Dan Yaccarino, ‘The Longest Storm’ and Writing for Kids

Dan Yaccarino, you’ve probably heard of him. From working as a the character designer behind The Backyardigans (Nickelodeon), and producer of several book-based animated series such as Doug Unplugs (AppleTV), Oswald (Nickelodeon) and Willa’s Wild Life (NBC and Qubo), to selling around 2.5 million of his books, you’ve heard of him one way or another.

Today we interview Dan about his latest book The Longest Storm, and tips on how to break into writing/creating shows and books for kids!

First off, do you have anything new you’re working on you’d like to share with All Ages of Geek?

Yes! My latest picture is called The Longest Storm, which is a very important book for me. It’s a story about a family that has not only come apart, but has to shelter in place due to a mysterious storm raging outside. Things get nutty and weird, then dark and a little scary, but they find a way to come back together and get along. 

What are some of your favorite illustrations, children’s books/shows you have worked on?

I love everything I’ve worked on! I always try to find something of value in the experience, like learning something new, making a friend, or just having fun. The projects I love the most are always the ones I’m working on at the moment, because creating a book or producing an animated series or feature film takes a very long time and requires an enormous amount of energy and focus. So I really need to love whatever I’m working on! I can tell you right now that The Longest Storm will be one of my favorite favorites, along with my picture books Unlovable, Every Friday, and All the Way to America. Then of course, there’s my animated series Oswald, which will always have a special place in my heart.

For anyone wanting to get into animation production or direction what are some tips you can share?

Research internships at networks and animation studios. Get in on the ground floor to learn the nuts and bolts of the industry, so you can see if it’s something you really, really have a passion for. Because you’re going to need it! It’s fulfilling work, but it can be very difficult.

As a creator what have been some struggles you have overcome with your work?

This may not sound like a struggle, but I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to publish or produce. It frustrates me that publishing and production tend to move slower than I’d like. So I’ve had to learn how to manage my expectations. I’m pretty organized with my time, but it’s vexing to me that I’m not ever going to be able to bring most of my ideas out into the world. 

I’m very familiar with a lot of the kids’ shows you’ve worked on, how do you come up with such fun and colorful characters?

I’m not entirely sure how ideas come to any of us. I don’t even think I come up with creative ideas on my own. It’s more like the ideas are there, somewhere in the ether, and if I’m fortunate enough, I somehow draw them to me. It’s like running around in a lightning storm with a lightning rod, actually hoping to get electrocuted. I believe the way I interpret these ideas is based on my personal taste and life experience. But I don’t take credit for creating ideas, just interpreting them.

As for my characters, most of them are based on people I know and the rest of are, well, me- different aspects of myself. In the case of The Longest Storm, I guess I’m the father, but in a way, I’m also the younger daughter, who is an artist of some kind.

Any tips you have for start-up authors? Any helpful or out of the box advice other authors haven’t given yet?

In my opinion, the best thing you can do is to find a quiet place to create, where you can go to EVERY DAY at a certain time for a certain amount of time. A lot of the time, especially in the beginning, you will most likely stare at a blank screen or piece of paper. However, you will find that if you just keep diligently sitting there in the same place at the same time every day, something will eventually happen. 

I did this many years ago when I decided that I wanted to write a middle-grade novel, but I had only done picture books up to that point. After a lot of struggle, I wrote a first draft, which was longer than anything I had ever written before. Yet once I got through that, it was not only easier to revise it, but I soon found I could move onto other long-format projects like chapter books, TV scripts, and screenplays. Over the years, I attempted to get that idea published, but nothing came of it until now, over 20 years later! I’m currently working on an early reader/picture book that is essentially my original story, just not in the middle-grade novel format. I’m having so much fun working on it.

What are some of your favorite shows, books, illustrators and movies?

It’s a pretty big mix. I love anything by Roald Dahl and Beverly Clearly. I adore Monty Python and Wes Anderson movies. Charles Addams, the New Yorker cartoonist, is still amazing. I also really love JP Miller, an early Little Golden Books illustrator, and of course Mary Blair. Miroslav Sasek is another favorite illustrator, and I always go back to Roger Duvoisin (author/illustrator of Petunia), and the early work of Richard Scarry. Then there’s Wally Wood, an early Mad magazine cartoonist, who was absolutely brilliant. 

What makes a good kids’ show/program?

First and foremost, the intended audience needs to connect with the character. Even if how a show looks or the people involved (celebrities?) seem appealing to adults, if children are not invested in the character, you will invariably lose them.

Where can everyone find you online and why should they follow you?

My website is http://www.danyaccarino.com/. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram. Why should you follow me? Well, if you’re interested in my work, I will occasionally post about upcoming projects or projects I’m currently working on.

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