Barbara Lowell is the author of the new children's picture book Sparky & Spike: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever. Her other books include Alexander Hamilton: American Hero and Daring Amelia. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book about Charles Schulz and his dog?
A: I have always loved Peanuts. My favorite character is Linus. I was surprised that no one had written a picture book biography about Charles “Sparky” Schulz, and I thought he deserved one.
I first wrote a manuscript that began when his was about six years old and ended with the publication of Peanuts in October 1950. I sent the manuscript to a freelance editor who suggested that I focus more on Charles and his dog Spike. I thought that was a great idea and more relatable to kids.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever turned out to be a combination of both manuscripts with Charles appearing only as a child.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book and what did you learn that especially surprised you?
A: I read every autobiographical book and art book with autobiographical information written by Charles Schulz. I read many excellent biographies including all those sold online by the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
I listened to every recorded interview of Charles Schulz and read every printed interview both in books and online. I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum online, watched the PBS American Masters documentary, and read every The Complete Peanuts books of comic strips from 1950-1994 as well as other research. I found a tremendous amount of information written about him.
What surprised me most was that Charles Schulz decided that he would be a cartoonist when he was only six years old and that he never liked the name Peanuts. He wanted the strip to be called, Li’l Folks, the name of his cartoons published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press which were the forerunners of Peanuts. United Feature Syndicate chose the name Peanuts.
I was also surprised that his childhood nickname, Sparky, was the name his family and friends called him his entire life.
Q: What do you think Dan Andreasen’s illustrations add to the book?
A: Dan is the perfect illustrator for Sparky & Spike. He adds humor, heart, and a unique style to the book. He captures the “funnies” perfectly. Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary paired the story with Dan’s art and Cameron Kids saw her vision. It’s magic that it happened this way especially because Charles Schulz wrote a letter to Dan when he was a boy and the letter is in the book.
Dan is an outstanding illustrator with many published books. The American Girl doll books about Felicity and Samantha were my daughter’s favorites when she was little. We read them many times. I never imagined then that one day the illustrator of those books, Dan Andreasen, would illustrate a book of mine. I also had no idea at the time that I would become an author.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: Charles Schulz’s dream was to become a cartoonist because he loved to draw and he loved comic strips. In the story (and in real life) Sparky rips up his drawings after he compares them to those of professional cartoonists. But he doesn’t give up drawing. When he sees an opportunity to have a drawing of Spike published by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, he takes it.
If you have a dream, work to make it happen. If you want to be an illustrator, practice drawing characters by the illustrators you like and you will develop your own style. That’s what Charles Schulz did.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on three nonfiction picture books. I had the idea for one about 10 years ago but had no idea how best to tell the story – I think I’ve figured it out. I am reworking a manuscript I originally wrote about 12 years ago, and I am writing a new one that is both history and science related.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I love to travel and have been fortunate to visit many countries, especially in Europe, during the past five years.
I have three books for reluctant readers that will be released by Black Rabbit Books this fall. My picture book, My Mastodon, illustrated by the exceptional artist Antonio Marinoni, will be released in Spring 2020 with Creative Editions.
And Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place, a picture book biography about the woman who tried to save Anne and those hiding with her from capture by the Nazis, and did save Anne’s diary is forthcoming with Kar-Ben/Lerner Publishing.
On June 1, I will be signing books at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. It’s a dream come true!
You can visit me at: https://www.barbaralowell.com
Thank you so much, Deborah, for inviting me on your blog!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb