My connection to literature has changed a good bit since becoming a dad. In my pre-kid days, I would usually bury myself in Stephen King’s latest novel, or I’d trudge through a Game of Thrones epic. Generally speaking, if there was a bloody handprint or a wizard on the cover, I was in. These books were an escape, a chance to let my world go and experience something different. I wasn’t used to books that hit close to home.
Of course, things changed when my daughter was born and my reading material skewed younger. Instead of reading about epic warlords or a serial killer on the loose, I was reading a book with adjectives related to bathtime. Tub. Washcloth. Bubbles. Blah.
This kind of mindless detachment is pretty common in children’s literature. For example, my daughter has a board book that’s just four pages, and each one has a picture of a horse. What the? There’s not even an author listed on the cover. This whole book is just a byproduct of some marketing algorithm. “Kids like horses right? Slap some pictures on some cardboard and sell it for $7.99.” I love imagining a computer programmer, some MIT grad, who gave up on his life’s dreams and now just copies-and-pastes pictures of kid-friendly farm equipment for some anonymous publishing company.
There is hope, however. For every ten books about colors and machinery, there’s a children’s picture book with an actual plot written to tell a real story. I absolutely cherish these books. They’re not the mindless dribble like so much of the manufactured literature out there. These are the books we get to experience with our children.
I’m excited to tell you about such a book.
The book that hits “close to home”
Anthill For Sale is a brand new release from Big Belly Book Co. With beautiful illustrations by Zuzana Svobodova and author Johnny Ray Moore’s light rhythmic prose, it’s as fun to read as it is to hear. Anthill tells the story of an ant named Alvin and his wife putting their beloved anthill on the market. As the story progresses, Alvin grows more reluctant to sell with each new prospective buyer.
Remember how I said books never hit close to home? Well, this one did. My family and I are currently in the process of selling our home and this book hit us right smack in the feels. I think Alvin the Ant is my spirit animal.
I was fortunate to get the opportunity to speak with Johnny Ray Moore, the book’s author, and chat with him about Anthill For Sale and some of his inspirations.
A chat with Johnny Ray Moore
Johnny Ray Moore is an accomplished poet and children’s author. Aside from Anthill For Sale, his previous works include Meet Martin Luther King Jr. and But Still, We Dream (a novel in verse). He’s a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Writing is not Johnny’s full-time gig. When he’s not writing, he’s working as a mail distribution clerk for the U.S. Postal Service. As you’ll see in the interview, his experiences and the people he encounters are a major source of inspiration for Anthill For Sale.
Johnny, let me start by asking where the inspiration for Anthill for Sale came from. Is it based on any real-life experiences?
The inspiration for ANTHILL FOR SALE came from the time my wife, my three young daughters and I moved in with my wife’s parents after our first house sold. My wife and I were having a larger anthill, er, house built. I was working 10 and 12 hours with the postal service; I had very little time to interact with my wife and young daughters, and I was STRESSED! So, I wanted to write a children’s story that would make me laugh and feel better about all I was going through.
There are some really fun characters throughout the story. What kind of thought went into the ones you featured?
I thought of and choose to have insects and anteaters and skunks to help me tell the story of ANTHILL FOR SALE. Actually, I used my post office co-workers as models to give life and relevance to everyone in the book. And, I did indeed put a whole lot of thought into bringing those characters in the story to life. I paid very close attention to the mannerisms of my postal co-workers. I don’t think they even realize that they were my models for writing.
I love looking back at the book knowing each of the characters is based on someone you know in real life. You must look at the world through a really special lens. What inspired you to create children’s picture books?
I was inspired to write children’s picture books due to not owning any as a child. I did not give much thought to writing books for children when I was growing up. But, I WAS creative and intuitive and determined to, someday, write children’s books that would entice the very young and the very young at heart to challenge themselves and grow, period. You see? I taught myself to write by READING and READING and READING! I just had to be a positive force that would help show the world that even African Americans and other people of color write and illustrate and publish books for children. Because our stories must be told, our voices must be heard, and our faces MUST BE SEEN in children’s books, no matter what.
So for you, literature is an important outlet, not just educationally, but emotionally. Children’s books are special because they involve a bond between child and parent. Considering what you just said, what role do you think literature plays in parenting?
Literature in parenting is a MUST! All children really need to be introduced to the joy and splendor of literature, of reading, and of everything that goes with being mesmerized by the written word. If parents shared books with their children and helped entice them to read, there would surely be NO LIMITS to what those children could possibly do or become in life. And I believe that with every ounce of my being.
Johnny, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me! And best of luck with the release of Anthill For Sale!
Brandon, THANK YOU for allowing me to be a part of your blog! I do not take such an opportunity for granted. I am truly honored.
This book review and author interview is the first in a new series for The Not-the-mama Dad Blog! Next up: Bill Cotter, author of Don’t Push the Button.