David Ezra Stein wrote Leaves, which was one of my favorite picture books in 2008. Therefore, I was excited to read his newest picture book, The Interrupting Chicken, which was released this week. Stein was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about The Interrupting Chicken, as well as a few other things I had rattling around in my mind.
SAS: What inspired you to write The Interrupting Chicken? Why did you decide to write this book?
DES: I wrote Interrupting Chicken based on the knock knock joke I had heard for much of my life. Many folks have heard the cow version of the same joke. I thought it was funny and it got me curious as to what this chicken was like. What made her interrupt? What did she do when she wasn’t busy knock-knocking on doors? After many many revisions, I found out what her home life, and her relationship with her papa, were like. Although the seed of the idea came from the joke, the heart of the book is the love between Chicken and Papa.
SAS: I noticed some of your sentences and some of the situations happened in patterns of three. Last year on our blog we spent some time focusing on “the power of three” as a crafting technique we could teach young writers to do. So, with that in mind, what are reasons you chose to write in threes in this book? (For instance, why not have the young chicken interrupt his father two or four times when reading the story?)
DES: Three is a powerful number. It’s the minimum number of legs a chair needs to stand. It’s the minimum number of anything needed to establish a pattern.
If I only gave two instances of something, you wouldn’t know for sure whether it was a coincidence or a true pattern. Four can work, too—it depends how deeply you want to establish the pattern before you break it. In Interrupting Chicken, I only needed her to interrupt three times for you to know what sort of little chicken she is.
I think kids respond well to repetition, and it builds a kind of foundation for you to break out of later on. Like when the tables turn and it’s Chicken’s turn to tell a story. The repetition actually builds tension.
SAS: How can you see The Interrupting Chicken being used in classrooms?
DES: To me, Interrupting Chicken is about being an active reader. The little chicken in the book has a passion for stories and really gets involved in them. She sees things she thinks are wrong and corrects them. She has what it takes to be a director, a critical thinker, an activist. That is what I see kids and teachers taking away from the book. And they can use it to launch off into their own activities—writing, rewriting, critical thinking.
SAS: What comes first for you: the illustrations or the writing? Is it always this way?
DES: Usually it’s the idea that comes first. An idea for me is usually a feeling that I want to explore, or a relationship between characters that moves me somehow. Then I use words and pictures to make it real to myself and the reader.
SAS: What advice can you give to an aspiring picture book writer?
DES: It is a hard time to break into the field. Honestly, I only know the way it happened for me and things are different now in the publishing world, even 5 years later. That said, I believe if you are really good, publishers will welcome you. And even beyond books, if you can create great content, you can find a way of sharing it with the world.
SAS: What’s your next project?
DES: A book about a creative little mouse who misses her grandmouse so she writes her a letter! She fills it with photos, drawings, and special things. It is very sweet.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).