Monday, October 19, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

BARBARA JEAN HICKS lives in Oxnard, California with her partner Michael and a bad-tempered cat. She is the author of five children’s picture books. MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI is her second book about monsters and her third book in which food is an important element. She is working on her relationship with vegetables but has a monster appetite for fun! To learn more about Barbara and her books, visit her website.

MONSTERS DON'T EAT BROCCOLI is a rollicking book with lots of fun concepts and language. Can you tell us a little about how the story came to be?
An interesting story: the pictures came first! Sue Hendra had created a dummy for a pop-up book that was about all the crazy things that monsters eat. Erin Clarke, the editor I had worked with on THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, loved Sue’s monsters but wanted them in a traditional picture book. I feel so fortunate that she decided to ask me if I might be interested in working with the sketches Sue had already done. I fell in love with Sue’s cheerful, colorful monsters! I wanted her to be able to use at least some of the fun, funny sketches she’d already created, so I decided to keep with the eating theme. When I found a sketch of the monsters having a food fight with vaguely broccoli-looking trees they’d been munching on, I immediately thought of the way so many parents get their kids to eat broccoli by calling it little trees.

I turned the “what monsters eat” theme on its head and focused instead on what monsters (and their child counterparts) often don’t eat—their veggies. A phrase popped into my head from the old fairytale JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and I turned that on its head as well. Thus: “Fum, foe, fie, fee, Monsters don’t eat broccoli!” I rearranged the sketches, leaving out some and suggesting others to make the book a little longer, as part of the process of writing the text. I had lots of fun, and the text came very quickly.

MONSTERS sends a great message to kids about healthy eating. I know you're active in promoting healthy eating for children. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how you're hoping that MONSTERS will help the cause?
The creative process is so fascinating. When we write (or draw, or sing, or do any number of other creative things), our subconscious draws from many disparate memories, ideas, emotions and experiences and makes connections we aren’t even aware of on a conscious level. I wrote this story thinking it was about the power of a healthy imagination—which it is. But it’s also, perhaps even more, about healthy eating habits. I grew up with a father who loved to garden and was crazy about fresh vegetables—and a mom who didn’t much like vegetables. So we had opportunities to eat lots of fresh vegetables but were never forced to eat them. I had my favorites (like corn on the cob and peas right out of the pod), but other veggies have been an acquired taste. Many of them I’ve discovered just in the last year, when my partner was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. We went on the South Beach diet, which is heavy on vegetables and whole grains. This new way to eat totally reversed the blood sugar problem, and we both dropped pounds as well. We discovered a lot more vegetables we liked, and those have become a regular part of our diet.

When the reviews started rolling in for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, every single one commented on the “healthy eating” aspect of the story that I hadn’t even realized I’d written! I also got lots of comments back when I sent a notice out to my e-mail list that the book had hit the bookstore shelves. One was from a school superintendent I had worked with in the past who asked if I would be interested in partnering with the district to encourage healthy eating habits in the elementary schools. I realized that many kids don’t have the advantage I had as a child of a big garden in the back yard, and I liked the idea. Obesity and diabetes are increasingly significant problems in this country, not only for adults but for children, and poor diet is the main culprit. Lack of exercise is a second element that I’ll also address in the program I’m developing for the district, which we have dubbed the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative.

My book launch for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI was part of a weekend long fundraiser in cooperation with our local Barnes & Noble for the Initiative. We not only had great fun, we taught kids the “broccoli chant,” engaged them in a healthy-eating poster contest, and had a slide show about ways to eat healthy even at fast food restaurants.
I’ve discovered that several members of my local SCBWI chapter have developed or worked with nutrition curricula for elementary school children and are willing to share their materials and experiences with me as I develop the program for the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative, which I hope to make available in other schools as well.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Appropriately enough, when we’re talking about healthy eating, it’s a fruit joke.

Q: What was Beethoven’s favorite fruit?

A: Ba-na-na-na (sung to the tune of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth!)

Thanks, Barbara Jean! For more information on Barbara Jean's blog tour schedule, read on!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 17: Review: Elizabeth Bird for School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. “More fun than a book with a message should ever hope to be.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 18: Book Trailer: Monster reviewers Gene Sisko and Roger Elbert go two thumbs up for BROCCOLI!

MONDAY OCTOBER 19: Interview: Terry Pierce talks to Barbara about children and healthy eating.

TUESDAY OCTOBER 20: Interview: Little Willow talks to illustrator Sue Hendra, editor Erin Clarke, and Barbara in a single interview.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 21: Interview: Sherrie Petersen talks to Barbara about the switch from writing romance to writing children’s books.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 22: Interview: Terry Pierce interviews editor Erin Clarke (Random House Knopf).

FRIDAY OCTOBER 23: Interview: Jaime Temairik and the Zombie talk to illustrator Sue Hendra in sock puppet form for Zombie Broadcasting Services. You’ve never seen an interview like this one!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 24: Podcast Review: Mark and Andrea’s Just One More Book audio blog. “Gasping, gobbling, grinning, crunching and belching, seven sherbet-coloured monsters revel in outrage at their broccoli-loving readers in this rhyming enticement to eat green.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 25: Book Trailer: Cecilia Olivera-Hillway of Polar Twilight animates Sue Hendra’s cheerful monsters as giant broccoli falls from the sky.

MONDAY OCTOBER 26: Photographs: The Broccoli Book Launch, August 28, 2009, Barnes & Noble Ventura. Seen: Chow, Chompers, and Barbara Jean the Story Queen!

TUESDAY OCTOBER 27: Downloads: For kids, Sue Hendra’s coloring pages for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI. For adults, The MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI Broccoli Fan Cookbook!

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 28: Podcast Interview: Suzanne Lieurance talks to author Barbara Jean Hicks about BROCCOLI, her life, and writing on Book Bites for Kids (Blog Talk Radio).