I hope you enjoy my interview with author Jason Carter Eaton. It is hard to come up with a new take when dealing with children’s stories, but his new book, How to Train a Train is pretty innovative.
Since trains are very popular among the preschool set how did you approach writing about them in a fresh way?
Honestly, I love kids’ books and I love trains, but the one thing that’s always bugged me is how few train books are funny. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic train books out there: Freight Train, The Goodnight Train, and just this year we’ve seen Brian Floca’s amazing Locomotive, Eliza Cooper’s Train, and the bestseller, Steam Train, Dream Train. They’re all fantastic…but none of them are real comedies. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of any truly hee-larious train books (though I’d love to be pointed in their direction if you think of any). I don’t know why, probably because most publishing houses’ sales departments think no kid over 3 still likes trains. And look, it’s true that that’s probably the target age. But what we discovered is that if you write a funny story and don’t dumb it down, younger kids will still get the humor and older kids will totally enjoy it, even if it’s not something they would normally seek out.
How difficult is it finding a balance between humor and emotion in a children’s book?
Normally it’s tricky, but it was pretty simple for this one because at its heart it’s just the story of a boy and his dog. Or girl and her dog. Or rather, kid and his or her dog-like locomotive pet. And for anyone who has had the honor of rescuing or finding a dog, you know just how much joy and emotion is built right into the core of that experience.
When you write a children’s book how much do you keep in mind that an adult has to actually read it too?
Um, a lot, now that I have my own kids I have to read it to. Seriously, I learned the lesson the hard way by writing my first book with, well, all the beautiful, enchanting, rococo words I wanted…and then got stuck reading a book with about 50% too many words for the next decade. Seriously, if you’re a children’s book author with kids, read it to them first. If you’re childless, find one—seriously, they’re everywhere—and read your book to him or her first. I guarantee you’ll get an honest response.
Has your work in the entertainment business influenced your children’s books?
Only insofar as I try desperately to write enough children’s books that I won’t have to work in the entertainment business. Or at least, I’ll only have to work on the projects I find interesting. I much prefer books to film, if for no other reason than because when you sell a book you know it’s going to come out. Selling a movie script is like getting a Wonka bar. It’s great, and it’ll make you kinda happy for a little bit, but more likely than not you’re it’s going to end with the sad realization that there was no golden ticket.
That said, I think that I really learned how to write from story while working in film. To a certain extent, story is story, so it doesn’t really matter what medium you’re taking as long as you understand pacing. But I think film is generally much more rigid in its storytelling, so it was a good place to really work on tight act structures and character before getting a bit more be-boppy and loosey-goosey with my books.
What are some of the differences besides the obvious in writing books for children and adults?
Well, I’ve never really written for adults, per se. I’ve written for very immature people in their 40s, and certainly there are some 20 year old man-children out there who have read and enjoyed my less classy work, but the truth is I really don’t have anything all that important to say to grown-ups. I guess the only message I have to say to them, I say by way of what I choose to write: Don’t grow up.
Do your kids understand that you write children’s books and if so do they ask to be in them?
They’ve understood what I do since Ice Age 3 came out. And they thought that was kinda cool. But having their names on the back cover of How to Train a Train just blew their little minds. It honestly made the many, many years of living off ramen noodles as an impoverished children’s book author totally worth it.
What’s it like doing a book tour for a children’s book?
I suspect it’s amazing! If you run into Jon Klassen or David Shannon could you get a definitive answer for me?