Timothy Young is the author and illustrator of the new kids' picture book If You Give the Puffin a Muffin. His other books include The Angry Little Puffin and I Hate Picture Books!. He is the founder of Creatures & Characters LLC and has worked with a variety of toy companies.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for If You Give the Puffin a Muffin?
A: I was at a school visit in New Jersey after The Angry Little Puffin came out, and after my assembly two little girls said they were going to write a book, The Angry Little Puffin Wants a Muffin.
The idea stuck in my head. I’ve done a number of books that contain parody elements—If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Puffin a Muffin—it was a pretty good idea! Mine is different because the puffin doesn’t eat muffins.
I dedicated the book to the two girls in New Jersey. I’m going to see them March 6, and will hand them their own personal copy and an original drawing.
Q: The book refers to various other children’s books—how did you pick the ones to include?
A: I knew the puffin was going to try to get out of the book, and had to find out ways he would try to do that. I make fun of my own books--Max in I Hate Picture Books!.
When I came up with the idea of magic crayons, they’re used in so many books to create portals to other places—there’s Journey by Aaron Becker. The purple crayon would lead you to Harold, and then I’d have the puffin confront me!
Q: When you’re working, do you focus more on the text or the pictures first, or simultaneously?
A: It’s a lot of back and forth. With some books, it’s a visual start and the story leads from there. With others, the idea for the story comes first. With this one, the story was first. I had the puffin developed already as a character and once I decided [what he’d do] the visuals started popping into my head. I was playing with techniques to emulate styles I was poking fun at.
Q: Was it difficult to recreate those other styles?
A: I find I’m pretty good at it! I’ve worked in animation, doing drawings the same way the original animator did, and I’ve worked in the toy industry—you need to make sure Mickey Mouse looks like he’s supposed to. I’ve already developed skills in visual mimicry.
There’s a lot that I do on the computer, but I’ve learned the tools. I don’t scan elements from the book. The scene from Journey is not an exact duplicate. It’s my interpretation.
I’m doing that again in the next book, too. My characters regret the fact that I keep doing that sort of thing.
Q: I was going to ask you, what are you working on now?
A: It’s called Untitled. The book is finished, and it publishes in May. I’m gearing up for that. The two main characters are a coatimundi and a capybara, which are lesser-known. I’m looking for zoos that have them, and will try to set up book events there. The Cincinnati Zoo has both, and a puffin. I’ve done school visits to Cincinnati.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I just hope I make people have a few minutes of laughter and enjoyment. I get ideas in my head—I write them because it amuses me. My usual publisher seems to like my sense of humor. I know the puffin has a base of fans out there!
I’m not a fan of regular book sequels. A lot is driven by marketing. A lot of sequels are not as good as the original. I wasn’t thinking I had to do a sequel, but the opportunity came along and I had a funny idea.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I can’t believe I get to do this! A lot of authors suffer from imposter syndrome. Someone will say you’re not really an author. It wasn’t until my fourth book that I felt I could call myself an author.
Even so, to know that in the next two months I have 20 school visits lined up and I’m having so much fun doing them…it’s such a joy to interact with the kids.
--Interview with Timothy Young