?When did you first become interested in drawing and artwork?

I remember when I was about four years old we had a family friend who was an artist. I would watch her draw animals with crayons on paper. I thought drawing was magical. She shared some paper and crayons with me and I tried drawing animals too. But her drawings were magnificent and mine were pretty bad, but I caught the bug for drawing early on, and I’ve been trying ever since. Maybe that’s why many of my books are about animals.

?What were some of the first things you began to explore when you became interested in artwork? In other words, did you experiment with painting (oils and watercolors), pottery and other crafts?

I started out with crayons.  I loved trying to draw some of the characters from comic books like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.  I sketched from real life and from photographs in newspapers and magazines.  My drawings were terrible (I think!) but I loved it so much that I kept on drawing.  I graduated from crayons to pastels (colored chalks) and I had fun with those.  That artist I talked about gave me a gift of "payons" which were pastels that you could brush with water to get watercolor effects.  I loved playing around with those payons. Years later, I tried watercolor as well as oil paints.  Again, I wasn’t that good at it, but I loved trying.

?Did you spend a lot of time after school drawing and did you join any clubs or similar activities for artwork?

I spent a lot of time drawing all through my elementary school years.  Although I didn’t think my drawings were that good, my friends did.  One memorable experience was in, I think, my fourth grade class.  The teacher had a friend who was an artist who painted a wonderful picture for her.  My teacher hung it over the blackboard.  It was a painting of Santa Claus with all of his reindeers on top of a roof.  I used to stare at that painting and try to draw it.  I can’t tell you how many attempts I made, but my drawings were not good.  I remember thinking: wouldn’t it be wonderful to be an artist?

?Did your parents (my grandparents!) realize the extent of your talent when you were a young child? Were you enrolled in any special artwork schools?

My parents (Grandpa Maxie and Grandma Bertha) realized very early my dream of wanting to become an artist and encouraged me in every way to pursue my dream. When I was in the eighth grade (P.S. 89 in the Bronx, N.Y.), Grandma went with me to a meeting after school about the special High Schools that were available to kids living in the New York City. We found out about a public High School called The School Of Industrial Arts (now known as The High School of Art & Design) that I really wanted to go to.  You had to take an all day test and compete with kids from all five boroughs of New York City.   Grandma encouraged me to try and with the help of my eighth grade art teacher, I prepared a portfolio and took that test.  I remember how difficult it was, but I made that school.  It was a wonderful four years filled with lots of hard work.  It was like going to two schools at the same time because half the day was filled with art subjects like painting and drawing and lettering and advertising and illustration and the other half day was filled with regular academic subjects like English, math and physics, etc.  I learned many of the skills I now use, including my knowledge of typography.   It was then that I decided I wanted to be a graphic artist, and I won a scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  At Pratt, I majored in Advertising Design where I really fell in love with graphic arts.

?What prompted you to begin writing children's books and when did you write your first children’s book?

After college, I got a job as a Junior Art Director at one of the largest advertising agencies in New York City.  It was the beginning of a wonderful career as a graphic artist.  I learned so much and enjoyed making a living doing something I loved.   It was in those early years that I discovered children’s picture books.   I was working at my drawing board and someone commented that my work reminded her of HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON.  I had never heard of it, so this friend gave me a copy and I fell in love with it.  I also discovered a wonderful book by Leo Lionni called LITTLE BLUE AND LITTLE YELLOW.  I had studied the work of Leo Lionni who was a top graphic artist, when I was a student at Pratt Institute.  He was the Art Director of Fortune Magazine at the time and in those days had not written any children’s books.  But I loved his first picture book so much, I thought, my mind works in the same way.  So why don’t I try to write a children’s book?   My first attempt back in 1963 was almost accepted, but the publisher changed its mind and rejected it.  But it was the beginning of my journey to try and write picture books.

?Did you want to be an artist and/or write children's books full time? Did you ever feel that by going into advertising you might be neglecting your interest in being an artist and writing books?

I was very blessed.  My first choice after learning about all the possibilities in High School was to become a graphic artist.  And I had a very successful career in advertising for over 25 years.  But almost at the very same time, I pursued the separate path of writing picture books and came so close many times.  I love to read excerpts of my rejection letters from some of the greats in the publishing field.   They were wonderful letters and instead of discouraging me they ignited my desire for picture books even more.

?When was your first children's book published? What was it?

As you and your brother Glenn know, my first published book was IF THE DINOSAURS CAME BACK.   It was first published in 1978.  When you guys were little, I loved reading to you, and with you, every night.  That sparked my desire to do books even more.  I thought the more books I could come up with, the better chance I will have of getting something published.  And it eventually worked.

?How long did it take for the book to get published?

It took about two years before it was published and I learned many things, some of which I talk about in "Bernardosaurus says" regarding IF THE DINOSAURS CAME BACK.

?Did you find it difficult to write children's books as a hobby and yet hold down a full-time job in advertising?

Actually no.  It was fun to keep trying to have a book published but I didn’t let it consume my time.  I tried to spend a lot of time doing normal family things which I also enjoyed.  A few minutes here and there, plus a lot of time thinking on the train while I commuted into New York City jotting down ideas that would come to me.

?On average, how many books do you write a year?

About a book or two a year.

?How do you get your ideas for your books?

All kinds of ways.  As you know, the idea for my first published book came after I saw a paper your brother Glenn wrote in school wishing the dinosaurs would come back.   I wrote BOO because you were afraid of monsters, and you asked me if monsters were ever afraid of children?  I also wrote MY VERY OWN OCTOPUS for you because you wanted a pet and your brother Glenn was allergic to dogs, so we couldn’t have a pet.

?Which do you do first, the pictures or the story?

That’s a good question and I get asked that often.  I would say both.   My books are "concept" books where I play with a main idea.  Very often the visuals pop in my mind first, but the words do, too.  I love playing with words and word games.  That’s how THERE’S AN ANT IN ANTHONY came about.   There is more in "Bernardosaurus Says" about THERE’S AN ANT IN ANTHONY.   My career as a graphic artist helped a great deal.   A graphic artist is always challenged with coming up with a unique visual and a unique set of words to solve problems all the time.  It seems like doing children’s books is a culmination of all my years in graphic arts and problem solving.

?During the writing process, do you get much input from your publisher/editor regarding your books?

Lots.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about listening when a book or idea is criticized and not getting upset but trying to make the idea better.  I learned in High School and College that there are many correct solutions to the same problem.

?There are some main themes in your books - dinosaurs, word games, animals, to name only a few. Why do you write about these subjects so often?

They lend themselves to my imagination.  I love to read about animals and the more I learn, the more ideas I seem to get.

?What do you use to draw the pictures?

I use a felt-tipped pen to do my black ink drawings, and then I use permanent markers to do my coloring.  There is more about that in "Bernardosaurus Says" where I talk about making some great discoveries when I was coloring DINOSAUR COUSINS?

?Do you ever use computers to draw the pictures?

As you well know, I received a surprise birthday present two months ago of my first computer.  I must say, it’s changed quite a few things around here.   I’m going from being completely computer illiterate to learning more and more about computers.  I’m still terrified of it at times but I’m also having fun.  I am amazed by the potential of this "thing."  I am using it to draw some new ideas and find it’s a great tool for helping me play with new concepts.

?Who are your main influences in terms of your writing and artwork style?

As I mentioned before, Leo Lionni as well as Crockett Johnson.  Dr. Seuss was another big influence for many reasons including the fact that he had a career in advertising first.  His first book, which is still my favorite of his, TO THINK I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, was rejected almost 30 times before it was published. I remember reading that sometime in the days I used to read his books to you and your brother.   Rejection stories like that kept me on my path of writing children’s books.  I loved looking at the books of Wanda Gag, Lois Lenski, Tommy Ungerer, as well as Tomie D’Paola.   William Steig was another influence as you guys know in the days we used to read SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE.    But my favorite Steig book is CDB?   The concept of that book is fantastic.   If you know how to read the alphabet, even the littlest reader can read.   And of course there’s Bernard Waber, who was your favorite author, who also had a career in advertising.   I remember how many times you asked me to read LYLE AND THE BIRTHDAY PARTY.  When I finally met Bernard Waber for the first time and had the chance to tell him how much our family loved his books, he signed a book for me saying: "It’s fun to meet another Bernard."   Eric Carle is another favorite of mine.   A small piece of trivia: When I was a Junior Art Director many, many years ago, I met Eric Carle when he was a young illustrator and he was showing his portfolio to the Art Directors at my agency.  I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but it left an impression on me.  Another interesting advertising connection: In the early 1960's, I remember the talented Junior Art Director in the next cubicle getting very excited about a new piece of artwork she commissioned from a young unknown illustrator.  "Bernie," she called out to me, "You’ve got to see this great artwork I just received!" That young illustrator was Maurice Sendak.

?What are your MOST favorite children’s books?

My MOST favorite children’s book is THE LITTLE PRINCE, which I have read and re-read many times over the years.  I am happy to have my books on the same publisher’s list as THE LITTLE PRINCE.

?Do you have a MOST favorite book that you wrote?

That’s a question I get asked a lot, and I always have the same answer. That would be like asking who was your favorite son, Glenn or Eric? and I would have to say, I love you both very, very much. You both have different personalities and both are really great people. I don’t have a favorite book of mine because I remember struggling with the ideas for each book and am very fortunate to have so many books published. Although I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for THE COW THAT WENT OINK because it was rejected more than any of my other books, 42 times! There is more about that in "Bernardosaurus Says" about THE COW THAT WENT OINK

?Which book has had the most success commercially?

Probably my first book, IF THE DINOSAURS CAME BACK.   But others are catching up with it including THE COW THAT WENT OINK.

?You also do school visits and library visits. How often do you do this? What do you do when you visit these places?

I do on the average of 15 visits a year. I love the interaction between me, the children, and the teachers, librarians, and parents as well. I try to show them that I’m a real person just like they are with the same dreams they have. I love to share my growing collection of persistence stories with them. That’s my favorite theme - persistence. Never give up on your dreams. I talk about how I see myself sitting where they are and once dreamed about becoming an artist, a dream that I am still working on.

?What advice do you have for someone who wants to write and/or illustrate books?


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