Todd Parr thrives on simplicity.
The author has made a career off of simple stories and illustrations for kids of all ages.
Parr is coming to Jackson Friday for a mac ’n’ cheesy family event, inspired by his book “It’s Okay to Eat Macaroni and Cheese in the Bathtub.” He will read from one of his books.
The event, to be held at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, is free and open to all ages. Tickets are available at Teton County Library.
Before Parr’s arrival in Jackson, the News&Guide spoke to him about his work as an illustrator, what makes a children’s book work and a controversy surrounding one of his old works.
Q: You started off as an illustrator. How did you transition to writing books?
A: Through merchandise. I had a line of clothing and things in Macy’s and I started doing licensing of my art on different things like greeting cards. I did a show in New York City exhibiting my stuff to license, and I met an editor there who saw my art and products and said, “Have you ever thought of writing children’s books? You’re already telling a story a with your art and message.” I said, “No.” That was 20-some odd years ago.
Q: Your books have been described as empowering. Why do you think that’s important in kids’ literature?
A: It was kind of just an organic thinking of mine that everyone should feel good about who they are. A lot of it really came from my past, struggling [and] having to repeat second grade because my reading skills were not good and other kids making fun of me when finding out about that.
And having no confidence in myself.
A lot of what I write about is for kids to feel better about who they are and learn about differences and things that make everyone unique. It’s OK if you’re not good at reading — you can try and get better.
Q: What’s the hardest part about writing a book? The art or the words?
A: I think the words are harder for me. I write for a very young audience even though the topics can skew much older. Delivery of the art that looks like a 6-year-old helps with that, and the simplicity and unexpected humor.
So often you have an idea and [the challenge] is, “What would you least expect me to do to deliver that idea and make it still work?” A topic like worrying and bullying — yeah, it’s very simple, but it’s not easy. “The Goodbye Book” was a good example of that. That’s a hard one, and it took me a long time to deliver, so it’s a very matter of fact, simple, and doesn’t scare you with the delivery of an idea.
Q: How do you make your books engaging without being pretentious or patronizing?
A: I think that key to engagement is making kids part of the delivery and part of what you’re writing.
Q: You have two new books coming out in March. What should people expect from them?
A: They’re “The Brother Book” and “The Sister Book.” My editor said, “You should do a sister and brother book,” and I said I don’t want to. She said, “If we’re going to keep putting out books every year you’re going to have to do things you may not want to do.” I found a way to tie it all together and find a way to point out some stereotypes and things I could hint upon and then I got excited. My thing that makes my books uniquely me is touching upon this gender stereotype in the simplest of way.
Q: You encountered some controversy with “The Mommy Book” and “The Daddy Book.” Has that mostly gone away or does it still come up?
A: The biggest pushback I’ve ever had from the family books — and those books are 15 years old now — was simply because of one page where families have two moms or two dads. That’s just a fact. I didn’t invent it. It’s not my family — my family is me and my three dogs. But how do you write about families and say that a certain family doesn’t qualify? I know there’s all kinds of families. I want kids to know no matter what kind yours is, you should feel good about it.
On the other side of that, in families of divorce you often end up with two moms or two dads and that’s not what I was meaning. But again, if you’re Todd Parr you want to be as inclusive as you possibly can to make everybody feel good.
I would rather have people push back than think I purposefully left people out.
Q: What should people expect from your visit?
A: Just be ready to have a good time and feel good. And to laugh.
Contact Isa Jones at 732-7062, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JHNGscene.