Daywalt’s success may lie in his ability to find smart stories that connect parents and children through shared experiences of their respective childhood, something that will not change come September with the release of his next book, “BB-8 on the Run,” an original “Star Wars” story about the lovable, rolling droid and its true canon adventure.
Despite his hectic schedule, which also includes squeezing in every possible moment of family time with his wife and two children, Daywalt took a moment to share his feelings on inspiration, the important role of audience and the influence of real news with Whit Honea. What follows is an edited transcript.
Q: You are best known for books about crayons. Why did you decide to take on a new set of characters with “The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors?”
A: I try to take on things that are universal to kids and adults alike. I’ve been rock-paper-scissoring since the dawn of time — I think we all have — it’s like a 5,000 year old game played all over the world. When I looked it up I couldn’t find a definitive origin that everyone agreed on. It was my chance to create a myth, a legend, that would appeal to all kids.
Q: How did the elements progress into the characters we meet in the book?
A: First, I like to anthropomorphize objects, because it’s funny to me. I started really simple with the characters: strength, skill and speed. The thing with my other books is that most kids, in many countries, have access to some sort of crayon. I like that those characters have a sort of universality to them. In the new book I wanted to go one step forward with something even more kids are able to play with, and that’s their hands. Then I started thinking about the teaching points, and how teachers could explain, “This is how a myth is made, a legend.”
Q: Are you saying that during the writing process you are considering the audience beyond children, more specifically, teachers in a classroom setting?
A: Teachers, kids and parents. Where grown-ups really come into play for me is they have to read books a thousand times to their kids at bedtime. I’m super sympathetic to that. Those books that they bring over and you’re thinking, “Oh, if I have to read that again” … I wanted to give something that parents wouldn’t get sick of, so I made sure to put layers of humor in the book. When I worked at Disney they really drilled it into our heads that we were writing for the whole family. Disney movies, Pixar movies, all of that dialogue is multitiered for everybody, and I made sure to write “Legend” for kids and adults.
Q: Perhaps the biggest question of our time is how does paper beat rock? And you have answered it. How does it feel to be the one that puts down the definitive answer, solving playground arguments everywhere?
A: I would love to take credit for it, but as a little girl asked me last week, “Is this fiction or nonfiction?” I asked her, “Well, do you believe in Santa Claus and Easter Bunny?” She said, “Of course.” Then I said, “This is nonfiction.” I’m merely a reporter, having been lucky enough to see Paper beat Rock with nothing but spirit and guile … yeah, we, the illustrator Adam Rex and myself, had fun working out the art on that one.
Q: Judging by your Twitter feed, you are on tour a lot. I follow a lot of authors, and you are on the higher end of those that are always in classrooms, bookstores and assorted events. Why?
A: I read to my own children, and I read to my kids’ classes at school, but the experience of sharing your words in a room of 6-year-olds? It is just so much fun for me, entertaining kids. I have kids ask me what my favorite part is about being a children’s author, and I say “This, right here! Reading to you guys is the best!” The truth is, I have never thought of picture books as a thing to be read, but rather a script to be spoken and performed by a teacher, librarian, parent or a kid to another kid, and to be able to go out and headline my own material is super fun.
Q: One of the events that you have been a part of is reading with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which is a great organization; but back to your Twitter feed, you and Mrs. Bush are clearly coming from different sides of the political aisle. How was that, and do you think the ability you have both shown in working together toward a common goal registers with kids?
A: Yes, it was completely nonpartisan, strictly for the kids. I went to Florida, where we were raising money for children’s literacy, and adult literacy for people learning English as a second language, and I really enjoyed the experience. Good work is good work.
Q: Crayons, then rock-paper-scissors, it seems like you are writing your way through my childhood. What comes next?
A: What’s next is “Star Wars.” I signed a contract to work with Disney Hyperion Books last year, and then Lucasfilm contacted me through them and asked if I would like to do a book about BB-8, and I said, “Absolutely.” The concept behind the book, it is the 20 minutes of “The Force Awakens” during which BB-8 is missing — between leaving Poe and being saved by Rey — it’s called “BB-8 On the Run.”
Q: So you are writing through my childhood.
A: Hey, it’s my childhood, too!
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