He is not that Barney, as Mr. Saltzberg’s home page quickly informs us. Instead, this Barney is a children’s book author, illustrator, singer, songwriter, and all-around outstanding person spending his life encouraging others to find their own stories and songs. Read any one of his books (there are over 30 from which to choose!), and you’ll leave it feeling a little more confident about life and the circumstances it often throws at us. Like all of a sudden needing eyeglasses. Or making mistakes. Or mixing up School Picture Day with Crazy Hair Day! Valuable lessons, all, and in such enjoyable, happy-making packaging. You’re going to love Barney Saltzberg. I promise.
Q: What is the one childhood memory that still seems as clear as the day it happened? Were you creative even then?
A: Ask my wife or my children. I remember most of my childhood rather vividly. I’m always telling them stories.
My mother liked to paint and sculpt. She didn’t believe in coloring books. She wanted me to ‘make up’ my own drawings to color. She bought me lots of sketch books which I filled up from as far back as I can remember. One memory that seems to be refreshed on a regular basis, is standing on a step stool in kindergarten, wearing one of my father’s old dress shirts as a smock. I loved to clean my paint brushes in the sink and watch the colors swirl as they circled the drain. Now, when I am painting a book, I clean a lot of paint brushes so that memory stays fresh.
Q: What personal characteristics (or quirks!) make you a successful author and illustrator?
A: Dedication to creating is important. It’s one thing to get an idea, but it takes dedication to stick with a concept and work it through. Also, the way I ‘see’ things helps. I find characters in patterns everywhere. I don’t turn off the creative switch. It’s always on. I hear things…Great title. I see things…Great story idea.
Q: Describe your studio or where you create your best work. What’s your view?
A: I converted the garage behind my house into a studio 22 years ago. It’s my creative space. I tell kids that if they are lucky enough to have a space to call their own, it’s really nice to surround oneself with things that make you happy. I am very fortunate to have such a space. I have a couple of Kermit the Frog puppets here and there; Jim Henson has always been a hero of mine! One wall is covered with guitars.
Lots of books are jammed into the shelves. I bought these great things called ‘order ups’ from a restaurant supply store and it allows me to post my artwork up on the wall without tacks or tape. The order ups are metal strips with ball bearings built in so I can slide my pictures up on the wall. This way, I can see all of the artwork for each book I’m working on. I have an old wooden card catalog from a library. I labeled the drawers and each one holds pencils, markers, paint brushes, etc. There are also new, brightly painted orange french doors which open to my garden. I work most days with the doors wide open and sprinkled around the studio and just outside are my three dogs.
Q: My kids and I love Beautiful Oops! What has been your biggest, most beautiful mistake?
A: Wow. Good question. I don’t know that I can settle on just one. Recently a sharpie pen leaked in my front pocket of my blue jeans. I was walking in to a party with this black blotch on my pants. I took the pen and turned the blotch into a Mickey Mouse like character. I was happy until I washed the jeans and realized the ink is permanent!
Q: What was the first book that moved you?
A: I loved Are You My Mother? It’s my earliest memory of being completely tickled by a story. I thought it was funny. When I got a little older, I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I couldn’t put that book down! As an adult, it was William Steig’s book, The Amazing Bone. I wanted to live in the forest that Pearl the Pig wanders through.
Q: Your favorite person in the world…
A: Not fair. I have an amazing wife and two terrific children, plus my father, who is about to turn 97. They are all on the top of my list!
Q: Which character have you created that is most like you? How so?
A: Andrew. He is the character in my new book, Andrew Drew and Drew. Andrew draws all of the time. So do I.
Q: When did you first realize that you’re great at what you’ve chosen to do? When did the rest of the world realize it, too?
A: That’s a really interesting question. No one has ever put it that way before. Well, when I was really young, my parents professionally mounted two of my paintings and hung them on the wall. I remember loving the time I spent painting the pictures and to see that my parents liked my work enough to preserve my artwork made me feel special.
Professionally, I was incredibly lucky. I wrote a picture book and sold it the same year. So, on some level, I had recognition early on. That said, it took many, many, many years for more than my editor and my publishers to catch on.
Q: What has been your favorite response to your work from a child?
A: I’ve been so lucky to travel all over the world and have children respond to both my stories, and my music. Recently, after I published my book, Beautiful Oops!, I have heard from lots of parents and teachers who tell me that the book has impacted children who are afraid to make mistakes. Somehow, the book showed that it’s ‘okay’ to make mistakes and it’s lovely to hear that that concept is being embraced.
Q: Tell us what’s next and new!
A: My book, Andrew Drew and Drew is coming out this fall. It’s a book near and dear to my heart. I was and still am a huge fan of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Seeing the amazing creations that Crockett Johnson created in the artwork has always captivated me. I was inspired by that book to take the concept even farther. Everyone has their own stories, artwork, poetry, and music. I wanted to create a book which helps people ‘play’ and to find their own creative voice. My hope is that people will read Andrew Drew and Drew and want to pick up a pencil and draw! One never knows where that may lead. Now THAT’S exciting!
Thank you so much, Barney! I’m honored to have your words on Design Mom, and I can’t wait to see how Andrew Drew and Drew inspires me. Also incredibly inspiring: “When I was really young, my parents professionally mounted two of my paintings and hung them on the wall. I remember loving the time I spent painting the pictures and to see that my parents liked my work enough to preserve my artwork made me feel special.” What a wonderful reminder.
Friends, what’s the most beautiful mistake you or one of yours ever made? Did you know at the time that you were learning a valuable lesson, or did that part come far later?
(Barney Saltzberg lives with his wife, dogs, and guitars in Los Angeles. His accolades include a 2010 NAPPA Gold Award, a 2011 Teacher’s Choice Award, and a Kirkus starred review for Beautiful Oops!)