If you’re a toddler parent, you likely have at least one or two books from the Grump Monkey series. Young fans of The New York Times bestselling books love Jim Panzee, who in turn helps them learn how to deal with common but challenging feelings.
Suzanne Lang lives in California with her husband, illustrator Max Lang (who she’s created the 13-book series with), and their children, a daughter, 12, and a son, 8, as well as plenty of pets. In this week’s Meet a Mom interview, she shares her inspiration, advice for anyone with an idea for a children’s book, and more.
Where did the idea for Grumpy Monkey originate?
People assume Grumpy Monkey was inspired by our kids, but actually Max had the idea long before we were parents. When we were dating I was having a grumpy day, and he kept trying to cheer me up, which only served to annoy me further. I told him I just wanted to be grumpy, and he thought that sentiment — about needing to ride out a mood — would make a good picture book. Of course he read the room and was wise enough to keep it to himself in that moment. In fact. he didn’t share the idea with me until years later when we were parents.
Love that story. How do you come up with ideas for the series now?
The ideas are often inspired by issues our kids or their friends — or we as parents — are experiencing or thinking about. Other times our publisher suggests a theme. This is particularly true with the board books, which are about toddler issues such as fussy eating or that fun phase where they always say no.
Every toddler parent knows that one well! Why do you think the series has resonated so well with audiences, kids and parents alike?
I think the message that it’s okay to feel our feelings as long as we don’t take them out on others is validating both for kids and parents. I also like to think the fact that we deliver heartfelt messages with humor is appealing.
What are you proudest of in terms of your books?
Every time I hear from a child, parent, grandparent, or educator about how one of our books resonated for them or someone they care about, I am moved.
What advice do you have for parents who have an idea for a children’s book?
Make it! We live in an era where we can make things ourselves so just do it. When we made our first two books, they were for our daughter, who was a toddler at the time. We didn’t make them expecting to get them published; they were just books we wanted her to have.
Any advice on raising kids who love reading?
Make a routine around reading together from a young age. But like everything with kids, be flexible and don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t work. Take advantage of local libraries and try lots of different kinds of books to see what your child likes at a given time. Expose them to different formats, but be mindful of where they are developmentally. It can be tempting to hurry kids into books that we as parents find more engaging, but if the child is not ready for it, they might become bored or frustrated.
And while we are all eager to have our kids read on their own, don’t worry if it doesn’t happen. Keep reading with them, and enjoy that special time together. And lastly, be kind to yourself. Just because your child doesn’t like reading one day doesn’t mean they won’t have a change of heart down the road. But also it’s okay if reading is just not your kid’s thing. You’re still a great mom raising a unique and fascinating human being.
Favorite children’s books (recent or classic) other than your own?
Too many to name, but here are a few: all the Frog and Toad books; Where the Wild Things Are; Mrs. McTats and her Houseful of Cats; Oh No, George!; 13 Words; Ottoline; The Chronicles of Narnia; Harry Potter; pretty much anything by Roald Dahl.