Victoria Kann, RUBYLICIOUS

Victoria Kann, RUBYLICIOUS

Victoria Kann, author of the Pinkalicious series, joins Zibby and four very special guests to talk about her latest picture book, Rubylicious. Victoria shares how the original Pinkalicious story began as an April Fool’s joke and why she tries to answer the question, “What would be really fun?” whenever she writes a new book. Victoria also tells Zibby about why she enjoys getting feedback from kids much more than from adults as well as how some things have changed for her over the past fifteen years as a result of her books.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Victoria. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Rubylicious and all your amazing -icious books.

Victoria Kann: Thank you for having me. It is an incredible honor to be speaking with you. I’m a huge, huge fan of yours. I love listening to your interviews. They’re so stimulating and inspiring for me. They’re really great. Thank you.

Zibby: Aw, thank you. I am such a huge fan of yours. I am joined here by four girls — two are mine, two are friends — who are also fans of yours. They’re going to try to behave themselves.

Child: No, I’m not trying.

Zibby: I have to say, my older daughter who’s here, I must have read her Pinkalicious a thousand times. We read it a million times. As each book came out, we were so excited. We would always wonder what the next book, the color was going to be and everything. This is a such a thrill to welcome in Rubylicious, which is amazing.

Victoria: That’s so nice. It’s really exciting when you start reading a book to your child and then at a certain point, you realize they’ve memorized it. I’m sure that happened. Then at another point, they start reading it to you. You’re like, oh, my gosh, this is incredible. It’s such a great feeling as a parent.

Zibby: It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. How did you start this series? What were you doing before you started the Pinkalicious series? How did you come up with the whole thing?

Victoria: I was an editorial illustrator. I did covers for magazines and newspapers, for Harper’s Magazine, for BusinessWeek, for The New York Times, for all these publications, for Time magazine and Newsweek. It was crazy deadlines. Literally, I would get a call from Time magazine at twelve o’clock on a Friday, which is when I would teach. I taught at SVA. I was teaching my students at SVA. While they were working — I would give them an assignment — I would have to do sketches and get them to Time magazine and then have the finish by five o’clock for the messenger that would pick it up. It was crazy, crazy, crazy deadlines, which as a mother, you just can’t do. There’s no way. When my daughter Christina was about three years old — I wrote a bunch of children’s book ideas. When she was three years old, she was really, really into the color pink, really, as you may remember from that stage. She also really liked cupcakes. I wrote Pinkalicious as an April Fools’ Day joke. April Fools’ Day is my favorite day of the year. Basically, you make up stories, and you try to convince people that they’re true. At least, that is for me. People are afraid of me on April Fools’ Day because I always go above and beyond.

I wrote it as a joke. I wrote this story. I sent it to all of my friends and family saying that my daughter had turned pink from eating too many cupcakes, that she had pink-ititus. I had a friend that was supposed to come over. She called her doctor. They were going to have a playdate. Our daughters were going to have a playdate. She called her doctor. She’s like, “Have you ever heard of pink-ititus? We’re supposed to go over to somebody’s house. My friend’s daughter has it. I don’t want my daughter to get it. Is it contagious?” He said, “I’ve never heard of it. You don’t know if it’s contagious. You shouldn’t go.” My rule is never to tell anybody it’s a joke until the next day. Christina, my daughter, and I, even though she was three, we had quite a chuckle over that. Then the next day, I was like, “Come on over because it was just an April Fools’ Day joke.” She happened to be a children’s book author and illustrator. She said, “You have got to make that into a children’s book. She really encouraged me. That’s how it happened. I was really, really lucky to find an amazing editor and publisher. That was the beginning. I had no idea that it would go on.

Zibby: Wow, that’s so exciting. Were you surprised by the success? It took off, right? Did it happen right away? I assume it did, but I don’t know.

Victoria: My very first book signing was in New York City at Books of Wonder. We were living there. My daughters were going to school. I told everybody. The line went all the way out and around the block. The book, it had just come out that week. I was like, are these everybody that we know? Do we know everybody here? Primarily, we did. That was just the beginning. I remember I was so shy. I was so shy at the time. I was like, wow, I have to read my book in front of all of these people. Can I do that? It’s been a huge growth experience in so many different ways.

Zibby: I feel like the used to be shy, become a writer track is a well-paved road at this point. I think a lot of people who observe a lot become writers, just anecdotally.

Victoria: It’s true. You have to feel very comfortable spending long periods of time alone, especially because I do the artwork too. The writing is actually the fastest process for me. It’s the artwork that takes a really long time.

Zibby: How long does it take for you to write each one of these books?

Victoria: I am always working on a lot of different stories. For a book to come out, it can take years. I’ll write the story. Then I’ll do a lot of drafts. Then I’ll start creating the book dummy. Then I’ll start creating the art. There’s just a big, long process. It can take years.

Zibby: Wow, so does that mean you’ve already written the ones that are going to come out next?

Victoria: I don’t know yet. It all depends.

Zibby: But you’ve written some? You just don’t know what’s next?

Victoria: I have stories, and I want them to come out. God willing, they will come out.

Zibby: Are you ever going to run out of colors? No, it’s impossible, right

Victoria: There are so many cols in the world. I could do chartreuse-alicious. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but hey.

Zibby: Chartreuse-alicious.

Child: What’s chartreuse?

Zibby: It’s a color.

Victoria: It’s a yellow-y green.

Zibby: Do you guys have suggestions for which book should come next?

Child: Navy-alicious.

Child: What about black-alicious?

Child: Yellow-licious.

Zibby: White-alicious.

Victoria: Those are great ideas.

Child: Wait, what about metallic-alicious?

Victoria: Like gold? Silver?

Child: Don’t they have silver?

Zibby: Bronze-alicious.

Victoria: Oh, yeah, I haven’t done bronze.

Child: Platinum-licious.

Child: Orange-alicious.

Victoria: The thing is, gold kind of goes in the yellow/orange category. I love your enthusiasm.

Child: What about candy-licious?

Child: Or cupcake-licious.

Victoria: This is my cupcake-alicious book. It’s a cupcake cookbook.

Zibby: We have that.

Child: We do?

Zibby: Yeah, we have that. Awesome. So great. Does your daughter still read the books? She must be — when did they start coming out? What year was that?

Victoria: Gosh, when was it? It’s been fifteen years since the first one was published. My daughters really, really helped me with every time I write a story. As a matter of fact, my husband said at dinner the other day, “Is this going to be a work dinner, or is this going to be a dinner-dinner?” Especially with their friends, they’re my focus group. I’ll sit down and I’m like, “Do you mind if I just read a story? You can tell me what you think.” They’re very helpful. So many of the stories have been inspired by them. Silverlicious, where Pinkalicious loses her sweet tooth, was really inspired by my daughter. She came up to me. She said, “Mommy, Mommy, my sweet tooth came out.” I was like, oh, that’s a great idea. Don’t you know sweetness comes from the inside? I had to sit down and write that story.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. What inspired Rubylicious?

Victoria: Rubylicious, my daughters really love the color red. They were like, “What are you going to do for red?” I have to tell you, I really love rocks. I love collecting rocks. I love finding rocks. I love the whole idea of wishes as well. It’s kind of a genie book, but it’s not a genie book. I say it’s a genius book. They find a rock. Pinkalicious finds a rock. She rubs it. Out comes this character named Rocky. Rocky grants them one wish, but only one wish, unlike a genie that would grant many wishes. Pinkalicious and Peter have to weigh their options wisely. Rocky is very fearful, has a lot of anxiety, and is like, “I don’t know if you want to wish for that. That definitely is not going to be a very good idea. You’re wishing for a mountain of candy?” At one point, Pinkalicious and Peter are like, “Let’s have a lot of candy.” Rocky’s like, “I think that would be a bad wish. Let me show you what that wish would look like.”

They have the opportunity to experience all these different wishes before they actually come true. They get a bunch of opportunities. Rocky is frightened throughout all the wishing process. It leads them on this adventure to thinking about what in their wildest dreams could come true. What’s really, really important? In the end, they’re very generous with their wish. Whenever I do a book, I always think, what would be the most fun? What would be really great? I always think, what would be the greatest thing ever? With Aqualicious, it’s meeting a mermaid, but not just any kind of mermaid, a mer-mini. It’s almost like a doll come to life, one that you could play with all day. What is it that you really wish for in life? I’m always thinking about that. What is it that you really want in life? What would be really fun? I do ask myself that question constantly. I think it’s a really good question.

Zibby: How do you answer that?

Victoria: I answer it in over seventy books. It changes every day. Every book represents an answer to that question. This one just came out, which is Robo-Pup. Wouldn’t you want a robotic puppy?

Zibby: Totally. Sure. Why not? I have a real puppy around here somewhere. What would be your wish today? What could make your life better today that would be the greatest thing ever?

Victoria: It’s talking to you.

Zibby: Oh, there you go.

Victoria: What would your wish for today be?

Zibby: Zibby-licious, perhaps. My wish for today would be that all these kids would continue to get along in my house with the million kids over here. I would say good-mood-alicious or something, friend-alicious, something like that.

Victoria: Fun-alicious. See, we just did it. We just came up with an idea for the next one.

Zibby: There we go. Amazing. You’ve met, I’m sure, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of kids at this point. What have you learned from them? What were you surprised at? What are some of the questions that you’ve been asked? What is it to have your finger on the pulse of little, tiny kids today?

Victoria: First of all, it is the greatest experience I have ever had in my life, to be honest. When I did editorial illustration, I would do it and I would go into this world of adults. Maybe once in a while, I would get some feedback. Great illustration about how we shouldn’t be eating that fish that has mercury. That would be the feedback that I would get. That was a real illustration, by the way. When I started doing work with kids, it was just the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced because kids connect with words. They connect with visuals. They’re so expressive of their emotions. They let me know what it is that they like and why they like it and how it affects them. It’s really, really fun for me. It’s very joyful for me to experience kids, and especially in a group where they’re exuberant and they’re talking about things that they love. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s so miraculous to me. They’ve inspired me in so many different ways. Emeraldalicious came about because I was at a book signing and all these kids were like, “You should do a book about the color green. You should do one about the environment.” I was like, okay, let me think. What would that mean for Pinkalicious? What’s important to Pinkalicious? That book was actually inspired by kids.

Then also, when I began to think about it — I grew up in Brooklyn. Down in Dumbo, there was this city garbage dump. All the kids in my neighborhood used to sneak into this little section of the fence and climb all over it. They filmed Kojak, this old TV show, there. It was the worst, most-unsafe place ever, broken glass, rats all over, homeless people. It was bad. We would sneak in. One of my friends found an old Wall Street sign. It was a treasure trove, but it was a disgusting dump. I would always look at it and say, gosh, wouldn’t this be great if this was a park? This should be a park. This would be really fun. We have nowhere to play. This needs to be a park. Now there’s a carousel there. It’s a park. It’s an incredible park down under the Brooklyn Bridge where you walk. It’s beautiful. That’s a real-life miracle that happened. I thought about that. I thought about that in terms of Emeraldalicious. Pinkalicious would want to turn something into a beautiful, sparkly garden that sparkled like an emerald. Kids always ask amazing questions. They always give me great ideas.

Zibby: You manifest all of these childlike exuberance. That’s in your personality. You can tell. Do you ever have a really bad day or a bad mood and you’re about to do something related to the book and you’re not feeling very Pinkalicious at all? You know what I mean?

Victoria: Yes. I wrote a story recently. That was part of the dinner table discussion. It was a Pinkalicious story idea for an early reader, one of the early reader stories. I brought it up at the dinner table. Everybody just kind of stared at me. They were like, “Mom, what was that about? Where did that come from?” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right. That would be something else.” I guess I just had to write it down and get it out of my system. I do fantasize about that. I think I would get really bummed out and really depressed if I was writing — I’m very emotional. As much as I’m laughing, I also cry a lot. If I watch commercials, I will cry. If I wrote sad stories, I would be in a perpetual state of teariness. I would just be crying all the time, which would not really be good for me. If I wrote horror, oh, my god, I would be afraid constantly. This is much healthier for me.

Zibby: It’s true. There are some children’s books, no matter how many times I’ve read them, I cry every time. I can tell you where on the page it always makes me cry. Just to put myself in the shoes of that author, to have to read — maybe it doesn’t trigger the same author the same way. Some of these books about growing up and waving goodbye and the kids, they just tug at the heartstrings. It’s crazy.

Victoria: I do have to say, I cried a lot when I wrote Purplicious. I was actually sobbing because it’s a really difficult — Pinkalicious is suddenly — this happened for real for my daughter. She was in school, and the kids made fun of her for liking the color pink. I was really heartbroken to hear this, so I wrote that story. It’s all about Pinkalicious having the courage to stand up for what she believes in when everybody else likes the color black. Everybody else doesn’t like that color. Can Pinkalicious stand up for herself and say, this is what I like? I do have to say I did cry a lot during that. It was hard for me.

Zibby: I like how in that book, though, you have her cope by writing. She keeps that diary in Purplicious, right? Unless I’m mixing up the books.

Victoria: No, you’re right. You’re totally right.

Zibby: She writes about how she feels about the color Monday and Tuesday. You see her coping through writing. I liked that.

Victoria: You got to get it out of your system. It’s true. It is so true. Even though I write these happy stories, like I said, I do write down things because I just have to get it out of my — I don’t want anybody to read it, please. I need to get it out of my system.

Zibby: What advice would you have? So many people say, I want to write a children’s book. I have an idea for a children’s book. I actually do have a children’s book coming out myself, as I told you.

Victoria: Congratulations. I’m so excited for you. That is so wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. What’s it about?

Zibby: Mine came about in such a random way. It’s called Princess Charming. It’s about a girl who can’t seem to find her thing and kind of lives in her older brother’s shadow. Then eventually, she realizes that she’s known her thing all along. That’s the message.

Victoria: That’s good. What a great title too. I think that’s wonderful.

Zibby: I started it because my editor came to me and showed me a picture of this illustration and said, “Would you be interested in writing a book? If this girl was named Princess Charming, what would the book even be about?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, let me think about it.” Then two minutes later, I’m like, “Okay, here’s what it would be about.” She was like, “Great.” That’s how it came to be.

Victoria: I love your editor. That’s a good editor.

Zibby: She’s amazing. She’s amazing. I adore her. All to say, a million people ask me, what do you do? How do you sell a children’s book? Any parent who reads to their kids every night ends up with ideas of their own. What would you tell them? What advice would you have?

Victoria: First of all, look, the most important thing for moms is, you have to be a careful custodian of your time. That’s a quote from another writer. Another writer wrote, you have to be — I don’t remember who. She said you have to be a careful custodian of your time. That resonated with me. We all take care of everybody else. We’re constantly thinking about — here you are. You’re talking to me. You’re working. Your kids are having a playdate in the background. You’re worried, are they going to have a good playdate? Then you’re always probably thinking, what’s for lunch? What’s for dinner? What am I going to do tonight? You’re thinking about all of these things while you’re talking to me. Maybe in the back of your mind, too, you’re thinking, can I get a chance to sit down and write a little bit? I think the number-one thing is to just force yourself to sit down and make the time for yourself and let everything else go to hell. It’s okay. The other thing I have to say is — this is in terms of everything going to hell. Make a mess. We are also afraid to make a mess. The creative process is messy. It really is. It means if you’re writing something, you might be looking at a thousand books. You might be looking at a thousand pieces of artwork. You might have scribbles all over. You might have paper everywhere. Just do not be afraid to make a mess. Leave it. Allow it. It’s okay. It is fine. That’s the two most important things that I can say. Just allow a mess because in your head, it’s organized. Out there, it might not be. It’s fine.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. There’s certainly a lot of messes displayed in the pages of many of your books.

Victoria: It’s funny. For the TV show, Pinkalicious & Peterrific, when we work on episodes, I’m always like, “This should be the messiest room ever. This should be just totally trashed. It should be so messy.” Then the animators are always like, “Victoria, that’s a lot of work. We actually have to create that. We actually have to then clean that up.” They’re making everything move. I’m like, “Okay, well, three things? Can you put three things out?”

Zibby: That’s so funny. Victoria, this has been so nice. Thank you for indulging me at the start by having all these random kids, two of mine and many others, included in this. That made their day. Thank you for, seriously, the hours and hours and hours of time I’ve spent collectively reading all these books to so many of my kids. I really thank you for enhancing my time with them over the years.

Victoria: You’re wonderful. It’s truly a pink-a-pleasure. It really is. Thank you. Clearly, you’re a reader-ific mom.

Zibby: Thank you. A reader-ific mom, that is the highest praise.

Victoria: The use of Pinkalicious vernacular.

Zibby: I love that. Awesome. Thank you so much. We’ll stay in touch.

Victoria: Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.

RUBYLICIOUS by Victoria Kann

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