We had the unique opportunity to sit down with this year’s Read for the Record author, Loren Long, to hear more about his involvement with the campaign. We were thrilled to learn of Loren’s excitement. We just can’t wait to read with him on October 3. Don’t forget to pledge to read!
When did you begin writing?
I did not begin writing picture books until I had illustrated 5 or 6 books written by others. The first book I wrote myself and illustrated was Drummer Boy and published in 2008. I started out only on the art side of publishing for children but I love the challenge of writing as well.
Who are your favorite authors?
For my favorite authors, I go back to some of the classics like Roald Dahl, Ruth Krauss, Virginia Lee Burton, Shel Silverstein and Munro Leaf.
What helps you get your creative juices flowing?
Most of my ideas for stories come when I'm doing something else. It's never easy for me to sit in a room and try to think of new ideas. The ideas come when I'm living my life. Once I have an idea, I usually try to develop it by talking it through with someone (usually my wife and two boys, if they can put up with me). If it seems to be going somewhere (and many of my ideas don't), I'll take notes. And then at some point, I have to sit in a room (or coffee shop) and attempt to write the story. That is where the discipline comes in. When it comes to the art, again, I have to sit in a room by myself and create. No excuses or creative blocks, I have to go to work like anybody else.
Was there a specific book that inspired you to become a children's book author and illustrator?
I would probably say that Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express was the book that made me think that someday, I'd like to illustrate picture books for children. I first saw it while I was in art school.
Why is writing and literature so important to you?
I believe that a solid start filled with love, play and reading with a grownup who loves them is critically important to every child. The experience gives a little human being a creative, happy, secure start that he or she will hold close the rest of their lives.
What was your favorite subject in school?
I joke that Gym class was my favorite. But I'm not really joking. Soon, Art class ranked up there with Gym class. I also liked English and History.
What inspired you to write Otis?
Otis started out as a loosely told story my wife Tracy made up with my two sons when they were preschool age (now they're in high school). Later when I began taking a crack at writing myself, I had them recount the story to me. It had a lack of focus and the friendship was between the tractor (named Little Green Sambo) and the farmer's son. Their story was the start of what we now know as Otis. I've grown to love who Otis is and it has inspired me to visit the farm again and again to see what new story there is to tell. Still to this day, the boys think I ripped them off. But I do buy the groceries so I'd say we're even.
What does it mean to you to have Otis selected as the official 2013 Jumpstart's Read for the Record campaign book?
I count having Otis selected as Jumpstart's 2013 Read for the Record book as one of the highest honors in my career. I fully believe in Jumpstart's mission and could not be more flattered that they chose Otis. To have my book be a part of such an important event where millions of people put children first together is very humbling.
You illustrated the version of The Little Enging that Could Jumpstart used in our inaugural campaign. What was your favorite part about being involved in Read for the Record that first year?
It was the feeling I had that morning when I realized that people all over the country were reading my version of The Little Engine That Could. It's an experience I'll take with me forever. Even years later now, I'll occasionally run across a Read for the Record copy of The Little Engine That Could that someone asks me to sign, and it reminds of the lasting quality of this noble campaign.
What does Jumpstart mean to you?
I love Jumpstart's mission…working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Somewhere along the way in my art career, I decided to give my life's work to children's literature. So I kind of feel my own personal mission in life is in some small way in step with Jumpstart. Jumpstart puts children first. And come to think of it, I know a little tractor who does the same thing!