Robo-Sauce is the seventh book created by critically acclaimed author/illustrator team, Daniel Salmieri and Adam Rubin. Previous collaborations include the New York Times bestseller, Dragons Love Tacos, Secret Pizza Party, Big Bad Bubble, Those Darn Squirrels, Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door and Those Darn Squirrels Fly South.
Adam Rubin is the New York Times best-selling author of a half dozen critically-acclaimed picture books. He grew up outside of New York City, went to school at Washington University in St. Louis and spent his "formative" years in Chicago. After ten years working in the creative departments of various advertising agencies, Adam recently quit his day job to focus on writing full-time. Other interests include camping, 3D puzzles, improv comedy, nature documentaries and cartoons. He currently lives in Manhattan.
Daniel Salmieri grew up in Brooklyn and went to the University of the Arts for Illustration in Philadelphia. Since then he's illustrated eight picture books, including a New York Times best seller and Notable Book. He has also won several awards including the Borders Original Voices Award and the NAIBA Book of the Year Award. Daniel's work has been recognized by American Illustration and The Society of Illustrators and one time, he made this portrait of a friend's dog. He currently lives in Brooklyn.
ROBO-SAUCE IN THE MAKING:
Frequently Asked Questions
(Excerpted from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)
Jules: Did you always you know you wanted to write and illustrate books for children? How long have you known each other and how’d you first end up collaborating together? That’s three questions in one. Sorry.
Dan: I didn’t always know I wanted to illustrate for children’s books, but I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I loved to draw and paint as a kid, and later on in art school I gravitated towards illustration, because I like telling stories with my pictures. Although I didn’t always know I wanted to make them, children’s books were always very important to me, growing up. I loved having them read to me as I looked at the pictures. I was transported deep into the story and the world of a book in a way that felt magical.
With regard to later wanting to make them myself, I think that an early seed was planted in the fourth grade. Jon Scieszka came and did a presentation for my class, and I was blown away. The Stinky Cheese Man was one of my all time favorites for its grit and weirdness — and for being rude and unapologetic about it. Jon was so funny and charming during the presentation. It may sound silly, but that was when it clicked for me that there were real people making these books, and that was what they did as their jobs.
Adam and I have known each other for nine years. We were introduced (via email) during my senior year by our mutual friend, Corey. I grew up with Corey in Brooklyn, and he and Adam had just graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. Corey saw me and Adam as people who wanted to do creative things who had complementary sensibilities. Adam liked my illustrations, so he wrote Those Darn Squirrels to show to me. I loved his sense of humor and knew I wanted to work with him. I think that’s a big reason why we collaborate well together — we find each other’s work really funny. After graduating, I was going on a bunch of portfolio reviews at publishing companies, and I brought the manuscript of Those Darn Squirrels and some sample illustrations I had made to accompany it around with me. Clarion picked up on it, and Adam and I have been working together since.
Adam: I never would have written a picture book if it wasn’t for Dan. I was writing Happy Meal commercials for Leo Burnett and doing shows at the Annoyance Theater in Chicago when we met over email. I saw Dan’s illustrations and thought, “I have got to work with this guy.” It’s crazy how what started as a fun side project has grown into my full-time job and a deeply fulfilling passion. It kind of makes sense, looking back. I always admired great picture books — Tomi Ungerer, Shel Silverstein, Jon Scieszka. (I never met him as a kid, but I remember buying The Stinky Cheese Man from a Scholastic book fair when I was in sixth grade.) I was obsessed with the early Klutz books — magic, juggling, kids’ shenanigans. They were so conspiratorial. It felt like, as a reader, I was in cahoots with the writers, and I guess I try to emulate that feeling in our books.
Picture books are an amazing creative medium, because there are so many constraints and such a wide audience. (We know full well that it’s not just kids who read them.) So, instead of trying to guess what four-year-olds or eight-year-olds or elementary school librarians might like, we just write and draw to make each other laugh. We genuinely love what we do and hopefully it comes across in the work.
Jules: I always find that question of audience so interesting. Most of my favorite illustrators say, as you do, that you don’t write and illustrate books with a child audience in mind. That is, you create what you think works (and, in this case, is funny), and it works for children too. Or that your audience is children but that they are, in many ways, very much the same as adults. I interviewed Liniers recently, who said, “I never want to pander or patronize kids. They aren’t idiots. They’re just below eye level.” I love that.
I think The Stinky Cheese Man was so pivotal for so many authors and illustrators today. I remember seeing it when I worked in a bookstore in college and thinking, “you can do this in children’s books?” It’s one of the first books that made me want to study children’s lit. I’m about to quote someone again (sorry), but one of my favorite parts of Wild Things was whenAdam Rex said this about seeing The Stinky Cheese Man for the first time: [It and other books] showed me that below the dollhouse of children’s literature there was a semi-finished basement where people drew funny pictures and tried to crack each other up, and there there was maybe a space free on their orange, beer-stained sofa.
Adam, I looked up the Annoyance Theater, and it seems to be an improv theater. How long have you done that? I have so much respect for people who do improv, as I think it would intimidate the hell out of me. (As a regular listener of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, I listen to lots of improv’ers talk about their craft.)
Adam: The Annoyance was one of my big inspirations to move to Chicago. I had read Mick Napier’s book in college and seen some astonishing improv shows at UCB in New York. The funny thing is: Adults spend years studying the forms and techniques, but any kid can do improv. They are totally fearless. And for me, the best improv happens when the people on stage are all playing with child-like abandon and just having a blast with each other on stage.
Jules: And improv is so good for children and their growing brains — on so many levels. Anyway, I’m glad you all met and joined forces and make books. Back to Robo-Sauce: Have you shared it with children yet? What’s been their reaction?
Adam: We’ve had a few opportunities to share the story with kids but mostly in large group settings at book festivals. I remember the first time we read it outloud, the audience laughed and clapped at all the right moments. It was kind of a relief. We work in isolation on these things for so long that sometimes we’re not sure how people will respond. Neither one of us has children, so we rely on friends and fans to tell us what their kids latch on to. So far, the reports say robo-dog is a huge hit and that “Flash, Bang, Boom” is quickly becoming a household catchphrase.
Dan: The dog in the book is actually based on my real dog, Ronni.
Jules: Does Ronni know he’s gone down in all of picture-book-dom history as a robot character? Did he get extra treats for this?
Dan: Yes, she knows — and it’s going to her head. (She’s a girl dog. Ronni is short for Veronica.) She always gets extra treats! Jules: I can only imagine that tons of discussion went into precisely what would go on the big gatefold where you had to keep the action moving, yet you had to also include instructions. It totally works, but did it ever get overwhelming?
Adam: In the original prototype I made, the pull-out spread was this hastily-drawn picture of the earth covered in stick figure robots. We kind of forgot about it and went in a different direction. It was actually one of the design folks over at Penguin who suggested we go back to it.
Dan: Lilly Malcolm.
Adam: Lilly is great. We worked with her and Jason down to the wire. I think I also have to give a shout-out to my old coworkers at Firstborn in NYC. I pulled a lot of patient folks into my office to watch them fail at folding, while trying to develop clear and concise instructions for the transformation. I learned a lot about information design. Some people only read words; some people only look at pictures; some people just wing it. It was a long process with at least fifty iterations. The inventor,Mark Setteducati (whom the book is dedicated to), provided a lot of valuable suggestions, but it’s a daunting challenge to instruct people through a process that they are not expecting and have never seen before. I just kept imagining confused readers across the country, ripping the book in half out of frustration. Of course, the first time I handed the book to a kid, they transformed it into a robot. No problem. He also made robot noises while folding, which I now realize is key.
Jules: I am laughing so hard at this. (I guess I could just type “LOL,” like the rest of the world, but I’m a contrarian.) Yes, robot noises are necessary.
I first read this book with my daughters, and we had that mofo transformed in no time. And it was fantastic for all involved. (I’m one of those who doesn’t read directions, and I tend to wing it, so my children took over and had it done lickety-split.) Can you talk a bit more about Mark Setteducati and how you know him?
Adam: Mark Setteducati is a world-famous magician and toy inventor. We met through our mutual interest in puzzles and optical illusions back when I was in college. A few years later, I wound up writing an article about him. Mark’s work has always inspired me, and he was one of the biggest advocates for me to leave my day job in advertising.
Jules: That’s lovely that you dedicated the book to him. Well, this might be a good place to stop our chat. Stop it right by inspiration and very close to robot noises. Bleep bloop. Bleep. Thank you both for visiting. It was fun. Dan, thanks for sending art! Wait! One more question: What are you guys working on now? Anything you’re allowed to talk about?
Adam: We actually have a bunch of exciting projects in the works. Some are fully-finished manuscripts, and some are still scribbles on the back of a bar napkin. Hopefully,Robo-Sauce catches on and we get to continue playing with the whole idea of the book as an interactive object. We both still love that old-school, tactile storytelling experience you can’t get from a digital screen. Maybe it’s ironic that we made a story about technology taking over the world, and the analog version is way better than the e-book.