Ame Dyckman is short, loud, mischievous, and often dresses like her book characters. She’s also the award-winning, internationally-translated author of the fantastically illustrated picture books Boy and Bot, Tea Party Rules, the New York Timesbestselling Wolfie the Bunny, Horrible Bear!, You Don’t Want a Unicorn!, and more picture books and board books in the works! Ame lives in central New Jersey with her family, ridiculously big-eared cat, book collection, closet full of hair dye colors, and of course, the characters from her stories. (For reals! She’s currently building a homemade swimming pool for the protagonist of her upcoming series, Misunderstood Shark—mostly so she can have her bathtub back.) (extracted/adapted from author website)
Thank you, Ame, for the super fun interview!
THANKS for the book love and for having me, Margaret! HOWDY, Read. Learn. Repeat. readers!
In the book jacket for Read the Book, Lemmings! you wrote about being inspired by the inaccuracies in the 1958 Disney documentary, White Wilderness — a movie that manufactures the appearance of lemmings willingly jumping off cliffs in droves. Your book corrects this notion in a hilarious fashion. When did you first get the idea to turn this topic into a picture book, and how long did it take to come to fruition?
I was nine years old when I learned the lemmings-and-cliff scenes in WHITE WILDERNESS were, well… FAKEY-FAKED!
My kid self was filled with Great Indignation on the lemmings’ behalf. Lemmings DON’T jump off cliffs! And I needed everyone (especially the lemmings!) to know it!
I told family. I told classmates. I told shoppers in the supermarket.
NINE-YEAR-OLD ME: “Lemmings DON’T jump off cliffs!”
SHOPPER: “I… I just came in for Corn Nuts!”
But the reach of a (pre-Internet) nine-year-old was limited. I’d need to at least semi-grow up to spread my lemmings truth more effectively. Maybe even write a picture book about it!
Semi-growing up took FOREVER. So did writing this book. It was only a decade or so ago that I finally came up with (what I thought would be) the first line of my lemmings book:
It was a mighty big cliff.
Then I’d laugh myself silly and that was the end of my progress!
But one day a few years ago, while musing a third book to write for Zachariah OHora (more on this in a bit)…
I walked into a bar.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, and revelers had been reveling. Watching patrons wobble on their barstools, I worried they’d fall off! But falling off tall things made me think of lemmings again, this time from the POV of someone who had to keep the lemmings from jumping…
I opened my laptop (“EXCUSE ME! Writin’ to do!”) and knocked out the new opening lines of READ THE BOOK, LEMMINGS! right there at the bar in the bar! The rest of READ THE BOOK, LEMMINGS! took just a few more weeks and research trips—to the library, not the bar!—to finish, and Super Agent (Scott Treimel) sold it right away!
I was OVER-THE-MOON the lemmings were FINALLY going to get their book! (And I think the lemmings were happy, too!)
Not only is Read the Book, Lemmings! hilarious, but so is your Twitter feed— you get me laughing daily. Has humor always been a prominent feature in your writing?
AWWW, THANK YOU! The world NEEDS funny—especially nowadays! I’m just trying to do my goofy l’il part, and Twitter is a great platform for making folks chuckle between news and boring grown-up stuff.
But I’ve pretty much ALWAYS loved making folks laugh with my writing. Just as some of my stand-up comedy idols can trace their “calling MOMENT” to getting their first big laughs in elementary school, I got hooked on Writing Funny really young, around third grade. I wrote something zany for a classroom assignment, and my classmates practically PEED laughing! All these years later, there’s still NUTHIN’ LIKE seeing a class (or school! OR TOWN!) of kids LAUGHING ’cause of something YOU wrote!
You’ve talked in previous interviews about being inspired by your parenting experiences. How has being a parent influenced your work?
I don’t think I would’ve actually fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming an author if I hadn’t become a parent first! Sharing bedtime stories, volunteering as Guest Reader at preschool… but mostly ’cause it was my kiddo (“The Kid” on Twitter) who gave my then-contemplating-attempting-authordom self the direct order of “GO FOR IT, MOMMY!” (She was five at the time. You should always take career advice from your Kindergartener.)
Something I love to share (especially when she comes to my book events, so I can embarrass her now-teenage self! HA!) is that The Kid was THE inspiration for WOLFIE THE BUNNY. (Take a toddler who fought sleep but HOWLED every time she was tired, and it’s only natural you start thinking about what it’s like to live with a baby wolf!)
But EVERY book has a little bit of The Kid (and “Husband Guy,” and “The Cat”—collectively, “The Horde”) in it. (An upcoming not-announced-yet series is an only very, VERY lightly-disguised ALL of us! I CAN’T WAIT to share more soon!)
This is the third collaboration you’ve done with Zachariah OHora—following Wolfie the Bunny and Horrible Bear! Each has a lesson couched in your distinctive humor, and it seems his illustration style is an excellent fit for your writing. Did your familiarity with his artistic style influence the writing in Read the Book, Lemmings!
Hundred percent! I actually wrote LEMMINGS for Zach to illustrate! We’d chatted at one of our shared book events about animals we liked, and when I discovered we both loved foxes and polar bears, I started thinking about writing something for him with those animals. Then when I thought of the lemmings again, and realized lemmings share habitat with Arctic foxes and polar bears… everything just clicked! I finished the manuscript and requested Zach for it. It’s super-rarely done that way (where an author subs a manuscript and says, “I wrote THIS story for THIS illustrator! So can they please-please draw it PLEASE?!”) but our publisher (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) is amazingly cool like that. And it helped that we had the other two books together with Little, Brown already, so we were all used to working together. I’m still THRILLED they said yes!
Your books and Twitter feed convey a certain exuberance and childlike joy in life. Most of us adjust our public image in some way, but your penchant for blue (and purple and green) hair makes me suspect you’re a bit more authentic than the average individual. Do you feel like this is your authentic voice?
I’d love to say, “Oh, I’m much less WEIRD in Real Life!” but… *LAUGHING* THAT WOULDN’T BE TRUE!
I DO write my “reality,” so I guess I’m… an odd little monkey! But for the most part, I’m a HAPPY odd little monkey! Especially when I’m writing.
Don’t get me wrong—I have my sulking-in-sweatpants days, too! (I actually wrote that into an upcoming book! See if you can spot it in Summer, 2019!)
Do you have any advice for novice writers trying to find their literary voice?
Write what sings to you. Better yet, write what SHOUTS AT you! (Like, “Lemmings DON’T jump off cliffs!”) If you’re passionate about your topic, it’ll show in your work.
And then, just be yourself!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
DON’T take your lemmings to the grocery store. They’ll pester you for Klondike bars EVERY TIME.
THANKS for reading, everybody! JUMP INTO BOOKS!