Lynda Graham-Barber is the author of the new children's picture book A Unicorn on a Unicycle: A Counting Book of Wheels. Her many other books include Say Boo!. She lives in upstate New York.
Q: What inspired you to write A Unicorn on a Unicycle?
A: A few years ago my husband and I packed up the dog and our little camper and headed cross country. With no established itinerary we stopped at little towns that caught our eye, like Bird City, Kansas, and Valentine, Nebraska, all the way to Florence, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast.
En route I took note of all the different shapes and sizes of vehicles and found myself actually counting wheels. At one point I counted 24 wheels on an oversize load. We stopped at countless diners and rest stops, where I struck conversations with some of the drivers.
I was told the long-distance rigs have interesting nicknames like Goosenecks and Possum Bellies. I also noticed a lot of drivers traveling with pets, from dogs and cats to birds. So I started working on a book about long-distance haulers.
I ended up putting that project aside for another, and it lay forgotten in my drawer for some time. Then an editor suggested I come up with an idea for a counting book, and I remembered my book on wheels. And one morning I woke up with a vision of a unicorn pedaling a unicycle. Ta-da.
Back to wheels with a different spin—pun intended!
Q: How did you choose the animals and vehicles to include?
A: I’ve always been a fan of toads. We named the camp we built in Vermont Toadshade. Skunks are maligned—great pest controllers and very smart. Since I’ve been rescuing dogs for decades, I had to include one.
My sister has a Jeep, her sworn first love, so I had to include one of those. And I remember bouncing along on a Jeep when I went to Africa. And the final spread brings to mind wonderful times at Coney Island, when I moved to Brooklyn after graduating college.
Q: What do you think Jordan Wray's illustrations add to the story?
A: As a young inventive artist fresh from art school in England, Jordan brought a fresh take on dealing with detail and silliness.
I especially loved the Wookiee-like creature on the tricycle. The attention to detail is the kind of element that encourages kids to return to the book time after time. Just how many wheels are there on that jamboree spread?
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope kids increase their awareness, in general, especially when traveling. I know long trips can test everyone’s patience, but what if kids started counting wheels on different vehicles—maybe even a contest.
Who spots the vehicle with the most wheels first? And extra points for the child that spies a pet in the cab. It’s a throwback idea, I know. I’m a sucker for nostalgia.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on two picture books, one about a gecko, who becomes more than a cockroach exterminator before he turns up missing. And a series about a pig and hen who share a round barn and a penchant for hoarding but have very different approaches on how to detail with Too Much Stuff.
And, finally, I am researching a three-book project highlighting different ecosystems and the animals that inhabit them especially as it relates to their individual sounds. A full plate, true happiness for an author.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’d probably spend my last dollar buying grape jelly for our Baltimore oriole feeder, that I still don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet, and that I ran—and finished— the NYC Marathon.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb