KID REPORTERS’ NOTEBOOK
Scott Magoon Is Nuts About Books
Scott Magoon dreamed of becoming an illustrator when he was growing up. He has now illustrated more than 20 books. He has also written and illustrated his own book, Breathe (Simon & Schuster), a story about a beluga whale which holds a message about mindfulness.
Magoon is the illustrator of the Nuts book series (Little Brown Books for Young Readers). The books are written by Eric Litwin. The Nuts books, which include Bedtime at the Nut House and Sing and Dance Your Polka-Dot Pants (Little Brown Books for Young Readers). are fun not just for kids, but also for entire families.
The latest book, I Will Not Eat You, was released yesterday. I recently sat down with Magoon to ask him about writing, illustrating, and his career in books. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
When you were a kid did you dream of becoming an author/illustrator?
Absolutely. One of my earliest dreams was to be an illustrator. I remember drawing Spider-Man for my nursery school teacher. She made mimeograph copies and handed them out to the class, and I was hooked.
How many books have you written or illustrated, and which one is your favorite?
I've probably done 20 books now. Of those, I've written four. I can't possibly pick my favorite. I like different books for different reasons. I might like the color palette in one of them. In another, I might like the main character. One book might make me laugh more than another.
What inspired you to write and illustrate Breathe?
That book, it was always sort of a tale of the sea. I wanted it to be a peaceful, meditative book about mindfulness and being in the moment. It originally started out as a story about a narwhal. But over time, I decided on a beluga, the white whale of the Arctic.
What did you do before writing and illustrating books?
I was an art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, where I would design other artists' and authors' books. It was a great way to learn about the process of bookmaking, illustrating, and working with other authors and illustrators. It was very rewarding, and I really enjoyed it for many years.
How would you characterize a good picture book?
[Laughs] If you're asking me as a parent, I'd say something that's great at bedtime—short, snappy, funny—and something that makes a strong emotional connection, whether it's funny or bittersweet or poignant. That's an important aspect, something that makes a strong emotional connection to the reader.
Why do you think the Nuts books are so popular?
They make a great connection with the reader on so many levels. Musically, the songs are complete earworms. They get caught in your head. I hum them constantly. The characters are appealing and funny and remind the reader of their own nutty families. I know a few nut families myself. They are sweet. They've got sweetness about them. We can all relate when we think about our own brothers and sisters and moms and dads.
An illustration from Bedtime at the Nut House
What are some of your favorite songs?
I can't get enough of “Careless Whisper” by George Michael. I think that's just a great go-to 80’s song. Most of my friends in my generation recognize that. If we're talking Nuts family songs, you can’t miss with “Sing and Dance in my Polka- Dot Pants.” That's just a super catchy tune. It's got a dance that goes with it. You can't miss.
Can you sing some of the catchy chorus?
[Sings] Polka-dot pants, polka-dot pants, sing and dance in your polka-dot pants!
Eric Litwin is also the author of the Pete the Cat books. What can you say about that series?
Eric is a magician when it comes to turning music, dance, reading, and characters into an elixir of enjoyment. He's just got a way about his writing that appeals to kids, adults, and certainly illustrators tackling his work. He's a great guy. His Pete the Cat books are tremendous, and I'm really looking forward to his new book with Scholastic, Groovy Joe, with Tom Lichtenheld as the illustrator.
Did you have an inspiring art teacher when you were in school?
I had several, and most of them were not even art teachers. They were teachers who inspired me to keep being creative, to keep trying something a little bit different, and to think quickly on my feet creatively. That has served me well over the years.
Where did you study art?
I didn't study art formally. I had many art classes in elementary school, high school, and a few classes in college. I've taken a few classes since, but have no formal art training. I am self-taught, or an autodidact, if you will, when it comes to artwork.
What are your hobbies and special interests?
I have so many. I love reading and, of course, drawing. I love singing. I run a lot. I like playing tennis, and skiing in the winter.
Do you think technology makes kids more or less creative, and why?
That's a tough question. It can help, but it can also hinder. It depends on how you're using technology. I love technology for a variety of reasons. All of my art is digital, so I use it as a tool. It's just another tool to create artwork. In that way, I think it can help kids create artwork if that's their chosen medium. There is a downside, too. If you’re staring at a screen, as opposed to interacting with friends or reading a book, then that could be harmful. It's all about balance.
What advice do you have for young authors and illustrators?
Don't ever give up. If you're constantly writing, and you love it, then keep writing, keep drawing. That's one thing I certainly learned growing up, starting with my Spider-Man cartoon. I had a comic strip in college called “Duct Tape Man.” I stopped drawing for a while because it became frustrating, and now I wish I hadn't. I wish I had those years where I kept drawing and learning, and getting better because I think I'd be that much farther along in my art now. Don't ever give up, as hard as it seems. Just keep drawing, and eventually you will see improvement, and you will achieve your dreams.
What's next? Are you working on a new book?
I've always got a couple of books in the works, thankfully. I've got one coming up called I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt, coming out in September. And Misunderstood Shark (Scholastic) by Ame Dyckman comes out in 2017.