Interview with Alan Lawrence Sitomer Why Do Daddies Do it Different?
By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: June 4, 2012
Alan Lawrence Sitomer is a nationally renowned speaker and was California’s Teacher of the Year in 2007. He is also the author of multiple works for young readers, including Nerd Girls, the Hoopster trilogy, The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez, Cinder-Smella, and The Alan Sitomer BookJam. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughters. Just in time for Father’s Day, Alan talks to TCBR about his newest picture book Daddies Do it Different (Hyperion, 2012).
TCBR: Daddies Do it Different. How so? And why do you think they do do it differently?
Alan Lawrence Sitomer: As daddies, we live in a new era. Look around at how amazingly involved the dads of today are in their young children’s lives. I mean back when I was a kid, they didn’t even have daddies—all we had were “fathers” who doled out gruff chores and did things like take us to baseball games in order to metaphorically teach us the nuances of life from the bleacher seats.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad but still, these days, no matter where you look you see it: dads are taking a more active, involved role in their children’s lives than ever before. Dads know how to swaddle, dads go to Saturday morning children’s fitness classes, dads far and wide change diapers without blinking an eye.
What I really see is that dads have embraced the joy of being a parent in the way that moms have done for thousands of years. And truly, it is filling our collective hearts with delight. (I really do believe that dads of yore have no idea all the good stuff they’ve been missing.)
Having said all that, daddies aren’t mommies; we have our own style. Our own flair. Thus, the phrase Daddies Do It Different. One way is not necessarily more “right” than another way . . . it’s just different.
From a birthday party to bathtime, you’ve created an entertaining book on how father’s put their own spin on day-to-day events (and special occasions) in a child’s life. Inspired by your own experiences as a father, which experience in the book would you consider a personal highlight?
A great many scenes from Daddies Do It Different come straight from my own life. Jamming a banana up my nose in the middle of the supermarket just to get a smile out of my daughter? I’ve done it. Pigging out on a little kid’s birthday cake by having two or three slices while all the children at the event (i.e. the invited guests) are limited to “just one piece?” I’ve done it. Turning the entire bathroom into a swimming pool while using ¾ of a bottle of bubble bath in a troubled attempt to get my dirty little honey-bunch clean? Done that, too. Indeed, fatherhood has brought out highs and lows in me. In a way, I lay my truths bare in these pages.
The funny part is that I am not alone in any of this. Moms everywhere nod their heads when they read this book thinking to themselves, “Yeah, my guy does that, too.”
Whodda thunk it, huh?
Are there any experiences or events that were edited out of your original manuscript?
Editing is part of the writing process but nothing was edited out due to a sense of inappropriateness. Manuscripts change and evolve as we move along in the publishing process. That’s natural for all titles. However, I did have a scene in the book about driving a shopping cart like a race car down the aisle of a supermarket—a classic dad thing to do—but in order to better serve the story and the arc of the book, it was left on the cutting room floor (in favor of the aforementioned banana up the nose).
And to think I get paid for big decisions like these.
You are also the author of multiple works for young readers, including Nerd Girls, the Hoopster trilogy, The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez, Cinder-Smella, and The Alan Sitomer BookJam. Daddies Do it Different is your first picture book. How did writing this particular book differ from writing your other works?
My books for young readers usually run between 50,000 – 60,000 words. Daddies Do it Different, however, consists of about 98% less words. Of course when I say this, it might be easy for someone to assume that writing a children’s book is SO MUCH less work because the word count is so significantly lower. This is a misperception. The genre of children’s picture book writing exacts a calculated precision that can be exceedingly taxing, and as an established author, you quickly find out the hard way that it’s much easier to fashion a great story when you can use 500 words to describe a character’s motivation and turn a scene as opposed to five.
The weight each sentence must carry is immense.
Having said all that, one thing to also mention which differed about this particular book stems from the sheer joy and innocence of being lost in the pages. Reading children’s picture books was something which I, myself, treasured as a kid but with Daddies Do it Different I got to see my own daughter experience this joy . . . in a text that her father wrote.
How much more personally meaningful can a person’s work ultimately turn out to be than that? My children aren’t yet able to read my YA books, so for this reason, Daddies Do it Different will always carry an exceptionally special place in my heart.
It seems as though you really like to include humor in your work. Where do you think your comedic style comes from?
Basically, I like to laugh. Of course, not everyone thinks I am funny. (For more references on this front, please look up my middle school math teachers who swore I was in need of psychological—if not pharmaceutical—assistance.) Yet, can humor really be taught? I don’t know. I do believe humor can be extinguished, however. Adulthood, modern day education, it very much feels as if there is an assault on our children’s funny bones in the school environment, in society, etc. Laughter is more important to the human spirit than many people give it credit for being, so I have professionally promised to defend laughter till the day I’m no longer able to snort milk out of my nose when I guffaw too hard at an immature burp joke.
While we’re on the topic of humor (and snorting milk out of your nose), know any funny jokes?
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how to “write a joke.” I mean the folks that pen those own a skill which I only wish I had.
My humor is much more organic . . . it’s dependent on the scene and situation. Jokes that just coldly begin, “A priest walks into a bar . . . ,” well, as I said, I have no idea how to cook those up.
Could you tell us about any upcoming books or projects that you’re working on? Are they funny, too?
I’ve got a few things behind the black curtain—I am always in “production mode”—and yes, some will be funny and some will be action packed. I love to mix it up. Between writing and working hard in the world of teaching, my plate is pretty full. Next up for me is the release of the next NERD GIRLS book. It comes out at the end of July. (Yep, another comedy.) The title: NERD GIRLS: A CATASTROPHE OF NERDISH PROPORTIONS. It’s a middle school read. Entirely fun, entirely a joy for me to write.
You and your wife just welcomed a new little baby into the world. Are you getting any sleep? Just kidding—I couldn’t possibly be that cliché! Do Baby and Big Sister Sitomer have their own bookshelves? If so, which books would we find on them?
The first piece of furniture I made sure to obtain for both of my daughters was a bookshelf. Why? Because I know all too well about the stacks of research which show that kids who grow up in a home with more than 300 books inside ultimately become highly literate . . . which has a direct corollary on becoming a college graduate, a person who has health insurance, and blah, blah, blah.
So yes, we are a family that greatly values reading.
As for the authors you’d find, there are many names which are quite common. From Seuss to Willems, Sendak to Shannon, on and on and on, we have a pretty nice collection of reading materials under my roof. Go to a chef’s house, I imagine you’d find a lot of spices. Come to my home and you’re gonna find literature.
Thanks so much for sharing your precious new daddy time with us! Last question, I promise. What are you hoping to receive for Father’s Day?
How silly is it that my greatest hope for Father’s Day is nothing more than a day with all my girls? Sure, I like golf, movies, and attending live sporting events, but what I most want for Father’s Day is a big hug from all my ladies and day filled with seeing all of them smile.
Of course, starting the morning off with a family read of Daddies Do it Different might not be such a bad way to enjoy my coffee though. *wink-wink*
For more information, visit Alan’s website: http://www.alanlawrencesitomer.com/
The next stop on Alan’s Father’s Day blog tour is Momma Drama at http://blogginmommadrama.blogspot.com/