Robert Forbes, children’s book author, Vice President of “ForbesLife” magazine and UNC alumnus, is signing his book “Beast Friends Forever” Saturday at 2 p.m. today at Flyleaf Books.
Staff writer Elizabeth Baker spoke with Forbes about what inspires him, his time at UNC and the ideals he hopes to instill in young people.
The Daily Tar Heel: Your website says you enjoy looking out windows. What is it about the outside world that captivates you?
Robert Forbes: I guess part of what captivates me is that it is about life. It’s what’s going on; it’s around me. I listen to words and sounds, I observe, I go to the zoo a lot, but that early time spent looking out the window informed me in ways that helped me later on in life.
Staring out the window once in awhile is a good thing to do. I don’t think kids get enough time to just stare out the window. So when I go and do readings at schools, I encourage them. I say “Don’t make sure that every minute of every day is jam-packed with something. Put down the cell phone and stop tweeting and just look around you for a while. It’s amazing what’s out there. If you don’t do that, then you are too caught up in what is in your own little sphere or bubble. Stop and talk a walk and let the world happen to you for a while. Go forth into it, and things come to you as a result.”
DTH: From where do you draw the inspiration for the wildly energetic poems found in your new children’s book “Beast Friends Forever”?
RF: Sometimes when I start writing one, there’s a phrase that has intrigued me and I’ll see where it takes me. Sometimes I have an idea of where I want the poem to go but I have no idea how I’m going to get there. Sometimes I’ll have an idea of what the beginning is going to be and I don’t know how I’m going to end it. I go on an adventure — each one is a journey and an adventure for me.
DTH: What is it about critters and beasts that capture your attention and make you want to write about them?
RF: I find using critters, animals, bugs is sort of fun because they have characteristics that are sometimes like humans. I try not to get too anthropomorphic — except when the story calls for it. I find that the characters evolve a little bit as I’m writing the piece.
They do some fun things. I try to use some critters occasionally that aren’t normal, like a narwhal or a meerkat. That adds a little bit so it’s not just elephants and giraffes.
DTH: How did your time at UNC mold your dreams and your career as a children’s book author and a lifestyle magazine editor?
RF: When I was there, I had no idea what I was going to do in my career. I started off as an English major. Having spent five years at a New England boarding school, I thought it was time to branch out and try something new. North Carolina really appealed to me. I spent my junior year abroad.
But mainly Carolina was a good exposure to another part of the USA with different kinds of people and different ways of thinking. I enjoyed that part.
DTH: Your stories seem to rely heavily on imagination. What is the power of imagination, not only in children’s books but also in the adult world?
RF: When I go to readings at libraries, that’s one of the things I start off with. I let the kids know that I have an imagination and all these things came out of my imagination and that every one of them has as good of an imagination as I do. They look at me like “Oh, wow.” They know it, but sometimes they need to be reminded that they have imaginations. All creativity comes from imagination.
As a writer, I find I’m drawing on my imagination all the time. Once you start doing it, it becomes a muscle, and you get better at it. Like I said, I don’t always know where I’m going to take my writing, but I listen to the muse when she comes. When she’s knocking on the door, I let her in.
DTH: What made you want to be a children’s book author?
RF: Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be a children’s author. And I didn’t sit down one day and say ‘I’m going to write a poem for children, and I’m going to do another one, and then I’m going to turn it into a book.’ I just started writing because something was rolling in my head and I put it down on paper. I said ‘Oh this is amusing,’ and I wrote another one down, and one thing led to another.
I try to make it fun for everybody. These poems are meant to intrigue adults as well. My new book, “Beast Friends Forever,” is more the romantic poems. Those are the love stories — the mushy ones — that my third to fifth graders may not like but I think middle graders and up would get a kick out of. And adults — it’s meant to appeal to them too. It’s good for everybody.
DTH: What do you hope to achieve through your children’s books?
RF: I want to amuse kids of all ages. Like I said, I write them to please me, so when I pick them up to read I’m still enjoying them. They’re still fresh for me. I know I’m never going to be able to retire on my loyalties — that’s not the plan.
I’m out there planting seeds and hoping that somehow someway one of them will take root. And if not just giving them the chance to say ‘Gosh, reading books is fun.’ They are a window into the world. They are a way for me to find what else is out there.
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