Excerpts from the Children’s Book Council Interview
Source: The Children’s Book Council.
Margery, my wife, and I had been married three years when our son, Piet (rhymes with “neat”) was born. That was a turning point in my career in the field of children’s books. The year was 1974. It was the year that I both wrote and illustrated my first book after illustrating quite a few. Piet arrived at about the same time I received a letter from a little girl who wrote, “I like the books you illustrate, but are you really a duck?” That letter gave me the idea for doing a book for Piet about a disaster-prone duck, named Henry, who lives in a bush. I wanted Piet to know that it was all right to have the name Quackenbush. The Henry books became a popular series that include Henry’s Important Date, in which Henry races against time to deliver a birthday cake to his friend, Clara, only to find that he has delivered it on the wrong day. Henry launched me into writing and illustrating books on all kinds of subjects.
A number of my author/illustrated books were inspired by Piet as he was growing up. When he took his first steps, at age one, he set out to prove he could fly as well and went crashing to the floor off a sofa. I thought it was time to tell him about the Wright Brothers so I wrote and illustrated my first humorous biography about famous people in history, which led to twenty- three more over the years. They include one of my favorites, James Madison & Dolley Madison and Their Times. Piet helped me with that book to sort out the facts about the War of 1812 so children would be able to understand them. He was in college by that time.
Piet continues to be an inspiration for new books. He recently graduated from Emory University, where he majored in history, and has joined the working world. My latest books reflect on that theme of venturing from home and striving for independence. Batbaby, for one book, is about the adventures of a baby bat going on his first solo flight. Another book, Daughter of Liberty, is about courage, patriotism, and determination which are all necessary things to become successful in an uncertain world.
In between stories about Piet, Margery has been the inspiration for other books including being the prototype for Miss Margery Mallard, world-famous ducktective, in my Miss Mallard Mysteries. My mother, children and adults in the workshops I offer at my studio, my editors, teachers, librarians, and children I have met on author visits have all inspired books.
This is how I became a writer in addition to being an illustrator. For me, both involve the same process, which is observing other people and their experiences.