An interview with Tom Bodett,
host of Loose Leaf Book Company
TOM: It's said that there is nothing new under
the sun. It's all been done before. Nobody would argue that the
story of the Three Pigs hasn't been around. A pig builds a house
of straw, the wolf blows it down, and eats him. A pig builds a house
of sticks, the wolf blows it down, and eats him. A pig builds a
house of bricks, and his hams remain in place. A nice story. Who'd
want to mess with it?
DAVID WIESNER: You know if you were one of the first two
pigs in that story, and every time it get read you got eaten, wouldn't
you have a little incentive to want to get out of that story?
TOM: David Wiesner. He won the Caldecott medal
for Tuesday, his surreal story of night flying frogs, and
is famous in his other award winning creations for messing with
conventional ideas about what a picture book should be. David Wiesner
tells us where he first got the notion to tackle the story of The
DAVID: I've had for years this idea of characters
leaving a story and moving into the space behind the story. You
know, having the entire format of the book collapse and leave them
standing in this sort of nether world. And when I began to seriously
try to put a story to that concept, I had to figure out, well, if
the reader is going to start in one story and leave it, I kind of
have to start off with something that they're going to recognize.
And the most recognizable stories I could think of were Goldilocks
or The Three Pigs.
TOM: These pigs, now the three of them, have
all gotten out of their story, and they're having a good time. They're
floating around, they fold up one of the leafs of the, one of the
pages, I should say, of the classic story that they just escaped
from, and they ride it around on a paper airplane. So when you're
conceiving of something like this, I mean these are probably always
unfair questions to ask artists, how does this come to you? Is there
any way you can describe that for us?
DAVID: As I said, I've had this idea, just
this sort of graphic idea of this story that collapses and characters
who discover this emptiness behind it. That's been sitting around
in my head for ten or fifteen years. It was a longin fact,
it goes back I think to when I was probably seven or eight years
old. The first time this sort of concept came to me was watching
Bugs Bunny. Ninety nine out of a hundred times Elmer Fudd is chasing
Bugs Bunny around. They go through the log and they spin it around.
They do their classic sort of routines, but there's one cartoon
where all of a sudden they're chasing and they run right off the
edge of the film. You see the frames of the film, the little holes
for the sprocket go by and they're standing there in this sort of
white blank thing. They kind of look at each other and go, ah. Turn
around and run back into the cartoon and it starts up again. And
I remember as a kid going, oh, that's really funny and then sort
of just going, oh, my gosh. That is so incredible, the idea that
they leaped out of this one reality into this other place and then
went back to it, was just amazing.
So that's been hanging around, you know, I've come
across that concept in different places over the years but it began
to develop into just this idea.
TOM: From a creative standpointa lot
of I guess creativity in its simplest form is sort of making something
from nothing. I guess that's the eternal form. Here you have, number
one, you're working within the picture book format which by itself
is a little rigid, isn't it?
DAVID: You know, it is and it isn't. It's a
wonderful thing, the picture book. It's this 32-page, sometimes
more than that but it's this set size and shape that you have to
work with. There's a title page and there's a page where the copyright
material goes, but what's really fun is to be able to see what you
can do within the confines of that format, see how far you can push
it and whether there's something new you can do with it. I enjoy
the challenge of it.
TOM: So the challenge to the three pigs is
number, one, you're working in a picture book format which is more
or less 32 pages of something and then you also pick this classic
children's tale that everyone knows. I mean, what's next? How do
you challenge yourself - next thing and do this thing under water?
DAVID: Funny you should mention that. I'm playing
around with a story under water. I kind of just wait and see what
inspires me. I've got bits and pieces of stories that I play around
with. I honestly, I'm not entirely sure what's going to be next.
Gee, I wish I had a better answer for that.
TOM: No, I mean that's a telling answer in
itself. This is something I'm very interested in. I know a lot of
people are. When you talk to creative people you wonder where their
ideas come from. I find it quite reassuring when they say, I don't
DAVID: Yeah, the hardest thing is to be patient.
I guess over the years I've learned to kind of just sit back and
wait and realize that eventually it's going to come. If it doesn't,
we'll be in big trouble but
TOM: So what's a workday look like for you?
DAVID: Oh boy. Get up, get the kids breakfast
and get them off to school. Then, work and on days where I'm trying
to work on the concept of a story I can just sort of sit there with
a sketchbook seemingly doing absolutely nothing for an awful long
TOM: So, do you find on those days when you've
sat in a chair seemingly doing nothing with a sketchpad on your
lap and at the end of that day when the kids come home from school
it's still blank. Do you consider it a wasted day or is that part
of your process?
DAVID: It's just part of the big process. It's
frustrating because I'd really like to be actively working on something
but that's the part of the process that is the toughest to get through.
TOM: David Wiesner speaking about his book,
The Three Pigs, published by Clarion Books for ages 4 and
up. David Wiesner lives with his family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
DAVID: My pleasure, Tom. You're listening to Loose Leaf.