It’s all sunny skies for Judi Barrett. The beloved children’s author recently released a follow-up to her famous book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs entitled Grandpa’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Cookbook. We spoke exclusively with Judi about her iconic children’s books, her writing process, and why square-shaped meatballs are better.
Could you ever have imagined the impact that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would have had?
Not at all. If you get to do one Cloudy in your entire life, you’re lucky. It was one of those marvelous things. When any book comes out, it’s exciting. It never gets old. It never loses its fascination to me.
How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Ideas come to me. I spend my life thinking about what I do; even if I’m cooking, it’s always there. I write my ideas down as they come to me. One day I was driving up to Connecticut, and I saw three crows sitting at the top of a tree, and that inspired my counting book. The book has nothing to do with crows, though!
What is your writing process like?
I think of a sentence. This is how I write. For Cloudy, the sentence was, “Henry walked outside and got hit in the head with a meatball.” That is literally how it started. It was a crazy, crazy sentence. From that, this book came. It grew. Usually I will write the title of the book first, and then I write the beginning, then the end and then I write the middle. I have to know what the ending is going to be, otherwise you don’t know as a writer where you’re going.
Did you read a lot as a child?
I was read to a lot. My mother read to me a lot. It fostered my love of writing. When I was a child, I was very involved in making things, like characters. I would write stories around them. I would make peanut dolls; I would sew through the shells and made little boy and girl dolls. I never set out to become a children’s book author; it just happened. I am a teacher as well, and my whole teaching career has been centered around the age of the children who I wrote for.
Do you have a preference between writing and teaching?
I love both equally and they both feed off of each other. They are so hungry for everything you offer to them. They are curious and just simply adorable. By osmosis, I think that I take things from them. It is very stimulating and absolutely wonderful. Some of the artwork they create is just extraordinary. Children are just uninhibited.
Now let’s talk about the new Cloudy cookbook.
In Grandpa’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Cookbook, Grandpa is the star. Each page will have a recipe and Grandpa in a funny, goofy picture. Some of the recipes play off of the book. One of the recipes is fried egg clouds; another is tomato and cheese super heroes. I also did a Chewandswallow chicken legs. That was the one that I truly made off of the top of my head. There’s a recipe for grilled cheese, and toast houses, which is what the characters make at the end of the book. I like to make egg creams with maple syrup, so we did a recipe for that, too. There is also a recipe for Jell-O that looks like a sunset, and there’s pancakes, too. And of course, there’s a recipe for meatballs, but in the cookbook we make them square, so they don’t roll off your plate! [laughs]
With books that have such a focus on food, I have to ask you what your favorite food is.
Probably something with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. I love cheese. Grilled cheese, cubed cheese, cream cheese. Really, any kind of cheese will do!
Now, what would you say to children who are reluctant to write?
I think that writing is one of the greatest forms of expression. Children need someone to believe in them; they need to be encouraged and acknowledged. If someone encourages you, then all the best stuff is going to come out.