Amy Krouse Rosenthal | Interview

  • Photograph: courtesy of Chronicle Books

  • Photo: courtesy of Chronicle Books

  • Photograp: courtesy of Chronicle Books

  • Photograph: courtesy of Chronicle Books

Photograph: courtesy of Chronicle Books

Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld, the local duo behind the best-selling Duck! Rabbit!, have teamed up for another children’s book based on trickery. In Wumbers, the pair challenges young readers to decipher words that use numbers in place of letters. Some wumbers are pretty straightforward, such as “4ks” for forks or “bu10” for “button.” Others, however, offer a bit more of a challenge.

Rosenthal lives in Lakeview with her two sons, daughter and husband. She is the author of more than 20 children's books and the critically acclaimed memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. She is also the host of Mission Amy KR, a radio blog produced by WBEZ that challenges listeners with a weekly interactice mission. Lichtenheld lives in Geneva with his wife and has illustrated 16 books, incuding three New York Times best-sellers.

We spoke with Rosenthal about the origins of Wumbers and her love of wordplay.

Where did the idea for Wumbers come from?

It comes from a lifetime’s worth of being enamored with words and wordplay and numbers. So I guess you could say I’ve been playing in that sandbox forever. In that sense, it was somewhat inevitable if not unavoidable that this idea would emerge. And as noted in the book's dedication, William Steig is a big hero of mine, and his book CDB! is important to me.

Do you have a favorite wumber?

No, not really. They’re all really satisfying. Finding one is like the feeling of cracking a code or solving a riddle.

How did you come up with all the wumbers?

Once you get going, it’s like being in the zone. You go through each number and think about what words have that sound. It’s like a scavenger hunt. For a while wumbers were all I could see.

Did any wumbers not make it in the book?

Tom, who I love working with, came up with a three word wumber. It’s not in the book, unfortunately. It goes, "The ear 3 volves around the sun." The "3" bridges between the words.

Do you find yourself using wumbers in emails or text messages?

I use them in emails with my editor. But I actually don’t use them in text messages because it doesn’t make much sense. To do that, I would have to switch between numbers and letters on my smart phone. It’s definitely a writing thing even though it seems everyone thinks immediately of text messages.

To understand the book, you really have to play around with the wumbers. What do you hope that achieves?

Some kids come into reading later in life. I was one of them. I think this book is useful for a child between the ages of six and eleven who may not be a big reader. My gateway into reading was wordplay. I remember learning about puns and thinking it’s like a game. I think wordplay can be a good alternative way into a love of reading.

What makes a children’s book enjoyable for adults?

It shouldn’t suck. You want to try to delight someone. When I make kids' books, it’s the same process as when I make films or adult books, other things I enjoy doing. I think kids and adults are a lot more alike than people realize. Kids are intelligent and adults like to play. I want to merge those things. 

What are you working on these days?

I have a new book coming out in a few months called Exclamation Point. The cover is just an exclamation point, and it’s the story of an exclamation point finding its way through the world after having grown up in a world of periods. Tom is illustrating that and it will be out from Scholastic. Another one I am working on is a cousin of Wumbers, called I Scream! Ice Cream! and it’s about “wordles,” sentences that are phonetically identical but quite different. For example, "Heroes, he rows." That one is coming out from Chronicle Books and is illustrated by Serge Bloch.

Wumbers (Chronicle Books, $17) is available in bookstores now.

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