Q&A with Dino Files author Stacy McAnulty

stacy-mcanultyStacy McAnulty is the author of the Dino Files series. The following is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover for the first book in the series, “A Mysterious Egg.”

Why do you write?
My brain is bursting with ideas that sound fabulous in my head.  Imagining characters and plots and what-ifs, that’s fun.  Eventually, I have to get those ideas on paper, so I can make room for new ideas.  My brain can only hold so much.

Why specifically do you write for young people?
Even the darkest kids’ book ends at a place of hope. There needs to be hope for the future. The characters will be okay after we close the cover.  Books for adults can end in despair. That’s not me.  Also, I’m rather immature. Please excuse me while I pick my nose. (Kidding! But I’d totally say that at a school assembly.)

Dino Files mysterious-eggWhere did the idea for The Dino Files come from? Was it always planned as a series? Will there be more than three books?
My son wanted a “real life” dinosaur for his fifth birthday. Without the aid of a time machine or genetic engineering, I couldn’t deliver his desired present. So I wrote him this story. From the beginning, I thought it had series potential, and luckily my editor did too. There may be more than three eventually, if young paleontologists fall in love with Frank, Sam, Saurus, and Peanut.

Why dinosaurs?
My kids love dinosaurs. They infected me with their passion for prehistoric reptiles.

Saurus is as much a character as Frank and Sam. How did that come about?
All my books seem to have a cat or a dog. I love pets. My dogs are part of the family and affect the dynamic. In one revision, I actually cut Saurus, but I missed her too much. Frank and Saurus take care of each other. They need each other.

too-big-to-hide-225How did you decide what Peanut would look like?
I didn’t want to use a discovered dinosaur. I needed something of my own creation, and the dino needed a distinguishing feature. Initially, it was a red horn, and his name was Rudolph. We changed it because there was a possibility someone might think it was a Christmas book. The illustrator, Mike Boldt, did a fantastic job of filling in the rest of the details. I could just squeeze Peanut. He’s adorable.

There’s a touch of humor throughout The Mysterious Egg. Was that a conscious decision?
I try to make kids laugh because it’s the best sound in the world.

You’re the author of a number of picture books, how does writing for younger readers differ from writing a chapter book?
In a picture book, the illustrations carry half the story. The author needs to leave room. That makes it both easier and harder. I have to be careful not to repeat what the pictures will show.  My chapter books still have some illustrations, but they don’t do as much of the work. I have more room to explore the characters and to dictate the action. I also get to have more jokes in the text.

not-a-dinosaur-225What are you working on now?
I’m working on a middle-grade novel about a math savant who ends up in public school for the first time in seventh grade. And I continue to work on funny picture books.

Is there a book from your own childhood that still resonates with you?
I was not a strong reader as a kid. I avoided it if I could.  But I loved when the teacher would read to the class. It was usually after lunch. My favorite was Max: The Dog That Refused to Die. It’s out of print now.  I remember being so concerned for Max, even though the title gives away the ending. An-animal-in-peril story always gets me.