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Interview with Children’s Author Robert Munsch

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My favorite author, Robert Munsch, is one of the most successful and interesting Canadian children’s writers. He has been entertaining children, parents, grandparents, librarians and teachers with his silly, magical, and powerful stories for more than 30 years.

The author of 44 books, including The Paper Bag Princess, Thomas’ Snowsuit, and my all-time favorite Love You Forever, Munsch was born in Pittsburgh and studied for seven years to be a Jesuit priest before deciding to work with children instead. His books have been translated into 12 languages and produced on cassette, video, CD ROM, television and stage. In 1991 he won the Canadian Booksellers Association’s “Author of the Year” award.

Telling stories is what Robert Munsch does.

Rose: Where do you get your ideas for your books?

Robert: I get my ideas for books from my own kids and sometimes from other children. Often when I am telling stories I will say: I am going to make up a new story. I get a kid’s name to use in the story and I still don’t know what I am going to say. I just say whatever comes into my head and see if it’s good. Usually it isn’t. But sometimes it is very good. Lots of my books have started this way.

Rose: How do you choose which stories to use?

Robert: My publisher and I go over the stories that I think are ready and we choose one.

Rose: How many books have you written?

Robert: Fourty-four published; I have over 200 stories that I am working on that are not published.

Rose: Do you have a favorite among them?

Robert: You know that changes every day. Some days I like Love You Forever most because it sold the most copies. Other days I like David’s Father and Andrew’s Loose Tooth and Something Good and Makeup Mess because they are the books that have my own kids in them. Other days I like Mud Puddle the best because it was my very first book.

Rose: What was the book you most loved as a child?

Robert: The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss

Rose: What would you say is the most fulfilling part about being a children’s author?

Robert: Being able to travel to many different places and meeting lots of interesting people. I especially like the kids.

Rose: What inspires you to write?

Robert: Most of my books came from when I was telling stories. I get up in front of a bunch of kids and say ‘Hey, I’m gonna tell you a new story. Who wants to be in a new story?’ Well some kid always sticks up their hand and that gives me a name, but it doesn’t give me a story. I just say whatever comes to my mind and usually it’s not that good. Every once in a while, however, I say something that turns into a really good story. Then I get the kid’s name and if it ever gets into a book, the kid whose name I used will be in the book. That’s how I get most of my story ideas. Every once in a while I just sit down at the computer and write a story and get it that way. Once, I even had a dream and I woke up and said ‘Hey, that’s a good story’, and I went downstairs and wrote the dream. So my stories come from various places.

Rose: What has been the most memorable experience in your writing career?

Robert: When my first book, Mud Puddle, came out.

Rose: I read that my all-time favorite book of yours, Love You Forever, started out as a song before it came out in 1986 as a book. Would you like to tell us a little more about that? I read that you said you didn’t know how that story would affect anyone else. I want you to know it affected me as I lost my daughter in 1992.

Robert: I wrote Love You Forever after we had two stillborn babies. For me, it was a fantasy about the life my kids would never have. I wrote it just for myself and didn’t think of it as a book. Much later I started using it at storytellings and I was surprised at the response. I decided to try to publish it. My usual publisher didn’t want to do it [It’s not a kids book”]. I finally went with another publisher. Love You got terrible reviews. It didn’t get one good review in Canada. Still it sold 30,000 in 1986, which made it the bestselling Canadian kid’s book that Christmas. Then it 1987 it sold 70,000. “Wow!” said the publisher, “Don’t expect this to last”. It didn’t. In 1988 it sold 1,000,000 and has been selling about 1,000,000 a year ever since. I think the book works because it lets people think about what life is all about. I never meant this story to be for other people, but I get great satisfaction from thinking that it may have as good an effect on other people’s lives as it has had on my own.

Rose: Do you think it is important to choose a good title for your books?

Robert: Yes – the title is one of the most important things. It is the first thing that people read. The title is the last thing I figure out for a story. Often the book is all written and the pictures are being made and we still don’t have a title. The publisher and I argue a lot about what would be a right title. The publisher wants a title that they are sure will sell the book and I want the title that I like. Sometimes they’re not the same. Sometimes the publisher wins and sometimes I win.

Rose: I read that you love to drop in at schools unannounced. Why is that?

Robert: It is just too hard to formally book school visits. I had a waiting list of over 3,000 schools. Now I keep a data list of all the schools that write and when I am in an area I try to visit.

Rose: Do you ever get stage fright?

Robert: No

Rose: Can you briefly describe your latest book?

Robert: My newest book is called Sand Castle Contest. It is about a boy named Michael who went camping with his family, but they wouldn’t let him take his sandbox. Happily the first place they camped he entered the world’s biggest and most amazing sand castle contest. I am working on a book called “I Am So Embarrassed”. It is about a kid who gets embarrassed by his mother at the shopping mall.

Rose: Are there any children’s authors that you admire?

Robert: Yes – there are many good children’s authors out there.

Rose: How do you define your own success as a Canadian author?

Robert: Success is a wonderful addition to my life.

Rose: What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?

Robert: Every author has different ways of writing and what works for one author does not necessarily work for another. I do know, however, that writing is a bit like swimming. You earn writing by doing it and you learn swimming by doing it. Nobody learns how to swim by reading a book about swimming and nobody learns how to write by reading a book about writing. If you want to learn how to write, write a lot and you will get better at it.

Rose: Do you think writing communities such as Todays-Woman.net are beneficial to writers?

Robert: Writers’ communities are very helpful to writers because it gives them a way to try out their stuff short of publication.

Rose: Before closing where can we go to read more about you?

Robert: My website.

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About Rose DesRochers

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!