Before Drew Daywalt can be asked a question about his new children’s book, he has to attend to his pug, Sam, who is clamoring to be freed from his pen.

“I lead a very real life, unfortunately,” Daywalt explains with a laugh. “Dogs, kids. It’s funny. I wanted to be Quentin Tarantino back in college, and I ended up being Erma Bombeck. I’m not sure what turn I made along the way.”

Whatever turn that might have been, Daywalt has innumerable fans—both kids and adults—who are glad he made it. He started his career in television and film, writing and directing comedy and horror. Then in 2013, he published his debut children’s book, The Day the Crayons Quit, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, about a boy whose colorful art supplies go on strike, all with their own demands. The book was a massive hit, spending months at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and spawning several sequels.

Daywalt’s latest, The Wrong Book (Philomel, Feb. 27), illustrated by Alex Willmore, introduces another inanimate object come to life—a yellow bookmark who becomes increasingly angry as the narrator makes mistake after mistake. He’s confused when a dog that says “BURRRRP!” is identified as a bicycle, and apoplectic when the narrator calls a shark (who says “BAWK BAWK BAWK” and “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOO!”) a “yummy hamburger.” The bookmark (whom Daywalt fondly refers to as “L.G.,” for “Little Guy”) eventually learns to embrace the absurdity and roll with it.

Daywalt spoke to Kirkus via Zoom from Southern California, where he lives. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Can you speak about the origin of this book?

There was an animation from when we were kids called Duck Amuck. It was Daffy Duck, and he’s talking to the animator, and the animator is wrecking the cartoon and keeps changing the sets and painting things on Daffy Duck. This was by Chuck Jones, the master. I always thought, I want to do something like that.

But for this particular book, the idea is from about 12 years ago. I took my daughter, who was 8 at the time, to Barnes & Noble. She’d grabbed one of those board books that are cut out to look like an animal, and this one was in the shape of a puppy. And then every page you turned was also in the shape of a puppy, and it was called The Puppy Book. And then my daughter says, “You know what would be funnier, Dad? If it was called The Kitty Book.” And I laughed out loud. I was like, Oh my God, that’s genius. I 100% stole this idea from my daughter. I used to get storytime with both my kids. I would read to them and say the wrong things, but they knew the book so well that they’d be like, Hey, wait, hold on a minute. Objection, Your Honor. I would make a game of it and say the wrong thing throughout. And I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun for parents, grandparents, and teachers to have a book that’s wrong?

There’s a scene where the narrator temporarily humors the bookmark and says the right thing, then backtracks and goes back to saying the wrong things. Do you think that kind of humor—where the absurd turns back toward the normal and then back toward the absurd again—is something that appeals to kids?

I do, because at that point they’re going to be disappointed that it’s getting normal again, and then when it goes even more haywire, it’s even more satisfying. It’s anticipation. It’s a rhythm. That’s one of the things I work really hard on in my books: the rhythm. I used to be a script doctor here in Hollywood, and I always felt like dialogue is the rhythm of all narrative. In this book, I very much wanted the dialogue between narrator and bookmark to ebb and flow, and then there’s a big laugh. OK, we’re calming down. OK, bigger laugh. OK, all right—well, no. And then eventually by the end, the wheels come off the wagon, and he’s like, If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And he just goes bananas on the last page.

Do you see the ending of the book as giving kids permission to embrace the absurd?

I do. I grew up on Monty Python. They’re not just funny; they’ve got their finger on what makes humans work, and they were role models for me. When I look at a picture book like this, I try to put in something for everyone. For instance, I’ll have a poo-poo joke or something about underwear, but I’m also going to teach the kids about Basquiat or Renoir. I have quotes in my books from philosophers. I did one book about Schrödinger’s cat without anybody realizing it was about Schrödinger’s cat. The same goes for this one, because at the heart of it, I’m teaching children about onomatopoeia without them knowing it.

That actually escaped me!

See, I snuck it in on you! If you tell kids, All right, it’s lesson time, they’re like, Oh, it’s boiled peas. But if you can sneak the lesson in, disguise it as cotton candy and hot fudge and all that stuff, then they’re like, Oh, all right. I’ll take that lesson.

Was this the first time you worked with Alex Willmore on a book?

Yes. Alex is amazing. He was brought to my attention by my editor, Jill Santopolo. My family and I were at the Seattle airport, and I got this email from Jill, saying, Hey, can you look at these illustrators? And I’m like, Oh, thank God. I have something really cool to do. My kids and I pored over these different illustrators and they were all great, but Alex blew them away.

I can’t remember exactly which book was on his website, but there was one little detail in one little illustration that my son pointed out. It was a kitty cat or something, with such a funny expression that I was like, That’s it. I just love the tactile nature of [Alex’s] art. You can almost peel the characters off and hold them.

Do you ever get letters or emails from young readers about your work?

I do, and it’s the best part of my job now. Well, it’s the second best. The best part of my job is when I go to a school or a bookstore, and I get to sit in the chair on the reading rug and perform the book. That’s number one. Number two is getting the letters, because you’re Santa Claus—you get a letter and it’s in crayon.

I have a chest full of letters. There was one that I got to two years late. Sometimes they’ll mail me back: Well, here’s Jordan now. It’s two years later, and now he’s taking art classes and drawing Viking ships or whatever he’s doing. He wouldn’t put down his crayons. It’s the ultimate honor as a writer.

Michael Schaub is a contributing writer.