Author Interview: Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

April 9, 2012

I’ve been a huge fan of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith for many years – I wrote about The Stinky Cheese Man back in 2007 – so I’m more than a little star-struck that their words are now gracing the virtual pages of my blog! Creative collaborations, when done right, are so perfectly intertwined that it’s difficult to identify when one artist ends and the other begins. That’s the way with Jon and Lane; to me, The Stinky Cheese Man, as well as their other collaborative projects, make sense only when you’re looking at Lane’s illustrations while you’re reading Jon’s words.

So naturally, I couldn’t interview them separately! Friends, I’d love for you to meet Jon and Lane. Enjoy!

Q: What’s your earliest memory of being creative? (And did you get into trouble for it?)

Lane Smith: My brother Shane and I were always making little books, building forts, making music. Unlike today’s kids we never called it Being Creative, we called it Goofing Off.

Jon Scieszka: That would have been the time I melted a vinyl record in the oven, bent it into a fluted bowl shape, then spray-painted it gold. And I did not get in trouble because I did it in Cub Scouts for Mother’s Day. And because it was so beautiful.

Q: What are your never-ending sources for inspiration?

LS: Our cats. We have two crazy Persians and they look like something out of Seuss. I am constantly doodling them. Last year I collected all of the various doodles, scanned them, and printed them out as a little book for my wife. I called it Cat Scans.

JS: Listening – really listening, without interrupting, without coaching, without editing – to what kids say.

Q: Do you have a favorite, most memorable reader response to your work?

LS: When I made It’s a Book, I got angry responses for referring to my foolish jackass character as a jackass. They chastised me for ‘such an insensitive book.’ My next book, Grandpa Green, received many heart-wrenching responses from folks thanking me for ‘such a sensitive book.’

JS: I have a letter from a kid that I reread to myself at least once a month. It says: “Dear Mister Sceisxkzva, Our teacher says we haf to write a letter to our most favorit author. But Roald Dahl is dead. So I am writing to you.” It is both wonderful praise . . . and a wonderful humbling reality check.

Q: What’s the first book that moved you?

LS: In fourth or fifth grade I remember being moved by a book called Follow My Leader by James Garfield. That same summer, The Big Book of Go Karts. It moved me across the yard and through the neighbor’s screen door.

JS: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson. Even when I read it today, I’m worried that nothing is going to come up. Everyone except the little guy is so sure (and kind of mean about it). But the very best part of the book is that when the whopping giant carrot does come up, our little guy doesn’t gloat about being right, he doesn’t razz anybody, he just wheels off his obvious rightness in a wheelbarrow with beautiful Zen calm.

Q: Is there a book you wish you had written or illustrated?

LS: Where the Wild Things Are is about as perfect a picture book as you can get. Maybe that one.

JS: Don Quixote, Catch-22, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Go, Dog. Go!

Q: Share with us your favorite characteristic in your creative partner!

LS: His sense of humor.

JS: I love Lane’s ability to take a story and make it wilder, funnier, smarter, and better with images.

Q: What’s the best professional or personal advice you’ve ever been given?

LS: Name a day. My amazing wife is always giving me advice: “You want to use THAT typeface?” (Did I mention she is my art director as well?)

JS: Sit down and write.

Q: If you could choose any other occupation, what would you be? Why?

LS: I can’t do anything else. I’m serious.

JS: I wouldn’t. (And no, Lane and I didn’t see each other’s answers before we answered this question). This is the best occupation in the universe. I get paid to make up stories, make people laugh, make people think. It’s wonderful. It’s frustrating. It’s impossible. It’s absolute magic.

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I think any time you can describe your profession like that – wonderful, frustrating, impossible, and absolute magic – you’re doing the right thing. Thank you so much, Lane and Jon, for adding a hefty dose of cool to Design Mom today! You’ve always been one of my favorite duos, so who knew I could admire you even more?

Photo of Lane and Jon back in 2004 borrowed from here.

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You can find the entire Author Interview Series here.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly April 9, 2012 at 5:55 am

Thanks for doing this interview! I love books that make my son want to read, and that is what they do! Tres cool!

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2 Design Mom April 10, 2012 at 12:16 am

“I love books that make my son want to read”

So true! As your son gets older, have him try the Time Warp Trio. It’s another one of their collaborations and it’s great for kids that are craving something not-babyish.

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3 Rebecca Grace April 9, 2012 at 6:55 am

My sons LOVED The Stinky Cheese Man! I can’t wait to share this interview with them when they get home from school today. Thank you!!!

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4 Design Mom April 10, 2012 at 12:12 am

Awesome! Have you tried The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs? It’s another of their collaborations and my kids adore it as well.

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5 shaleah April 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

Great interview! I love them, and we read The Stinky Cheese Man at least twice a week before bed. I was in a bookstore one day and remembered that book from when I was a kid, I instantly had everyone in the store helping me hunt it down so I could bring it home for Syd!

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6 Raven April 9, 2012 at 11:52 am

I was thrilled to see those little green olive eyes peering at me from my monitor this morning! I LOVE the stinky cheese man! It was the first book I ever bought for my daughter when I became pregnant. She is six now and it still remains a well read favorite in our house. I first found the stinky cheese man when I was in middle school and I would read it to my then-5 year old brother who has a copy for his daughter now. Thanks for the interview and sharing this with us all!

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7 Design Mom April 10, 2012 at 12:13 am

Such fun memories! I was introduced to their work when I was in design school, before I had kids, and started buying their books for my future offspring. : )

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8 Jaesi April 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Yes, cats can be inspiring lol!
It’s amazing what you can learn just by listening and not interrupting, especially kids. They have so much to teach us!

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9 Charissa April 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Fun interview! I love their books, so this was great to read and know them a little better.

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10 Kit April 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I loved The Stinky Cheeseman when I was a kid! I didn’t realise It’s A Book was connected, but it makes sense! I don’t have any children yet, but love children’s books and when I stumbled across it in a bookstore fell in love. Thanks for the great interview!

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11 Design Mom April 10, 2012 at 12:15 am

I love people that love children’s books!

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12 jen April 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

That was so, so cool! Thank you for that interview, all involved! I can’t wait to share it with my kids in the morning! :)

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13 Design Mom April 10, 2012 at 12:14 am

So glad you enjoyed it! I hope your kids will too.

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14 Lorri April 10, 2012 at 1:54 am

Eeeeeeh! I looooove love love love Lane Smith (also Jon Scieszka, but I’m an illustrator and designer so…) and his wife Molly Leach. He touched on it briefly in the interview saying she is his art director, but she is equally brilliant. She’s the one responsible for the amazing typography in The Stinky Cheese Man, for example. It must be so much fun to work together like that!

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15 Emily April 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Eek! How cool is it that you got to interview these two. I would have died.

It is so wonderful to see that they love what they do as much as we think they love what they do when we are reading their books.

Thank you so much for sharing!

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16 Emily April 11, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I am a fairly new reader of your blog, and I didn’t know you had author interviews! If I wasn’t hooked before, I am now.

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17 TeacherMotherReader April 11, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Love Jon Scieszka. Love Lane Smith. Loved this interview. Thanks for sharing. :)

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