Books: In Todd Parr’s world, it’s OK to make mistakes
There weren’t options to be different. My dad has said if he used the term ‘wanting to be an artist’ with his dad and mom they would have kicked him out of the house. It took my dad a number of years to embrace it and understand it. He finally said, ‘I just want you to be happy.’
You take on a lot of tough subjects in a simple, straightforward style. Are other books for kids too preachy, busy or condescending?
The only self-imposed directive I had in the beginning was to stay away from preachy, teachy or new agey. My artwork originally led to a proposal from an editor who said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about writing children’s books?’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t. I did horrible in school. I barely made it out, so no. Books are for smart people.’
I knew that whatever I did it had to be fun and edgy and simple so that kids could be like, ‘I can draw just like him.’ I knew I would need some humor in there. Somebody once said, ‘Oh I thought you were a 6-year-old writing these books,’ and I thought, ‘Oh god, that’s not good,’ but now I love that because that’s what kids see and hopefully go, ‘I can do that.’ You don’t have to beat them over the head.
No one was doing these kinds of books. When I started, ‘It’s OK to Be Different’ was in the self-help section of Borders. No one knew what to do with them. People were like, ‘Where are the bunnies and the bears and the pastels?’
Why do parents love your books so much?
I always try and think about how a grandma is going to feel reading this book, like my grandmother read to me every night, or a mom and dad are going to read this book, and I want them to laugh. I want them to feel warm when they’re done.
I hope parents can really empower kids to believe in themselves, but I try to think about what parents are taking away from the books, too, to help them realize how much they love their kids.