Back to school with David Shannon
David Shannon has been illustrating books since 1989. Last year his No, David! won a Caldecott Honor, and this month David Goes to School arrives in bookstores and libraries. BookPage had the opportunity to talk and laugh with the real David about the latest installment of the fictional David's mishaps.
BookPage: No, David! was written to celebrate familiar phrases that most children hear. What prompted you to write David Goes to School?
David Shannon: Well, I'd had so much fun with No, David!, and while I was working on that, the idea to take it to the next level of authority started germinating; I wanted to keep going with this character. In David Goes to School, there's that same dynamic of things that kids do at school, and the no phrases that teachers use -- just like the no phrases that Mom uses -- seem to be timeless and universal.
BP: No, David! was originally written when you were 5 years old, based on personal experience. Any personal experiences in David Goes to School that serve as reference points?
DS: A few. I will not elaborate.
BP: What's David's next adventure?
DS: He's going to be stuck in school for a while. I have other projects in the works, and I don't want to overdo David. I don't want him to become a formula. With David Goes to School, I didn't want to simply re-write the same book. I wanted a separate book that built on the first one, but was a different type of book that did different things. For instance, collaging the text on [tablet] paper, I think, sets it apart.
BP: The look on David's face often seems to indicate that he does not misbehave intentionally. For example, he is caught writing on his desk, but the look on his face is one of surprise, not guilt.
DS: He wasn't really thinking it was wrong. He's sort of an accidental anarchist, and that's a big part of his personality; he's not a mean-spirited kid, he just doesn't think. Or he goes too far. A lot of kids go through that.
BP: Is there any situation that would prompt him to behave?
DS: Hmmm . . . I'd have to think about that. Generally he is trying to behave all the time. The problem is that every situation presents the potential to misbehave.
BP: David doesn't appear to be very popular with his peers. There's no text to support that, but they seem annoyed at times.
DS: Well, I tried to kind of mix that. One of the differences betweeen this book and No, David! is that this book involves other people besides [David and] the authority figure. Now that he's in school, his actions affect other people. And he has to learn about that responsibility. In the library, when he's making a lot of noise, one girl is clearly annoyed. But if you look in the corner, another kid thinks David is funny. And then on the last page, those same two kids are waiting on him after school. David actually has a crush on the girl [Cindy]. If you read between the lines, you'll see that David is trying to get her attention and impress her by pulling her hair and stuff. That's what kids do—if you like somebody, you poke them and whack them. When he's drawing on the desk, he's drawn Cindy as a pig; you recognize this because of the hair. This is what kids do when they like somebody -- sort of the opposite of what you'd expect.
BP: Does Cindy reciprocate?
DS: I think Cindy puts up with David, but girls demonstrate things a little differently than boys. And by the end of the book, she is waiting for him. I wanted to show David interacting with other kids not only to show how his actions affect others, but also to show how kids behave when they like each other, or when they don't like each other. For example, he gets in a fight, a food fight, because he cuts in line. I drew it as a food fight, but probably in reality it would have involved a few fists.
BP: What about the rest of the graffiti on the desk?
DS: There's my dog, Fergus; he's a West Highland terrier. He's in all my books. And there's a little self-portrait. There's a self-portrait in No, David!, too, that was drawn on his floor.
BP: There is a lot of detail reminiscent of school—a sprout experiment, mysterious cafeteria food, food group and choking charts. Why include so much detail in a picture book?
DS: I wanted to put a lot of detail in the illustrations because the text is so simple. Otherwise, you could flip through this book in a minute. The illustrations tell more of the story than the text.
BP: What does David think of his teacher?
DS: I think he likes his teacher.
BP: Even though he gets into trouble?
DS: Yes. By the end of the day, they have formed a special relationship.
BP: What advice would David give his fellow troublemakers?
DS: David would tell them to have fun. I don't picture David as the type of kid who really gives advice; he pretty much leads by example.
BP: What about David Shannon?
DS: My advice would be that getting into trouble isn't the end of the world.
BP: What's next for David Shannon?
DS: My next book is about a rainy day and how it affects people's moods. It's more characteristic of my other work, but some of the little things from the David books—like line work, drawing, and composition—manage to creep in. Each book is fun, because I learn something new.