B.J. Novak's New Children's Book Comes With an Unexpected Twist

To adults, he is the acerbic and arrogant Ryan Howard from The Office and the brilliant mind behind One More Thing ($15, originally $25). But to children, B.J. Novak may be the next Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein. At least, that's his hope. In his new book, The Book With No Pictures ($11, originally $18), the actor and author tests his writing skills on a much younger crowd. At first glance, parents and children may be hesitant to flip through the pages. After all, there are no pictures. But once you get past the cover, you find a world that is just as imaginative and entertaining as any illustrated story. I had the opportunity to talk to Novak about the story behind the story, his favorite authors, and the future of children's literature.

POPSUGAR: What inspired you to write a children's book?
B.J. Novak: I have always loved entertaining kids. I have a best friend from college, and I visit his kids a lot. I always want to read a funny book, but there are not that many funny books. Then I realized the fact of what a book is, is funny. I thought I could write a book that explains what a book is in a very funny way and makes the parent part of the experience.

PS: Was your intention to make it more of an experience rather than a story?
BJN: I really wanted to approach it from that angle of the experience you want to share with a kid — how can you laugh together and be a part of it together? So I stepped back and said, "What's going on here? A kid is giving me a book and asking me to read it. Now what's the funniest thing that could happen? It would be if I read things that made no sense or didn't want to say, and the kid was in on the joke."

PS: And, as the title implies, there are no pictures in the book. Why did you leave them out?
BJN: I thought it was something unique that would grab a kid's attention. It also takes the kids to grown-up territory. They know it's something special because adults have something like this — a completely white book with all text. And I think a book with no pictures, is entertaining to them on a kid level.

PS: When I was reading the book, it felt very similar to Dr. Seuss. Was he a bit of an inspiration?
BJN: The great thing about Dr. Seuss is that, as a kid, you have no doubt that he is on your side. He's not trying to teach you any lesson; he's just pure mischief and rambunctiousness. That's something that I definitely wanted to do. I didn't want a lesson on the surface. I just wanted a book that felt like pure mischief to a kid.

PS: What is the key to a great children's book?
BJN: I think it's important that kids associate books with their own freedom; the freedom, excitement, and world that it opens up for them. Books should remind them of mischief and rebellion, and learning things they aren't supposed to know yet. I think that's why Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl are so successful. When I write for kids, it's important that they see this [the book] as a ticket to freedom, rebellion and mischief, rather than homework.

PS: So now that you've written for kids and adults, would you consider writing something for tweens?
BJN: I am overwhelmed with more ideas than time. There's something I would love to do for middle school boys and the type of kid I was — bookish with a real imagination and sense of humor. Something similar to what Roald Dahl did about 50 years ago, but for this generation.

PS: What was your favorite book as a child?
BJN: I loved Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved flipping through it and having something new on every page. That's something I want to try for little kids; a book that's more like short stories.

PS: Do you worry that, with all the technology available to kids, reading will become a thing of the past?
BJN: There's no substitute for reading. It really creates an experience. [The experience of] being with an adult who is leading you through a world is a beautiful, cozy, fun memory that everyone has. I think that is the part that can't be replaced. A book can be replaced, but the experience of a parent reading to a child is something that every kid treasures at the time and in memory. I am not too concerned about reading being crowded out. Every time you think that, something like Harry Potter comes out of nowhere and kids are obsessed with books all over again. Books are very powerful, [and] books that can encourage an experience are especially good.

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