Fans of Susan Orlean's writing have come to expect the unexpected from her.
The longtime New Yorker staff writer has chronicled wading through swamps with plant poachers (The Orchid Thief, made into the movie Adaptation), profiled fashion designers and surfer girls (The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup) and recounted visits to Mount Fuji and the World Taxidermy Championships (My Kind of Place). She's currently finishing up a book about canine movie and TV star Rin Tin Tin.
But her new book is unexpected even in that lineup: Lazy Little Loafers is a picture book (illustrated by G. Brian Karas) for kids ages 4 to 8, Orlean's first book for children.
It's a story about a little girl who can't understand why she has to go to school and do homework while babies just play and sleep all day. I recently read the book to Trish Lagalo's kindergarten class at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg.
Here are the questions the children asked about the book, and Orlean's answers, via phone from her home in New York.
Why did you write the book?
This book had a very interesting origin. About 10 years ago, I wrote a New Yorker humor piece, very much for adults, that was a riff on how lazy babies are. It was written from the point of view of a beleaguered adult, and I never really thought of it as a children's book.
Then an editor from Abrams read one of my books that happened to include that piece and called me and said they thought it might make a good children's book.
How did you write the book?
The original piece came about one day when I was living in Manhattan. I was walking home, lugging groceries, burdened, weary, sweaty, and I saw this woman pushing a stroller. The baby looked so relaxed, and he happened to be wearing sunglasses. He just looked like this little mogul being pushed along.
I stored the image, and the idea of being jealous of a baby . . . When you write a humor piece, a voice emerges: "Man, that baby ought to be doing something productive . . ."
When I wrote the children's book, I changed the voice from a frazzled adult to a petulant, somewhat envious, precocious older sibling. It was so much fun for me to tweak it.
How did you get the pictures in the book?
This was a big mystery to me. Unless you're both a writer and an illustrator, the publisher is the dating service to bring the author and illustrator together. Abrams showed me several different illustrators, and we agreed on Brian (Karas).
I think his illustrations are fantastic - the setting in New York City, the palette he uses.
You work at arm's length . . . I was thinking I would love to meet him. Then a friend told me . . . he lives just a few miles from me (in New York's Hudson River Valley).
What is the little girl's name?
She doesn't have a name in the book. But secretly I think her name is Susan Orlean. She's this slightly skeptical, inquisitive, investigative little girl. I think she's a future nonfiction writer.
What size shoes do you wear?
I wear size 71/2.
Do you have a baby?
I do, and coincidentally and entirely by accident, the little boy in the book looks exactly like my son. His name is Austin. He's 31/2 now . . .
When I first got the book, I was so excited. I said, "Look, Mommy wrote this book."
And he said, "Mommy, I want to read it, but not every day." So I got taken down a few pegs.
Will you name the baby in the next book?
Writing for adults is what I do, but . . . I love the idea of continuing these characters, this brother and sister, exploring the world and asking questions that aren't being asked.
Maybe I would name the little boy Austin. Because I'm his mother, not his sister, it wouldn't make sense to give the little girl my name, so maybe I'll take a poll and have kids vote.
Next time, can you make her hair pink?
She's a New York City girl, so there's no reason to think she wouldn't dye her hair pink. I'll pass that along to Brian.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.
MEET THE AUTHOR
She will speak at 10:15 a.m. in the Fish & Wildlife Institute Auditorium.