David Shannon began his career as an illustrator for The New York Times's op-ed section and Book Review. An editor noticed his work and asked him to illustrate Julius Lester's "How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?And Other Tales "(1989), a collection of Lester's adaptations of traditional African and Jewish folk tales. In 1998, he won the Caldecott Honor for "No, David!," which he wrote as well as illustrated. Shannon is also the illustrator of Jon Scieszka's "Robot Zot!" (2009). He lives in California.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2009 National Book Festival
You have recently illustrated Jon Scieszka's Robot Zot. Where did you get your inspiration for the illustrations in this book?
I got a lot of inspiration just from Jon's story idea - I thought it was hilarious. There's quite a bit of influence from comic books - I was a big fan when I was a kid. Zot is sort of a mixture of 1950's sci-fi and with some contemporary Techno-whiz mixed in. I didn't realize it until after the illustrations were finished, but Zot's facial expressions resemble a good friend of mine named Adam. The difference is he's a very large warrior-type person with a great sense of humor, whereas Zot is a very small warrior-type robot with no sense of humor whatsoever (just ask the toaster)!
How do you go about collaborating with an author?
Most of the time the publisher kind of keeps us separated, but Jon and I really did collaborate on Robot Zot! We found that the key to a successful brainstorming session was to have dinner at a very expensive restaurant and charge it to the publisher.
Do you have any new books or projects that you will be working on during the coming year?
I'm working on a new David book. Every few years I like to check up on him and see what kind of no-good he's up to.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about your work?
From the from 2008 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your newest book - Too Many Toys?
I have a nine year-old daughter, so I didn't have to imagine too much. I've stepped on a Lego -- it really hurts!
What challenges do you face in your writing and drawing process? How do you overcome them? Do you find one more difficult than the other (writing vs. drawing)?
I find that writing and drawing have very different problems with very different solutions. We've all heard the expression, "A picture's worth a thousand words," but sometimes the right word is worth a thousand pictures. For instance, try drawing what something smells like! So what I try to do is tell part of the story with words and part of the story with pictures. Hopefully, when you combine the two and mix them up with the reader's own imagination you get the whole story.
What artists have inspired you? Are you often inspired by your everyday surroundings or dreams?
I'm inspired by all kinds of art and artists -- illustration, painting, sculpture, music, movies, and lots of books! I never know how they're going to influence my stuff. One time I realized a poster I designed was inspired by a TV show I watched when I was a little kid ("Captain Kangaroo")! One of my favorite illustrators is N.C. Wyeth. My uncle gave me a copy of The Boys' King Arthur when I was nine and he's been a big influence on me ever since.
I don't get inspired by dreams much, but I do get a lot of ideas right before I go to sleep or right after I wake up, so I keep a little sketch pad by my bed. More and more I get ideas from everyday surroundings -- Too Many Toys and Alice the Fairy are based on my daughter, Emma, and Fergus really is my dog. And, of course, I did a lot of the things David does in No, David! (People always ask me which ones, but I'm not telling.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing/illustrating?
The best advice I can give is to write or draw a lot -- like anything, the more you practice the better you'll get -- and write or draw about things you like. When I was a little kid I loved to read about and draw baseball players and pirates and trucks. When I got a little older I got into comic books so I drew lots of super heroes. Then I went to art school where I drew really exciting things... like fruit! And now I'm a children's book illustrator and guess what I'm drawing --baseball players and pirates and trucks and TOYS.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I don't really decide on a theme for my books. It's kind of the other way around. I get an idea for a story that I think would be fun or interesting, then I let it tell me what its true meaning should be. Sometimes it takes me awhile to get it right -- you have to listen very carefully!
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
I don't really have a list of books. Some of my favorites are:
- Make Way For the Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
- If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Dear Mrs. LaRue by Mark Teague
- The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
- The Taran books by Lloyd Alexander
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
- The Boys' King Arthur by Thomas Malory (edited by Sidney Lanier, N.C. Wyeth illust.)
- Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by N.C. Wyeth)
- The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
If you were not writing and drawing, what do you think you would be doing?
Right this second? I'd be fishing!
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Read to them A LOT when they're little (and even when they're not). Any reading is good. Let them read stuff they think is awesome, like comics or Manga (you can still make them read the classics). Read the same book at the same time.