Monday, August 16, 2010

My Chat with David Ezra Stein

Jenny. Many of us at one time or another blurt things out while someone else is speaking, which can be annoying but also the source of a lot of humor -- the Interrupting Cow knock knock joke, for example, never seems to get old. What drew you to this subject and why did you know it would be funny not only to children but adults?

David. I come from a family where folks get really excited about ideas and sometimes all want to express themselves at once. So that experience is definitely in the book. :)

The real seed of this book was, I'd heard the interrupting chicken joke and thought it was funny, and I wondered, "Who is this chicken anyway? Why does it interrupt?" There was a character there waiting to be discovered.

I'm glad I heard it with a chicken first, not a cow, because chickens are funnier than cows. Moos are funny sounding, but the word cow is not that funny. The word chicken is instant comedy in and of itself!

I knew the book would be funny to a wide audience because parents can relate to the dad's growing frustration with Chicken's interruptions, and kids can relate to the exuberance of the chicken, who knows how she should be acting, but can't help herself. She loves stories too much! And she can't stand idly by while the characters in the bedtime stories get into a jam.

Jenny. I love the way the combs on the little red chicken and her papa look like bouffant hair-dos and the waffles resemble handlebar moustaches. What is it about poultry that cracks you up and is any animal as funny as a chicken? If so, which one and why does it make you laugh?

David. The chicken is the king (or queen) of comedy. (See #1 above.) The clucking, the feathers, the way they cock their heads… I would be ruining it by delving too deeply into the "why". They just are!

Jenny. The fable Chicken Little is the last story the little red chicken interrupts, and yet, it would seem, the most symbolic. You reference it in charming ways -- an acorn is carved into the backboard of the little red chicken's bed and on the wall of her bed she drew a picture of an acorn falling onto Chicken Little's head. In addition, the little red chicken and Chicken Little's names are basically the same, just reversed, and both young girls, forgive the pun, are full of pluck -- a bit impetuous and forward. What drew you to the classic fable and how did it inspire your chicken tale?

David. I love the story of Chicken Little because it feels so apropos of our times. The media gets a hold of some tidbit and everyone runs around clucking and honking until the next tidbit comes along. Even if the sky is falling, there is not much good in the herd mentality. Sometimes I think it would be great if someone would stand up and say, "It was just an acorn!"

Jenny. If you were the little red chicken in your book, which story book character would you most want to save from disaster and why? How would you save the character?

David. Part of the appeal of making this book for me was that at some point as a reader, I realized that many classic stories happen because the main character makes a mistake early on.

Sometimes when I'm reading, I want to jump in there and say, "STOP! You're making a big mistake!" Kidnapped (the Robert Louis Stevenson classic), for example works this way. "Don't get on that ship, David Balfour!" I want to yell. Then I cringe as he does it anyway, gets shanghaied, and ends up spending the next few hundred pages trying to get back home from the other side of the world.

If I were the chicken, I'd jump out from behind a barrel and grab hold of his pigtail as he approached the gangplank to the ship. Then I'd blurt out that Uncle Ebenezer was trying to get rid of him. Balfour and I would stuff Ebenezer in a barrel and roll him to the police station. Then I'd ask if he would take me for a pint of birdseed at the local pub."

Jenny. What do you most want to be asked as a writer-illustrator and what would you say if you were?

David. Probably not this question! It is a darn hard one. OK…old college try…

Q. What is the most important thing anyone can do in life?
A. Pay attention.

Here's a list of all of the blogs on the tour!

Aug. 9 -- Picture Book Review,

Aug. 10 -- Katie's Literature Lounge,

Aug. 11 -- Readaholic,

Aug. 12 -- Two Writing Teachers,

Aug. 13 -- Not Just for Kids,

Aug. 14 -- Milk and Cookies, Comfort Reading…,

Aug. 15 -- Bookworm's Dinner,

Aug. 16 -- Where the Best Books Are!,

Aug. 17 -- KidsLitreview,

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