Few family homes are devoid of books by Mercer Mayer, whether they're about Little Critter, Little Monsters, nightmares, frogs or alligators. As the title that launched his Little Monster books, Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo, becomes newly available to the current generation of delighted children—and their nostalgic parents—Mayer shares his thoughts on technology, the writing process and his wish to keep parents from boredom, all with a good dose of his infectious laughter.
Mercer Mayer's newest book is OCTOPUS SOUP; read our review.
Professor Wormbog was first published in 1975—do you think the young audience you'll have in 2011 will receive the book differently than their parents did?
That's a fortune-teller question! I guess I've always felt that good literature, good art, good communication is timeless. If it worked well once, why not again? I still get e-mail about that book; I went on eBay and found the first printings were being auctioned off for $250, and I thought, that's impressive.
Picture books are in a very different spot right now. There's a new way of publishing; we can print books very quickly. Golden Books had a unique way of marketing—when book sales fell below $60,000 a year, they considered that book to be of not much use. When that happened to Little Monster I was busy doing Little Critter, which was doing very well. A lot of my effort [went] in that direction, and Little Monster books were [taken] off the shelf. Professor Wormbog and all the Little Monster books—these are strange books. They're just goofy, wild, crazy books.
How has technology changed the way you write or the way your readers encounter your books?
I've got a Gutenberg mentality, but that was 500 years ago! I love a book, a real book, but I'm very up to speed, techy-wise. I think it's very important because of the way things are going in the world. I got my wife an iPad for Christmas, and she loves it. Look at young kids like my granddaughter, who's five: She comes in, takes up the iPad and she's all over it. It's just the way things are going.
Little Critter is available on iPad; read our review of JUST GRANDMA AND ME.
Now I draw on the computer, too. I can do a pencil drawing or pen and ink; I can color on the computer and it make it look like watercolor or whatever else I want. It's a tool—if I did a sketch a little too big for the page, I can now resize it, save different versions, cut and paste. It used to be I'd have to redo the whole thing or get a photocopy made and reduce it. Now I don't have to wait for the paint to dry.
As an adult I can find lots of pretty profound themes in Professor Wormbog—enjoying the journey, finding what you're looking for right at home—themes I'm not sure little kids are going to pick up on.
Little kids don't really get those particular concepts, but I've always felt like I write these books for myself more than I do for kids—it's really the kid in me just having a good time. When I wrote that book I can distinctly remember thinking about what it's like as a parent reading a book to a kid. Some of those books are very dull. A lot of this is in there for the adult. I've also found that a lot of people have remembered stuff from when they were a kid and have had a laugh about it when they've grown up.
There's a lot of detail in the artwork that's secondary to the story; it's not part of the plot.
It's like when you're doing something, and you're busy doing it, and you're just obsessed with what you're doing, but if somebody else is sitting out there in outer space and looking at you with a big magnifying glass they would see all sorts of stuff going on around you. There're stories within stories within stories, and then there's the main story.
How long does it take to write a book?
Ever since I started doing this I've always felt that for every book I write, once I finish it I feel like I'll never write another book again. It feels like I just don't have any more ideas. So for everything I do there's a month of just messing around, and a book can take a month or it can take three months. And I might write another book in between—sometimes the book I'm working on isn't going anywhere, and I'll get an idea for a completely different thing, and I just have to write it out. Then I'll go back to what I was trying to work on before. It's like walking around in the forest and picking up leaves.