A 'Beautiful Oops' Interview with Barney Saltzberg

“A torn piece of paper is just the beginning” in Beautiful Oops!, Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s original, immersive musical theatre experience inspired by Barney Saltzberg’s imaginative book. This Sunday, March 4 you can meet author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg for a special performance of Beautiful Oops! I am extremely excited to share an exclusive interview with best selling children's author and illustrator, Barney Saltzberg.

Tell me about yourself and your journey as an author. 

My parents used to let me spend time in the children’s section of a bookstore in Hollywood when I was little.  I fell in love with the stories and the artwork.  I loved the smell of the books and how smooth the paper felt.  I usually ended up getting to buy a book.  In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would grow up to make my own books.

I played guitar since I was eight years old and began writing songs.  I started drawing a lot as well.  After playing music and studying art in college, I found a picture book called "The Amazing Bone", by William Stieg.  I fell in love with the artwork and the story.  It dawned on my that my love of drawing and writing songs, could be combined if I tried my hand at a children’s book.  

I was correct!

I'm thrilled to talk to an author whose books are amongst my daughter's favorites and have inspired her to create her own books. Did you ever meet a children's author that excited or inspired you?   

First of all, I’m delighted to hear your daughter likes some of my books!  I have met many children’s authors who excited, inspired and sometimes even intimidated me.  I was lucky enough to have breakfast with the illustrator, Garth Williams, who illustrated (and signed my copy) of "Charlotte’s Web".  He told me war stories of how some of his books didn’t come out the way he had expected.  It was comforting to hear that I wasn’t the only one who had challenges when it comes to the production of a book.

Emily Gravett is an author/illustrator who I adore.  Her work got me thinking about the physicality of a book and has definitely found a way into many of my books including my next book called "Enough is Enough", coming out May 1st from Creston Books, a Bay area publishing company.  One of the characters tears a hole in the paper and climbs into the book.  I never would have thought of that, had it not been for Emily’s work.

Photo by Josh Posamentier

Photo by Josh Posamentier

How did the idea for 'Beautiful Oops!' pop into your head and onto paper?

I travel all over the world, speaking about the creative process.  In my presentation, two images appear.  One is a coffee stain that I turned into a monster on the cover of a sketchbook.  The other is a painting I made that a dog stepped on.  I turned all of the paw prints into clouds.  Teachers asked me, over the years, to make a book where I taught how I fixed my mistakes. 

Oops is a less threatening word.  I listened to the teachers.  (They’re very smart!)  "Beautiful Oops!" is the result.  I tore a piece of paper half way across and realized it looked like the mouth of an alligator.  One that happened, I had a scavenger hunt in my studio, seeing what I could mess up and fix.  

Have you seen the play? How does it feel to have your book come to life on stage?

I was lucky enough to see the play a few weeks ago.  I was amazed at how emotional I felt, seeing my artwork, seeing the characters come to life.  Austin Zumbro is a genius.  I feel like "Beautiful Oops!" was a seed.  Austin, along with Nina Meehan and a brilliant cast, grew a garden from that seed that I had never imagined.  It was so moving to see and hear and experience such a magical musical.  

Photo by Josh Posamentier

Photo by Josh Posamentier

After publishing over 50 books and meeting children all over the world, what is the best question a child has asked you? 

There have been so many amazing questions.  I’ll give you two.  “If you had to live inside of one of your books for eternity and every time the book was read, you would relive the story, which book would that be?”  I picked Andrew Drew and Drew.  The second question was, “How do you like your eggs?” Over easy.

Who or what is your muse?

My muse is every dog I have ever known. 

What advice would you give to others interested in writing children's books?

Read. Read and read.  Take writing courses.  Take advice.  Keep your ego in a box and bury it in the yard.  Don’t give up!  Be patient.  Oh, and read some more.  Also, write!  Do not wait for inspiration.  Write.  It will come to you.

Photo by Josh Posamentier

Photo by Josh Posamentier

What's next?

I’m working on a "Beautiful Oops!" TV show idea.  I have many new books in various stages.  I am also spending a fair amount of time writing and recording an album of adult songs which at some point, I will make available for free online.


"Beautiful Oops!now playing through March at the BACT Berkeley Center and the Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco. Don't miss the chance to meet author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg for a special performance of "Beautiful Oops!" on Sunday, March 4.

Recommended for children ages 3+. Friday night performances include a free slice of pizza with your ticket!