Ross Burach is the author of many funny books for toddlers and children. Marian’s favorite right now is Potty All-Star, which is the first book she asks for whenever she’s on the potty. We also enjoy the board book Hi-Five Animals!, and I Love My Tutu Too! More recently, he’s been working on an early reader series with Acorn Books called Bumble and Bee. Bumble and Bee are two mischievous bees who are always trying to get the grumpy frog to play. Two books in the series have been released so far: Don’t Worry, Bee Happy, and Let’s Play Make Bee-lieve.
I was so happy to be able to talk to Ross about his writing process and current reads!
Margaret: While you have some books for slightly older children, you write a lot of books for toddlers. Why toddlers? What draws you to that audience?
Ross: I have a two-year-old and four-year-old, so I am in that world right now. That’s why my board book’s themes include hi-fives, potty training, and tutus. There are so many things my kids do that inspire me to grab my notebook and write down an idea. And, as my kids get older, I’m aiming to make books they’ll have fun reading, which is why I recently put out a series of early readers, Bumble and Bee.
Margaret: Your books are always funny; they make my two-year-old laugh. How hard is it to capture humor in a book? Is it easier to illustrate humor, or to write humor?
Ross: I’m so glad my books make your two-year-old laugh! That is a great question. I just try to trust my humor instincts. You really need to think about what your audience will find funny. Then try to naturally incorporate those elements of humor into your story. You don’t want to just put in a joke for a laugh. It needs to fit the flow of the text. When I write, I aim to have levels of humor for kids and adults, which makes the process more fun for me and hopefully the parent or caretaker reading.
I think the combination of illustrating and writing is the easiest way. When they align, you can really get a laugh. And within a board book or picture book, you are limited with pages and words. It’s important to maximize the humor in that minimal space. A subtle adjustment to the text or to the expression of a character can really push the laugh.
Margaret: I’ve heard some children’s book authors say they write numerous drafts of a book before it’s published (Julia Donaldson has said she sometimes rewrites a book dozens of times!), while I’ve heard of other writers managing to finish a book with very little drafting. What’s your process like from conception to final draft?
Ross: I’ve had both experiences when it comes to writing drafts for my books. My picture book, The Very Impatient Caterpillar, luckily just flowed. I wrote the first draft sitting on a park bench one day. But on the opposite spectrum, I struggled with my book I Am Not a Chair! and wrote countless drafts before I got it to a place I was happy with. My studio (and by studio I mean kitchen table) looked like the classic cartoon of the artist/writer surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper.
When I write, I tend to do quick sketches at the same time I’m building the text. Then I put the draft into a storyboard on yellow post-it notes. Recently, I’ve started recording my dialogue audibly on a voice memo app on my phone. I’ve found, especially with dialogue based books like The Very Impatient Caterpillar, it helps lead to a more natural feeling text. It also helps me visualize how it might sound during a read aloud.
Margaret: What are some of your favorite board books for toddlers?
Ross: I’m a huge fan of Sandra Boynton. The amount of laughs and humor she can fit into such a simple short format is masterful.
Margaret: What are you reading right now? It can be for any age!
Ross: With my kids, we are reading through all of Roald Dahl’s books. We just finished Matilda, and are now midway through James and The Giant Peach. And anything with sharks or giant squids!
Be sure to check out Ross Burach’s books! We were happy to have him on Baby Librarians.