Today I get to interview one of my favorite picture book peeps—Aaron Reynolds. His latest book, CREEPY CARROTS, is a NY Times Bestseller with the phenomenal Peter Brown.
PiBoIdMo is all about ideas. CREEPY CARROTS features a rabbit who’s paranoid that carrots are after him. How did that idea seed get planted?
I remembered as a kid how much I like to be scared. I loved scary TV shows and books. Don’t get me wrong…not REAL scared, not NIGHTMARE scared, but a little scared. I remembered watching shows like The Twilight Zone and how much fun it was to creep yourself out just a little. So I began thinking about ideas that were a little bit scary but mostly silly and an idea sprang to mind about a rabbit who loves carrots…until the carrots start following him. From there, the story came together pretty quickly.
In the book, there’s a question of whether or not the carrots are really following Jasper, or if it’s in his imagination. The grownups in the book don’t believe him…as is so often true in life. It was always clear to me that the carrots were real, they were really following him, and they had a plan.
So did you have the grownups who would be reading the book in mind when you wrote the story? Do you include something in your books to entertain parents and caregivers?
Yep, I always like to have double layers of humor in everything I write. If you look at Shrek and some of the best kids and family stuff out there that Pixar and Dreamworks are doing, there are always gags and jokes that go over kids heads that the adults bust a gut over. That’s the stuff I love and it’s definitely the kind of thing I like to do in my stories. Plus, it keeps me entertained along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I have the sense of humor and maturity of the average 7-year-old, but the subtle references keep my adult self happy as well. :-)
Peter Brown illustrated the book with a film-noir feel, mostly black and white with the orange of the carrots in a starring role. Was the “classic movie” treatment part of your original concept?
My editor and I talked a lot about the look of the book early on. I was definitely inspired by 1950’s style hokey horror movies (being weaned on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 from early on) and always saw it as a mock-horror picture book, which isn’t exactly something you see every day and felt a little risky, but exciting to me. So a black and white feel was something I was really excited about. I talked about it with my editor, the idea of doing black and white with a single carroty accent color, and I was thrilled to find out that he really resonated with that, and further thrilled to find out that Peter really loved the idea, too. Peter definitely brought his own take on it, and you see that with the rounded corners (throwback to old TV screens) and extreme dramatic lighting, not to mention his homage to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” on one spread.
How did you know CREEPY CARROTS was a winning concept? Did you sit down and write it immediately after it came to mind, or did you let it marinate a bit?
I didn’t know it was a winning concept at all. As often is the case, I felt like this idea could be a little too far out in left field for most editors to get excited about. Some initial responses were not only unreceptive, but downright offended at the story! But….you only have your own voice. If I can’t trust my own voice, who’s can I trust? I had to believe that the right quirky, goofy editor would snatch this up and that others would just have to be offended. In the end, it worked. But sometimes you think you’re crazy. You think “Can I truly be the only person in the world who thinks this is hilarious?!”
I didn’t sit down and write it immediately. It stewed for about a year before I finally sat down to put it to paper. But once I did, it came out pretty quickly.
Did the title CREEPY CARROTS come first or after you wrote the story?
Actually, the original title was EVIL CARROTS, and it came first, before I wrote the story. But my editor told me that people don’t buy picture books with the word EVIL in the title! Probably for good reason…
And CREEPY CARROTS made the NY Times Bestseller list! How did that accomplishment feel?
Woozy. I literally almost fainted. In the back of your head you dream that something like this might someday happen, but don’t really expect it to. So it was an amazing day.
What’s your best advice for PiBoIdMo participants as they go about capturing ideas?
Hmm. I guess it would be that there’s a fine line between a crazy, out-there idea and a really brilliant one. Who would have thought that a book where a pigeon is begging the reader to let him drive a bus would be a hit? If you’d pitched that to an editor at a conference before Mo Willems wrote it, most probably would have nixed it.
So many picture books out there seem to play it really safe. But there are editors out there that think like you do. So trust your voice. Trust your ideas, even if (and sometimes especially if) they seem out-there and crazy. This is a world where even a crazy story (or a creepy, carroty one) can become a success.
Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author and has written many highly acclaimed books for kids, including CREEPY CARROTS!, CHICKS AND SALSA, BACK OF THE BUS, and the JOEY FLY, PRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. He has a passion for kids’ books and seeing kids reading them. He regularly makes time to visit schools where his hilarious hands-on presentations keep kids spellbound. Aaron lives in Chicago with his wife, 2 kids, 4 cats, and anywhere between zero and ten goldfish, depending on the day.
Hey, everyone! You can win a signed copy of CREEPY CARROTS! Leave a comment to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck!