Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mo Willems on "Goldilocks And The Three Dinosaurs" - The 2013 Sid Fleischman Humor Award Winner Interview

The Sid Fleischman Humor Award is for authors whose work exemplifies the excellence of writing in the genre of humor. The SCBWI established the award to honor humorous work, so often overlooked in children’s literature by other award committees.

This year's winner is the remarkable (and remarkably funny) Mo Willems!

I connected with Mo to find out more...

Lee:  At this point you have a raft of well-deserved awards, with this Sid Fleischman Award the latest! I imagine with each award and accolade, you can be buoyed up in that Sally Field "you like me, right now, you like me!" way and/or you could feel enormous pressure and self-doubt about your next project.  How do you allow in the good without the pressure taking over?

Mo:  I find it easiest to be genuinely appreciative and remember the recognition is for the book, not me. The book may be proud of itself, but I have to get back to work.

A book that's quite proud of itself
Lee:  If "yucks are bucks" as they say in Hollywood, then I seriously didn't pay enough for my copy of "Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs." Just reading your alternate story ideas on the opening and closing endpapers - from "Goldilocks and the Three Mosquitoes" and "Goldilocks and the Three Whales" to "Goldilocks and the Three Accountants" I laughed out loud again and again… and again!

Were there hundreds and hundreds of these that you came up with and by a process of winnowing you picked the craziest 122? How do you judge what's funnier than what? Are you putting yourself in readers' shoes or are you choosing what YOU think is funniest and confident we'll agree?

Mo:  I write as much as I can, then take the unfunny stuff out.

Lee:  I was trying to 'figure out the funny' and put an analytical eye to what makes your book so hysterical. Two techniques stood out: Setting up expectations and then surprising us, like in the opening line,

"ONCE UPON A TIME, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway."

And letting your kid audience feel smarter than the text, like when you write

"The three Dinosaurs went Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by."

While the illustration shows us the Dinosaurs sneaking off to do exactly what the text says they're not.

As you craft a story, are you conscious of the different ways you're being funny? Do you think thinking about how to be funny is helpful, or is all that thinking just over-thinking the whole thing?

Mo:  I am a formalist and a structuralist, so, yes, I am aware of the various options in the comedy tool-bag. I like to think my quarter century of work in television, film, comics, theater, and books has helped hone my skills. But if I do my job properly, my audience should think I’m just making it up as I go along.

And we'll just keep reading, and laughing, and being huge fans.

Thanks, Mo - and congratulations!

Illustrate and Write On,


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Mo Willems is a genius. I recently read this book to my son's kindergarten class. They all loved it! :)

topangamaria said...

It's so appropriate for Mo to win the Sid award. Mr. Fleischman would insist he made up his stories as he went along. Sid was a great magician. Both make it look so easy, when it's so not. BRAVO!