he’s grown more independent, he also requires more car rides. Writing, by necessity, now happens faster. The advantage is that, getting to see kids close up, I have a much better sense of how they’ll likely react to my work.
What are you working on now? When do you expect to start submitting it to publishers?
At the moment, I’m producing JAZZ FLY 2, THE JUNGLE PACHANGA. It’s a sequel to THE JAZZ FLY, my first book to contain an audio CD. (THE JAZZ FLY is my best seller; I tell my son, it’s the one that will put him through college.) JAZZ FLY 2 is set to Latin jazz and introduces Spanish words. A pachanga, for instance, is like a fiesta, only wilder and with more music and dancing. The new book is being illustrated by Karen Hanke, who also illustrated the original JAZZ FLY. Next month I’ll go to the studio to record the CD with my quintet.
When you do school visits, what question do children ask you most?
Usually, they ask something like, “How do you make all those sounds?” During my assemblies, I speak English, Spanish and Japanese. I also make lots of animal sounds in rhythm if I’m performing a story like Gobble, Quack, Moon. The key to adding interesting sound effects to a reading, or, for that matter, speaking a foreign language, is to first get over the fear of sounding like an idiot. Once I give myself permission to sound silly, I can focus on things like consonants, vowel sounds, tempo and emotion. As I put more into it, both my audience and I have more fun!
Is there anything else about yourself that you’d like to share—hobbies, special talents, etc.?
For the last four years now, I’ve coached my son’s soccer team. It’s recreational level, not travel league, so I wind up with kids of all backgrounds and skills. It’s physical, visceral, challenging and exciting. (Once I realized just how exciting the game is, I joined a men’s soccer league for myself.) It’s hard to convey how something so “normal” as coaching can energize and entertain me to the extent that it does. Though I’ve never actually worked as a teacher, through this experience, I can start to understand the rewards they must enjoy.