With a book titled Give Bees a Chance and a personality that absolutely buzzes with excitement, it’s tempting to introduce Bethany Barton with a metaphor about bees, but that risks a stinging rebuke from those allergic to puns so I’ll drone on no longer and invite you to read on.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this picture can certainly tell you a lot about Bethany Barton, artist and writer extraordinaire. Her books, such as I’m Trying to Love Spiders and This Monster Needs a Haircut, are as fun as she is, filled with her doodles, drawings, and imaginings that tell important stories about bees and spiders and monsters and friendship and patience and more. Her most recent book, Give Bees a Chance—which received a highly recommended rating from our reviewers—is not only absolutely ADORABLE, it’s informative too. And while Bethany was taking a few moments to stop and smell the flowers that owe their existence to bees, she was gracious enough to also take some time to answer a few questions.
What made you decide to try your hand at writing children’s books?
I was incredibly lucky. You know how Pete the Cat was just walking down the street, stepped in a bunch of colorful stuff and ended up with extra-cool shoes? That’s basically the story of my publishing career. Ha!
My career (aka “day job”) is in art and set decoration departments for film/TV. Several years ago, I felt like all of my creative energy was going into my day job; spending my days visually telling other people’s stories. I wanted an outlet for my own stories. So I started a blog where I posted original art/writing every single day.
I was on the set of a Target commercial when I got a call from my friend Matt Barr. His brother Stephen Barr, at Writer’s House, had seen my blog and wanted to talk about some of the monster characters/stories I’d put on there. He thought they would make great kid’s books. Matt asked if he could put us in touch. After I did a happy dance, I agreed. I had self-published a coffee-table-type book of my art once before, but really Agent Steve (as I lovingly call him) saw that what I make could be children’s books long before I did.
Knowing that you are also an artist, I have to ask, which came first, the drawings or the words?
It usually starts with a funny phrase; an initial joke which makes me giggle, and sets the tone for the whole book. That expands into a doodle…and then pages and pages of silly nonsense. Ha! But eventually I reel it in and an actual book is born. I definitely over write and illustrate. A lot of pages and ideas “hit the cutting room floor,” as they say.
What inspires you to write?
I’m personally inspired by the things that all people have in common…by the thoughts and emotions we all share. When we draw attention to those things, we start to feel a kinship and a connection with other people. Like we’re all on the same team. It disarms us, helps us to break down our usual defense mechanisms and lets us enjoy just being a person with other people.
I liked the idea of writing a book where the reader has an impulse to squish a spider, or swat a bee, because almost everyone has had that impulse at some point in their life. It’s my biggest compliment when someone says, “I’ve totally felt that way!” or “I’ve had that exact same thought!” That’s what I’m trying to do. To celebrate that we’re all the same in a lot of silly ways.
What would you like children to take away from your books?
I’m fascinated by the things that kids (and adults!) are often scared of: monsters, spiders, bees, worms, jellyfish, etc. I like to shine a light on those things, to learn more about them. So much of our fear of these things (and of anything really) comes from not knowing enough about them.
I’ve discovered I can learn new things about something that scares me…and end up appreciating it, instead of being afraid. Maybe even liking it.
That feels like a super power. I want kids to have that same super power.
What do you enjoy most about your school visits?
Kids are the best thing ever. My husband and I were camp counselors for years, and will pretty much always be camp counselors in our hearts. When I get to do a school visit, I’m in full camp counselor mode. I’m clapping, I’m jumping, I’m dancing, I’m shooting the crowd with a toilet-paper-gun…if I could start a game of capture the flag/book, I would! Teaching and inspiring little humans is the best possible thing I could do with my time, and I feel wildly blessed every time I get to do it.
Keeping in mind that we are a magazine for K-12 school librarians, is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t touched on?
I vividly remember my school librarian handing me A Wrinkle in Time when I was in 3rd, maybe 4th, grade. I was an early and ravenous reader. I legitimately thought the shiny Newbery Medal sticker on the front meant it was a magical book, like Mrs. Jewel had handed me something secret and magical, and she was trusting that I could handle its powers.
If my books can ever make a kid feel like that book made me feel, then I’m doing pretty alright.
You can learn more about Bethany Barton and her books at her website www.bethanybarton.com