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Rick Walton (1957-) - Sidelights

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Rick Walton once told SATA: "I talk to lots of groups of kids, and whenever I talk the kids have many questions they want to ask me. This leads to serious problems. When hundreds of kids put their hands in the air, I can't get to them all. After some time the blood leaves the children's hands, and then fingers fall off. And then the principal, teachers, and I have to go around and pick up all those fingers and figure out who they belong to and glue them back on. It takes a long time and the kids miss their lunch, which makes them grumpy. And then they can't do their homework for at least three or four days, and that makes their teachers mad. So for the health of children and sanity of teachers, I've put together this list of frequently asked questions. These questions are in no particular order because kids don't ask their questions in any particular order.

" When did you start writing? When I was a kid, I did some writing just for fun. Mostly really silly stuff. But I decided I wanted to be a professional writer when I was in my early twenties. I still write mostly really silly stuff.

" Why do you write? Because … I love the creative process.… I like playing with words.… Writing lets me pretend to be someone else.… I want to leave as much of value as I can when I'm gone.… I like reading my stories to my kids.… I like to be long to writers groups.… I like something I've done to add to the lives of others.… I like to communicate what I believe about life.… I like to see my name and ideas in print.… I've tried every other career, and this is the only one left.… Money.

" All that? And more. I write for the same reason I eat. Because I'd die if I didn't. It's an obsession.

" Why do you like to write for children? Children's literature is incredibly varied. I like to write for kids because I can write about anything in almost any fashion. I can be more inventive in writing for children than I can in writing for any other audience.

" Where do you get your ideas? Absolutely everything is a source of ideas. For example, your shoes are giving me an idea for a book right now.

" How much money do you make? Not nearly enough.

" How many books have you written? Several hundred. How many have I published, however? See my bibliography.

" How long does it take you to write a book? Some books take me an hour to write. Some take me several days. Some several weeks. It depends on how long the book is, how well the book is developed in my mind, and how much research I have to do.

" How old do you have to be to get a book published? How old are you? That's old enough, if your book is good.

" Do you have any kids? Five so far. I'm hoping that at least some of them will be able to support me in my old age—which should be here any minute now.

" Is writing fun? For me it is. For others, plumbing might be fun. I hope it is. I have some pipes that need fixing and I hope my plumber enjoys himself, because the job isn't going to be easy.

" What do you hate most about writing? Deadlines. And not knowing how much money I'm going to get, or when it's coming.

" What would you be if you weren't a writer? A tour guide, or a songwriter, or a presidential adviser, or if Harold II hadn't lost the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the right 100,000 people had died in the right order—King of England.

" What jobs have you had? Yard worker, copy center clerk, dishwasher, cook in Mexican restaurant, secretary, arts administrator, research assistant, technical editor, school teacher, educational software designer.

" What's your favorite book you've written? All of them! (It's like asking, 'Who's my favorite kid?') Okay, I admit, I do have some books I like better than others, but I'm not telling you which. I'm more interested in what's YOUR favorite book I've written.

" What's your favorite book you've read? I don't have one favorite book. When I was a kid I read every funny book and every mystery series I could find. Now I read all kinds of books, but my favorite are funny books, the funnier and weirder the better. I like Roald Dahl, Daniel Pinkwater, Babette Cole, John Scieszka, Dave Barry, Patrick McManus, David Wiesner, E. Nesbit, and anything you've written."

It is not likely that anyone could accuse Rick Walton of lacking a sense of humor. He has written dozens of laughter-inducing books for young readers and is known for his many collections of riddles and his humorous picture books. Perhaps the best-known of Walton's writing is his collection of riddle and joke books. Starting in 1987 with Dumb Clucks! Jokes about Chickens and Something's Fishy! Jokes about Sea Creatures, he has published numerous volumes of humor relating to sports, animals, names—even Santa Claus and the alphabet.

Born and raised in Utah, Walton is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church. He served as a missionary to Brazil from 1976 to 1978, soon after he graduated from high school. Later, at Brigham Young University, he became president of the Brazil Club. In 1980, he graduated from Brigham Young with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and a minor in Portuguese, the language spoken in Brazil.

Walton's education continued after he obtained his degree. In 1980, he went back to Brigham Young for one semester of graduate work in business, but chose not to follow that career path. Deciding to become a teacher, he earned certification in elementary education from Brigham Young in 1987, as well as certification to teach gifted and talented students. Up to that point, he had held a number of jobs, including a year with the parks and recreation department of Provo, Utah. In 1987, he began teaching sixth grade at a local public school, then switched to a private school.

Also interested in computers, Walton would later publish several items of software. He left teaching to accept a position as software designer for IBM in 1989. In 1994, he turned to freelance software design and writing. He also returned to Brigham Young University once again, this time to earn his master's degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing.

Walton's wife, Ann, with whom he has written many of his books, is a computer programmer. They were married in 1983, and have five children. With Dumb Clucks! and Something's Fishy! in 1987, the Waltons began writing books, illustrated by Joan Hanson, for the Lerner Publishing "Make Me Laugh" series. Described by Ilene Cooper of Booklist as "compact in size," a typical page layout for these books consists of four riddles on a left-hand page with a fifth riddle and illustration on the right. An example of a riddle in Dumb Clucks! is "What happened when the chicken ate cement? She laid a sidewalk." As for Something's Fishy!, readers will find riddles such as, "Why did the shark wear a tuxedo? He was dressed to kill." School Library Journal contributor Tom S. Hurlburt commented that these books, written for an audience in grades one to three, "do provide some fresh material, no matter how silly."

The Waltons soon took on more subjects with their riddle books in the "Make Me Laugh" series. School Library Journal contributor Eva Elisabeth Von Ancken cited Can You Match This? Jokes about Unlikely Pairs as the "most fun" of the five "Make Me Laugh" books published by the Waltons in 1989. Examples of its humor include "What do you get when you cross an owl with a duck? A wisequack"; and "What do you get when you cross Lassie with a rose? A Collieflower."

Clowning Around! Jokes about the Circus consists of some sixty jokes, such as "Which circus performers can see in the dark? The acro-bats." School Library Journal contributor Von Ancken observed that "some of the jokes are rather far-fetched, while others show originality." Other Walton books in the series include Fossil Follies! Jokes about Dinosaurs ("What do you get if you feed your nodosaurus gunpowder? Dinomite"); What a Ham! Jokes about Pigs ("What constellation looks like a pig? The Pig Dipper"); What's Your Name, Again? More Jokes about Names ("What do you call a girl who babbles? Brooke"); and Kiss a Frog! Jokes about Fairy Tales, Knights, and Dragons.

The Waltons also penned a similar collection of books for Lerner's "You Must Be Joking" series, all illustrated by Susan Slattery Burke. These include Weather or Not: Riddles for Rain or Shine and On With the Show: Show Me Riddles ("Show me a pencil that itches… And I'll show you scratch paper.") In 1991, they published I Toad You So: Riddles about Frogs and Toads ("What does a frog do if he gets sick? He gets a hoperation"), Alphabatty: Riddles from A to Z ("What letter will give you a lift? The L-evator"), and Ho-Ho-Ho! Riddles about Santa Claus.

The Waltons have also written a series of sports-related riddle books as part of the larger "You Must Be Joking" series. These include Off Base: Riddles about Baseball, Hoop-La: Riddles about Basketball, and Take a Hike: Riddles about Football. Ilene Cooper of Booklist offered a favorable assessment of these works, noting that there is always a demand for humor with a sporting theme, and Walton's three books "go a long way toward satisfying it."

Walton published several other riddle and joke titles with Buckaroo Books, among them The Ghost Is Clear: Riddles about Ghosts, Goblins, Vampires, Witches, and Other Creatures That Cause Shivers in the Night. At the same time, however, Walton has enjoyed success in other genres. Among his well-received picture books is Will You Still Love Me?, in which a young boy describes a number of situations to his father, asking each time if the father would still love him in that situation. In You Don't Always Get What You Hope For, a boy begins his day just hoping that it will be an ordinary one; it turns out to be anything but ordinary.

With How Many, How Many, How Many, written for preschoolers and early primary graders, Walton made a foray into concept books. Described by Publishers Weekly as a "nifty counting book," it offers riddles of a more serious kind than those presented in Walton's joke books. Here the riddles are more like mind-teasers, rhyming couplets designed to be answered with a number. To the question, "Spiders like to steal her seat. How many things does Muffet eat?" the answer, of course, is two—curds and whey. The book, which takes readers through the numbers from one to twelve, offers knowledge of many kinds, with questions as to how many legs an ant has or how many positions are on a soccer team. Some of the questions, such as those about the number of planets in the solar system, may be a bit challenging for young readers, as reviewer I. Anne Rowe observed in School Librarian. But School Library Journal contributor Cynthia K. Richey called the book "a springboard to further learning experiences." Richey also commented favorably on the "multicultural cast" of children depicted in the book, as well as illustrator Cynthia Jabar's "well-designed and uncluttered double-page spreads."

Walton is also the author of a series of concept books which use bunnies to teach counting, modes of transportation, the alphabet, and many other things to young children. The first book in the series, So Many Bunnies: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book, was inspired by the nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe. At bedtime one night, Mother Bunny goes around her shoe tucking in her twenty-six baby bunnies, each of whose names begins with a different letter of the alphabet. As she goes, she counts off the baby bunnies (and notes where they are sleeping) in rhyming couplets that have a "musical quality," April Judge commented in Booklist. This unconventional house also features unconventional beds: the first bunny, Abel, sleeps on a table; number twenty-six, Zed, sleeps on a shed. Another entry in the series, Bunny Day: Telling Time from Breakfast to Bedtime, uses rhyming couplets to describe a day in the life of another, more conventional family of bunnies. Mother Bunny wakes her brood of five up at eight a.m., and for the next twelve hours, they eat meals, do their chores, play, and finally have a bedtime story read to them before going to sleep at eight p.m. "The inclusion of the hour of the day in each … four-line stanza is casual and unforced," Susan Marie Pitard noted in School Library Journal. Each spread also integrates a clock showing the hour, in a similarly unforced manner; the clocks and watches are simply part of the family's life. "Altogether, a pleasing addition to Walton's … bunny family series," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor.

The traditional American square dance appears in two books by Walton, Noah's Square Dance and Dance, Pioneer, Dance! The first work earned praise from both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal reviewers. The story depicts a square dance aboard Noah's Ark, with Noah calling the turns of the dance while his family takes part in the music and the dancing. School Library Set in the Old West, Walton's innovative picture book takes compound words and splits them to offer humorous results with the turn of a page. (From Once There Was a Bull … Frog, illustrated by Greg Hally.) Journal contributor Kathy Piehl dubbed the book "enjoyable," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded: "The final verse celebrates the end of the storm, but readers will believe that everyone had a good time waiting it out." Brigham Young is cast as square-dance caller in Dance, Pioneer, Dance!, a cheerful picture book in which the featured festivities provide a bit of respite for Mormon pioneers traveling to the Great Salt Lake in 1847. Calling the work "exuberant and whimsical," School Library Journal contributor John Sigwald maintained: "Teachers can use the handful of Mormonmigration references as an introduction to this American-born Christian sect."

Walton has continued to produce works such as What to Do When a Bug Climbs in Your Mouth and Other Poems to Drive You Buggy, a book of "silly poems," according to Sally R. Dow in School Library Journal. What to Do consists of twenty poems about different kinds of bugs, from ants to cockroaches, gnats to centipedes. Bloomsbury Review listed it among several recommended books of poetry for children, all of which were distinguished by the fact that the poetry was simple enough for young children to read aloud. Once There Was a Bull … Frog, which Booklist's Lauren Peterson called an "amusing tale" that is "noteworthy for its clever design," features a frog who is searching for his hop, which he has lost. In the course of searching, he keeps running into unexpected things. On any given spread from the book, the illustrations and wording lead the reader to think that one thing is coming, when something quite different awaits on the next page. Hence the line, "He landed hard in a patch of grass" is paired with a picture of a field covered in grass; but on the next page, one discovers that the word is actually grasshoppers, and the illustration shows a number of them leaping about. The book is built entirely around such compound nouns, and Walton constantly encourages readers to guess what's coming next. Given its intended audience of early primary graders, Once There Was a Bull … Frog offers great educational opportunities, and a Publishers Weekly commentator suggested that it "could easily lend itself to a high-energy read-aloud."

Another book that reviewers recommended for energetic groups is How Can You Dance? In his signature rhymes, Walton poses a variety of situations and suggests a way to dance in them. For example, if one of your feet is sore, you can "Dance with the other foot / touching the floor." Walton then gives instructions for how to dance on one foot: "Dance on the other foot. / Spin on the other foot. / Hop on the other foot. / Dance, spin, hop!" These "quick-tempoed verses" will "invite wound-up participants to make their own strenuous interpretations," declared a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Pig, Pigger, Piggest retells the familiar story of "The Three Little Pigs," who go by the names of Pig, Pigger, and Piggest. Each of them builds a castle for himself, and each pig's castle is larger than the one that precedes it. Unfortunately for them, however, they are confronted A retelling of the "Three Little Pigs," Pig Pigger Piggest depicts three stubborn pigs who build castles and are confronted by witches who turn the structures into mud holes to the delight of the porcine brothers. (Illustrated by Jimmy Holder.) Small doesn't mean powerless according to Walton's reassuring tale of a cunning robber foiled by a tiny canine. (From Bertie Was a Watchdog, illustrated by Arthur Robins.) by witches named Witch, Witcher, and Witchest, who demand that the pigs give their castles to them. The witches end up destroying the castles with the help of Huff and Puff, who blow the castles down and turn them into piles of mud. But everything turns out right in the end, when the three pigs propose marriage to the three witches and they live "sloppily ever after." Throughout the book, Walton uses wordplay involving rhymes and comparative terms: hence "cheap sheep," "cheaper sheeper," and "cheapest sheepest." Publishers Weekly called this "enjoyably goofy," and dubbed Pig, Pigger, Piggest "definitely a funny book."

Bertie Was a Watchdog is also a "laugh-out-loud" story, thought a Kirkus Reviews contributor, but one with a message. Bertie is not the sort of watchdog that one might expect. He is a watch-sized dog—not a creature that most burglars would fear. But when a man breaks into Bertie's apartment, he outsmarts the burglar. The man scoffs at Bertie's attempts to attack him and demonstrates that he can run faster and bite harder than Bertie can. Bertie realizes that he can use the intruder's competitiveness to his advantage and begins barking, which causes the man to prove that he can bark louder … which alerts the police. "Youngsters will be won over … both by the pooch's brainy pluck and the reassuring moral that right can triumph over might," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

In addition to his many traditional books, Walton has authored several electronic books for children, including Bone, published in PerfectOffice for Kids, and activities and games such as Richer Than the Pharaoh, a game that teaches financial planning skills. He continues to produce entertaining and educational works prolifically, and promises to offer his readers many more laughs in years to come.

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Walton, Rick and Ann, Dumb Clucks! Jokes about Chickens, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.

Walton, Rick and Ann, Something's Fishy! Jokes about Sea Creatures, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.

Walton, Rick and Ann, What's Your Name, Again? More Jokes about Names, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.

Walton, Rick and Ann, Can You Match This? Jokes about Unlikely Pairs, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1989.

Walton, Rick and Ann, What a Ham! Jokes about Pigs, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1989.

Walton, Rick and Ann, Fossil Follies! Jokes about Dinosaurs, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1989.

Walton, Rick and Ann, Clowning Around! Jokes about the Circus, illustrated by Joan Hanson, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1989.

Walton, Rick and Ann, On with the Show: Show Me Riddles, illustrated by Susan Slattery Burke, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1990.

Walton, Rick and Ann, I Toad You So: Riddles about Frogs and Toads, illustrated by Susan Slattery Burke, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.

Walton, Rick and Ann, Alphabatty: Riddles from A to Z, illustrated by Susan Slattery Burke, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.

Walton, Rick, How Many, How Many, How Many, illustrated by Cynthia Jabar, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.

Walton, Rick, Once There Was a Bull … Frog, illustrated by Greg Hally, Gibbs Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1995.

Walton, Rick, Pig, Pigger, Piggest, illustrated by Jimmy Holder, Gibbs Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1997.

Walton, Rick, How Can You Dance?, illustrated by Ana López-Escrivá, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

PERIODICALS

Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 1995, review of What to Do When a Bug Climbs in Your Mouth.

Booklist, March 15, 1987, Ilene Cooper, review of Dumb Clucks! Jokes about Chickens and Something's Fishy! Jokes about Sea Creatures, p. 1123; May 1, 1989, Phillis Wilson, review of Can You Match This? Jokes about Unlikely Pairs and others, p. 1544; November 15, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Hoop-La: Riddles about Basketball, Off Base: Riddles about Baseball, and Take a Hike: Riddles about Football, p. 629; September 1, 1995, p. 59; December 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Once There Was a Bull … Frog, p. 710; March 15, 1998, April Judge, review of So Many Bunnies: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book, pp. 1252-1253; September 15, 1998, Kay Weisman, review of Dance, Pioneer, Dance!, p. 233; April 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of One More Bunny: Adding from One to Ten, p. 1554; October 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of My Two Hands [and] My Two Feet, p. 350; June 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of How Can You Dance?, p. 1897; May 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Bunny Day: Telling Time from Breakfast to Bedtime, p. 1603; January 1, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of Bunnies on the Go: Getting from Place to Place, p. 911.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1995, review of Noah's Square Dance, p. 1196; March 15, 2001, Lauren Peterson, review of The Bear Came Over to My House, p. 1406; December 15, 2001, review of Bunny Day, p. 1764; February 1, 2002, review of Cars at Play, p. 191; May 1, 2002, review of Bertie Was a Watchdog, p. 669; December 1, 2002, review of Bunnies on the Go, p. 1775.

Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1993, review of How Many, How Many, How Many, p. 71; November 6, 1995, review of Once There Was a Bull … Frog, p. 94; July 14, 1997, review of Pig, Pigger, Piggest, p. 83; January 26, 1998, review of So Many Bunnies, p. 90; October 26, 1998, review of Why the Banana Split, p. 65; June 12, 2000, review of Little Dogs Say "Rough!," p. 73; January 15, 2001, review of The Bear Came Over to My House, p. 75; June 11, 2001, review of That's My Dog!, p. 84, and review of How Can You Dance?, p. 85; May 6, 2002, review of Bertie Was a Watchdog, pp. 56-57.

School Librarian, February, 1994, I. Anne Rowe, review of How Many?, p. 18.

School Library Journal, August, 1987, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Dumb Clucks! and others, pp. 64-65; June, 1989, Eva Elisabeth Von Ancken, reviews of Can You Match This?, Kiss a Frog! Jokes about Fairy Tales, Knights, and Dragons, and What a Ham! Jokes about Pigs, p. 116; August, 1989, Eva Elisabeth Von Ancken, review of Clowning Around! Jokes about the Circus, and Fossil Follies! Jokes about Dinosaurs, p. 138; June, 1990, p. 133; October, 1991, pp. 34-35; February, 1994, Cynthia K. Richey, review of How Many, How Many, How Many, p. 99; April, 1995, Sally R. Dow, review of What to Do When a Bug Climbs in Your Mouth, p. 129; October, 1995, Kathy Piehl, review of Noah's Square Dance, p. 123; November, 1996, pp. 94-95; November, 1997, Carrie A. Guarria, review of Pig, Pigger, Piggest, p. 102; March, 1998, Dawn Amsberry, review of So Many Bunnies, p. 189; August, 1998, John Sigwald, review of Dance, Pioneer, Dance!, p. 157; January, 1999, John Sigwald, review of Why the Banana Split, p. 106; January, 2000, Blair Christolon, review of Bullfrog Pops!, pp. 112-113; July, 2000, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of One More Bunny, p. 90; August, 2000, Lisa Dennis, review of Little Dogs Say "Rough!," p. 167; November, 2000, Marian Drabkin, review of My Two Hands [and] My Two Feet, p. 137; April, 2001, Maryann H. Owen, review of The Bear Came Over to My House, p. 124; July, 2001, Genevieve Ceraldi, review of How Can You Dance?, p. 90; December, 2001, Susan Marie Pitard, review of That's My Dog, p. 114; April, 2002, Susan Marie Pitard, review of Bunny Day, p. 126; August, 2002, Judith Constantinides, review of Bertie Was a Watchdog, p. 172; September, 2002, Carolyn Janssen, review of Herd of Cows! Flock of Sheep! Quiet! I'm Tired! I Need My Sleep!, p. 208; March, 2003, Bina Williams, review of Bunnies on the Go, p. 210.

ONLINE

Rick Walton Home Page, http://www.rickwalton.com/ (April 2, 2004).

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