Hello Miss Clark’s Class,

Thank you very much for the letter. These are the first questions that any class has mailed to us! Since these questions are so thoughtful, I wanted to write equally thoughtful answers. Maybe if your class would like to learn more about writing and illustrating stories, we can come visit sometime.

The answers to your questions are below my name. Be wild about reading, writing, and drawing!

Ryan Murphy

  • How do you come up with which animals to put in your books?

Choosing our animals took a long time because we had to pick the best animals for doing all the fun activities in the story. We tried to think about what the animals’ personalities would be like to decide what they would do. For example, a sloth plays the bass because he’s a slow, plodding animal, and the bass sounds slow and low. Flamingos flamenco because they stand straight and tall with their chins raised like flamenco dancers.

Sometimes, we would pick an animal to do something because it would be silly. An elephant is a funny animal to have playing a piano because there is no way it could hit the keys with its big, clomping feet. Toads don’t win many costume contests because they are slimy and covered in warts. Its good to give the reader something that they don’t expect because it surprises them and makes them laugh.

  • How do you write so neat?

Lucky for us, we did not have to put any of our handwriting into the book. Our penmanship isn’t always so neat.

It is hard work to make your writing fun and bouncy. We read a lot of great writers and studied how they used words playfully. After Grace wrote the first draft of the story, we spent many months going over each line, making sure we were using good grammar, deciding on the best words, and directing the path of the story. We also sent the rough draft to our friends and family to see if they had any good ideas or could catch our mistakes. Believe us, the writing was not so neat the first time around, but it got there over time.

  • How did you come up with the idea to write about the Audubon Zoo?

We wanted to write a story about an experience every kid can relate to. This is probably the most important part of writing a good story. Like so many other people, we had been to the zoo and seen a bunch of lazy animals. Writing a story about why zoo animals are so sleepy seemed like a good idea because most kids who had been to the zoo would be wondering why the animals weren’t doing much of anything.

The story idea just magically came to Ryan while he was riding his bike. We wrote a long blog post about coming up with a story if you would like to know more about how we came up with the idea.

We chose the Audubon Zoo because we live in New Orleans, it is a very pretty place that makes for good pictures, and it was the zoo Ryan went to as a child. It is also a principle in writing that choosing something specific is better than choosing something general. The idea of the Audubon Zoo gives the reader much more details about the setting than just putting the story in “the zoo.”

  • How did the publishers make the book cover?

John drew the pictures, picked out the font for the words, and laid out the words and pictures into a single cover image. The illustrators sent a computer file with all the covers and pages in the book to a book printer in Hong Kong, China. The printer printed this image, wrapped it around a piece of hard cardboard, folded it flat, and glued it down. Then, the printer printed the long page with all the monkeys doing the hokey pokey (this page is called the end sheet), glued half of it over the inside of the cover, put the middle in the binding, and let the other half hang out as a page.
How did you make the animals come to life in the book?
Books are great because you can make anything come to life in a book. All you have to do is think up an idea and find the words and pictures to make that idea feel real.

Once we had our basic story idea that the animals were sleepy in the day because they were up all night, we made that world come to life by asking a simple question, “If this, then what?” In other words, if the animals are up all night having a party, then what are they doing? Then we tried to think like the animals and decide what they would like to do. For instance, animals wouldn’t want to pin the tail on a donkey; they would rather pin a tail on the zookeeper.

There are a lot of things that go into making the pictures come to life. One thing that makes the pictures lively is that they have a lot of action. All the animals are doing things, and not just things that we read about in the text. The illustrators also asked themselves, “if this, then what?” Another thing that makes the animals seem real is that they show emotions. They smile and laugh when they’re happy. They squint their eyes, yawn, and get comfortable when they’re sleepy. They frown and plug their ears when they don’t like singing. The biggest secret in making pictures come to life is practice. Aly and John have been drawing for years and years, getting better a making things look real or interesting, and trying out new styles. Being able to make such great pictures is from a lifetime of love and effort poured into drawing.