Birds of a Feather
In his first picture book, Mr. Watson’s Chickens (Chronicle Books), Jarrett Dapier, ’01 LAS, MSLIS ’15, tells the story of a same-sex couple whose love can survive anything—even a house overrun by 456 singing, dancing, juggling, board game–playing, s’more-making chickens.
Your book is delightful, with rhythmic prose and illustrations that call to mind Where’s Waldo? and Richard Scarry. What inspired it?
Thank you! It’s a wild story. In 2016, I had a dream that I was reading a book called Mr. Watson’s Chickens—that I had apparently written—to a classroom full of first graders. I knew it was about a man named Mr. Watson and another guy, and I understood that these two men had 456 chickens. And all the chickens were lost at a giant fair.
At one point I snapped awake, like the way you do from a terrible dream, and I thought, “I’ve never been startled awake by a good dream before.” But it was like somebody had shoved me and said, “Wake up and pay attention!” I stood up in the dark and made notes about what I remembered. In the morning I found the notes, and thought, “That’s a pretty solid start to a story!”
Did your children give you feedback while you were writing it?
I had come up with a lot of the story but hadn’t written it down, and I told it to my son one day on our way to school. We were walking along, and he was listening and seemed to like it. Then he asked me, “Hey, can you go get that from the library while I’m at school?” At that point, I knew I had something. But I said, “I can’t, because it’s not a book. I would have to write it.” And he got really quiet, and then right before he walked into school, he turned around and said, “Go home and write that book right now!” And I did. A month later, I finished the first draft.
What are your goals in writing for children?
So far, I’ve been trying to make kids laugh. I also want my work to feel original and to sound good when it’s read aloud. And perhaps most importantly, I want it to be as enjoyable for grownups as it is for kids.