Exclusive Interview with the Author of Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream
“The messaging that’s most important for me to get across is how we should treat each other. Stick Dog is the obvious leader—and the obvious smart one—in the pack. His friends come up with ridiculous plans to get the food. Stick Dog—and the reader—know how silly their ideas are. But Stick Dog never puts them down.”
Did you know that Stick Dog stories were born around a dinner table? Author Tom Watson wanted to make his kids laugh, so he made up some adventures about a clever dog on a quest for hamburgers…and the rest is history!
To learn more about the origins of Stick Dog, how Tom Watson’s collaboration with illustrator Ethan Long works, and what Tom hopes readers take away from the story, please check out the exclusive interview below.
How do you think your book can get kids reading?
TOM WATSON: I’m a big believer that if kids are laughing, then they’re going to keep turning the pages.
Why do you think kids love reading your books?
TW: I think they identify with—and root for—the characters. They certainly want to know if the dogs’ quest will be successful, but the interaction between the different personalities keeps them laughing. I also think kids can relate to the stick-figure drawings.
How were you introduced to the joy of reading as a child?
TW: Comic books. Daredevil and Black Panther were my favorites. My favorite picture book growing up was Go, Dog. Go! A bunch of dogs drive around in cars, and then they have a big party in a tree—how random and fun is that?
You started off writing picture books for your kids. What was your journey to publishing your first book?
TW: I have a very strange publishing story. I wrote Stick Dog (and those picture books) for my kids. Stick Dog actually started at my kitchen table, where I often told Lizzy and Jake stories while we ate. I told them a story about Stick Dog and his friends on a quest for hamburgers over a series of nights. They liked it so much that I decided to write it down in longer form.
When all the e-publishing stuff happened and the Kindle came out etc., my wife, Mary, suggested I put Stick Dog out electronically. I put it up for free—just wanted to share the story, not make money. It got really high on Apple’s iBooks charts and HarperCollins spotted it there and tracked me down. I had never submitted anything to any publisher ever.
Where did the inspiration for Stick Dog come from, and has your dog, Shadow, made an appearance in any of Stick Dog’s adventures?
TW: The inspiration really just came from wanting to make my kids laugh. They’re in college now, so now I get inspired by doing school visits and making students laugh there. Shadow is not in any of the books, but I certainly have drawn stuff from him. Four of the dogs in the pack are not so bright. And Shadow is, um, not so bright.
Can you tell us about your decision to break the fourth wall and speak directly to readers?
TW: I love that aspect of the books. I always approach writing as storytelling—just like at the dinner table. And, if you think about it, storytellers will often go off on tangents or something will pop into their minds that they just have to share. This narrative voice allows me to do that—and it’s great fun. And I know that kids like it too. I’m often asked at schools: Did that really happen to you?
Stick Dog can teach students a lot about problem solving. What other messages do you hope readers take away from Stick Dog?
TW: The messaging that’s most important for me to get across is how we should treat each other. Stick Dog is the obvious leader—and the obvious smart one—in the pack. His friends come up with ridiculous plans to get the food. Stick Dog—and the reader—know how silly their ideas are. But Stick Dog never puts them down.
In fact, he usually builds them up, insisting that their plans are often too good for the mission and maybe it would be best just to use his, ahem, far inferior plans. He always makes certain the other dogs are fed before he feeds himself. And he’s modest about everything—I really think we need more modesty in the world right now.
Can you tell us about the collaboration between you and Ethan Long and the process of bringing the Stick Dog character to life?
TW: Ethan is a world-class illustrator and I’m so happy he’s on the team. I conceptualize and draw all the original sketches for the books. Then I send all of those to Ethan and he redoes them…better.
The thing I’ve always said about Ethan’s role is that he can show motion in stick-figure drawings so much better than I can. It’s a real collaboration—we send things back and forth a bit after I dump that original batch of drawings on him. I don’t know how many total illustrations there are in the Stick Dog and Stick Cat (which Ethan also illustrates) books, but it’s probably around 2,000. And there’s only been one picture that I didn’t do the original sketch on—and it’s actually in Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream. It’s the one with three kids jumping in a water sprinkler. I tried to draw that thing for a couple of hours and finally gave up and told Ethan that it’s all his.
If you’re interested, there are examples of my original sketches and what Ethan does with them on this website.
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Tom Watson is the author of (and draws the original sketches for) all the Stick Dog stories. He lives in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and son. They also have a dog named Shadow. Tom did not want to name the dog Shadow. He wanted to name him Put Your Shirt On. It’s a long story. Sometimes when Tom is visiting schools, he shares the story.
Tom’s first jobs out of college were in politics. He worked for US Senator John Glenn and was the chief speechwriter for the governor of Ohio. He has also worked in marketing and advertising. He likes writing books for kids a lot more than writing speeches and other things for grown-ups. He thinks kids are way smarter than grown-ups.
He loves writing the Stick Dog adventures.
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