For more than 35 years, Bruce Degen has successfully explored an impressive range of children’s book turf. The picture books that he’s written and illustrated include Shirley’s Wonderful Baby, Daddy Is a Doodlebug, and Jamberry. He is also illustrator of the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole, Nancy White Carlstrom’s Jesse Bear books, and the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen. Degen is at BEA to promote his newest solo effort, Snow Joke: An I Like to Read Book (Holiday House, Oct.), which tells of two animal pals working through their differences while playing in the snow.
This easy reader delivers a message that will serve any child well. In the story, one critter relentlessly teases the other with a string of jokes, justifying his annoying behavior by saying, “It’s just a joke.” Degen explains, “I wanted to do a story about a young character who wants to be a friend, but doesn’t really know how to be one. When he tries, he ends up being a pain in the neck, and he doesn’t get that pulling pranks that are not funny is not the way to gain a friend.” The jokester learns his lesson, of course—and readers receive a double message about friendship and forgiveness.
Weighing the challenges of creating his own books and of collaborating with others, Degen concludes that the latter is less difficult. “I find it’s actually easier to illustrate other people’s work,” he says. “When I both write a book and do the pictures, I sometimes wonder if I should change the words along the way. It’s simpler when I’m just illustrating, because I obviously can’t do that. I try to work with authors I respect and whose language I respond to, and I have been very lucky to illustrate books by people who have clear voices that I can easily hear.”
Degen signs copies of Snow Joke today, 1:30–2 p.m., at Table 8 in the Autographing Area. He’s happy to be at BEA to reconnect with booksellers, to whom (along with publishers’ sales reps) he gives kudos: “As an author, all you really think about is, ‘How can I make a good book?’ And then that book goes out into the world, and it’s important to think about what it takes to get it out there, to reach readers, and it’s very important to appreciate the people who do that.”