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A More In-Depth Interview with Ted
An Interview of Ted Scheu by Ted Scheu
(More info for the Press and Others who just crave more.)
Take a read…
Q: Good morning, Ted. I’m taking a wild guess that you slept well last night?
A: Thanks for asking. Yes, I did. How did you guess? It was all thanks to “Night-night, Body.” As you might have also guessed, even though I wrote “Night-night, Body,” and have read it a bazillion times, I still love making it the last thing I do each night before I turn off my eyeballs, brain, and light. It works every time—sending me right to Snoozeville.
Q: What is the sleepy secret of your book?
A: Several secrets, actually. First, as I do with all my poems for children, I worked to make sure that the rhymes and rhythms of “Night-night, Body” were easy on the reader’s ears. Musicality, I call it.
Secondly, there is something quite magical and soothing about speaking directly to parts of your body, as you would to helpful friends, thanking them for a great day, and inviting them to turn in for the night. Working up from toes to tippy top seems to slowly turn my body off in the right order.
Finally, Pete’s illustrations are so fun and filled with little surprises, no matter how tough my day has been, my entire body smiles when I see his paintings. I find new smiles every night.
Q: What is Pete’s secret?
A: You’ll have to ask him, but I have my opinion on the subject. Every painting Pete has ever done that I have seen, not just those for kids but every one, seems to capture the world with a bright, inquisitive, childlike curiosity and energy. This mirrors Pete’s personality. Plus, he has a gentle, self-effacing, silly-teasing manner that people—especially kids—warm right up to. I’ve seen him in action in his medical office, and I have talked to many of his young patients. They love Dr. Gergely to pieces, and love going to the doctor’s when they need to. Even for their shots. Amazing.
Q: How did you guys decide to work together on the book?
A: It’s a fun story. At least I think it is. Pete and I have been good friends since college. We slipped apart as we got going professionally, but then I reconnected with him regularly about 20 years ago when I started visiting schools in the Hudson River Valley. More than any friend I have, Pete brings out the very best in me.
I have loved Pete’s art forever. When I needed to find an illustrator for my book, I looked at several, but none matched my ideal. I was sure that Pete was way too busy to take this on, but he was excited to try.
We decided right from the start that no matter what he did, it would not impact our friendship. What if I hated his ideas and paintings? I was confident that I would love it all, and he exceeded my expectations by light years. Somehow, in the space of six months, he was able to do all the paintings for the book. It was an amazing effort, and utterly delightful for me to see his work unfold, and to exceed my dreams.
Q: Be honest now. What were the problems that you and Pete had working together?
A: Wow, you ask tough questions. Okay, yes, there was one snoozy-big problem. It's the same problem I find when I visit him at his house as a house guest. Pete is a total New York night owl. He's much younger than I am (by a couple of months) so, I guess he needs less sleep. He works late. He eats late. When I visit, my body is screaming, "I'm tired. I'm hungry. I can't stay up any more. I have to get up early!" And when we had to talk 'book shop' on the phone, it was sometimes a challenge to find a time that wasn't ridiculously late for me. But we worked it out, as good friends always do.
Q: How did you and Pete decide on taking a global approach to the scenes in the book?
A: It was Pete’s brilliant idea to take the reader on a trip around the world with his paintings. This made the images certainly more intriguing, for sure, and it also added an educational element to the book. We both feel strongly that our world needs more international understanding. Kids like us love to learn about how other kids live. As for the country choices, Pete and I worked together to make sure there was both a geographical and cultural balance. Naturally, since our book is being published and primarily sold in the US, at least for now, we feature six different US locations in the mix.
Q: I noticed that you have a world map in the back of the book, with all the locations, and more information on the book’s website about each country and how kids go to sleep?
A: Yes, I’m a former elementary teacher, so my instinct is to always try to extend a lesson, or a text, so that my students and readers can learn more about the things they have seen. We even included questions, both in the back of the book, and on the book’s website (nightnightbody.com) that readers can use to discuss the book with each other. It’s great for families. And for teachers.
Q: Where do, or did, you teach?
A: I am an itinerant, or traveling teacher now, and I have been for the past 20+ years. I am invited to elementary schools around the world (the northeast US, mostly) to teach writing workshops in K-6 classrooms, helping kids like me to find their own writer’s voices. Poetry is the absolute best writing genre for kids. It helps them spread their writing wings and gain confidence. It’s short, has flexible rules, gently demands careful word choice, and encourages writers to write about the most important things in their lives. Every kid succeeds with poems. It’s magical.
I was a classroom teacher in Shelburne, Vermont where I taught all the grades K through 5. I took a year off to write, and never came back. Now, I borrow classrooms from generous teachers when I visit. I am my best person when I am working with kids in schools.
Well before my teaching time, after college, I was a naval officer, an advertising executive and copywriter, and a carpenter. Thankfully, a little 40-year-old bird whispered in my ear that teaching (and writing for kids) was the right place for me.
Q: That’s quite a trajectory.
A: Yes, it is. It took me a while but I finally discovered my gifts and my true profession, thanks to a very patient wife and family. And all those stops and starts contribute to my unique writer’s voice, I like to think.
Q: Before “Night-night, Body,” all your published work has been in poetry. How come?
A: I’ve always loved the musicality and distinctive wordplay that poetry—especially rhyming, rhythmic poetry—requires. And I love the brevity of poetry—it must say a great deal in a small space, and it is fun to revise. Each poem is a labor of love, and is really fun when it all comes together. Plus, I absolutely stink at keyboarding, so longer prose is hard for me.
So, yes, I have six poetry collection of my own—mostly ‘heartful’ humorous verses, focused on the roller coaster lives that all kids have every day at school and at home. And I have poems in over 20 prominent and semi-prominent anthologies around the globe.
Q: Will “Night-night, Body” lead to more collaborations with you and Pete?
A: I hope so. I think Pete hopes so too, although as you can guess, he puts in many more hours than I do creating his magical, gorgeous paintings. So, you’d have to ask him. I am working on a sequel to Night-night, Body, at the moment, that celebrates the other end of the sleep cycle—morning!
Q: I see you are yawning, Ted, so here’s one last question. Where can people find “Night-night, Body” and more information about the book?
A: A lovely last question. Of course, the book is available on amazon.com, but also it can be purchased directly from the distributor at itasca.com.
What’s even better? I encourage families to ask their local independent bookstore to get “Night-night, Body” for them. Local bookstores need our help to survive.
But only buy the book (or borrow it from your local library) if you want to enjoy your best sleep ever. And a bunch of big smiles before that!