Judy Sierra is the New York Times bestselling author of picture books that are both hilarious and educational, including the read-aloud favorites Wild About Books and Antarctic Antics. Her spot-on rhythm and rhyme has been compared to Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose. Dr. Sierra's anthologies of folktales have been awarded the Aesop Prize by the American Folklore Society. She received a Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology at UCLA, publishing her first picture books while as a graduate student, retelling some of the little-known folktales she uncovered during her research, including Tasty Baby Belly Buttons from Japan, The Elephant's Wrestling Match from Cameroon, and The Gift of the Crocodile, a Cinderella variant from Indonesia.
How did you begin writing children's books?
I never considered writing children's books until I attended a talk by picture book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz. He said that a picture book is like a small theater. I thought to myself, "I know a whole lot about small theaters—puppet theaters. I should write a picture book!" I would think of each one as a puppet show. The words would be the script, and the page turns would be the entrances and exits of characters and the changes of scene.
I took classes in writing for children and within a year I'd sold my first manuscript, The Elephant's Wrestling Match, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
Is it fun being a children's author?
Many parts of being a children's author are very enjoyable. For example, even though I'm a shy person, I love standing on stage and sharing my books to a room full of teachers or a school auditorium filled with kids. And of course signing a book contract or winning a book award are thrilling. On the other hand, creating a book that kids will love can be a long and difficult process.
How do you get your ideas?
Ideas for books arrive in different ways. Sometimes I give myself a challenge, for example, I wondered if I could I write a funny, exciting story about a rather boring subject, good manners. That challenge resulted in Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf, illustrated by J. Otto Seibold.
The idea for my bestselling book, Wild About Books, came from a poster I saw at a library that showed wild animals reading books. "How did they learn to read?" I asked myself. "And where did they get all those books?" I chose the title and wrote it in my idea notebook, but it took me five years to come up with just the right story.
What were your favorite books as a child?
As a preschooler, my favorite book was The Golden Book of Poetry. I asked to hear the poems so often that I knew every one by heart long before I could read.
Later on, I read and re-read the Oz books and Nancy Drew mysteries. I devoured the books in the school library and the public library. My favorite of all favorites was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Which picture books inspired you as a writer?
I was inspired by the picture books that made me a read-aloud star when I worked at the public library. Some favorites were Maurice Sendak's Pierre, and Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, and the folktale picture books of Gerald McDermott and Ashley Bryan.
What are you working on now?
I am putting together a collection of the world's best folktales for young children.
All My Children's Books
Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems. Illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. Harcourt, 1998.
Ballyhoo Bay. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. Simon & Schuster, 2009.
The Beautiful Butterfly. Illustrated by Victoria Chess. Clarion, 2000.
Beastly Rhymes to Read After Dark. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. Knopf, 2008.
Born to Read. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2008.
Can You Guess My Name? Classic Tales Around the World. Illustrated by Stefano Vitale. Clarion, 2002.
Coco and Cavendish: Circus Dogs. Illustrated by Paul Meisel. Random House, 2004.
Coco and Cavendish: Fire Dogs. Illustrated by Paul Meisel. Random House, 2003.
Counting Crocodiles. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Harcourt, 1997.
The Dancing Pig: A Folktale from Bali. Illustrated by Jesse Sweetwater. Harcourt, 1999.
E-I-E-I-O! How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (with a Little Help from a Hen). Illustrated by Matthew Myers. Candlewick, 2014.
The Elephant's Wrestling Match. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Lodestar, 1992.
Everyone Counts. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2019.
The Gift of the Crocodile. Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins. Simon & Schuster, 2000.
The Great Dictionary Caper. Illustrated by Eric Comstock. Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Gruesome Guide to World Monsters. Illustrated by Henrik Drescher. Candlewick, 2006.
The House That Drac Built. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Harcourt, 1995.
Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote 'The Cat in the Hat.' Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Random House, 2017.
Make Way for Readers. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Simon and Schuster, 2016.
Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf. Illustrated by J. Otto Seibold. Knopf, 2007.
Monster Goose. Illustrated by Jack E. Davis. Harcourt, 2001.
Never Kick a Ghost, and Other Silly Chillers. Illustrated by Pascale Constantin. HarperCollins, 2011.
Nursery Tales Around the World. Illustrated by Stefano Vitale. Clarion, 1996.
Preschool to the Rescue. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Harcourt, 2001. Reprinted by Scholastic as The Trucks are Stuck.
Schoolyard Rhymes. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Knopf, 2005.
The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Silly and Sillier: Read Aloud Tales from Around the World. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Knopf, 2002.
Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Tale from Alphabet Town. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Knopf, 2009.
Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. Knopf, 2012.
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons. Illustrated by Meilo So. Knopf, 1999.
Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf. Illustrated by J. Notto Seibold. Knopf, 2010.
Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie. Illustrated by Edward Koren. Knopf, 2006.
There's a Zoo in Room 22. Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg. Harcourt, 2000.
We Love Our School! Illustrated by Linda Davick. Knopf, 2011.
What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? Illustrated by Doug Cushman. Harcourt, 2004.
Wild About Books. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2004.
Wild About You. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2012.
Wiley and the Hairy Man. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Lodestar, 1996.
ZooZical. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2011.