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LAURA NUMEROFF’S “IF YOU…” WORLD

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by Susan Hodara

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If you ask Laura Numeroff what her favorite characters are, she’ll probably tell you a moose, a pig, and, of course, a mouse. When you ask her what they’re up to, she’s going to tell you about her latest children’s book, If You Take a Mouse to School, and she might even mention its well-loved predecessors, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, and the one that started it all, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Numeroff, 49, is the author of the popular series, all published by HarperCollins and illustrated by Felicia Bond. The books follow the “circular story” format in which one thing leads to another and ends up back where it began. There are currently over 6 million copies in print in a variety of languages.

Numeroff, a Brooklyn native who now lives in Los Angeles, recalls the conception of Mouse, the character who started it all. “I was with a friend on a long car trip,” she says. “I was feeling antsy and getting silly, and I came up with a vision of a mouse nibbling a cookie. I pictured him wanting a glass of milk, then getting it in his whiskers. I told the story to my friend all the way to the end.”

When she got home, she typed it up and submitted it to HarperCollins. “I wanted it to be published by HarperCollins,” she continues, “because they were the publishers of one of my favorite books, E. B. White’s Stuart Little.” After an initial rejection, and nine more rejections from other publishers, she resubmitted the manuscript to another editor at HarperCollins and it was accepted.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which was released in 1985, was not Numeroff’s first published book. The youngest of three girls, she spent hours as a child reading in the library by Prospect Park, where she discovered Stuart Little and was introduced to some of her other favorites, including Eloise by Kay Thompson, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, and, she says, “anything by Beverly Cleary.” By age 9, she had decided to become a children’s author, and before she graduated from college, she had written and published the now out-of-print Amy For Short.

There were, however, some detours along the way. Following in her sister’s footsteps, she studied fashion design her freshman year at Pratt (“I hated it!” she says). A student in the college’s University Without Walls, Numeroff branched out in a range of directions, including radio broadcasting, animation, and photography, but it wasn’t until her senior year that she enrolled in a course at nearby Parsons School of Design in children’s book writing and illustration. It was then that she wrote Amy for Short, and from there, never looked back.

Aside from the If You… books, Numeroff has authored a host of other children’s selections, including Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers and Chimps Don’t Wear Glasses, Sometimes I Wonder if Poodles Like Noodles, as well as the series What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best and What Grandmas Do Best/What Grandpas Do Best, published by Simon & Schuster and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. She is currently at work on more in that series, What Aunts Do Best/What Uncles Do Best, What Brothers Do Best/What Sisters Do Best, and What Puppies Do Best/What Kittens Do Best, and is collaborating with her boyfriend, children’s book illustrator Nate Evans, on a new title, Laura Numeroff’s 10-Step Guide to Living With Your Monster. And don’t miss Pig in an upcoming appearance in If You Give a Pig a Party.

Her new book, If You Take a Mouse to School, imagines Mouse wanting a sandwich and a snack to bring to school, and then a backpack to carry them, and soon finds him doing math, spelling and even a science experiment. After building with blocks and writing and illustrating his own book (Goodnight Mouse), shooting some baskets and skateboarding once school lets out, he asks for his lunchbox, which he has left … back at school.

For the past several years, Numeroff has been donating a portion of her royalties to charities such as the North American Handicapped Riders Association and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Monies from If You Take a Mouse to School will go to First Book, a nonprofit organization that gives books to disadvantaged children, and funds from the 10-Step Guide will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation in honor of Numeroff’s mother, who suffers from the disease. Numeroff has also written The Hope Tree: Kids Talk About Breast Cancer (Simon & Schuster), in which children whose mothers have breast cancer share their feelings, with proceeds benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

More information about Numeroff can be found online at “Laura Numeroff’s (Very Own) Web Site”. This kid-friendly site includes descriptions of Numeroff’s books, with comments about what inspired her and her favorite parts; pictures of Numeroff now and as a child; a “Kids Fun” section with games related to her characters; and areas for parents and teachers with booklists, links, and suggested activities for kids. Check it out at www.lauranumeroff.com.


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