Children’s book “The Teacher’s Pet”
The kids and I have been enjoying our copy of “The Teacher’s Pet” by Anica Mrose Rissi (on sale June 20th!) The story of a classroom pet gone wrong, not only had the kids and I laughing but learning. The story tells the students perspective of their teacher and his pet. This makes for a unqiue story line that kids can easily relate to. For me, the sign of a great children’s book is one that helps you to engage and ask questions with your child. It also fosters reading comprehension and is down right fun. Author, Anica, and Illustrator, Zachariah hit on all my favorite qualities of a good book. The funny story and pictures kept two-year-old Max engaged, while four-year-old Ava and I talked a lot about what makes a good pet.
Interview with author Anica Mrose Rissi
It was my great pleasure to be able to ask the author, Anica Mrose Rissi, a bit more about herself and her inspiration for the story, “The Teacher’s Pet”. Her answer to my question about advice to your younger self, struck such a cord with me. I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.
Was there a teacher of yours that influenced the character of Mr. Stricter?
Mr. Stricter is, in some ways, the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written. I’m not an elementary-school teacher, and I’ve never been swallowed whole (or sneezed back out) by a creature like Bruno, but I am wildly in love with my own adorable, rambunctious, mischievous pet—so much so that, even when she’s behaving her very worst (jumping on guests, stealing food off the counter, rolling in stinky things…), I still think she’s the most wonderful animal in the world.
In early drafts of The Teacher’s Pet, Mr. Stricter was much, well, stricter. I wrote several versions of the manuscript where Mr. Stricter was obsessed with rules, which made Mr. Stricter’s deep, unwavering love for the class pet, Bruno—even as Bruno gets bigger and bigger and causes more and more trouble, breaking every rule he can find—all the more shocking to the kids who narrate the story. That piece of the plot proved unnecessary, so it was gone by the time I reached draft three (of the maybe forty drafts it took to get the story right), and all that remains of that initial idea is Mr. Stricter’s name. It makes me laugh that Mr. Stricter is perhaps the least strict, most mild-mannered teacher around—and illustrator Zachariah OHora’s depiction of him in his bow tie, green sneakers, and Mr. Rogers sweater, with an affable smile and a pencil always tucked behind one ear, is exactly perfect.
Mr. Stricter’s pet Bruno has quite the persona. Do you have a pet of your own?
Yes! As a kid growing up on Deer Isle, Maine, I was lucky to have a lot of pets. We not only had cats and dogs, but also ducks, geese, rabbits, hamsters, frogs, fish, salamanders, snails…. Once we even had two eels that lived in a bucket. I loved all of them—I’ve always been crazy about pets. But I am most obsessed with dogs, especially my own long-legged hound mutt, Arugula. Rooga is nine years old, but she still has the energy, temperament, and perked-up ears of a puppy. And she’s a very important part of my writing process—she inspires some of my characters (such as Bruno in The Teacher’s Pet and the dog, Banana, in my Anna, Banana chapter-book series); she enjoys “helping” me write by resting her snout on the keyboard while I’m trying to work; and she’s the star of every Skype visit I do with kid readers.
What was your favorite book as a child?
One of my favorite picture books growing up was The Banza by Diane Wolkstein, illustrated by Marc Brown. It’s a Haitian story about an unlikely friendship between a little goat, Cabree, and a young tiger, Teegra; the musical instrument (a banza) that Teegra gives to Cabree when they part; and how music saves Cabree’s life when the banza and her heart become one. My mother is exceptionally good at reading aloud, and the memory of the way she delivers an especially ferocious line from Cabree’s song still makes me shiver with delight.
What piece of advice do you know now that you wish you knew in your younger years?
Young Nica, please don’t keep running on that oft-injured ankle. Really. Let it rest. Patience can be as important as discipline in achieving your dreams and goals.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any future book ideas?
Sure! Next up is Anna, Banana, and the Recipe for Disaster, the sixth book in my Anna, Banana chapter-book series about a girl name Anna, her wiener dog, Banana, and all the ups and downs of elementary-school best-friendship. Anna, Banana, and the Recipe for Disaster involves some pretty funny baking mishaps in addition to the friendship challenges, and since I love stirring up trouble in the kitchen, those were fun scenes to research and write.
I have a second picture book on the way, which is in development now—I’m revising the text with input from my brilliant picture-book editor, Rotem Moscovich at Disney-Hyperion. It’s called Watch Out for Wolf! and it’s a twist on the “This Little Piggy” nursery rhyme, in which five anxious but enterprising little pigs are preparing a very big surprise for Wolf. I’m over-the-moon that Charles Santoso (of Ida, Always and I Don’t Like Koala fame) is going to illustrate it. That one won’t be released until 2019—picture books take a long time to create!
And next summer, my debut YA novel, Always Forever Maybe, comes out. It’s about a controlling relationship, an unraveling best friendship, and the depths and boundaries of romantic and platonic love. Don’t worry, there’s also a dog and a cat in it (and the scenes with those pets were some of my favorite moments to write).
I’m working on a second, unrelated YA novel now, and playing with a few new picture-book ideas, too, but I’m not quite ready to talk about those yet. Ideas can be very skittish! I have to pretend I’m not all that interested in them at first, or they might bolt to avoid the pressure.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself that few people know?
Besides writing books, I also play fiddle in (and sometimes write lyrics for) the electro-country band Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves. One of my favorite gigs we played was at the local public library! Being in a band is too much fun—I love getting to create music with friends.
Did you love this author’s interview? Check out my post about author Ame Dyckman and her book “You DON’T Want A Unicorn”.