Ooh, I’m all abuzz because I’ve got Toni Buzzeo on the blog today. Yes, THE NY Times Best-Selling picture book author of ONE COOL FRIEND (which also won a Caldecott Honor for David Small). Toni’s newest book is WHOSE TOOLS?, her first non-fiction title.
I’d like to say, “I sat down with Toni and we chatted over Earl Grey tea and frosted lemon cake,” but I can’t. Because we didn’t. I plopped on the couch nursing a sore knee and Toni wielded tools while emailing. (Quite the talent!) But we still had plenty of fun. And I can now call her my one TOOL friend.
Toni, WHOSE TOOLS? is your first foray into non-fiction. Where did the idea come from?
I’m an elementary librarian by profession (though my writing career made managing a library in addition to speaking and writing too challenging). As a result, I’m a freelance librarian these days. What that means is that I do a fair amount of curriculum writing (for NoveList and others). One day I was working with a book that was a guessing game and it gave me an idea. What about a book that was a guessing game about professions involved in building a house? The clues would be the tools and the answer would be the name of the professional.
My husband Ken is an engineer, thus when I told him about this idea, he went wild with enthusiasm and pledged to help me as soon as I wanted to get started. We spend the winter in Sarasota, Florida every year, so in 2013, on the drive down to Florida, we brainstormed what was to become WHOSE TOOLS?
Hey, but his name isn’t on the cover! LOL
It’s true, Ken’s name SHOULD be on the book. It is dedicated to him, though.
So now that you’ve published both fiction and non-fiction, which is your favorite to write?
WHOSE TOOLS? is my first non-fiction book, soon to be followed by WHOSE TRUCK? and A PASSION FOR ELEPHANTS: THE REAL LIFE ADVENTURE OF FIELD SCIENTIST CYNTHIA MOSS.
I have loved writing nonfiction books for kids as I did when I was writing the eleven books I have published for teachers and librarians. As a librarian myself, there’s something so deeply ingrained about sharing information! And of course, I love the research process involved in writing a book like A PASSION FOR ELEPHANTS.
But I do also love the creation of a world, the characters and the events that happen in a fictional universe all of my own creation. Even then, I rely heavily on research about the real world, whether it’s a particular PLACE (East Africa in the case of my African animal trilogy, STAY CLOSE TO MAMA, JUST LIKE MY PAPA, and MY BIBI ALWAYS REMEMBERS) or a particular TIME (1929 in LIGHTHOUSE CHRISTMAS; 1870 in THE SEA CHEST).
I’m just like every mother. I can’t choose my favorite!
Was WHOSE TRUCK? just a natural extension of WHOSE TOOLS? Do you have more WHOSE-A-WHATCHA books planned?
My publisher, Abrams, wanted to buy a second book at the same time they acquired WHOSE TOOLS? but they didn’t want the workers to build another building. Because the focus of this series is professions, we started to think of groups of workers who shared something in common and came up with the idea of trucks. As Ken says, every professional in this book needs a truck to do his or her work! It was the perfect companion book.
We’ve thought ahead to the possibility of a third book, WHOSE HAT? It’s not under contract yet but if it becomes a part of the series, it will focus on the hats and other wardrobe accoutrements worn by various workers. (Hint: think astronauts!)
Why do you think young kids are so fascinated with tools and trucks…and why are these such great subjects for children’s books?
I have a one year old grandson, Camden, who is totally WILD about tools. He has toy tools but he really loves the REAL tools because they DO real work! I think that the job of childhood is to learn how the world works and, once they understand that, to learn how they can change it. What better way to change it than with tools? And what better way to enjoy it than from the inside of a truck?
Now that you’re a NY Times Best-Selling Author, do you feel like you’ve reached a new stage in your career? Is that one thing checked off your writerly bucket list? What else is on that list?
Tara, as you know, there are a million ways to succeed in this children’s writing business and at least a thousand ways to feel disappointed. It was an amazing thrill to land on the NY Times Best Sellers List! And a year later to learn that David Small won a Caldecott Honor for ONE COOL FRIEND doubled the thrill. The evening of the Newbery/Caldecott banquet I had a deep and profound moment of realizing that I’d gotten everything I’d wished for. On the disappointing days, I remind myself of that moment.
What I want now, more than anything in this career, is for it to last until I die. I want to continue to write and publish wonderful children’s books every year of my life!
Well, that sounds PERFECT to me!
Toni, thanks so much for chatting with me. Sorry we didn’t have lemon cake. I would have cut it with a buzz saw in your honor!
Also, thanks for offering a copy of WHOSE TOOLS? for a giveaway!
Please leave a comment below to enter the random drawing (one comment per person, please). A winner will be selected at the end of June.