Author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg

Happy Friday, friends! Thank you for taking a break from back-to-school preparations to read my fun interview with Barney Saltzberg. He and I chatted about art, dogs, creativity, old typewriters, school libraries, and music. I wrote the words in orange, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Barney! 

I wrote and illustrated Beautiful Oops as a result of many teachers across the country asking me to. My powerpoint presentation shows a picture from a book I wrote and illustrated called, The Flying Garbanzos. A dog had stepped on one of the illustration and I covered each paw print with a cloud. I also show a sketchbook that  I spilled coffee on. I turned the dried stain into a monster. Teachers asked if I could write a book that taught how to fix mistakes.  For the longest time I thought it was going to be a picture book, but ultimately realized an interactive book served the message more appropriately. I had a wonderful time spilling and tearing and seeing how I could turn each oops into artwork.  

Celebrate Oops is a program that the amazing people at Workman Publishing have developed with me to spread the message that, to quote my own book, “When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful”. Our desire is to take the sting out of making a mistake.  Actually, I like the word, oops better. If we look at an oops as part of the learning process, it takes the negativity out of the equation. Over at, Workman has provided a forum where teachers and librarians are sharing how they are using the book; and you can also sign up for an event kit with Oops stickers and posters at the site. Our hope is that celebrating an oops becomes a movement.  An oops is something to celebrate every day. Think of how differently the learning process would be if you knew that you had to make a few mistakes along the way. The mistakes are expected.  It takes the fear of looking dumb out of learning. There are so many wonderful quotes about making mistakes, I like the Albert Einstein quote, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.  And while we are quoting Einstein, (I’ve never used that in a sentence before!) I love his message that “imagination is more important than knowledge”.  Using ones imagination and creativity to solve problems is another huge part of celebrating oops.  Embracing oops speaks way beyond just artwork and I am so thrilled that we have developed a program to share.

A Little Bit of Oomph! and Arlo Needs Glasses are two other books I created with Workman.
A little bit of oomph is really a message I want to share with children and adults about giving a little extra. We live in a world of instantaneous gratification.  We write a letter and send it to someone electronically. We want a response, NOW!  We take a photo and see it instantly.  Trying to learn a musical instrument takes time. It is not instantaneous. Getting good at most things take time and effort. I know it’s a bit preachy, but I wanted a book that encouraged giving a little extra effort to anything and everything we do.  

Arlo Needs Glasses was originally written as a picture book called, Arlo Can’t Catch. It was about a dog who ultimately needs glasses to play ball and eventually discover books. No publisher wanted it. My brilliant editor, Raquel (Author of the book, WONDER) asked me what I had in my bag one day at lunch. She screamed that  the book should be called Arlo Needs Glasses. Raquel immediately  saw this an an interactive book where the dog in the story and the children reading the book could try on cardboard glasses and experience a little of what going to an eye doctor is like. She spent six months talking me in to making this book.  I finally realized that Arlo Needs Glasses could be a fun book. I get a lot of letters from parents who are delighted to have a book to share with their child when they find out they need to wear glasses.  Given that I wear glasses too, that makes me pretty happy to think that my book might make a difference. That’s why it says, ‘Glasses Rock’ on the back of the book!

If you visited my studio you would think you walked into a vintage store. Old wooden soda crates, old typewriters, an old card catalog from a school library, filled with paints and pencils, an old author, tons of guitars and books. You would see that this is a creative space.  I have double doors that open to my garden and our three dogs, including Arlo, walk in and out while I work all day. It’s a happy place to create.  

School libraries are amazing places. School librarians are book angels. Here’s the deal. Schools should have their students visit libraries EVERY day and librarians (and teachers) should be paid like professional athletes. I’ve been to many areas where we have phased out school librarians and in some cases, books!  It makes me crazy. School libraries are the place to help cultivate a love for reading. I’m also a big believer that you are NEVER too old to read a picture book. School libraries are a safe and welcoming place to curl up with a book, whatever your age!  

Picture books are delicious. (I suppose that’s why I always say, “Eat a good book!”) Picture books are perfect, flat, mostly either square or rectangle portals to other worlds. The first picture book that made me want to become an author and illustrator was The Amazing Bone, by William Stieg. When I saw the forest where Pearl the pig was, I wanted to be in there with her.  And, when you fall into a good picture book as I did with this story, I was in the forest with Pearl.  For a child who felt at odds much of the time at school, a picture book was and continues to be, a safe haven… or more succinctly, heaven, for me.  What a delightful world we get to explore, between the covers of a picture book. Like I said, delicious!

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about music!  I am a musician as well as an author illustrator. I see such parallels in illustrating picture books and putting music to lyrics. The illustrations illuminate the text and the music illuminates lyrics.  I think being a musician has influenced the rhythm of my picture books. The rhythm of a page turn. The beats in a story. All my songs are on itunes.  I have CD’s but I think people use them for coasters now, since very few people have CD players. So, I would have had you ask me to sing you a song, but given that our conversation is taking place in cyberspace, it seems to be a fitting place to find my music as well. Thank you so much for the opportunity to play with you.  

Thank you, Barney!

Borrow Barney Saltzberg's books from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.


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