Meet the Author:
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
DJ Corchin’s picture book teaches young readers that even great ideas sometimes receive a NO–but that NO can actually help great ideas become the best ideas! This empowering book shows what amazing things happen when we work with others and don’t give up and is a great message these days for kids.
We were excited to have the chance to interview DJ this month, get to know him and learn a little of the back story behind A Thousand NO’s. Perseverance and innovation are important topics; even for very young children. Through his wonderful book, he manages to tackle these concepts in a way that works for kids. We hope you enjoy the interview.
Early in your career you were a performer in the Tony and Emmy award-winning show, Blast! and also a high-school band director. What made you switch gears and start writing and illustrating children’s books?
Oh that wasn’t a switch, it was a start. During BLAST! I was able to travel the world and speak to kids from all walks of life. I turned my experiences as a player, teacher, and performer into humorously inspiring poems about the band world and music education. The scribbled-in notebook I used became my first book, Band Nerds Poetry From The 13th Chair Trombone Player. I loved teaching and miss it often, however, I left the occupation (not the spirit) to focus on my writing. I believe we all have a responsibility to find how we can contribute positively to our world. My journey from performer, to teacher, to writer, helped me discover where I could do that. The dots connected in a wonderful, almost magical way.
A Thousand NO’s is part of a school program you’ve developed that teaches the concept of idea growing while also bringing a positive message to children. Since you travel the country speaking to so many kids, what are a few take-aways from your interactions with them as you share your book?
The biggest thing I noticed from speaking with so many kids is that they love to tell the truth. When you ask them what they think about an idea, they’ll tell you. Usually pretty clearly and honestly. I wish I had that kind of feedback in my life all the time! We need to help them understand that being on the receiving end of that truth can be fun too! As we grow, we become more filtered and guarded with our feedback and ideas. When the kids are introduced to making their idea better by including others, they start to see how fun it is to see where their idea can end up. They’re great at telling the truth, we need to focus on being great at receiving opinions as well.
The big message from the book is how to learn and adapt even as you are being told NO…..a thousand times. How did the idea for the book come about?
The great thing about A Thousand NO’s is that it’s multi-layered and people tend to pull different lessons from it. I see the book as less about rejection and more about discovery. It’s not about getting through a thousand no’s to get to your YES. It’s about being open to hearing everything, including NO’s, to discover a yes. The idea is to not let your expectations get in the way of your perception. So what you think something should be can get in the way of seeing what it could be. The idea came about a few different ways, but most notably when I was introduced to someone who is part of the team that designs iPhones. I asked him how it felt to create a part of the phone. His response was humbling. He said that by the time the iPhone is introduced to the world, many people on his team have had their hands in it helping shape what it would become. He said “In the end it was not MY idea, it was OUR idea…and it was better than it ever could be with just me.” I just loved that concept.
A Thousand NO’s is a book about resilience and adaptation. How did you write about such a grown-up topic in a way that children understand and, more importantly, really enjoy reading.
The story works for both kids and adults because it’s a story about girl and her idea who encounter ACTUAL NO’s. But they’re also metaphorical NO’s. So it works for kids and adults. Also, I don’t think learning to work with others is a grown-up topic. It’s fundamental to kids being successful in this world. It’s just many grown-ups never learned this lesson.
The little girl remains nameless throughout the story, but she definitely has a strong personality! Is there a real life inspiration for her character?
She has a wonderfully strong personality. She knows she has a good idea and is now experiencing resistance to it. What I love about her is that even though she at first wants to keep the idea to herself, she recognizes she may not be able to solve her NO problem on her own, so she’s open to others. But she never gives up and still participates (and in my mind helps manage others) in shaping her idea. She lifts others up around her to create something amazing. There isn’t a real life person that she was based on, but I do hope my own children grow with a bit of her in mind.
The illustrator, Dan Dougherty, uses black and white pictures to inject humorous faces and contorted shapes as the poor little girl tries to deal with all the no’s that keep coming her way. How much input did you have into his drawings?
Dan and I have a wonderful collaborative relationship. He respects that I have concepts in my head and helps me get them out by drawing next me as I describe what I’m thinking. But I also trust him as a creative story teller so he often adds so much of himself into the illustrations. Sometimes, I’ll even write the story sitting next to him while he draws ideas. We worked hard together to design the look of the girl which would ultimately set the tone for the world she lives in. Dan took it from there and created a wonderful sweet and creepy world the character lives in. It’s really fun to work with Dan this way. We both agreed early on that the book only being black and white was the way we wanted to go, to focus on the message and get rid of any extra noise. It was when our publisher, Sourcebooks started talking about color that we had to live the very idea the book was about. Here was a change someone else thought should be made to our idea. At first I was resistant (much like the girl), but then after working it through, I discovered how impactful adding the color in a meaningful way could be. Dan helped shape that perspective for me as well. Now, I am so thankful we added the color.
You’ve published nearly a dozen children’s books, many award-winning, what is the best part about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
The best part of being a children’s author is finding ways to start a conversation about a really complicated topic. When a child reads one of my books with a trusted adult and then starts asking questions about the topic, it’s my favorite feeling in the world. My grandmother went to high school with Shel Silverstein so his work is a heavy influence for me but I also loved Judy Bloom books, Eric Carle, and Maurice Sendak.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
There is no one answer to that as challenges for parents are different for many reasons. Recognizing that fact, is something we need to continue to focus on and be sure to make things equitable and accessible wherever we can. Libraries need to be in all communities and corporations need to do more to donate and support literacy as a way for everyone to gain knowledge and explore our world.
Any chance you are working on another children’s book we can look forward to reading?
So. Many. Books! I have plenty of new titles coming out over the next few years and I can’t wait to share them with you. May 3rd we’re releasing, If You Find A Unicorn It’s Not Yours To Keep: Life Lessons for My Magical Daughter. It’s a wonderful collection of magical life lessons!
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