What would you do if you weren’t a children’s book creator?

I can’t do anything else.

Can you play the harpsichord?

No.

Can you fix a sports car?

No.

Can you train a White-faced Saki Monkey?

No. I can only make children’s books.


Where do you get your ideas?

Who knows? But I will say that what comes out reflects what has gone in.  In other words, I like artists like Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet and Alexander Calder. I like the movies of Buster Keaton. I like the music of Jimmie Driftwood and Fats Waller. I like writers like Ruth Krauss. That is what my brain is stuffed with so perhaps it is not unusual that ideas like book-reading apes and topiary rabbits fall out of it.


What medium do you work in?

I work in whatever seems appropriate for the particular book. I have used oils, pencils, pen and ink, digital, collage, watercolor, and lots of other things.


If you are sent fine, dark chocolate will you accept it?

Yes.


Who is Molly Leach?

The greatest book designer working today. She has designed nearly all of my books. When she designed the Stinky Cheese Man back in 1992 folks called it a “watershed moment.” Suddenly every designer wanted to make books with crazy type and upside-down pages. The problem is it is very hard to do unless you know how. Molly knows how. She is also very funny and very pretty. She is also my wife.


How do you two work together?

I usually come up with an idea then sketch it up into a book dummy (a book dummy is a very loose version of the final book). I tell Molly the kind of typography I want. She says no and changes it. She hands it back to me and I readjust my pictures to go with her “new and improved” type. Then I create the final pictures. Lastly we figure out together what the cover should look like. She makes everything I do 100 times better but since most people don’t know what a designer does, I usually get all the credit. This isn’t fair.


Some of your books are weird. Are they appropriate for my child?

I do not know your child. But I will say I do not subscribe to the notion that every book is for every child. I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books.


Do you speak at schools?

No. Speaking in front of humans makes me nervous. I empathize with the quiet student in the back of the class who is too shy to speak up. That was me. But there are other ways of expressing oneself… like through drawings, creative writing or balloon animals.


Can we reach you on Facebook?

No. I am not on Facebook although someone illegally lifted a bunch of my art and my author photo and my bio and made a Lane Smith Facebook page. Why? It’s not bad but it’s not mine. If you try to reach me there you will not get me. You can reach me here.


Do you tweet?

Yes, when I eat radishes. I am not on Twitter however. Writing is hard for me. It takes a long time. If I come up with a really funny line I’ll use it in a book. If it’s not funny I won’t waste anyone’s time putting it out there in a tweet.


What was it like illustrating books by Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl?

It was wonderful. Neither said a bad thing about my art. They had already died when I illustrated their books. I wish I had met them. I visited both of their houses however and got to spend long hours going through their files.


Who is the funniest writer you’ve ever met?

Bob Shea. He is the author of Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime and Big Plans. He can come up with a funny line on any subject. If you ever meet him point at your socks and say, “Come up with something hilarious about these socks, Funny Boy.” He probably will.


Who is the smartest writer you’ve ever met?

George Saunders. He wrote a book I illustrated called The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. He is not from this planet.


Will you work with Jon Scieszka again?

Of course. We have done several books together and will do more someday.


Who is your favorite kid’s book author?

One is Florence Parry Heide. She wrote amazing books like The Shrinking of Treehorn (illustrated by Edward Gorey). I wrote her a fan letter back in 1992 and we became pen pals. We traded letters for seventeen years before we finally had a chance to work together on Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated. Florence passed away in 2011 at the age of 92. I miss our letters.


Will you give me advice on my unsolicited manuscript?

No. I am not a good editor.


How is the best way to contact you?

Through this site. If you want to reach me for business purposes please contact my amazing agent, Steven Malk of Writers House on the contact page.


Who is still reading these FAQs?

1. People who should be working but are not.

2. Students who have been forced to write a paper on me.

3. My mom.


Will you speak at our school?

You are trying to trick me. I already told you I do not speak at schools.


Where were you born?

Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I was three our family moved to Corona, California yet we still considered ourselves Okies. For some reason most of our neighbors were also from Oklahoma and we lived amongst them in dusty foothills right out of a John Ford western. My dad, Corkey, was an accountant at Rockwell International in Anaheim during the Apollo Space program. My mom, Millie, had many different jobs, most notably, as a teacher at Sears Charm School. Through this program she gave lessons at the juvenile detention center. If you happen to be around Riverside County you might spot one of her former students using the proper fork with their amuse-bouche.

Our family spent every summer traveling Route 66 back to Oklahoma to vacation with our relatives. Okay, Molly says I have to list some of their names. She thinks they are comical. I do not see the humor but here goes: Dub (actually his real name is Delmer), Billy Joe, Leo, Cubby, Uncle Baldy, Grandma Ora, Grandpa Rual, Velma, Macy, Pauline, Fat (who was skinny), Dewey, Darla and Tom & Jerry. My brother’s name is Shane. Shane and Lane. Mom wanted twins and even though we were two years apart she dressed us in matching outfits until we were old enough to put up a fuss.

After my parents retired they moved back to Oklahoma where they currently reside. Molly and I live in Connecticut and New York City.


Do you have any pets?

Yes. We have two cats named Noodle and Pretzel.


Did you have a favorite teacher?

Yes, my high school art teacher, Daniel Baughman. I was a kid in Corona, California who liked to doodle. It never occurred to me I could make a living at it. Mr. Baughman encouraged my habit by driving me to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to meet with a counselor there. I was accepted and later received a BFA in illustration from that school.


What did you do before you became a children’s book illustrator?

For many years I worked as a freelance illustrator. My illustrations appeared in magazines like Time, Sesame Street, Rolling Stone, Ms., Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and many others.


Which are your favorite books?

I am nit-picky. Consequently I like and dislike parts of all of my books so it’s hard to say. But if forced to pick, I would say my favorites are, It’s a Book, John, Paul, George & Ben, The Stinky Cheese Man, Grandpa Green. Big Plans, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, James and The Giant Peach, The Happy Hocky Family books and Madam President (I should add, on any given day this list might be completely different).


What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into children’s books?

It sounds like a cliché but it’s true: don’t give up. Jon and I took The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs to many publishers and were rejected by as many before Viking Books took a chance on it. We were ready to throw in the towel numerous times. But like I said, I can’t do anything else. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with the harpsichord.

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