Our family loves the Snail and Worm series, so when I was presented with the opportunity to interview Geisel Honoree Tina Kügler about her newest book, Snail and Worm All Day, I jumped at the chance!
With its engaging illustrations, this sweet easy reader series is perfect for budding readers or for sharing as a read aloud. Told through three stories, readers will delight in the amusing antics of snail and worm as they navigate friendship and life as small creatures in a big world.
The newest installment in the series, Snail and Worm All Day follows the two friends as they discuss what constitutes a good day, bravely attempt to save a turtle from a dragon, and collaborate on a bedtime story. Each story is clever, quirky, and perfect for kids. The characters’ comical facial expressions are not only hilarious, but they also help guide new readers on the tone to use when reading the dialogue. This is another winner from Tina Kügler.
A big thank you to Tina for taking the time to give us insight into her career and writing process. Enjoy the interview!
Interview with Tina Kügler
LIBRARYMOM: You have an incredible background in animation and entertainment. How did you make the transition to writing and illustrating books?
TINA: I love animation, but my heart has truly always been in children’s books. I wanted to be an illustrator, even when I had a successful career in animation. On the side, I tried to get illustration work for years. It took me 13 years to get my first book published. Finding my awesome agent, Teresa Kietlinski (Bookmark Literary) made a huge difference. But yeah, the rejections were crushing– I was 40 when my first book (In Mary’s Garden) came out. Don’t give up, kids!
I’m still so fortunate to be working in animation, and even with my success as an author-illustrator, I’ll keep doing both.
LIBRARYMOM: What made you want to branch out from picture books and write easy readers? How is your creative process different for an easy reader compared to picture books?
TINA: For years, I though picture books were IT. I’m primarily an illustrator, so illustrating picture books was my main goal. My husband is an artist too, and together we wrote and illustrated (that’s right, we illustrated it together) a picture book called In Mary’s Garden (HMH 2015), about an artist that sculpted these huge wonderful creatures in her yard. And I thought, ok, I’m doing picture books forever, because that’s all there is. (Spoiler: I was wrong.)
I never even considered beginning readers, until my youngest son was learning how to read. I have three boys, and the older two basically taught themselves how to read, like, Magic Treehouse in first grade. I read picture books to them of course, but I have no memory of actually working with them to learn how to read. The third one, though, hated reading. He refused. So I was like, “Okay, dude. Let’s work on this together.” I got phonics books from the library, the simplest readers I could find. They were boring, but anything with a complex word stopped him immediately, and he would give up. We couldn’t find anything he wanted to read, that was simple enough, but that held his interest. So I decided to write him an easy reader, using the simplest language I could, with repetition, and jokes. But then I panicked– I’m an illustrator and an animator, not an author. I tell stories with pictures, not words. How could I write a book? But you know what I could write? A script! So I wrote a script. And it worked. The silly, simple dialogue worked. The Snail and Worm books are all readers theater scripts, and you can read them with your friend, or your kid, or your spouse, and go back and forth.
And it turns out, beginning readers are my favorite thing in the world, because I love writing funny dialogue. I don’t like to write big serious words. I like simple and silly– but also meaningful and heartfelt, like “The Best Day Ever” from Snail and Worm All Day.
LIBRARYMOM: How did you come up with the characters Snail and Worm? Do you use a real worm and snail to sketch from?
TINA: I wanted to use characters that pretty much every kid could find outside. I also wanted to show kids that worms (and snails) were not gross or bad, they are important parts of your local ecosystem.
I was also struggling with making the characters male or female– one of each? Both boys? Both girls? And why? Real snails and worms don’t have a specific gender, so it was a simple way to make them be whatever gender the reader wants them to be. They are just a snail and a worm, and that’s all.
I loved the idea of making a small, quiet book for a small, quiet reader. So the endpapers are plants, leaves and stalks and flowers that the reader needs to slip through to reach this little world where Snail and Worm live.
As far as their design, I think about sock puppets! I do use some real-world research, for example Snail and Worm Again has a California poppy in it, and my neighbor’s California Desert Tortoise modeled for me for Snail and Worm All Day.
LIBRARYMOM: How have your children influenced your writing and illustrations? Do they like to create stories too?
TINA: Yes! When I’m writing, I’ll get carried away a bit, and then I always think about my son who was struggling to read. So I’ll stop and cut down some dialog, simplify, clarify.
My upcoming beginning reader series with Scholastic Acorn, Fox Tails, is about rival brother and sister foxes, who keep arguing and competing. I have three sons that bicker all day long, so I joke that it’s actually my memoirs.
The boys all are good storytellers but each one kind of has their own creative outlet, one loves to cook, one is learning cinematography. My husband and I are both animators, so everyone asks if they are following in our footsteps.
LIBRARYMOM: Congratulations on winning a Geisel Honor! What were you doing when you found out you won? Were you surprised?
TINA: Thank you! I was certain it was a prank call. Snail and Worm Again had gotten ZERO buzz, no starred reviews, no end-of-year lists, no glowing mentions on book blogs. It had just fizzled, and I was so sad, I thought nobody out there had even read my book. So I honestly didn’t even pay attention to when the ALA conference was, it was completely off of my radar. Our family was out that night, and I came home to a bunch of missed calls on my landline from Denver (I don’t know anyone in Denver) and then a voicemail with bunch of cheering adults on speakerphone. I listened to it three or four times before it dawned on me what they were saying– it was the Geisel committee saying Snail and Worm Again had earned a Geisel Honor. I still didn’t believe it, when I told my husband I was like, (tearfully) “I THINK I won an award?” I am so grateful, it has been a game-changer for my career.
LIBRARYMOM: I learned that you also worked in a library and owned a bookstore. Now that you’ve transitioned from keeper of books to creator of them, what has surprised you the most in your bookish journey?
TINA: Honestly, it’s the hustle! You have to constantly keep working on getting your next book published, and getting people to notice your current book, and maybe actually buy it. I thought once you were published, you were set. You would keep getting offers for book deals, and people would magically discover your books and buy them. I mean, as the book buyer for my bookshop, I really only saw the books the publishers were promoting (this was before social media), so of course I assumed everyone’s books were promoted. I didn’t know that getting published was just the beginning!
LIBRARYMOM: It seems like stories have had a great impact on your life. Was there a certain book that sparked your love of literature?
TINA: Oh gosh, there have been so many, I can’t narrow it down to one. My favorite illustrator was Wallace Tripp. I adore Lois Ehlert, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert. One book I remember reading and studying, over and over, was Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling.
LIBRARYMOM: Do you have any new projects coming up? Will we see more of Snail and Worm?
TINA: Yes! And hopefully yes for more Snail and Worm, I have some more stories in the oven that aren’t quite done yet.
I just finished a leveled reader for Penguin Random House called Who Ate My Book?, out June 2020. And I am currently working on Fox Tails, my beginning reader chapter book series for Scholastic Acorn. The first one comes out in September 2020. And I have another project that is currently just scribbles, but I hope to pitch it soon.
More About Tina
Author-illustrator Tina Kügler writes and illustrates books and draws cartoons for television. Originally from Wisconsin, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three sons, and two kittens, Freddie Purrcury and Walter Kitty. Tina was awarded a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor in 2018 and still brings it up at every opportunity.
Visit Tina at http://tinakugler.squarespace.com/ to learn more about her fantastic books!
Photo credit- Katie Emery Photography