Who Wet This Interview? Bob Shea and Zachariah OHora Fess Up
I run a committee out of my library for any and all staff members that would like to join. It’s called the 101 Great Books Committee and every year we spend month after month reading loads of children’s books. Some of the newer staff members to the committee have by now learned that I sometimes employ a phrase when looking at a particularly cute, treacly, sweet and sunny, ooey gooey, widdle twitchy nosey: Not a Betsy book. A flash of the cover and yep. Not a Betsy book. So what kind of book does make me happy on sight? I wish I could say it was a cover with elegant brushwork, an intriguing palette of colors, or something that conveys great, deep thinking.
Yeah, no. This is more my speed.
Naturally, when the offer to interview the co-conspirators behind this title popped up, I leapt at the chance. Bob Shea and Zachariah OHora? You’re on my turf now.
Betsy: It’s fessing up time. The time in which the fessing is up. One or both of you has familiarity with the wetting of pants. I need details, stat.
Bob: When I was small I’d tag along to my older brothers little league games. There were these big dirt piles to climb on, it was really fun and no one was watching me. I had to pee, but the porta-potty chemical smell was too overwhelming. Also, I remember a kid was playing in there. He would stick his head out to yell things at us other kids then duck back in slamming the door. It was weird and gross. Anyway, I remember looking for some woods to pee in but that dirt pile was really fun and I must have been drunk on my own autonomy. Short story long, nature would not be ignored and the gushing pee formed a perfect circle on the front of my pants. So now I want a soda. Once my Dad, who has the soda money, sees my pants, he’s gonna flip out. So I nonchalantly poke my head around the corner of the back of the dugout and call to him. I guess I thought in the light of my my suave, casual demeanor he would simply toss me the money which there’s no way I would catch. Instead he called me over and saw the front of my pants covered in pee and dirt. Oh, did I mention that I rubbed dirt on the front of my pants to cover it up the pee stain? Well I did. Again, suave. My Dad made me sit in the car until the game was over. I never got a soda.
Zach: When I was in my early 20’s I was at a Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum. And I really had to pee. When I got to the bathroom, I’m not sure why this was, but all of the tiles, bathroom fixtures and ceiling appeared to be melting. Maybe it was that I skipped lunch, I do get low blood sugar sometimes. But I had to pee so bad I just kind of ignored it. Since it was a baseball stadium it had my worst nightmare- which is the long trough where you can just see everyone doing their thing. I tried to ignore this as well, and started to pee. It was like a shower of glitter and rainbows, like unicorn pee. A little unusual I thought, but also- kinda pretty. I stood there, for what seemed like an hour, waiting for the glitter rainbow to stop so I could zip my pants up. But it went on and on. Behind me a long line of hostile space buffalo, ogres and lizard people huffed and vibed me to leave. If you could imagine what the Cantina bathroom from Star Wars was probably like, it was exactly like that. Unsure if I had stopped peeing or not I made a decision to just zip up my pants and exit even if it meant I was still peeing through my pants. I walked out down the long hallway convinced that I was peeing my pants the entire way. The whole time expecting someone to point and laugh, or even worse a security guard would pull me aside and yell at me for peeing my pants and hand me a mop and make me mop the trail of rainbow pee that I’d been leaving for the past twenty yards or so to the bathroom. But nobody even noticed! Maybe rainbow pee drys really fast I thought. When I got back to my friends it was dark and nobody could tell. I was so relieved! After the show we got on the BART train back to San Francisco and amazingly my pants were completely dry! So if you ever get unicorn pee on you, don’t worry, it drys super fast.
Shorter less magical answer-
Zach: I don’t remember having any accidents that way, in fact, I can’t even pee through my swimsuit in the ocean! MY body will not allow me to pee with clothes on.I mean, the ocean is just a giant body of pee! Everyone knows that! But I still can’t do it. It’s also why I couldn’t be a surfer in cold water climates. The first thing they do is pee in their wetsuit to be warm for a bit while they paddle out. Gross!
Betsy: Along very similar lines, was this book based on a true incident of any sort?
Bob: Yes! My friend Judy Nacca is a Literacy Specialist here in Connecticut. I’ve been going into to visit her school for years. She told me the story of a little boy in Kindergarten who had an accident in his pants. A bad one. Like number two. Judy, who is the the best person with kids I have ever met, asked “Hey Nelson (name changed to protect his identity) did you poop in your pants?” And he said, “No. I don’t know who it could have been.” And denied it all the way to the nurses office where he got cleaned up. I always found the story to be both hilarious and tragic. Something for everyone.
Betsy: Okay, this one’s aimed at Zachariah. I spent an inordinate amount of time, after reading this book, admiring the delicacy with which you oh-so-slightly changed the color tone of the bear’s pants to indicate wetness. I want to know how, precisely, an artist goes about figuring out how to indicate wetness using paint. What’s your process there?
Zach: Well, the truth is…when we started out Reuben’s pants were forest green. Adding the wet mark made that area look like he fell into a puddle of spilled ink. It was hard to see and even harder to decipher what it meant. After conferring with Bob we decided tan pants would make the most sense and the wet mark would stand out the most. So I painted all the pants tan. Then I tried to mix a darker color using the same beige base that I used for the pant color. At first it was grey, so I added more color until I got a rich brown. And no matter how light or dark I made the brown it looked…you know like uh…#2! Which is very confusing because this is a story about #1! Obviously this was a very delicate situation so in the end, the only way to do it was through the magic of layers in Photoshop.
Betsy: On the outside this is just a funny story about a bear with wet pants, but it isn’t hard to delve just a tiny bit deeper to see that it’s really about how some people work like mad to redirect blame away from themselves, even when they’re clearly guilty.
Bob: I really wanted to avoid the book being pigeonholed as a potty book. The pee is simply the warm, wet catalyst that exposes the characters personalities. The protagonist Rueben is a nice enough bear. He brings doughnuts for all his pals and we can see that he’s an active member of the community. His ego suffers a wound from the damp humiliation and he lashes out at his friends.
Betsy: I love how patient, kind, and understanding the bear’s friends are with him throughout the whole book. There’s not even a whiff of mockery to the proceedings. And we, the readers, aren’t necessarily laughing at his accident either. We’re laughing at his inability to deal with his own mistakes. Was there any early draft of this where those friends were less open-hearted?
Bob: No, never. My aim from the beginning was to show that compassion is the way to go. Ruben never admits that he wet his own pants, even though he finally figures it out. The friends are compassionate and understanding even when he’s accusatory and irrational. It was important to me to show that kindness is king even when friends aren’t acting kind themselves.
Betsy: Is it weird for different donuts to touch one another? Asking for a friend.
Bob: Yeah, gross.
Zach: Nope! Don’t see a problem with it.
But I draw the line at bagels.
You can’t have everything or onion bagels rolling all over the cinnamon raisin bagels. It’s not polite.
Many great gobs of thanks to Bob and Zach, to say nothing of Victoria Stapleton and the folks at Little, Brown for the interview. Now I’m off to get me a donut.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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