Earlier this year, husband and wife writing team Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer published The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny), a picture book about the Beatles’ early career. This week, they chatted candidly with Kidsbiographer about their lifelong love for the band, the Fab Four’s legendary wit, and the joys of collaborating on a manuscript.
Kidsbiographer: In your author biographies, you describe your early experiences as Beatles fans. To write The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny), you must have done a great deal of research about the band and the sixties. Can you discuss how your own experience with Beatlemania informed your research and your work on this book?
PB: Being a life-long Beatle fan since the beginning of Beatlemania made me quite passionate about doing this book in the first place. I had also read numerous books on the Beatles and the sixties, so I was pretty well informed before I even started my research. I love music and especially like reading rock and roll biographies. This book was a real labor of love.
KK: When the lads appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I was the exact right age to become a devout Beatlemaniac. My fave was George, though I later switched to John. My parents bought me the latest records and some of the merchandise, including tiny squares of the sheets they slept on in their Chicago hotel. I used to have a ton of Beatle memorabilia, all dispersed over the years, alas. It was exciting to recall that Beatle-love and try to make it mean something to today’s kids. The Beatles will live forever and really don’t need our assistance, but I like to think we’re helping to extend their popularity into yet another generation.
Kidsbiographer: The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) emphasizes the Fab Four’s playfulness – with language, reporters, and the music itself. How did you decide to pursue this angle for the picture-book biography?
PB: Our last book with Harcourt was Lincoln Tells a Joke, which was all about Abe’s keen sense of humor. We wanted to come up with another book idea centered around a famous person’s sense of humor. During one of our “power breakfasts,” I brought up the Beatles and their collective wit, especially during their press corps interviews when they toured the US. The book idea was born, and we sold it to Harcourt in record time!
KK: We like to laugh.
Kidsbiographer: During your research, you must have stumbled upon countless hilarious anecdotes about the Beatles’ early career. What was the funniest story or quote you didn’t include in the book?
KK: We scoured every Beatle book and interview for quotes that would work. We looked for stories that were still funny after all these years, but not too adult or too British or requiring too much background to understand.
PB: There was so much funny stuff that did not make it into the book, mainly because it was too adult for a children’s book—like this:
Q: “What about the gifts? I notice more and more you’ve been getting more and more gifts from fans. What was the most unusual gift you’ve ever received? I know there’s so many – Is there one that sticks out in your mind?”
John: (laughs) “I once received a bra…”
Q: (laughs) “You did?”
JOHN: “…with ‘I Love John’ embroidered on it. I thought it was pretty original. I didn’t keep it, mind you – It didn’t fit.”
Kidsbiographer: Collaborating on a book is always challenging; I would imagine that writing a picture book with another person is even more difficult. Every word counts, so you have to be very selective about phrasing and diction. What were the greatest challenges – and joys – of writing The Beatles Were Fab together?
PB: On this particular project, I was in charge of finding all the funny quotes that the four made, mainly coming from all the press interviews. We then made the decisions about what we’d put in the book and in what order. Kathy wrote the final text with critiques from me and our editor, Jeannette Larson.
KK: Paul is being modest, as we both wrote the text. He tends to work at night, while I work during the day, so we work alone, but keep passing the manuscript back and forth, over and over until we reach a stage where every word seems right.
Kidsbiographer: What do you hope kids will take away from The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny)?
PB: I think it would be great if those who read this book to children would put on some Beatles music while they read it. It’d be a great way to set the mood. The Beatles changed the direction music was going at that time, and so many groups since then have mentioned the Beatles as a major influence on their music. Letting kids know that these four great musicians were also very funny makes our book a bit more intriguing, I think.
KK: Besides a basic Beatle-intro, I hope kids will realize the power of music – any music they like – in their lives. Music is a recurring theme in my books, out of a desire to encourage kids’ love for it, especially as it’s now getting cut out of so many school budgets.
Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or future projects?
KK: I have two more books this year, neither of them musical or particularly funny, but lots of fun to work on – Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought), the eighth book in this series from Harcourt, and Benjamin Franklin in the “Giants of Science” series (Viking).
PB: Last year Kathy and I worked on some school textbooks for Heinemann. We co-wrote a book about the theremin, a very strange sounding electronic instrument that you don’t have to touch to play. We wrote another one about robots that are used in space travel. And we also came up with a humorous idea and wrote one that’s all about the history of April Fool’s Day. The three untitled books will be out this year and next. We have other book ideas in the works, but it’s too early to talk about them right now.