Bulldozer’s Big Day is a perfect read-aloud, with wonderful sound and action opportunities on most pages. Did those moments affect your decision about what verbs to use?
How lovely you think it’s a perfect read aloud. I worked hard at the story’s readability. Not only did I strive for a pace and cadence, but I wanted the story to sound as active as the plot’s setting with lots of bumping and clanging and vrooming. Additionally, I thought long and hard about those working verbs. You know, the shifting, mixing, chopping each truck does. They had to have a double-meaning, applying to both construction trucks and baking. And they had to be in groups of three, because… well… three just sounds good, doesn’t it?
While most readers and listeners will think the “Big Day” is a birthday, you never use that term. Why?
It was redundant. Readers can see that the big trucks made a cake for Bulldozer’s sixth birthday. They don’t need me to tell them. Interestingly, every time I read the story aloud to kindergarteners they spontaneously burst into the “Happy Birthday” song. I’m not sure I’d get that response if I’d had the trucks shout the words. It’s one more way for them to find their way into the text – and I did it accidentally.
There is a perfect turn-around late in the story, when we go from “mashing, mashing, mashing” to a quieter moment, then the suspenseful “lifting, lifting, lifting.” This suggests to me that you are not only skilled at dramatic narrative, but a veteran classroom reader as you quiet the students down from that high-energy mashing to get ready for a resolution. Do you remember your first author visit to a classroom? What have you learned over the years about reading your books aloud?
I do remember my first author visit. I was terrified. But the kids and teachers were so lovely, I was immediately put at ease. And this strange thing happened. I turned into an actor. Seriously. Standing in front of that library full of first graders, I suddenly discovered a talent for talking in voices and acting like different animals. Me?! I became a storyteller. That’s what I know from years of reading my books – and others' – aloud. You have to be dramatic. You have to be suspenseful. You have to lick your chops if you're reading about a hungry tiger, or wiggle your bottom if you’re reading about a puff-tailed rabbit. Kids love it. In truth, so do I.
Were you ever disappointed on a childhood birthday?
You mean that year I didn’t get a pony?
Do you enjoy birthday celebrations now?
Absolutely! I’m especially enamored of the cake. And don’t you dare ask me how old I’ll be on my next one.