I'm thrilled to share an interview with talented and very kind Richard Torrey, whose newest picture book, The Almost Terrible Playdate, is in stores now!
I feel the plot of the The Almost Terrible Playdate is one that everyone, no matter their age, can relate to. Was there a specific experience that inspired the concept of this book?
The original idea for this book can be traced back to a day I watched my children and their friends draw with chalk on our driveway. It suddenly dawned on me that child’s play is really a series of negotiations-proposals and counterproposals.
“What if we do this?” “No, how about we do this?” “I know, how about we do this?”
What struck me was the fact that these negotiations never seemed to end. As long as the activity was going on, the negotiations continued. In other words, the act of negotiating seemed to be an enjoyable and integral part of the playing experience. I’ve wanted to do a book about the essence of play ever since. I guess you could say this book is a one-act play about playing.
I loved the way in which your text and illustrations almost told two different versions of the same story. Can you share a bit about your illustrating + writing process?
I try not to write down my story ideas right away, letting them percolate for a while up in the grey matter. An idea always seems so perfect at this point…and it’s really easy to erase-like an Etch-a-sketch-just shake your head. Eventually the story reaches critical mass, moving me to scribble a very rough draft in one of my notebooks. Fearing something may get lost in the transfer of that idea from my brain, down my arm to end of my pencil, and finally onto the paper I tend to scribble way too fast. Most of my first drafts are nearly illegible.
From there I write/draw in storyboard form on large sheets of paper divided into the number of pages in a children’s book (usually 32). I believe it was Charles Schulz who said, “there are artists that write and writers that draw.” I am an artist that writes. I’m a visual person. I think in pictures. Over the course of writing and illustrating 15 books I’ve found it helps to doodle little thumbnail sketches as I write and rewrite my stories. I work in pencil, erasing and revising until that piece of paper cannot take it anymore. I’ll rewrite/redraw it on a new sheet of paper, repeating the process again and again until I’m satisfied.
In creating the illustrations for The Almost Terrible Playdate, my goals was to find a simple way to show the reader what was going on in each child’s head. Building on a technique I came up with for my last book, Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School, I drew crayon style thought-balloons above each child’s head, depicting their vivid imagination.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book or author that has provided you with a hiding spot.
As a child, my summers were spent on an island in Ontario on the St. Lawrence River (no television!). My brothers and I read everything we could get our hands on; books, comic books, newspapers and sports magazines. When I was five, my great grandparents gave me a copy of The Story of Ferdinand, by Monro Leaf. That story and Robert Lawson’s incredible pen and ink illustrations provided a hiding spot for me. I can still remember staring, spellbound, at those drawings for hours at a time. That book inspired me to become an author/illustrator and it sits on a shelf next to my drawing table today.
Every book I create provides the most enjoyable hiding spot for me, too. From generating the idea, the writing of the first draft, revisions, sketches and final art, there is no where I would rather hide than in various steps of putting a book together.
Inspiration comes in many forms. Share three people, places, or things that inspire your creativity.
I can think of a person, a place, and a thing-all connected. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Charles Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts. When I was eight, I lived in Oakland, California where my father was the general manager of an NHL hockey team known as the Oakland Seals (no longer in the league). Charles Schulz was a huge hockey fan and a Seals season ticket holder.
I had drawn a picture of a horse in art class and for some reason it became my mission to show the drawing to Mr. Schulz. I brought it to the next Seals game, found Schulz’s seats, and showed him my horse. After looking at it, Schulz flipped the paper over and drew Snoopy.
Years later, when I sold my first comic strip, I wrote to Mr. Schulz recounting that story. He wrote me back and we corresponded until his passing in 2000. To this day I love the quiet yet sophisticated humor of Schulz’s strip and the simple but elegant drawing style he used to illustrate it. The (now framed) Snoopy he drew for me on the back of my horse drawing sits on the same shelf as my well-worn copy of The Story of Ferdinand.
What can your readers look forward to next?
I’m about to start work on the illustrations for follow-up to Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School. The tentative title is Ally-Saurus and the Very Bossy Monster. I’ve also just finished a story called Bella’s Balloon which is just about to be sent to my editor.
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About the Author
Richard Torrey was born in Los Angeles, CA. where he began doodling as soon as he could hold a crayon.
In third grade, Richard showed a picture of a horse he had drawn to the legendary comic strip creator, Charles Schulz. Schulz drew Snoopy on the back of the picture, inspiring Richard to follow a similar career path.
After graduating from Allegheny College with a BA in Psychology, Torrey created the first of two successful syndicated comic strips; Hartland (King Features), followed by the sports strip, PETE and CLETE (Creators Syndicate). Both features appeared in hundreds of newspapers around the world.
Since then, Richard has been an author, illustrator, and editorial cartoonist. His list of clients includes Highlights Magazine, KidCity (a Sesame Street publication), The National, and Inside Sports. For the better part of two decades, he has also been the creator of a top-selling line of greeting cards for Recycled Paper Greetings Inc.
More recently, Richard’s interests have turned to children’s books. He has written and illustrated seven books, including the popular Beans Baker series for Random House, and the three book series: ALMOST, WHY?, and BECAUSE, for HarperCollins. He has also illustrated dozens of books for Simon & Schuster, Golden Books, McGraw-Hill, and Scholastic.
The son of Hockey Hall-of-Famer, Bill Torrey, Richard lives in Long Island, New York, with his wife and two children.
Here is the story of two young children with VERY different ideas of what they want to play. What starts with an innocent question (“What do you want to play?”) soon veers hilariously toward chaos, as two children engage in the age-old struggle of princesses, ponies, and ballet vs. dinosaurs, dragons, and race cars. Which child will win? Or will both find a way to play nicely together?