Laura Numeroff knew she wanted to be a writer when she was nine years old. An avid reader, she had discovered the public library in Brooklyn about a year before. “I loved to walk to the library,” she says. “I remember being amazed at how many books there were and that I could take some home.” Numeroff began creating her own books—writing the words and drawing the pictures with her box of 64 Crayola crayons. She even wrote Random House on the cover because they published Eloise (by Kay Thompson), one of her favorite books—a move that foreshadowed the 1998 publication of Monster Munchies.
Numeroff’s dream of becoming a published author took a detour when she applied to Pratt Institute in New York for fashion design, following in her older sister’s footsteps. “It wasn’t for me,” she says. Instead of designing clothes, she designed her own curriculum that included studying animation and photography, hosting a jazz radio show on a college station, and taking a class in writing and illustrating books for children. Numeroff’s first published book, Amy for Short (Macmillan, 1976), started out as a homework assignment for one of her classes and was published before she graduated.
Numeroff illustrated her first nine books and sometimes generated ideas for new books from the sketches and doodles in her notebook. For instance, Beatrice began as a character that made a cameo appearance in a mock-up of Why A Disguise? (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Numeroff loved Beatrice’s character so much that she wrote and illustrated a story for her in Beatrice Doesn’t Want To about a girl who hates books and the library.
Other books come from the tiniest details of everyday life. One day, Numeroff saw a Dalmatian and suggested to a friend that it would look cute in red sneakers. “Dogs don’t wear sneakers,” said her friend. This simple declarative statement sparked a flash in Numeroff’s mind. “I wrote Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers [Simon & Schuster, 1993]. I had so much fun because I love rhyming and I had enough verses left over for Chimps Don’t Wear Glasses [Simon & Schuster, 1998].”
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (HarperCollins, 1985), Numeroff’s classic bestseller, is partly autobiographical. “I’m the mouse,” she says. She can be sitting at her desk in her Los Angeles home when she realizes she needs something in the bedroom. In the bedroom, she might see a pile of papers that needs to be put away. Putting away the papers takes her to the kitchen, where a stack of dirty dishes awaits. But first she has to make a trip to the store for detergent. Eventually, like the mouse, Numeroff works her way back to her desk.
Usually Numeroff works on an idea in spurts. She jots down a few words and phrases in something she calls a “word sketch.” After these initial impressions are committed to paper she lets it sit and sometimes does not get back to it for a while. But there’s an exception to every rule, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was Numeroff’s exception. The idea popped into her head fully formed, and the story took two hours to write down and perfect. Unfortunately, the sequels are not as accommodating and Numeroff tinkers with them for many weeks before she feels they are ready to submit to her editor.
The characters in Numeroff’s books are like family. Between the initial creative process and later rewrites with her editors, Numeroff says, “I work on them for so long, they become part of my life.” She becomes attached to each character, and when it is finally time to let go and allow the book to be published, she feels like an empty-nester whose child has left for college.
Beatrice is one of Numeroff’s favorite characters. When Beatrice Doesn’t Want To went out of print, Numeroff resold the rights to Candlewick who repackaged it with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger. By then, Numeroff had stopped illustrating her own work to focus on writing, and trusted Munsinger to bring her beloved character back to life.
The title character from Sherman Crunchley (Putnam, 2003) is another favorite of Numeroff’s. “He’s stuck doing one thing, but wants to do something else.” Perhaps the reason Sherman is so close to Numeroff’s heart is that he follows her personal motto. “Never give up. Dreams can come true.”