Gene Barretta is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Bat Can Bat: A Book of True Homonyms. His other books include Dear Deer and Zoola Palooza. He lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Bat Can Bat?
A: It’s the third in a series. The first was Dear Deer, a book of homophones. It did very well, and still seems to do well. Then there was Zoola Palooza, homographs, which is being retitled in the fall. It’s going to be called The Bass Played the Bass. I wanted to find a way to complete the trilogy.
Q: How did you pick the words?
A: As I read through [lists of words], themes started to arise. There were a number that included the names of animals, so a zoo theme. Or action words, a sports theme. The theme comes to me as I go through the list. The homophones were the simplest ones to write.
Q: Did you do the illustrations first or the text first (or work on them simultaneously)?
A: [The text first.] Especially with nonfiction, the words and the story have to come first. With these, it’s the same way. A fictional story may be inspired by imagery. You don’t have the freedom with homonyms to go anywhere.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I tried to write them in a fun way. In an age of Facebook and texting, grammar has gone out the window. Adults use the word “their” wrong. I hope this sets things on a clearer path for the next generation.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished tightening up a manuscript for a book on George Washington Carver, illustrated by Frank Morrison. It will be out in fall 2019.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: It’s fun for kids to let their imagination fly, to think about how animals might perform these actions based on their strengths or weaknesses. Cheetahs would beat you in a race, but how would they do in a swimming match?
There’s a reminder that the grammar is there, but it can be fun. The three grammar books have been fun—they’re tied together by a beginning and an end, and the middle is vignettes to take you through.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb