Eric Litwin needs no introduction to parents of young children. Performer, educator, and author of the first four Pete the Cat books, his works have sold more than a million copies and he is a number one New York Times best-selling author. Litman recently visited the Western Academy of Beijing to deliver his renowned storytelling workshops. Between informing, singing, storytelling, and playing guitar, he answered questions from Grade 4 and 5 students.
Josefina Boschero, 10, Argentina
Do you only write books with a song to them?
My interest is in interactive musical stories with positive messages; music helps make reading easier. One day, I may write a poetry book or a book for grown-ups on teaching techniques.
Ollie Chugg, 9, UK
How did you get inspired to write Pete the Cat?
I was ready to publish a story called The Little Girl and Her White Shoes when I saw Pete the Cat in an art gallery. Pete is a folk art character created by James Dean. I thought my writing and his character would be a good pairing, so we decided to collaborate on four Pete the Cat books.
Vignesh Sundaram, 10, India/Australia
What inspires you to write books?
I’m a teacher who became a writer. I’m interested in how a child feels the first time they pick up a book. I want children to say “I love reading.” That happens if it’s fun and empowering – if they can sing it, rhyme it, and have fun with it.
Lykke Gowran, 10, Ireland/Sweden
Were you interested in writing when you were younger?
I wrote poems in elementary school and songs in high school. I played in bands and forced people to listen. I kept trying until I found what worked, [until]I’d pick up a guitar and instead of people hightailing it out of the room, they stayed.
Alexandra Lee, 10, US
How do you get your ideas?
I take walks. I drink a lot of coffee. I go to art galleries. I dream up things in my sleep and write them down. I keep my notepads with me at all times, and if you saw my notes they’d make no sense to you. I often have an idea I’m trying to work through, like how to be positive or that it’s OK to be a little nutty. I’m always looking for inspiration and creativity in the world around me.
Gideon Ross, 11, US
Why did you want to put songs in your books?
I studied folk music and blues. If this interactive stuff – call and response, repetition, and rhythm – works so well for songs, why not books?
Ingvild Strand Osen, 9, Norway
What inspired your choice of career?
I have Master’s degrees in both Education and Administration. I was originally interested in becoming a principal, but I was so driven toward creativity that I decided to try and make my living that way. I worked on my skills for probably ten to 15 years before I self-published my [first]book. I wrote something that excited teachers and librarians and they started blogging about it, and it took off from there.
Imme Koolenbrander, 10, Netherlands
Do you use your old students as inspiration for your books?
I use all students as inspiration for my books. I’m very interested in why some children go to school and love it, and some children don’t.
Alyssa Chan, 10, New Zealand
Which of your books is your favorite?
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes because it’s my breakthrough book. It has a message that we all need – you have to find the good in things because the alternative is cynicism. I try to live that way, and I hope the book inspires people – if not to live that way, then at least to think about it.
Helaine Vaneyk, 9, Australia
When you started writing Pete the Cat, did you know how many books you were going to do?
No, I didn’t. I wrote the first four Pete the Cat picture books. Now I’ve moved on to new characters and new books.
Ignus Aleksandras Draugels, 10, Argentina/Lithuania
Was there an author who inspired you to write?
Oh yes, many. I like Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), Moe Willem (especially Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus), Eric Carle, and Bill Martin Jr. These are all writers who have influenced me.
Maxwell Lin, 9, US
Where do you usually get your ideas from?
Ideas can come from anywhere. Being in Beijing is very inspiring. The other day, I met a Chinese folk painter and found his art inspiring. I’m in the process of looking for my next book right now.
Hugo Quinlivan, 10, US
I know it can be hard to get words and music to match. How do you start writing your songs?
If I have a tune that doesn’t work 100 percent, I just keep rewriting until it’s perfect. I don’t feel bad if an idea or melody doesn’t work. I put my ideas out there; I don’t mind if they’re not successful.
Aria Maree Cowell, 9, China/New Zealand
Which Pete the Cat book took the longest to write?
A book can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. I Love My White Shoes was written over five to six years. It took the longest time to develop. Pete the Cat Saves Christmas was probably my most challenging book. I had originally written Pete the Cat’s Holiday Party but in the end it [was not published]. I sat down in a coffee shop and put Pete in the famous poem, “The Night before Christmas.” I submitted the idea and got a call ten minutes later saying: “That’s the book we want, please write it.” I only had a few months.
Photos by VivaXiao Photography Studio
This article originally appeared on p44-45 of the beijingkids February 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com