The other day at a signing, a parent asked me why I was so specific in describing the night light in Monster Needs His Sleep. If you have not read the book yet then you should, it has been touted as one of the greatest picture books in modern time. Granted I am the one touting that but let’s not burden this discussion with silly details. As for the night light, in the book I describe it as a blue canary night light. Yes I agree, not a common night light and very specific to the fact that it is a canary.
The reason being is that the mention of this particular glowing friend is to pay homage to my favorite band, They Might Be Giants (TMBG). If you know the band, then you know the song, Birdhouse in Your Soul, which is about a blue canary night light. I discovered TMBG in college, and haven’t stopped listening to them since. They were considered an alternative rock band with an odd sound to them; the accordion is featured quite often. Birdhouse in Your soul was the song that turned me on to their unique sound and writing style. A writing style, I might add, that has influenced my own. I love the unique topics and words that they use in their lyrics. They take unusual topics like James K. Polk, Pavlov’s dogs, or a snail shell and turn them into great music. It’s not just the topics that are unusual, the lyrics are as well. They use wonderful uncommon rhymes like shrew and caribou, victory and manifest destiny.
TMBG were never top 40 artists but there style of writing kept me listening. So when I started writing I wanted to do the same. I didn’t want my rhymes to be boring. I wanted people to read my books and come across a line and say, “Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone have a rhyme like this before in a picture book.” Have I succeeded? That is up to the critics. But I have to say I enjoy writing stories that have interesting rhymes like, negotiation and procrastination, or devastation and hesitation or even profiterole and casserole. Interesting and uncommon word choice is something a writer can do to help make their stories stand out not just to publishers, but to the parents and children reading them. Feeding a child’s mind is why we are reading to them, so let’s give them something to digest! The richer the language the more enticing it will be to the reader. So when I got the chance to throw a nod to the pair of geniuses that helped pave my road toward writing, I took it. Granted they probably will never know or care about the impact they had on my writing and that’s fine because as long as kids enjoy my books that’s good enough for me.
Now if only I could write a picture book about how Istanbul was once Constantinople then I know I will have truly let my freak flag fly.