I recently spoke with talented children’s author, Danny Schnitzlein, about his successful picture book as well as the craft of writing in verse.
What inspired you to write The Monster Who Ate My Peas?
My older siblings hated peas, so I also groaned and threw a fit when my mom served them. I’m not sure if I really hated them, or if I was just following my brother and sister’s lead. But over time, I truly did believe I hated them. My parents wouldn’t let us leave the table until we’d cleaned our plates, so many nights at 8:30 or 9:00 I’d be
sitting there staring at my plate through tears and wishing the peas would disappear. Fast forward, two decades later, someone brought a green soup to a party I attended. I had two bowls of it. Then I discovered it was split pea soup. After that, I really had to re-think my hatred of peas and examine the cause of my fear. Since the book came out, other pea haters (usually adults) come up to me and confess all the devious ways they would get rid of peas when they were kids. So I guess I’ve become a sort of pope of pea confession. You are forgiven! Anyhow, I have examined my fear and I don’t like canned peas. I like them okay if they are fresh or frozen, or especially in Indian food. But not canned. I’m sure that’s way more than you wanted to know.
During school visits, what are some of the more interesting/funny responses you’ve received from students?
I always talk about the importance of re-writing, and how that’s where the magic happens. All the good bits of my stories have happened in the re-writing stage.
When it came time for questions at one school, a boy raised his hand and asked, “Why don’t you just write it right the first time?” If only I could.
I understand a theatrical play was developed from your story. Can you tell us a little about this?
ArtsPower is a really great organization based in New Jersey. They adapt children’s books into plays and perform them at small theaters and schools across the U.S..
I was honored when they approached me about adapting The Monster Who Ate My Peas. Many years ago, I wrote a musical play based on the book and it was performed a few places, but ArtsPower did a much better job than I did. Greg Gunning’s script is fantastic. The acting, staging, and choreography are so much fun. When I saw the play performed in North Carolina, it was very surreal, especially since they named the main character “Danny.” (In the book, the boy is never named.) The play has toured the country several times and it will finally come to my home city next May. I’m very excited!
Your story is written in verse. How difficult was this to accomplish?
My mom read lots of rhyming poems to me when I was young, Also, I was raised on Dr. Seuss books, and I’ve always loved the music of his language. Seuss made writing verse look so easy that people are still trying to copy him many years later. I guess I’m one of those copycats. I’m also a musician and I think that helps when writing verse, because it’s all about the rhythm of the meter, the music of the words. Unfortunately, I think many big publishers have developed a snobby attitude toward picture books written in verse. They don’t want to see those manuscripts. It’s probably because they read so many poorly written manuscripts in verse. The snobby attitude toward books in verse is a trend, but I hope it doesn’t continue. Kids like verse. Adults like reading verse to kids. Verse gives a book a lot of re-play value. We like to hear our favorite songs over and over, and it’s the same with books written in verse, because they are so much like music. Writing in verse is not so hard for me, but it takes a lot longer than writing in prose. The most difficult part about writing in verse, is avoiding the urge to let the verse steer the story. What I mean by this is that you know the first line, but then you have to think up a rhyme for the end of the second line. It’s very easy to just think of a word that rhymes and then use it, and then let the rhyming word tell you where the story is going. But you can’t do that. You have to be in charge of the story. You can’t let the verse make story decisions for you. It’s best to know your story before you begin. Otherwise the story comes out looking very amateur. I only know this from years of experience doing it the wrong way! 🙂
For more information about Danny, visit his website at www.dannyschnitzlein.com.