On this week’s episode of Five Things, our guest is writer Patrick Wensink, a novelist whose first-ever children’s book is coming out next week. “Go Go Gorillas” was inspired by Wensink’s visits to the zoo with his young son, when he wondered why the gorillas were always sleeping during the day. The book suggests that maybe the gorillas are partying all night!
Wensink has been based in Louisville for several years, and recently moved with his family to Portland, Oregon, so he can attend grad school.
His 2015 novel, “Fake Fruit Factory,” was on NPR’s list of best books of the year, and his 2012 book, “Broken Piano for President” got some attention for its Jack Daniel’s inspired cover art. He talked with me about his collection of Johnny Mercer lyrics, which he used as inspiration when he was writing his rhyming book for kids, along with other objects of creative resilience.
On the children’s books that inspired him:
“‘The Monster at the End of this Book’ was my favorite as a child. I’m actually currently writing an article about the 70s Sesame Street books. If you look at a Sesame Street book today, I feel like they kind of just are a marketing piece. But the ones in the 70s were really kind of out there and wacky and broke the fourth wall, and did all these great things that a lot of good books now are doing.”
Learning to write rhyming poetry for his children’s book:
“I did a lot of studying of rhyme schemes and syllable counts for this book. Seuss’s syllable counts, especially the early reader books like ‘Cat in the Hat,’ ‘Hop On Pop,’ they tend to stay down to about 7 syllables per line, cause those books are intended for kids to read. Parents can read them and that’s great if you’re reading those to your kids but if you stretch it out to 11 or 12 syllables, there’s a lot more to play with and a lot more dynamics in the rhyme scheme then. And that’s what I did with ‘Go Go Gorillas,’ but it took me reading dozens and dozens of books and annotating them to how many syllables were in each line, and the ones that I liked tended to have longer syllable counts.”
How to get better at something he’s never done before:
“I’ve never taken a creative writing class in my entire life. I was a communications major in college, and I did a lot of freelance journalism. I wanted to write books, so I just started writing books. And I did it badly for a long time, until I got better and better and better at it. And so I just approached kids’ books the same way because that’s the only way I know how to do anything, is to beat my head against a rock until the rock turns into gold.”
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