The third day of the U.S. Book Show was capped off on an entertaining note with a keynote given by Matthew Gray Gubler. The actor-turned-children’s book author-illustrator, who is known for his role as Dr. Spencer Reid on CBS’s Criminal Minds and as the voice of Simon in Alvin and the Chipmunks, made a segue into the literary world with the 2019 release of Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging and Being Yourself (Random House).

Dressed in Waldo-inspired attire and employing his signature humor, Gubler engaged the audience with a call-and-response game before launching into his speech. “I feel like I am the luckiest storyteller on the earth,” he told attendees, noting the different phases of his career. “There is one method that shines brighter [than the rest]; it’s the only form of storytelling that doesn’t just ask the audience to participate, it requires the audience to participate It connects the writer to the reader and all of us to each other.” He saluted members of the children’s book community for helping to promote imagination, creativity, and human connection.

Gubler made a special shoutout to librarians, including his own “greatest literary hero” Mrs. Drake, who helped cultivate his love of reading while growing up in Las Vegas. He then proceeded to FaceTime her, much to the delight of the audience, and listed tongue-in-cheek titles of his favorite books from childhood, including Horton Hears a Casino and If You Give a Bookie a Cookie.

Giving another glimpse into his early years, Gubler shared his original stories and drawings that hinted at his future career as an author-illustrator. “I get asked a lot about my process, and to all the young writers out there, I hope you realize that it’s okay not to have a process,” he said. “I’ve been making books the same way since I was in kindergarten, and the only process you need is to love what you do.” Gubler then described his next book, The Little Kid with the Big Green Hand (Amulet, Sept.), a story of two unlikely friends who set out to see the world. “I leaned more into the traditional elements of storytelling: despondent hands doing algebra, babies with big green hands,” he said. “I poured my heart, soul, and my hairline into it.”

Aiming for Universal Appeal

Gubler then turned the floor over to the audience and took questions. When asked what inspired him to start writing children’s books, he admitted to writing books that appeal to himself. “I think of my books less as books for young readers and more as books for young hearts,” Gubler said, adding that Little Kid might, in fact, be a book for kids to read to their parents because they already understand the message.

The next query came from a budding writer seeking guidance on how to pen a story that is relatable. “Write what you would want to read,” he offered. “I write books for humans and they appeal to kids, but my deeper dream is that they appeal to everyone.” Gubler affirmed that people in general love stories, which is the main hook that drives him to write.

Another attendee asked Gubler which came first when creating his new book: the words or the pictures. He responded, “When I write any book, the writing and the illustrating are the same tool. When I can’t find the words, I use a picture,” he said. “If I had to describe [the book], I would say it’s a 224-page reminder of the love that exists in everyone and everything. That’s kind of what everything I hope to make is about.”