|How the book How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? came to be written
by Jane Yolen
It all began with my wonderful editor, Bonnie Verburg. She had worked with me at Harcourt and then again when she moved to Scholastic. Editors do bounce around and we writers bounce with them. One big happy Bouncy Castle.
Well, Bonnie got married to a Hollywood editor (who later won an Oscar for "The Matrix," but that's a different story) and they had a baby boy. She was a late bloomer but produced a remarkably adorable child when she finally got around to it.
When Robbie was a year old, Bonnie called me in Scotland, where I spend my summers. This was about five in the afternoon, as the time spread between Califunny and Caledonia is awful wide. She said, "My little boy hates going to bed at night and loves dinosaurs. Can you write something for him?"
I had had two of those myself. (My daughter, the first born, hadn't been into dinosaurs quite so much.) In fact I -- who cannot sew worth a hill of beans -- embroidered dinosaur pillows for them. That shows you what mother love can do. So I understood Bonnie's dilemma. Great kid. Big lizards. No sleeping.
"I'll see what I can do," I told Bonnie and by the next day this rollicking little verse rolled out, got revised three times, then faxed off to Bonnie who by return fax bought it.
"It's perfect," she said, then proceeded over two years to have me revise it a bunch more times.
Picture books, like poems, need word by word polishing. Novels take a big pick ax with which you carve them out of the local hillside. But picture books -- that's lapidary work. One gem at a time.
Now the original verse said, "How does a dinosaur say goodnight. . ." And I was thinking of one dinosaur and his family. But Mark Teague, the illustrator chosen for the book, thought that doing one dinosaur over and over would be visually boring. And there is nothing worse for a book than a bored illustrator. Besides, he had been a little boy once (and not that long ago) and he thought that that little boys who hate to go to bed love the variety in dinosaurs. So he suggested doing different big lizards and different families.
Of course that meant yet another revision, but as I loved his art and his ideas, that was not a problem. In fact it was an opportunity. As I like to tell my writing students, the word revision means re -- again vision -- dream. I got to dream again.
When I saw the Mark Teague illustrations, with their sassy dinosaurs and at-the-end-of-their-rope parents, I knew he'd taken my little rhyme a giant step further on. Scholastic apparently thought so, too. They gave it the cover of the catalog and first place there, made a poster and door hanger. I see it everywhere. In fact, four months on Publisher's Weekly's. I have never had a book do that before.
How do dinosaurs say goodnight? Evidently slowly. Even Cindy Crawford's little boy was reading it during her TVinterview on the Today show. And Robbie, for whom the book was originally written, was five years old when the book came out. The publishing process -- like the bedtime process -- can go on for a very long time.
Jane Yolen writes children's books, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, book reviews, and nonfiction (see above!). She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. She has won a multitude of awards including the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? was on the Book Sense bestseller lists for five weeks and is a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year Award. It won a 2000 Christopher Medal and was the Book of the Month Club's Best Picture Book of 2000, a Booklist Editor's Choice, and one of School Library Journal's Best Books 2000. It has also been awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Book Awards 2001 for preschool books, and Nick Jr. magazine has chosen it as a best book for kids ages 3-5. It is on the ABA Pick of the Lists and the 2000 Capitol Choices -- Noteworthy Books for Children List for Up to Seven.
Author photo by Jason Stemple