Philip C. Stead, author of the award-winning book "A Sick Day for Amos McGee," discusses the inspiration for that book and his journey to becoming an author and illustrator. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Philip C. Stead
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
PHILIP C. STEAD: I would say I was an artist first before I became a writer and I think that's true for a lot of picture book authors. I was drawing pictures for as long as I can remember, probably 3 or 4 years old is when I really started to get going. And I knew right away, by the time I was in 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade that I was going to go to art school, and I was going to make something. I was going to be a maker of things. And by the time I reached high school, it was picture books, already, that I was really, really excited about doing. And it wasn't until probably I was in my 20’s that I decided that I needed to be a writer too. And since I have always been interested in anything creative, whether it’s music, writing or, art just about anything that can get your creative juices going. I was eager to just jump in and kind of learn how to write. So I started taking writing courses when I was in college, and especially poetry courses. I think poetry writing has a lot in common with writing for children because you have to be very careful about what you write. And you have to be very clear and concise, and you can't waste words. So that type of writing, I identified with that kind of writing right away. And so, very shortly after college I got into professional picture book making and that's been what I've been doing ever since.
BUSH HAGER: Where do you get your ideas?
STEAD: A lot of times when I'm just driving down the freeway or I'm laying in bed at night, usually when I'm doing something where I'm not expecting to be creative, that's when an idea pops into my head. And a lot of times it's a single image. In A Sick Day for Amos McGee I had an idea that I would like to see an old man playing chess with an elephant. And that was the only-that was the entire idea. I didn't have an entire story. I didn't have a beginning, a middle, an end, and all the things you need to write a story. I just had an image. And I think a lot of my stories have begun that way, just one thing I'd really like to see, and then a story kind of develops around that image.
BUSH HAGER: What makes a good story?
STEAD: Every story that I'm going to write is probably going to need to have a conflict, which sounds like a silly thing to say, but a lot of children's books, these days, I think, get written without a conflict. And a conflict can be a very simple thing it doesn't have to be complex at all. In A Sick Day for Amos McGee the conflict is that Amos can't come to work one day. And just by having that one conflict, you're able to have an entire story arc from start to finish. You can have a beginning, a middle and an end, and every story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And so that's the only formula I really use in making a book is that I need to make sure that a story goes somewhere and it has this sort of flow from start to finish.
BUSH HAGER: Do you have a writing routine?
STEAD: I wish I had a writing routine. Instead I wake up every day just as terrified as I was the day before that I won't have any wonderful ideas. I try to do--I try every day to at least work on something, so, work on art or work on writing. And you're not going to feel creative every single day. I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that from artists and writers, but we don't feel creative every day. We might be lucky if we feel really creative one day a week. And the rest of it is hard work; and the rest of it is just sitting down at your desk. And eventually, even if you're not feeling creative that day, once the story starts to come, then you do start to feel it. And you get engaged with the characters and engaged with the story, and that can be exciting.
Bob Raczka didn't care much for poetry when he was a kid. Most of the poems he studied at school were written hundreds of years ago by British men who used words such as "thine" and "thou." These poems didn't intrigue Raczka, and they didn't relate to his own life.
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