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Notable Children's Books of 1993 (ALA)
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Author Biography: William Joyce, author-artist of Rolie Polie Olie lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, with his lovely wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Jack and Mary Katherine. They also have a dachshund named Rose. Here Mr.Joyce talks about his collection of children's books, his influences in creating them, and even the Rolie Polie family!
Q: What's new and different about Rolie Polie Olie?
A: Everything in Rolie Polie Olie is a robot or a machine. Beds, cars, kitchen appliances, and even the toilet have a personality. But rather than it seeming cold and remote, as computer animation can often feel, I wanted to see if we could make a robot world that felt warm and kind; an almost old-fashioned version of what the futurecould be. I wanted to take the cutting edge of cybertechnology and create something that felt as though it was done in the 1930s. It's sort of like Leave It to Beaver meets The Matrixx or Blade Runner.
Q: How does the Emmy Award-winning animated TV show Rolie Polie Olie relate to the book?
A: I had been working on a book about robots when I was approached to do a computer-animated television series. Previously, I had worked on Toy Story, which was an amazing experience, so I decided to merge my robot paintings with the computer — to paint with the computer.
I had never collaborated on anything visual before, but with the help of 300 artists and technicians on 3 different continents, I was able to realize this vision. I was able to create an entire 3-D robot universe without ever leaving my desk in Shreveport, Louisiana. My sketches, stories, and songs traveled from my home to Toronto, Paris, and Ho Chi Minh City. I would design every antenna, tree, and doorknob, and the computer would then render my drawings. We didn't know if it would work, but here we are with an Emmy Award-winning television show on the Disney channel and two beautiful picture books.
Q: What was your inspiration for Rolie Polie Olie?
A: The Rolie Polie family is a caricature of my own family, even down to the family dog!
I wanted to evoke the blithe, optimistic feeling of an old Mickey Mouse cartoon or The Little Rascals. Some kind of "Once upon a time" Americana in the robot world, or a "future that never was." The Polie family harks back to what we all wanted as kids; everything is uncomplicated and magically naive. This is a bright and shiny sun-drenched world, moving and swaying to its own catchy oom-pa-pa beat. Everything is round, everything is alive, everyone does the rumba dance.
Q: In your latest picture book, Snowie Rolie, you bring a winter wonderland to Robot Land. Tell us about your new character, Mr. Snowie.
A: I thought that it would be great if a snowman could really come to life . . . and on this robot planet where everything is living, naturally a snowman would have to be alive too!
When you make a snowman, you put so much effort and personality into something that is going to melt. It is a very poignant process, for no matter what you do, soon you will still have to let go and say good-bye. In Snowie Rolie, I wanted to actually save a snowman.
Q: What is the theme of Snowie Rolie?
A: Snowie Rolie is about how your life can change in a single day. Olie and Zowie wish for snow in the beginning of the book, but in the end they have gained a friend. They have learned so much about friendship and farewells, all in the course of one miraculous, snowy day.
Q: Now another one of your classic picture books, George Shrinks, has a new animated TV series on PBS. Where did the idea for George come from?
A: Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved stories about people who were the wrong size. King Kong was too big for everything, and Stuart Little was way too small. One day I found some of my old toys in a box. Mixed up with all the dinosaurs and army men was a little airplane that had a tiny pilot, and that got me thinking.
What if a boy named George shrank one day while his parents were away? What would he do? Would it be fun? Would it be scary? What would he eat?
So that's what I made George Shrinks about — how neat it would be if, just for one day, you were the same size as your toys. And of course I had George fly in that toy airplane.
Q: What influences you as an artist and author?
A: I'm a first-generation TV brat. My brain was welded to the solid-state circuitry of our RCA Viewmaster black-and-white television set. Every day and night I saw all the past, present, and future pulp the tube had to offer. Plus there were comic strips, my family, and other illustrators.
George Shrinks is King Kong in reverse. Nicholas Cricket is Casablanca with bugs. In The Leaf Men and Bently & egg the characters are as dashing and heroic as Robin Hood. In Santa Calls there are elements of The Wizard of Oz, Davy Crockett, The Lone Ranger, Rin-Tin-Tin, Little Orphan Annie, Jules Verne, and the Warner Brothers cartoons. For Dinosaur Bob I thought about Paul Bunyan and Casey at the Bat. Not only does a dinosaur become the family pet, but he also plays baseball and the trumpet, and dances the hokey-pokey. A Day With Wilbur Robinson is a combination of Dr. Doolittle, The Absent-Minded Professor, Invaders from Mars, and an exaggerated version of my own childhood.
Q: How does your childhood show up in your picture books?
A: I was raised by a congenial horde of southern screwballs. We had artists, bongo players, photographers, opera singers, actors, and geologists in our family. Everyone over fifty had dentures, which were always being mixed up or misplaced. We sometimes played shuffleboard with them. My grandfather had the added bonus of a glass eye that he swore could see even when outside his head. I had an uncle who convinced me he was from another planet. With a household like that, writing and illustrating came easily to me.
A shy, singing frog is left in charge of a very special egg that changes his life.