Poetry, Laughs, World Domination

Author Kenn Nesbitt, known for his hilarious children's poems, talks about his new chapter book

Jul 22, 2011 | By TFK Kid Reporter Sahil Abbi
COURTESY ABBI FAMILY

Kenn Nesbitt is known for his absurdly hilarious poems. Among these are titles that most kids will recognize such as When the Teacher Isn't Looking and My Hippo Has the Hiccups. For now, Nesbitt has taken a pause from poetry, and is venturing into the realm of chapter books. But Nesbitt isn't willing to give up his humorous touch. His newest book dives headfirst into the topic of world domination. Called The Ultimate, Top-Secret Guide to Taking Over the World, it gives laugh-out-loud instructions like "how to vaporize friends and enslave people." The entire book is a one-sided conversation between the reader and a man that Nesbitt describes as a "crackpot." TFK Kid Reporter, Sahil Abbi, sat down with Nesbitt outside the New York Public Library to talk about his new, diabolical creation.

 

TFK:

What inspired you to write The Ultimate, Top-Secret Guide to Taking Over the World?

NESBITT:

I was talking to a boy at an elementary school about writing a cookbook. He said, 'It should be recipes for disaster.' I thought to myself, 'That sounds like a book.' It could give instructions to a kid on how to take over the world. Then I came up with a list of topics, like how to equip your underground lair, build doomsday devices, clone mutant monsters, defeat secret agents, and things like that. So, originally, this book was going to be called Recipes for Disaster: How to Take Over the World in Ten Easy Steps. That was too long so I called it The Ultimate, Top-Secret Guide to Taking Over the World.

TFK:

Was this a fun book to write?

NESBITT:

This was a really fun book to write. I spent an entire summer writing it. Every day I would get up, go to my computer and start making lists of goofy, crazy, dumb, mad-scientist stuff. Then I'd write half a chapter and move on. I hope this book does really well so that I can write a sequel. I want to do The Ultimate, Top-Secret Guide to Taking Over the Universe. This book is sort of mad-scientist and secret agent themed. The sequel will include aliens and rockets and time travel and science fictiony things like that.

TFK:

Your voice comes through so clearly in everything that you write, especially in this book. How do you manage that?

NESBITT:

I guess in every poem and in every book I write, I think a lot about two things. I think about who the audience is and I think about who the person is that is talking to that audience. So, you can see in this book that the person who's doing the talking is kind of a nut. He's kind of a crackpot. He's a not especially bright, kind of lazy, but also diabolical person who thinks he knows how to rule the planet. I just kept that person in mind and I became that person as I wrote.

TFK:

As adults, how do you and your illustrators, Ethan Long in this case, create books that are so distinctly childish?

NESBITT:

I think, mentally at least, we are still 12 years old. I don't know how old Ethan is. I think he's in his 30's. I'm 49 years old. But I never really grew up all that much. I've always been kind of silly and goofy. I've always had that 12-year-old mentality.

TFK:

You've practically created your own genre. How does that affect your writing style?

NESBITT:

In one way, it's a bit limiting because I have created an expectation among my readers that I will write funny, and that I will write poetry. So, I can't really write a serious poem because then my readers wouldn't be as happy. But I don't mind because I'm writing exactly what I want to write. I don't have a lot of interest in writing serious things. I think that there's enough serious writing and sad stuff in the world. I just want to make sure that there is more fun stuff. More people need to laugh and lighten up a little bit.

TFK:

What do you enjoy writing more, poems or books?

NESBITT:

I like it all. I like writing stuff that's funny. I will tell you, I found writing a chapter book a little easier than writing poetry. That was surprising to me because I've been writing poetry for 15 years, so I got used to the amount of work it is to write a poem. But when I started writing the chapter book, I learned that it's not as much work. I like them both. I am going to keep writing books of poetry, but I'm also going to keep on writing chapter books.

TFK:

Which poets inspired you when you were a kid?

KENN NESBITT:

When I was a kid, I loved reading poetry. But that was so long ago that Shel Silverstein hadn't written any books of poetry. Jack Prelutsky hadn't written any books of poetry either. So I was reading poetry by Louis Carroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland, and poets from 19th century England.

TFK:

Why do you write funny poetry for children?

NESBITT:

I've always loved children's poetry. When I discovered that I could write it as well as read it, I just wanted to do it. I always thought that writing a novel or even a chapter book would be too much work. Now I know that's not the case. Maybe I'll write a novel next.

TFK:

Which of your characters can you relate to the most?

NESBITT:

The one that I can relate to the most isn't really a character. It's a poem called "I Often Contradict Myself." In that poem I argue with myself,

'Oh, no I don't'
'Yes, I do'
'No, I don't.'

I can relate to that because I am often of two minds. I want to do this, but I don't want to. I want to go out, but I want to stay home. Know what I mean?

TFK:

You've already written so much. What's next?

NESBITT:

The Ultimate, Top-Secret Guide to Taking Over the World is what's next. The book is coming out in July. I think it's time for another poetry book.

TFK:

What advice do you have for a kid who wants to write a really funny poem?

NESBITT:

Well, a good way to start is to go online to my website, Poetry4Kids.com, and read the how-to section. There are poetry lessons there. Another good site is gigglepoetry.com. There is a whole section called poetry class there. That will teach you everything you need to know about how to write funny poems really easily.