Interview with children’s author, Salvatore “Sal” Barbera, who is donating 50% of the net proceeds from his first book to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Salvatore “Sal” Barbera is an animator, a sculptor and painter. He is the author and illustrator of the “A Sweetles Dream”® book series. Sal currently resides in Arizona with his wife and artistic partner, Sheri. His book, Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is on sale through December 31, 2013 and 50% of the net proceeds benefit Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program for children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.
Welcome Sal. We are excited to have you here. Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I like people and I like making them laugh. Charlie Chaplin said: “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I agree. I try to get people to laugh every day. It can be a challenge, but it’s always great when someone gets my humor. Having fun, getting someone to laugh, and making people feel happy are three of the things I focus on each day.
My wife and I live in sunny Scottsdale Arizona, right around the corner from a sports park. We walk there almost every day and look forward to seeing the regulars: dogs, dog walkers, runners, joggers, electric plane flyers, kids playing soccer, the list goes on and on. It’s a terrific place to get story and character ideas and exercise at the same time.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been drawing and making up stories ever since I was a kid but never thought of myself as a writer. When we adopted our dog, Max, in 1996, I created cartoons about him that seemed to make everyone chuckle. I became a writer when I wrote my first story about Max. Although he passed away in 2011, he lives on in my work as the spunky little dog character Sweetles™ (one of the numerous names we called him).
Are you a morning or an evening writer?
I write when the inspiration hits me – day or night.
That said, I like to do most everything in the morning after a cup of coffee and a nice long walk.
Who or what is your greatest source of inspiration?
I’d have to say comedy is my greatest source of inspiration.
Finding the funny in anything, even something negative, becomes positive with humor.
For example, in my book Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow, a cow encounters ‘spot discrimination’ when all of the cows at a new farm have spots and she’s spotless. Although she is up against a difficult situation she uses humor to to turn it around and get the prejudiced cows to like her. Comedy is inspiring.
Tell us about your latest book. What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
My latest book is Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow. It’s the first book in the series: A Sweetles Dream®.
The premise is: “Have you ever wondered what your pet dreams about?”
A gregarious little dog named Sweetles™ figures out how to solve tricky situations in his dreams. In this story, he dreams of a spotless cow arriving at a new farm. That cow is Mary Elizabeth. While she hopes to find friendship and acceptance, instead she encounters discrimination for being different from the other cows. They’re spotted and she’s spotless. So she figures out a way to be accepted by getting her point across that prejudice and discrimination are wrong. It’s not how you look outside but who you are inside that matters.
For an idea of what the cows look like, here’s the book trailer:
I was inspired to write this book for my mother-in-law. Awhile back she was going through a rough time with breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiation. She sorely needed cheering up. I thought I could write a funny story to lift her spirits with illustrations and cow humor to make her laugh. That turned into the tale of Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow.
Have you always written in this genre?
I didn’t set out to write children’s books. I write and draw from my heart. If it’s silly, funny and wacky but sincere it works for both kids and adults. It’s great to be able to use animals as characters in my stories. I can send important messages that kids can relate to more easily when it comes from a bunch of frolicking cows, hopping frogs or a dancing javelina.
What do you like about this genre?
It’s a genre that’s open to creativity, invention and ‘once upon a time’ scenarios. I don’t have to worry that my drawings are wacky and a cow might look like a mouse. Or a dog. It makes kids laugh. Plus, children’s stories are ideal for comedy. Kids love to laugh and so do I. We make a good team.
How long did it take you to bring this book from first draft to printed copy?
Well, the first draft took about 5 hours. Then the editing, re-drawing, re-writing, background illustrations, color corrections, formatting and layout took another 15 minutes. Just kidding! That took months. From start to finish it took about 18 months.
If you could be any character in your book, who would you be and why?
I’d be the main character, Mary Elizabeth. She’s witty, resilient and funny. I admire the way she uses humor and diplomacy to get the cows to become her friend. And she likes to frolic. I’d like to frolic!
What is different about your book compared to other books out on the market?
I think a lot of books out there also send important affirming messages for kids. So the main difference that sets my books apart is humor. Adults enjoy reading my stories with their kids. There’s something amusing in there for them – a movie reference or a topical point – that the kids probably won’t get – but the adults will. I didn’t set out to write stories for children, they just seem to love my books. So the main difference is that both adults and kids can enjoy reading and experiencing my books together.
What was your favorite book growing up?
I don’t have a single favorite book from my childhood. In fact, it wouldn’t be a book. Instead I would say my favorite stories were by Charles Schultz. I liked to read the cartoon ‘Peanuts’. I was heavily influenced by his simple but extremely funny drawings and relatable characters.
What is the most memorable book you have ever read?
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, was the most memorable book I read as a kid. It’s a non-fiction book about a white man, Griffin, that artificially darkens his skin to appear black and then goes out in public to see how he’ll be treated. The book describes his six-week experience traveling through the racially segregated south in 1959 and passing as a black man. I read it in grammar school and I’ve never forgotten it. It was compelling.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
What is up next for you?
I’ve written my second book: Ernie The Dysfunctional Frog about adoption, true friendship, acceptance and love. And I’ve got a comic book about Sweetles™ in the works along with a web series called Sweetles TV, that he’s starring in with the other fairy tale characters. Think Sesame Street meets Monty Python to get an idea of what the web series will be about.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
When you enjoy what you do it doesn’t seem like work.
We gave Sweetles™ a good motto to live by: ‘have fun, learn and play-that’s a Sweetles day’.
I have a great support system from my readers, family and friends and especially my wonderful wife. I’m very lucky.
And finally, there’s nothing like a parent telling you that they read your book to their child for the third night in a row because they asked for it again. I’ll never get tired of hearing that.
children’s books , mary elizabeth the spotless cow , salvatore barbera , friendship and acceptance , phoenix children’s hospital
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