A Chat with Jon Scieszka

The author talkes about the ideas behind his zany new picture book, Battle Bunny

Dec 27, 2013 | By Melanie Kletter
UMANS

Author Jon Scieszka, above, co-wrote Battle Bunny with Mac Barnett.

Battle Bunny is an inventive new picture book by co-authors Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. It is really two picture books in one. The first is a simple story of a bunny celebrating his birthday. Layered on top of that story—in scrawled handwriting and doodles—is another story, about an evil bunny trying to take over the world. Here, Scieszka chats with TFK about the ideas behind this zany book.

TFK:

Battle Bunny has a very different style than most picture books. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

JON SCIESZKA:

It came out of goofing around. Mac and I always wanted to work together. We were each on tour for different books, and we started marking up a book we didn’t like with Sharpie markers. And then we realized we used to do this all the time as kids. We thought: Wouldn’t this be fun to do as a book?

TFK:

How did you approach the writing process?

SCIESZKA:

We wrote the book knowing what we wanted to do. For the first story, we decided we had to write a really sappy, cliché story about what people think of as children’s writing, starting with bunnies and birthdays. Alex, who receives this book from his grandmother, is the one who is writing the Battle Bunny version. We imagined Alex as a 10-year-old boy who is a great storyteller and a good artist. He saw the possibilities, and he thought to himself, I can make a better story than this. It will have ninjas, bombs, and battles. We worked really closely with our illustrator, Matt Myers, who also had to do two books. He did the first bunny book with very sweet illustrations. Then he channeled his 10-year-old self to draw Battle Bunny.

TFK:

What do you hope kids will get out of this book?

SCIESZKA:

Mac and I have seen a lot of kids making their own books. They make their own stories and comic books. I love seeing the energy in that stuff. Also, it’s very difficult to get kids to revise. I don’t like to revise. When kids ask me if writing is fun, I say, “It’s terrible! It’s hard. No one likes to do revisions.” For this book, we want to encourage kids to make their own versions. Online, at our website mybirthdaybunny.com, we offer the original version unaltered, and kids can print it out and mark it up the way they want. This is truly a celebration of kids’ creating a story. They are so good at it!

TFK:

You have spoken a lot about boy readers and the challenges they have with reading. Is this book designed for those boys?

SCIESZKA:

I have been doing Guys Read (a reading program) for 10 years. People are more aware now that boys and girls read in different ways, which is great. At first, people thought Battle Bunny is such a boy thing. But this is not a boy thing. We have heard from booksellers that girls are buying it, and girls are sending their revisions into the website.

TFK:

It can be difficult to read this book aloud. Do you have any tips?

SCIESZKA:

What we have found is that it’s best to read it aloud like a duet, and to read both stories at the same time. Teachers can have two kids read it together. People can also print out the original story at our website, which helps with reading aloud. That way, you can trade off so one kid can read the original story, and one kid can read the battle story and each page can be read at the same time.

TFK:

Do you think you would do another book like this, or is Battle Bunny one of a kind?

SCIESZKA:

We only imagined it as just this one. Though we had fun coming up with other titles for the back-of-the-book for a fictional series. The Good Bunny became The Godzilla Bunny, and Sweet Bunny Dreams became Sweaty Bunny Screams.

TFK:

Is there anything else you want to tell kids about this book?

SCIESZKA:

We would love for kids to make their own versions and e-mail them back to us. We have been getting some amazing work sent to us from kids. We post some of them under the section that says Guest Artist. The stuff we have gotten so far is gorgeous, and there is so much variety! Kids have created and sent in Monster Bunny, Football Bunny, Costume Bunny, and others. We love seeing all the creativity!