By day, John Schindel is a graduate student affairs officer for UC Berkeley’s psychology department, but by night, he’s a popular children’s book author who has written 22 books for kids and toddlers. His newest title, The Babies and Doggies Book, features photos of the two groups of cuties in similar situations and expressing similar emotions. He created the book in collaboration with Molly Woodward, who lives in Berkeley.
To celebrate his recent publication, Schindel signed copies of his book and others he’s written on Friday, May 8, from 2 to 3 p.m. in Tolman Hall, room 3201. After the signing, he went back to his work as a student affairs officer, where he oversees and has a hand in everything administrative for the department’s Ph.D. program, from admissions to graduation.
Here’s an interview with Schindel on his newest title and what inspires him to be a children’s book author.
How did you get started with The Babies and Doggies Book?
My collaborator, Molly Woodward, came up with the idea for The Babies and Doggies Book — she’s loaded with ideas — and I thought it was great. She and I met when she was an editor at Ten Speed Press working on some of my baby books. It’s been a good collaboration because she brings the editorial skills and knows what goes on in a publishing house. I have more experience making photo-illustrated books and doing photo research. It was a good pairing of complementary skills. She’s also half my age, so she brings a certain viewpoint. She’s a new mom, I’m an old dad. She brought a really nice energy and a different sensibility that maybe I once had that she helped rekindle — it was in a dormant stage because I hadn’t done anything in a while. She kind of brought me out of retirement.
The book includes a diverse collection of photos — where did you find them?
It’s all stock photography from around the world. We probably looked at 10,000 images. It was quite a process, but we liked doing it. We both have an aesthetic eye when looking at these images. The photos are of children from different cultures and ethnicities. Diversity was among our top goals in putting the book together.
What inspired you to start creating books for kids?
One of my earlier professions was working for a film company called Weston Woods Studios, which is now owned by Scholastic Publishing. Weston Woods took well-known children’s books and adapted them to films, so I got steeped in children’s picture books working in the production department. Having worked with so many books and reconfiguring them for media, I sort of thought, well, how hard could it be to write one of these? When I got out of filmmaking, I decided to give it a try. And learned the hard way that it’s actually not so simple and was rejected many times before getting my first book published in 1991.
What’s the hardest part of getting your foot in the door?
Even with as much as I thought I knew, there was a lot to learn about the structure of language and rhythm. What ultimately led to my first book, “Who Are You,” being published was when an editor wrote back to me and said, “We like the concept of your story, but you’re writing from an adult point of view.” You would have thought I would have seen that, but it’s hard to be objective about your own work. That was my “ah ha” moment. So I completely rewrote it and sent it around again and it eventually got published.
Tell me about your first book.
“Who Are You” was my first illustrated book. The well-known children’s book illustrator and Berkeley alum, James K.M. Watts, provided illustrations. Frog Face: My Little Sister and Me was my first photo-illustrated book. Janet Delaney, an adjunct lecturer for the College of Environmental Design at Berkeley, taught photography classes at UC Extension, where I taught at the time. I took her class and approached her about my idea for a children’s book. She gave me access to all of her photos of her kids — she just handed over all her family albums. I went through thousands of photos. So I packaged up a book with Janet’s photos and sent it off to a bunch of publishers and that’s what got me going in doing illustrated books with photos.
Why did you decide to stop working on illustrated books?
Largely because working as a writer for any kind of illustrated book for kids, you submit a manuscript to a publisher with the hopes that they’ll be interested in publishing it, and then they handle the illustration. The publisher has ownership of the project and leaves the writer out of it. Having come from a film background, I knew that good picture books have some cinematic principles and qualities to them. I just felt like I wanted more influence on what these books actually looked like and I wanted to be more a part of that. I realized that I had to start making the books myself.
Is there always a market for baby books?
Oh yeah. It’s fiercely competitive. It can be hard to get recognized when you come out with a new book. Baby books are good vocabulary builders. If they’re read aloud, it’s a shared experience. A hard-copy book is going to have a different shared experience than, say, a copy on an e-reader.
Where can people pick up a copy of The Babies and Doggies Book?
I believe most local booksellers are stocking it. People should always call around, ideally, to the independent book stores to see if they have copies because we need to be supporting them and find out if they carry titles of anyone’s books before they order it through a large bookseller or online. That supports the booksellers, it supports the authors, it supports a lot of people in the community.