Sit down, kids. Let mama tell you a little story.
Way back in the day–the day, for purposes of this story, being December 2008–I decided to gather together all the money I had left after making the disastrous financial decision to move to New York City and use it to pay for a workshop. I’d written a little book called Croak, and this workshop would give me the opportunity to pitch it to a handful of editors. This was a Big Deal.
I was very excited, but also extremely nervous. I remember sitting on the train on my way into the city and just shaking all over, my stomach in knots, not knowing what to expect. At this point, I had not shown my work to anyone. Not my husband, not my parents, not my cats. I had no idea if my ideas were any good, and the nerves were dismantling me one brain cell at a time.
So I got to the workshop and we jumped right in, each of us having to get up in front of everyone else and deliver our book’s pitch like some sick permutation of American Book Idol. I was one of the first to give mine (curse you, alphabetical order), and to my relief and delight, it was well-received. Even more to my delight was the fact that when we broke for lunch, one of the other workshop participants told me he was hoping he could join me.
We had never met before, but we spent a lovely hour chatting about our respective lives and literary aspirations, and I left that weekend knowing that this friendly and talented guy would no doubt get published one day–and because I have the power to see into the future, that day has come!
Meet Fred Koehler. His debut picture book, How to Cheer Up Dad, hits shelves today. It is super adorable, and is already receiving rave reviews, such as a starred one from Kirkus. He’s here to chat about the book, cereal, and the worst kind of people.
Give us the How To Cheer Up Dad spiel.
Once upon a time I was a kid who loved to draw and write stories. And then I turned into a grown-up who worked all the time and filled his sketchbook with to-do lists and meeting notes. And life was not fun. Then I had kids of my own, and I wanted my kids to learn to love life, so I thought I’d be a good example and start filling my sketchbooks with awesome drawings of cool things and new ideas for stories. One of those sketches caught the eye of an art director at Simon & Schuster, who pointed me in the right direction, and it eventually became the key art and inspiration for How to Cheer Up Dad. The story chronicles a day in the life of Little Jumbo and his dad, both elephants, who are struggling to see eye to eye (or trunk to trunk as it were). It’s funny. It’s quirky. There are Easter eggs and ice cream.
What is your favorite scene/illustration in the book?
I love illustrations that wink at the reader or go sideways to the text. The opening scene of How to Cheer Up Dad simply says “Little Jumbo’s dad was having a bad day.” The cool thing is that the image could have shown just about anything. I thought back to when I was a little rebel-without-a-cause, and decided that I would have enjoyed making a robot costume out of cereal boxes, and I probably wouldn’t have cared if there was cereal in the boxes or not. So the scene shows Little Jumbo in his robot costume, and all the cereal dumped and scattered all over the floor. Come to think of it, this book may give my mom a little PTSD.
What sort of hijinks would you get up to if you had a pet elephant?
I would most definitely take my elephant to the dog park and pretend I didn’t know it was an elephant. It would be an excellent way to make new friends.
And now it’s time for me to blatantly steal questions from Inside the Actors Studio. What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
Utilize – because there is no circumstance EVER where you couldn’t just say “use.”
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
The type of person who says “utilize”
And finally, what is your favorite curse word?
Actually, my grandmother used to say “dag-nab-it” which I think is a great curse word if you must utilize one. (Did you see what I did there? Isn’t “utilize” completely unnecessary?)
It totally is.
Fred Koehler wrote and illustrated his first book at age seven titled SAMMY THE SHOESTRING. It went on to win a shiny gold star sticker and an iced cinnamon bun from the vending machine in the teachers’ lounge. From that point on, Fred has never stopped doodling or writing stories (except when he tried to be a grown-up for a few years, which didn’t really work out). His first title as author/illustrator debuts from Penguin/Dial in Spring 2014 and is called HOW TO CHEER UP DAD. He lives, works, and plays in Lakeland, Florida. Fred can be stalked on Facebook, followed on twitter @superfredd, and metaphysically channeled at freddiek.com.
Purchase How to Cheer Up Dad on Amazon
Thanks Fred! For the interview, and for the awesome giveaway: Fred is giving away a signed copy of How to Cheer Up Dad with custom, hand-drawn illustrations on the end pages. To enter, fill out the form below. And if you’d like a bonus entry, spread the word on Twitter with the hashtag #cheerupdad. Good luck!