Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (Math Curse, Viking) team up again for Science Verse, a new picture book that is packaged with a lively CD recording of the duo narrating the text, and of course, ad libbing. PW recently spoke with author Scieszka about the writing and recording experience.
PW: Was it fun to work on a book with Lane again, after a bit of a break?
Jon Scieszka:Science Verse was one of those initially maddening but eventually and ultimately most rewarding books to work on. Lane and I originally ended Math Curse with the gag of the science teacher saying, "You can think of everything as a science experiment." We never intended to write the science version of Math Curse. But as soon as Math Curse was published, kids started writing and asking for Science Curse. I love science, so I started fooling around with different ways to goof on science. I wrote 10, maybe 20 different versions of a science book over the last nine years. Some were pretty funny, but none of them completely clicked. Then one day I thought of poetry, science poetry. The name Science Verse came to me with the idea of writing parodies of famous verse and poems... with scientific content. And then all of the work and struggling was suddenly like flying.
I wrote all different kinds of poems—speaking them and singing them aloud to myself to get them just right, covering as much real science as I possibly could. Then I handed them off to Lane. He was completely jazzed from the beginning. We both knew we were on to something rich and funny. Lane started sketching and painting some of his most fantastic work ever. And he came up with the most brilliant idea of tying the story together (without adding extra verbiage) by showing the narrator in every illustration.
Then Molly [Leach, Smith's wife and the book's designer] brought the book to an even higher level by riffing on the Math Curse design. It was all just so much fun to work on every detail.
Why do a CD recording? What appealed to you about such a project?
Poems and songs are meant to be spoken/sung aloud. The CD just seemed like a natural way to share the book. I think kids always get a kick out of hearing authors reading their own work. Plus it seemed like a good idea to help people out with the pronunciation of some of the words—like the ingredients in "Gobblegooky."
Where and when did the recording session(s) take place?
We used a little sound studio here in New York, went in one day [in February 2004] and pretty much just worked our way through the book. We didn't want to make it a big production. We wanted it to feel more like a day where the listener was hanging out with us, listening to the book and goofing around. We worked with the director to add minimal sound effects to punctuate the poems. And we spent most of the day laughing at our bad attempts to sing some of the verses. We also came up with the idea to prank-call our editor, Regina Hayes, right there at the end of the recording day.
You both seem to enjoy reading/performing in front of groups (kids and adults). Does that make recording any easier? What was it like working in the studio?
Recording is even easier than performing in front of a live audience. In the studio we got a chance to pick the reading we liked best. And Lane and I have known each other for so long that we naturally set each other up for jokes. All of the stuff in between the poems on the CD is ad-libbed. It's Lane and me having fun. We really do keep each other entertained.
You'll be taking your "show" on the road with a tour this fall. Will the CD give book buyers a sense of your live performances?
We're touring all over the country from the end of this month to the beginning of next month, going to bookstores. The Smithsonian asked us to stop by and fill their auditorium. The CD is a pretty good sample of what you get at the live Jon and Lane show. I know Britney [Spears] and Janet [Jackson] have been known to lip-sync their way through some of their tougher dance/song numbers, but that will never happen on the Science Verse tour. We guarantee all live action.