Meet the Author: Thad Krasnesky
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For show and tell, most children are content to bring a favorite stuffed animal or souvenir from a trip, but what happens when one third grade boy brings his pet? Sounds harmless enough, but suppose the pet is a pterodactyl…
Mayhem is guaranteed in Pterodactyl Show and Tell, as the pet runs rampant in the school. Told in rhyming couplets, Mr. Krasnesky keeps young readers’ attention wondering what antics will happen next. The illustrations are hilarious. They show exactly what’s going on throughout the day as there are noticeably fewer and fewer children in each class. You can see who is or isn’t there in each picture and don’t miss the humor in the details such as the titles on the books or pictures on the walls.
As a retired Military Intelligence officer with a MA from Columbia University in Organizational Psychology and a second masters in Military Arts and Science from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS, you don’t, by any stretch, have a typical resume for a children’s book author. What made you decide to write your first book?
I think that there is a big difference between what a person DOES and what a person IS. I have always been a writer. I have worked as a teacher, counselor, and counter-terrorism expert, and currently, as a financial advisor, but I am always a writer who happens to teach/counsel/catch terrorists/make money, and not the other way around. I suppose it may be a bit unusual that a writer would wind up in a career like intelligence operations. People who see me when I volunteer at schools or hospitals, reading with kids and interacting with them with books and puppets, would probably suffer quite a large degree of dissonance were they to have seen me in my intel work. To be honest, the contrast is often striking even to me, and I’m the one who lived it. Common expectations might assume that children’s authors would be found in “softer” surroundings. One of the things that I often tell children though, particularly when I work with children with challenges (and let’s be honest, what child isn’t challenged), is that they should never allow their environment or other people to define who they are. And I can’t very well tell that to the kids and not attempt to live that principle myself.
My “first book” was actually a novel. Not a particularly good one. I considered myself a “serious writer.” Kid’s stories and poetry was simply something I did for my two daughters. It was never my intention to actually pursue it as a career or even seek publication. I told stories to my daughters every night at bedtime. Eventually they turned it into a game. They would come up with a theme or an object that I would have to incorporate into the story. Their goal was to find things that were so disparate and contrary that there would be no way that I could weave them together, but of course they knew that I always would, and that was the fun of it.
Some of the stories were quite ridiculous of course. Sort of literary versions of one of those cooking shows like “Chopped” or “Iron Chef.” One of the more popular themes was a series of stories that I told about The Green Bean Dragon. Since they kept asking me to revisit that character, I started to lose track of all of the storylines that I had previously created. My wife, Robin, eventually encouraged me to write the stories down so that I could keep track of what was going on, and also so that the girls could read them for themselves if they ever wanted to spend more time with the characters and stories.
I began to write them down, and as I did so, the stories somehow naturally transitioned to verse. I am not sure that there was a conscious decision to do so, but the girls loved that transition as well. Because of my career path and the international environment at times, the stories understandably became a bit of a memento mori for me as well. I wanted to know that if one of my deployments ended badly, my children would still have my stories to read and enjoy.
As part of preserving that memory for them, in 2002, prior to my deployment to Iraq, I began to seek out publishers and send out copies of my stories. The very first story I ever sent out was “What the New Gnu Knew.” I received multiple rejections, and then deployed with no book deal in hand. As fate would have it, the first acceptance letter I received was from the Paula Wiseman Agency in 2003, but it was the month after I had deployed. The letter sat, unacted upon, awaiting my return. It was more than a year before I was able to reply, and by that time the agency was no longer interested in pursuing the book.
I reengaged my efforts to find a publisher in 2007, again, shortly before another deployment to Iraq. That second foray resulted in many more rejection letters, but fortunately connected me with a publisher that believed in me and my writing. Shari Greenspan became not only the epitome of a talented, firm, but caring editor, but she also became someone who I am very honored to call my friend. After discussing several of the submissions that I had sent to her, we decided on a book that I had called “Be Nice to Me, I’m Only Three,” but Shari renamed “I Always, Always Get my Way.” The story itself was based on an exchange between my two daughters. As is often the case, my older daughter might have been acting a bit less than gracious to her younger sister. My wife, after observing one such exchange, made a badge for Isabelle to pin on her shirt that read “Be Nice to Me, I’m Only Three.”
My wife told me about this during a phone call while I was deployed to Iraq in 2003. The story itself was written over the course of the following two or three days. I can also say that a portion of the story was actually written on the margin of notes while I was actively questioning a terrorist suspect.
And that is how my “first” story came to be.
A story about bringing a people-eating dinosaur to school for show and tell is imaginative and, quite frankly, a little edgy for kids. What was the inspiration for Pterodactyl Show and Tell?
Shari was a bit concerned as well that the theme of the story might be a bit edgy, in regards to “Pterodactyl.” It was one of several similar stories that I had written during that particular period, including “The Thing on the Stairs”, “The Monster Under My Bed,” “The Dark”, etc. Because of my life experiences, some of my stories can take a bit of a dark turn at times. Shari is often faced with the difficult challenge of guiding me from the darkness, into stories that can live in shadow, and thus are more presentable to children.
Very honestly, the inspiration itself was nothing more than a passing image that I conjured in my head of how darkly amusing it would be if a kid brought a pterodactyl to school for show and tell. Flashlight Press had just published my second book, and Shari was asking me for several smaller poems that could be compiled not as a single story but as a collection of odd octets and weird rhymes. Pterodactyl started out as a short poem of three quatrains, but the characters appealed to me so much that I begged Shari to let me work it into its own standalone book.
We loved the rhyming text. It’s a book that must be read aloud. Was this always the plan or did it develop as you wrote the story?
I am a huge Shakespeare and Poe and Prelutsky fan. Verse has always been a medium of mine. I use many types of poetry to communicate with kids and the collection of poems that Shari and I are working on has many different styles of poetry. Rhyming couplets though, speaks to my classical sonnet background and seems to be a favorite of most children. Since it was originally meant to be one of many poems in the collection, it was always intended to be written in rhyming couplet.
It’s very clever how you were able to write a story about a hungry dinosaur that might possibly be eating children that isn’t really frightening to the reader. How did you pull this off? Was this intentional?
Remember when I told you that Shari often guides me from the dark into the less dark? Well, the original version of this story was less ambiguous. There were kids straight up being served a la carte. Perhaps it is an internal flaw, but I found this amusing. Shari did not. She was at her editorial best when she pushed and prodded and molded and mentored me to adapt the story into something that she felt was more presentable. It allowed for interpretation. For those dark-souled little miscreants out there like me, if they wanted to believe that the other kids got eaten, then they were free to employ their imagination and see the ending they wanted. And for those kinder, gentler, perhaps more well-adjusted children out there, they were also free to employ their imagination and envision a more figurative interpretation of the story. It was intentional, and I pulled it off by virtue of large amounts of adult intervention.
Illustrator Tanya Leonello
The illustrations are wonderful with so much expression. You can see the fear on the other children’s faces and it really accentuates the story. Did you know the illustrator, Tanya Leonello, before working on the book together? How much input did you have into the drawings?
I was incredibly fortunate. The credit for the illustrations all go to Tanya, and the credit for finding Tanya, once again goes to Shari. I have had the privilege of working with two incredibly talented and creative illustrators. Tanya is as good as they get. So much of the success of this story rests completely in her hands. I was the one that wrote the book and I still find myself reading the book to kids and being surprised by small details that I had not seen before. Sometimes I allow myself to be five again and I just open the book and ignore the words and just allow my eyes to read the story the pictures tell. I hope that Tanya had as much fun illustrating the book as I did writing it, and I hope that she continues working with me for the next fifty years.
While Pterodactyl Show and Tell might appear to be a silly book about a dinosaur going to school, we see it as a story about imagination. Is this something you hope your young readers will take away from your story? Anything else?
It absolutely is a silly story about a kid bringing a pterodactyl to school and it absolutely is a story about imagination. Imagination is an important key to brilliance. Medicine, engineering, mathematics, arts. They all require the ability to see things, to imagine things before they exist. If I can encourage kids to imagine, then I can change the world.
I am also a big believer in compassion, and imagination is an important part of compassion. We need to be able to see things from other people’s view point if we are to ever understand them. Compassion requires us to ask the question, “What if I were them?” and imagination allows us a glimpse into the answer to that question.
So basically, imaginary pterodactyls are the key to world peace.
What is the best part about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
I would say the best part about being a children’s author is the vast sums of money and the limitless power. (Wait, that’s the best part about being a supervillain. Sorry. Different interview.) Um…the best part is really working with the kids. I know that is probably pretty cliché and what most children’s authors would say, but sometimes there is truth in cliché. I love working with kids.
Writing for kids also allows me to retain a bit of my own childhood. (Or perhaps childishness.) As long as I can write for kids and hang out with kids, then I get to be a kid for that much longer.
It is also a great escape. I run and I write to escape. For me, the perfect day consists of a ten mile run and six hours of writing. And perhaps a waffle sundae.
My favorite authors as a kid were Poe and Uris and Hardy and Seuss. I was also a huge fan of the fantasy trinity, Tolkien, Lewis, and Alexander.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
I think the biggest challenges are not much different today than they have always been. Certainly technology has often been tagged as an anti-literacy villain, and there may be some truth to that, but I think that the usual suspects of time, money, and culture are the more likely suspects. Reading takes time. Not just for the child, but for the parent as well. And I’m not just talking about a parent reading to a child. I mean time for the parent to read books of their own choosing for their own enjoyment and thus demonstrate to their child that there is value there.
Money is also an obstacle to reading and intellectual health, in the same way that it is an obstacle to good eating habits and physical health. Healthy meals cost more money, as do healthy past times. Yes. There are libraries. We can get books for free. But since seven year olds rarely drive much these days, it requires time from the parent and money for gas to drive to the library.
And then of course there is culture. Reading is associated with knowledge, and in some cases, knowledge is actively derided. Even in those fortunate situations where knowledge is valued, reading can be viewed as a tool. A means to an end. Not a thing for fun. Not a thing for expansion of the creative mind, only expansion of the intellectual one.
Our biggest hope to combat these three challenges is Levar Burton.
Thad Krasnesky at work. He explains: “The gold chair by the fireplace is my usual writing spot, but it is also the least private. The white chair in the library is more secluded and more writery but not as comfy.”
Are you working on anything at the moment, we can look forward to reading?
Am I working on anything at the moment? Oh goodness sake. Ask Shari when I am NOT working on something. That is one of the problems. I often move on to the next story before the last story has been completely edited. In the “Pterodactyl Show and Tell” series, I have already completed “Pterodactyl Field Trip” and “Pterodactyl Summer Camp” and have started “Pterodactyl Sleep Over”. In addition to that, I have probably thirty other stories that are completed, such as “Leather Jacket Lemurs”, “Eddie’s Father is an Otter”, and “Cow Pirates”, but none of these have yet passed the Shari test. Most recently I wrote “Betty the Yeti.” Shari inked that one up pretty heavily and sent it back to me but she did say that there was potential for…
Oh, rats! I think I was actually supposed to make some corrections on that one and respond to her. Thank you so much for your interest in “Pterodactyl Show and Tell” and for allowing me this opportunity to speak with you, but I have to run! (…now where is that email….)
We’re grateful to Thad Krasnesky for spending time with us and sharing more about his work. We look forward to seeing, and sharing, his future titles!
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