by Sharon O. Blumberg
Laura Numeroff is an acclaimed #1 New York Times best-selling children’s author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and the “If You Give…” series. Mouse, first printed in 1985, is in its 74th printing. If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, the fourth book in the series, was at number one for nine weeks on the New York Times Children’s Best Seller list. She has written 47 books and illustrated nine of them.
Laura was born in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up as the youngest sister of three girls in a home surrounded by art, music and books. Laura attended Pratt Institute and attained a degree in communications. Right before she graduated in 1975 she signed a contract for her first children’s book, Amy for Short, to be published by Macmillan.
Following this accomplishment, Laura received a number of honors and awards for her books. Among them, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, printed in fourteen languages, won the prestigious Quill Award in the picture book category. Books from her “If You Give…” series have been read to children by several presidents and first ladies at public events.
Her latest book, which was co-created by Sean Hanrahan, (the second edition was published in June 2020), is called Raising a Hero. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it is about how a puppy learns to become a service dog for disabled children with special needs. A portion of all sales supports Canine Companions, a non-profit providing skilled service dogs to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities and special needs, free of charge.
Sharon Blumberg: You began writing when you were nine-years-old. Was there an event that inspired you?
Laura Numeroff: There wasn’t a singular event that inspired me, rather a culmination of time being read to, learning to read, and getting my first library card. I loved reading so much that I started coming up with my own stories. My first book, which I also drew pictures for, was about a horse who goes shopping at Macy’s. I was eight years old. The two books that influenced me the most were Eliose by Kay Thompson and Stuart Little by E.B. White.
SB: How did you conceive of the idea for your series, “If You Give...” series? It’s such a simple, brilliant concept—were you worried editors wouldn’t get it or deem it “too thin” for a book?
LN: Mouse Cookie came to beginning, middle and end on a long boring car trip in the early 80s. It was rejected nine times and yes, a few editors thought there wasn’t enough for a whole book! One editor said they only did series and they didn’t have one that the book would work. Then, the tenth publisher, Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) bought it as a singular book. After a while they decided to do a second book and then eventually a third. I finally got a contract for another six books! That’s why my motto is “Never give up!”
SB: Along with the cause-and-effect pattern of the books, the visual sub-plot in the illustrations of the “If You Give …” books adds tension to the story and keep the pages turning. Did you add any notes to the illustrator about that?
LN: Absolutely none! Most authors don’t work that closely with the illustrator. Some illustrators don’t want any suggestions from the author. Some are amenable to them.
SB: You have other series as well. “The Jellybeans” easy reader series; What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best, which started a whole flip book series. Do you know these ideas are going to be series from the start? If so, are there important qualities the idea/characters need that make them series-worthy?
LN: They both started out as series which is a lot of pressure! It’s hard for me to write something when the idea doesn’t just come to me spontaneously! In “The Jellybeans”, we needed to make the girls lovable and relatable. Lynn Munsinger’s illustrations certainly did just that! The “Mommies/Daddies” series was meant to show that mothers and fathers do the same thing but do them differently. They aren’t actually “characters” in the true sense of the word. Lynn decided which animals to use and once again, she worked her magic and did the sweetest, most precious illustrations! I’ve done twelve books with her (including Raising a Hero) but unfortunately, she’s retired now!
SB: Is the process of developing/writing your single titles different from writing your series books?
LN: Not really. Each book should stand alone as a complete book. Nothing happens in any of them that leads to another story. The exception being the “If You Give …” series which follows a similar pattern in each one.
SB: As a New York Times best-selling children’s author and having won numerous awards in children’s books categories. How did winning them change your career as an author? Did winning an award make it easier to sell your next manuscript, or did you still have to endure rejections like less-established authors do?
LN: The awards didn’t really make it easier. Neither did being on the Times or Publishers Weekly’s list. I’m still getting rejected! The New York Times list does help with sales.
SB: Besides donating a portion of sales from Raising a Hero to Canine Companions, you donated a portion of my book royalties to First Book, a non-profit that provides new books to children who otherwise would not have access to them, and all royalties from your book The Hope Tree – Kids Talk About Cancer to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Was this always a mission of yours, to get to a point in your career where you can use your work to help causes you care about?
LN: It was a dream of mind to be able to help kids. I always said I’d rather be known for what I do for others than the amount of books I sell. I wish I could do more! I sponsor a horse for therapeutic riding. My goal is to open a library in a school and dedicate it to my parents.
SB: Please tell us how the Amazon animated series of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie came about. Do you write the episodes, which go far beyond the book?
LN: I have an animation agent who got it sold to Amazon. They did over 50 eleven minute episodes. I got to help with voice casting and sit in on some of the recording. I didn’t write any episodes. It’s a very different style to write for animation and it’s much harder than it looks. I was able to read the scripts and story ideas and give notes. It was nominated for two Emmys including “Best Pre-School Animated Show.”
SB: Do you have any final words of advice for aspiring authors?
LN: I think one of the most important things is to be a passionate and an avid reader. Taking a class in writing is always helpful. Being able to deal with rejection is absolutely necessary, otherwise you’ll never be happy. Writing, illustrating and selling children’s books isn’t as easy as you might think. You have a limited number of pages per book and you have to create characters that kids will fall in love with. But, with all the rejections, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do! I’m getting paid to use my silly imagination and make kids laugh! There’s nothing better than that! I’ve been very, very, very lucky!
Sharon O. Blumberg grew up as a child upon the sandy shores of Miller Beach along Lake Michigan. After she retired from teaching Spanish and Language Arts in 2014, she took on freelance writing, including children’s writing. She’s a frequent contributor to the Children’s Book Insider, and has contributed fiction and nonfiction to children’s magazines and book anthologies. She is a Field Editor to Birds & Blooms, Country, Country Woman, and Farm & Ranch Living, and is working on some children’s picture books and a middle grade novel. Sharon’s 3½ -year-old twin grandchildren have been ardent fans of Michael Sampson/Bill Martin Jr. books for quite some time. This is what got Sharon hooked as well! Visit Sharon’s website at sharonoblumbergauthor.comTags: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Laura Numeroff, writing picture books