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Keepsake that Educates!

Interview with Bestselling Illustrator Derek Anderson

Derek Anderson is the acclaimed illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Little Quack, Little Quack’s Hide and Seek, Little Quack’s New Friend, and Over the River: aTurkey’s Tale. His first offering as both author and illustrator, Gladys Goes Out to Lunch, was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in June 2005.

Author/illustrator Derek Anderson drew the very first picture he can ever remember drawing when he was in kindergarten. It was a picture of the Easter Bunny. When he finished it, Derek gave it to the principal of his school who hung it on the wall of his office for the rest of the school year. Derek’s fate was sealed. From then on, he knew he was going to be an artist. When he reached second grade, Derek wrote his very first story and he’s never stopped writing or drawing since.

Derek illustrated Ready? Set. Raymond! by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Little Quack by Lauren Thompson, for which he received recognition as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start.

Little Quack quickly became a New York Times bestseller and has gone on to great acclaim winning such awards as theALA/CBCChildren’s Choice Award and the National Parenting Publication Gold Award.

Derek also illustrated Little Quack’s Hide and Seek, Little Quack’s Bedtime, Little Quack’s New Friend, Over the River: ATurkey’s Tale,

The Potty Train, Ballyhoo Bay by Judy Sierra, which was named to the “Best Books of the Year” list by Bank Street College of Education and

Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord which appeared on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list, was on Bank Street College of Education’s “Best Books of the Year” list for 2011, received a Parents’ Choice Award, and was a finalist for the Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice Award in the Picture Book category.

Derek has authored a number of books as well including Gladys Goes Out to Lunch, Blue Burt and Wiggles, How the Easter Bunny Saved Christmas, Romeo and Lou Blast Off, which was named one of the best books of 2007 by Parent & Child Magazine, and Story County: Here We Come! about five friends (Farmer, Dog, Pig, Chicken and Miss Cow) who set out to make a farm.

Derek’s newest book, Happy Birthday, Hamster (written by Cynthia Lord) is the follow-up to the very popular award winning picture book Hot Rod Hamster.

 Interview with New York Times bestselling illustrator Derek Anderson.

I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog. I have followed your work and am so impress with your use of bright, vibrant colors used to bring a book to life.

Thank you- I have the best job in the world!
According to your bio, you drew your first picture when in kindergarten. Did your parents buy you a set of art materials after that?

My parents always encouraged us to create- they were very good at keeping art materials around the house. There were always plentiful supplies of crayons, markers and stacks of paper to draw on. My mother would never allow us to say we were bored.

You also worked as a designer and sculptor for Warner Brothers and Disney figurines. Could you list some of the work you did?

Shortly after college I worked as a sculptor making figurines for the Warner Brothers and Disney stores. There’s a long list of projects I worked on, but Daffy Duck was my specialty. I could carve Daffy with myeyes closed! It’s probably not a big surprise that I went on to illustrate the LITTLE QUACK books.
If you were to choose a character from the books you have illustrated which one would it be and why?

It would depend on what I was choosing that character for. If I was late to a book signing, I would want Hamster from HOT ROD HAMSTER to drive me. That little guy really knows how to handle a car. But if I needed help moving, I would certainly choose Gladys, my purple gorilla from GLADYS
GOES OUT TO LUNCH. My other characters are just too small to move dressers and sofas.
You must be pleased to be recognized for your work?

There’s nothing better than having a parent or child come up and tell me how much they love my books. It takes an incredible amount of time and
energy to make books– I put so much into them. So I’m pleased when someone enjoys a world I’ve created and takes the time to let me know it.
Are you working on a new book?

I just finished paintings for a book called WAKING DRAGONS. It’s really fun and magical! It was written by Jane Yolen and will be published by
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in fall 2012.

What is the last book you read?

I met Australian author Markus Zusak last spring when we were both speaking at the Michigan Library Association’s Spring Institute in Lansing. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and I’m currently reading a book he wrote called THE BOOK THIEF.

What was your favorite children’s book?

I loved so many! DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR by Syd Hoff, MORRIS THE MOOSE by Bernard Wiseman, HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON by Crockett Johnson and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein were just a few.

What is the most difficult part of illustrating a book?

It takes a very long time and an incredible attention to detail. You have to remember that there isn’t a character or detail that exists in that world that I don’t have to draw and paint. And I have to keep a constant accounting to make sure I carry everything through from one picture to the next. I have a very good memory, but sometimes I have to scribble notes while I work. The main character in HOT ROD HAMSTER takes something like seven or eight colors to paint. I can’t suddenly start mixing different colors into his fur halfway through the book.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HAMSTER is the longest I’ve spent on a book. From the first sketches to delivery of the final paintings took something like eight

What do you do when you’re not writing or drawing?

I’m usually writing and drawing even when I’m not working on books. I don’t think I could ever really get away from creating- it’s a huge part of who I am. But I also love spending time with my wife, Cheryl, and our dog, Louie. I read a lot. I love going out with friends. I do have to confess that I have a very adventurous side- I’ve been skydiving and I’m a scuba diver as well. My wife and I once went diving in a coral canyon more than a hundred feet deep off the coast of Belize in Central America. It was spectacular!

Who are some of your favorite authors/illustrators you would love to dine with?

Wow, excellent question. If I could choose guests that are no longer living– Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger and Dr. Seuss. And if you wouldn’t mind, can we invite Mr. Picasso as well? Now that would be a dinner I would never forget!
What illustrator inspires you the most and why?

I can’t pick just one, so here goes! I’ve always loved the old Ernest Shepard drawings of Winnie the Pooh. They’re quiet and spare, yet packed
with emotion. And Arnold Lobel had this amazing way of stylizing his work, but still keeping it all very simple. No one handled a brush quite like
Ezra Jack Keats. For pure painting and freedom of brushstrokes, you won’t find a better book to look at than APT. 3. Dr. Seuss certainly set his
imagination free in his invented characters and contraptions. I still wonder how much he was influenced by the Surrealist movement of the time.
I think he was a Surrealist and didn’t even know it. I love how free his work is. And Shel Silverstein did it all with one little thin line. There isn’t color in a lot of those books, there isn’t shading, just pure, expressive, absolute brilliance.

I’m still a huge fan of the Impressionists- Monet, Cezanne, Degas, and though he’s not considered an Impressionist, lately I’ve been studying the
work of Picasso. He really explored the possibilities and was tireless in his pursuit to create.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?

The only discipline I will admit to is I create every day. When I’m under deadline I tend to work every day of the week. When I’m between books, I’m often developing stories and paintings of my own. Some are for books and others are just explorations of characters or some wild idea I have. Goals definitely have their place, but play time is absolutely crucial for artists. Discovery requires a certain amount of freedom- it’s important to
make time for it, but you have to be careful about placing it on a clock. It doesn’t like to be bothered or rushed.

What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?

Just be willing to try lots of different things. I try to make books for that 6 year-old boy in me- he loves adventure, he loves fun, whimsical stories and he is still endlessly curious about the world.

What do you hope that readers will take away from your books?

I think the best books pull you in for that short time you’re reading them. You get to actually step into that world and live there. I hope readers find that to be true with my books. I want them to step right into one of my outlandish, whimsical worlds, introduce themselves to my characters and get swept away in a fun adventure.

What advice would you give to new writers/illustrators?

Read a lot, write, draw and join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

When I was in college at Iowa State University, I used to walk by this building everyday that housed the travel abroad program. They used to display these clever sayings with one word in each window, so you would read this saying as you walked by. The last window always had the same
four words- The World is Yours. I’ve always believed that.

Thank you for this interview.  

Thank you!


November 14, 2011 - Posted by | Meet the Author | , , , , , ,


  1. Passion. What would we be without it? I know without a passion for my job, the hard things would be too much for me to handle. I can feel the passion Derek has for his work in this interview. Thanks.

    Comment by Heidi Grange | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. I can judge by the art on his wall that the book’s illustrations are wonderful! Also I think his story of drawing the picture and the principal hanging it on the wall was a great example of how important our reactions to children’s creativity is to the child’s development. That single act encouraged him to be an artist.

    Comment by Grace Hodgin | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  3. I just find Derek’s illustrations so joyful. I can see how they would help bring the reader INTO the story and then wanting more. Now I want to read this book myself!

    Comment by Joanne | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  4. I have to say that he inspires me. I love to draw and write but I’m not as good as he is. I love his books. My oldest son just loves to draw, write and read. Derek definitely does know what he’s doing and i hope to read every book he publishes to my kids.

    Comment by Darcy Novak | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  5. Nice to meet you Derek. I look forward reading some of the published works that feature your creative illustrations.

    Comment by Saba | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  6. Hi Derek, You are quite gifted. You are so creative and have had a very interesting life career wise. That’s great because it comes out in your work. It was great getting to meet you here and learn about your work.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Comment by Carol L. | November 15, 2011 | Reply

  7. looks like a cool book and onemy kids would love

    Comment by smw24stacie | November 15, 2011 | Reply

  8. Great interview Derek. Keep up the experience and puttig youself into the book you are doing. Love ya! Uncle Jerry

    Comment by Jerry Anderson | November 15, 2011 | Reply

  9. Thank you for the intro to this author for children…always looking for new children’s authors and great books for my 5 year old niece who loves to be read to 🙂

    Comment by dawnhagan | November 16, 2011 | Reply

  10. Your work is beautiful. A wonderful gift…7 or 8 colors…sounds intensive. Thanks for sharing Derek!

    Comment by Maureen Timerman | November 16, 2011 | Reply

  11. Derek we LOVE your books!! We have autographed copies of every one of them. My kids NEVER tire of them and they love that you make a picture just for them when you sign the copy! Being an Iowa State Vet grad myself, I love looking for the “secret” Ames tidbits and the kids enjoy hunting for you, Little Quack, Gladys and Friday in each story. Thanks for being creative and given the kids AND parents books they enjoy reading again and again!!

    Comment by Jill Speicher | November 18, 2011 | Reply

  12. We love Little Quack! I am asked to read them almost daily in my preschool classroom. You’re a fantastic artist!

    Comment by stacy | November 21, 2011 | Reply

  13. Awesome interview, Derek! I love your answer to the last question…you always refer to your roots and where you came from with pride. Ames was a great place to grow up…we were lucky kids! I still have the sketch you drew of me in my AHS cheer uniform and have shared it, along with the books you have written with my kids at school. It is fun to see how your talent has evolved. Thank you for bringing joy and a love of reading to the kids in America!

    Comment by Kris Berhow Gabrielson | November 22, 2011 | Reply

  14. Great interview with Derek. I am impressed by his illustrations, and the fact that he writes as well. A well rounded children’s author. What I love even more is he has a young son whom I’m sure he uses as a tester…lol

    Comment by larissa brunken | November 27, 2011 | Reply

  15. I love your advice to read, write and draw! I give this same advice to my Pre K class. You can never read too much! I love your books!

    Comment by Rachel | December 4, 2011 | Reply

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