Books, Bugs, and Robots
David Kirk, the magically talented creator of the Miss Spider and Nova the Robot books, continues to charm his readers with new stories and adventures. His first animated series, Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids, premiered in the spring of 2005, and two more Miss Spider books, The Listening Walk and Dashing Through the Snow, appeared in bookstores in October 2005. We all know his unique and curious insects. Now it's time to learn about the man behind the bugs.
Parent & Child: What did you do before you started writing children's books?
I started as a painter, but after college, settled into making toys, which I had a peculiar talent for. I collected robots when I was little, and I developed a knack for things mechanical that meshed with my talent for painting.
P&C: How and when did you first decide you wanted to be a children's author? How did you know that was the right path for you?
The first time it occurred to me to try writing a book was when a publisher saw my art and asked if I'd be interested in giving it a shot. That was about 1989. I was making hand-made toys at the time, and that was a difficult living — a great deal of work and very little money. I didn't know if being an author would be more fun or not, but it certainly turned out well. I didn't know either, back then, if I really had any stories to tell, but once I got started, I found out I was full of stories.
P&C: What do you love most about your job now?
Right now I have lots of jobs. I work on the Miss Spider TV show. I make new books from that show. I develop new projects for future books and shows. I help make new products and toys for Target stores. I'm working on some short stories and small novels. There are nice things about all these jobs, so my favorite is usually developing new ideas for any of them.
P&C: How did you first become interested in bugs? Why do you like them?
I can't remember when I first loved bugs. By the time I was in school I was a major bug enthusiast. I was always catching them and studying them and letting them go. I couldn't stand the kids who'd catch them and let them die in a jar. Then there were the kids who'd squish them. I don't need to tell you what I thought of those kids. Bugs are the strangest creatures you could hope to find. Beings from outer space couldn't be more weird and wonderful. We're so lucky to have bugs!
P&C: What is your favorite kind of bug and why? What bugs don't you like and why?
I'm quite fond of katydids — how they come inside and just hang out in the corner, happily clicking away. They're very elegant with their long green wings and delicate feelers. Hawk moths are wonderful, though I've seen them only rarely. They look like tiny hummingbirds. Walking sticks, praying mantises, fireflies — all fabulous. My youngest daughters have bugs for their middle names. Primrose has Firefly, and Wisteria has Katydid.
Bugs I don't like: the usual suspects — flies, mosquitoes, blackflies. Those bugs just come up and pester me, and they can't be reasoned with.
P&C: What do you do with bugs when you find them in your house?
I either leave them alone, or if they're noisy or disagreeable, escort them outside.
P&C: How do your daughters feel about bugs?
Violet, my oldest, was always very interested in them. She's great with creatures in general, and the weirder the better. My little girls are good with bugs too, but maybe not quite as devoted yet.
P&C: Where did your inspiration for the Miss Spider books originate? Where does your inspiration for Miss Spider characters and storylines come from now?
Miss Spider's Tea Party was inspired by Violet, who was always so good to bugs. Inspiration for characters usually comes from people I know. Miss Spider's friends, Ike and May, for instance, are based on my parents.
P&C: How has your family influenced your stories?
I suppose that would start with my dad, who wrote stories when I was growing up. He'd make up stories to tell at bedtime too. There was always a lot of fantasy at my house, with my brother loving monsters, and me loving robots, and my mom and dad both encouraging our interests and helping us with art and costumes.
P&C: Where did your interest in robots come from?
My brother got a robot for Christmas in 1957 when I was 2. I adopted it, and then searched for more robots at every opportunity.
P&C: What is unique about your Nova stories?
I think the fact that Nova is a robot boy with ordinary problems is what makes him special. He gets into some grand dilemmas, but the route of his troubles will come from things like difficulties getting along with his friends or his pets or his parents. He has to figure out his life as he goes, just like we all do.
P&C: Of all of the characters you've created, which is your favorite and why? Which do you relate to most?
If I include all my characters, my favorite would be one you don't know, because she hasn't come out into the world yet. I think most authors have lots of ideas, and it can take a long time for them to bring a story all the way through to the final step of publication. Of my published work, it's not easy to choose! It actually might be Spiderus. His nastiness makes me laugh. I hope I'm not like him though.
P&C: What would you say is the source of the enchantment that fills your characters and illustrations?
To a large extent, it's subtleties of light and color. Then, there is a sort of warmth of expression and gesture, and the way the characters relate to each other in the pictures that sometimes brings them to life.
P&C: Which children's authors do you admire most and why?
There's a Viennese author called Ida Bohatta-Morpurgo, who wrote and illustrated in the first half of the twentieth century. She really got me going with Miss Spider. I found one of her books at a library sale for 25 cents in 1988. Her poems are funny and friendly and not a bit hokey in the way that a lot of poems can get when the poet thinks he needs to say something clever or important. Her illustrations are light and sweet, yet still rich with detail. They bloom with happiness. She's been my favorite since I spent that quarter almost 20 years ago.
P&C: What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
My favorite was How the Mole Got His Car. I can't even tell you the author. It was based on a Czech animation, but I only found that out recently. This mole really wanted a car badly, and had to go through all sorts of grief to get it. When he finally got the thing he found great peace and happiness.
P&C: Can you give us a hint about any new characters, story lines, or book ideas that you have for the future?
I'm doing some more human type fantasy characters, some fuzzy animals, a girl with a really unusual problem. I've got a long, long list. The list gets longer every year. If you're lucky enough to be successful with one character, it'ss not easy to move on to the new ones.
P&C: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Okay, this is a treasure I don't share lightly. Here is information that has helped me through many, many difficult moments. It's about hiccups. Loud noises, standing on your head, breathing into a paper bag — all nonsense. I suffered horribly from hiccups for years and tried everything to no avail until I learned this secret from an excellent woman named Virginia. Here's what you do. First, take a big sip of water and hold it in your mouth. Don't swallow yet. Stick your fingers tightly in your ears and then take small controlled swallows of the water you've got tanked up in there. After just ten or so swallows, depending on how terrible your hiccups have gotten, they will flee to wherever foul region vanquished hiccups go. You will be a new happier person. I'm serious about this. I know you expected to read more about writing or making pictures, but believe me — you're going to thank me for this jewel of knowledge!