Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Charmed and Delighted": An Interview with Tara Lazar

Tara Lazar is a veritable whiz of boisterous, joyful, fun, and empowering picture books. She is the author of The Monstore, Little Red Gliding Hood, and many other books--including her latest, Normal Norman

As a teacher and a dad, Normal Norman is about everything I want my students and my kids to know and believe: that being EXACTLY who you truly, authentically are is the only real "normal" worth striving towards! 

Tara hits this beautiful message out of the park with her latest picture book, which includes an awesomely unique orangutan and a passionately empowered young female scientist. It's DEFINITELY worth buying and reading to yourself and your kids and your students many times over again!

And here's Tara's wisdom on writing, living, Normal Norman, and her love of waffles and Roald Dahl...

How did you first get the highly original and engaging idea for NORMAL NORMAN?

All I had was the title, or rather, the character’s name. I love word play so my only real thought was that it was fun to say. This kind of thing pops into my head from nowhere, so I don’t remember any specific lightning bolt of inspiration.

I’m a pantser, so sometimes ideas don’t manifest themselves fully until I’m actively writing. It seemed to make sense to introduce Norman first, so I created the junior scientist narrator. Then I knew Norman had to be very uncooperative. And the story took off from there!

You've created not only a very unique and fun and funny orangutan, Norman, but also a very empowered young female scientist! How did you arrive at the identities of these two protagonists? Did they change throughout the revision process?

I just wrote the words. S.britt created the characters. I had no idea what they looked like! I never specified what kind of animal Norman was, nor did I state that the junior scientist was female. That was all Stephan’s brilliant interpretation.

Norman started out as a lion, but he didn’t feel quite right and we all knew it. Then he was a blue lion but he looked more like a monster. Then came the purple orangutan and we all knew it—we knew it like you know about a good melon.

One line you hope kids think or feel after reading NORMAL NORMAN?


Ha ha, just kidding.

“…everyone likes being his or her normal self.” No explanation needed.

One line you hope parents / teachers / librarians think or feel afterwards?

Same for them, too!

You've got an amazing and inspiring (and hugely helpful) blog WRITING FOR KIDS WHILE RAISING THEM, and you also run PiBoIdMo, the picture book writing equivalent to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Can you share why you so strongly believe in, support, and create picture books?

I have always loved picture books, the unique format, the interplay between words and pictures. Honestly, I love the pictures more than anything else! I remember being in 2nd grade and being told to read chapter books and novels. BUT THERE ARE NO PICTURES, I said. I was devastated. To this day, I still feel sorry for my 8-year-old self.

I create picture books because they are a child’s first introduction to literature and I want the children reading the books to be charmed and delighted. I want them to LOVE reading for a lifetime. Reading is instrumental to a child’s success in school and later in life. If I can reel one kid in, my job here is done! Err, I mean, my job here is ongoing!

Can you finish these lines for us...?

If I were to have a five-hour breakfast with someone, it would be...

Roald Dahl (with waffles)

If I could have a superpower it would be...

To fly.

If I had to choose between eating the same piece of fruit every day for every meal or only relying on a tractor for all forms of transportation, I would choose...

The tractor. Come on, how fun would that be?

If I could create a constellation of my own design, it would be...

Roald Dahl (with waffles)

And last: can you share a little about your journey as a writer--what has inspired and sustained you?

The kids! My readers. When I receive a fan letter, my heart melts and I feel happy, content and inspired to keep creating.