Adult author Neil Gaiman enters the world of children's booksHis kids made him do it or at least inspired him to do it. That's how British author Neil Gaiman claims he began writing stories for young readers. "The thing about children's books that many people don't understand is that beloved children's books are read not once, but many times," he says.
The award-winning author of the adult novels American Gods and Neverwhere, as well as the Sandman graphic novel series, Gaiman learned this lesson about children's books by reading to his own kids. When his son was young, he loved a book called Catch the Red Bus, and Gaiman spent night after night reading the story to the boy, often more than once at a sitting. The repetition taught Gaiman that children's books should be fun not just for kids, but for adults as well. Gaiman has written two previous children's titles, The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish and Coraline, a New York Times bestseller. His new book, The Wolves in the Walls, is a quirky, hilarious tale that's fun to read over and over.
The concept for Wolves came from the author's young daughter, who had a bad dream one night. "She was convinced there were wolves in the walls," says Gaiman, "and as she described them to me, I immediately knew that I would steal the idea for a book." Not long after, he sat down and wrote the first draft of the story. "I didn't like it at all," says Gaiman. Instead of rewriting it, however, he decided to abandon it. After about eight months, he tried once more, but again, he didn't like it, and again, he abandoned the story. Another eight months passed. Then one night, Gaiman suddenly woke up in bed and thought, "When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over!" This, apparently, was just the idea he needed to bring the book to life. That afternoon, he wrote the entire story, to perfection. "It took me one afternoon to write it," says Gaiman," but also two-and-a-half years." Shortly thereafter, Gaiman began reading the story at signings for his adult books, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. "I was astonished at how incredibly popular a short story for children was to adults," says Gaiman. He then passed the story along to Dave McKean, his long-time collaborator and the illustrator of Coraline and the Sandman series. McKean's shadowy, atmospheric pictures, which mix drawings and photographic images to create a collage-like effect, are the perfect match for Gaiman's spooky yet humorous story. The heroine, Lucy, is sure she hears the scurrying of furry beasts behind the walls. When the wolves finally burst forth, they drive Lucy, her parents and her brother out of the house and into the garden. McKean's ingenious illustrations bring the wild and wacky animals to life, as they make themselves at home, dressing up in Lucy's father's clothes, turning on the telly and consuming the family's stash of strawberry jam. "Since I had stolen the idea from my daughter, I thought it was only fair to have some element of [McKean's] family in the book as well," says Gaiman. This came in the form of a pig-puppet that McKean's son had treasured. "Some kids have blankets," recalls Gaiman, "but this one had a pig-puppet, and his parents could never get it away from him long enough to even wash it." Thus, in the book Lucy is the proud owner of a pig-puppet. The result: a thoroughly inspired Gaiman-McKean family production. Gaiman's next project is a "proper, honest-to-goodness picture book" entitled Crazy Hair. It's a Dr. Seuss-type story, and he admits that it's a bit "goofy." Yet it's this very quirkiness that makes Gaiman's work so appealing. "There's a strange joy in doing these children's books," he says, "and getting into not only children's heads, but the heads of their parents as well." With The Wolves in the Walls, Gaiman does both.