NO PIRATES ALLOWED! Said Library Lou author Rhonda Gowler Greene has written a clever picture book founded on comedic contrasts. And illustrator’s Brian Ajhar’s play with proportion and expression is simply delightful. The story is about bombastically boisterous Pirate Pete’s search for treasure, and petite and powerful Library Lou’s insistence that he make some changes before she’ll help him find it. Some of things she asks him do are simply hilarious!
Rhonda graciously agreed to kick off Humor month by granting us an interview. Let’s find out a bit about the charming lady behind the story, want to?
Rhonda: Two great picture books inspired the story— Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen (illustrated by Kevin Hawkes) and How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long (illustrated by David Shannon). A few years ago I saw them on The New York Times children’s bestseller list. I was already familiar with the books, but seeing them listed there together sparked an idea—Why not put a pirate in a library? A pirate is always looking for treasure. I thought the treasure could be books. I made Pirate Pete have to discover that for himself though, but with some help from witty Library Lou.
ReaderKidZ: You’ve authored a number of picture books. Did the experience of crafting this one differ from the others in any way?
Rhonda: Yes, writing this book was somewhat different than writing my others. Most of my other books are concept books, or books with patterns, and don’t really have a main plot. But NO PIRATES ALLOWED! has plot. I created actual characters I named—Pirate Pete, Library Lou, and Igor the parrot. I made Pete and Lou strong, but stubborn characters and that, of course, led to conflict. By the end of the book, Pete has changed (he’s cleaned up, is nicer, an
d has become an avid reader), and a change is exactly what you need by the end in a book with plot. This book also includes much more dialogue than most of my other books. Too, it’s my longest picture book, just under 1000 words. It’s geared more toward K-2nd graders, whereas some of my other books are for even younger children. In the story, I felt like for it to be believable that Pete learns how to read, I couldn’t just have it happen within a day or two. I needed to have a span of time, which led to the somewhat longer word count.
ReaderKidZ: There are a number of hilarious moments in this story, such as when Pirate Pete is forced to take a bath and wear clean underwear. Pete’s squawking sidekick, Igor the Parrot, adds a great deal to the comedic element, as well. Please tell us how you’re able to pull off writing humor in such a delightful way.
Rhonda: I think word choice is crucial in setting the mood of a story. Since I was making this a humorous story, I tried to use words that would bring a smile to the reader’s face. For instance, just hearing or reading the word “underwear” brings lots of giggles from children. Also, pirate talk is fun for people of any age, so I tried to weave in as much of that as I could. Actually, the first thing I did when I got the idea for the story was start looking up pirate words and phrases. I wanted the story to be light, whimsical, and funny. So words like “stink bug,” “underwear,” “P.U.,” and “Blimey!” worked well. Too, I added some onomatopoeia with Igor’s loud SQUAWK!ing. And I used a light rhyming meter that adds to the whimsical mood of the story.
ReaderKidZ: Illustrator Brian Ajhar’s use of proportion and expression complimented the text in a lively way. How important is the illustrator’s interpretation of the story to the overall reading experience?
Rhonda: A picture book relies so very much on the illustrations. The illustrator’s interpretation is extremely important and makes a huge impact on the reading experience. Editors try to match the perfect illustrator to a particular manuscript text. Professionally, Brain Ajhar actually teaches classes in character development. He was an excellent choice for my text. He really made the characters in my story—Pirate Pete, Library Lou, and Igor—come alive. I love his use of exaggerated proportion in the book, with Pirate Pete looming large over tiny-but-mighty Library Lou. And Pete’s facial expressions throughout the book match the text so well. We see the change coming over Pete. Brian’s art just adds so much humor to the book.
Rhonda: Interesting question. I’d say, yes, a little bit. I doubt if I’m as brave as she is. For instance, I don’t think I’d have the nerve to tell someone to change his or her underwear! But, I do think I would do all I could in helping someone (even a rough-tough pirate) discover—that books are treasures.