Alex Laybourne: I always like to start my interviews with the same question. Who is Denise Barry?
Denise Barry: I am a person wears many hats, as we all do. I’m a mom, a wife, a writer. I love everything in life, even bad days. I learn from them.
AL: Can you tell us a little about your writing?
DB: I write books for children and also inspirational stories for adults. I especially love writing for children because I act like one, and I think like one. So it’s perfect for me. I try to write stories so kids can have fun, first and foremost, because they’re kids and they should be having fun! But getting them to use their imagination is my sneaky secret for enlightening them. Imagination is key in a child’s learning. Every great idea began in the imagination, so my books allow them to think outside the box.
AL: That is great. Would you agree that the world is far too stifling for children these days? That they are forced to grow up before their time?
DB: Yes, I so agree! Kindergarten used to be for play. It was encouraged because a long time ago teachers understood that kids learn many useful skills through play—coping skills, problem solving skills, social skills. Today, they are learning in pre-school! My son learned Spanish in pre-school! But luckily, he went to a school where they mainly taught through play.
AL: How do you manage to balance writing and having children?
DB: My kids are older now, and I didn’t write when they were very young. Not seriously, anyway. I can’t imagine how people do it with little ones. As a writer, you’re not working 9-5. You’re working when inspiration hits, so how do you drop everything and go write? And even though my kids are older, they resent the time I spend on the computer. They can do it, but I can’t! Ha!
AL: What did you do before you became a full time writer?
DB: I worked for the United States Customs Service. If you know anything about what’s going on in the U.S. government right now, you’ll understand when I say “I am so glad I quit that job!” Sometimes, you get into something very young, and it’s hard to give it up. You become an adult with responsibilities, and you don’t always get to do what you really want. I am very blessed to have found my way here, to have become an author.
AL: Have you always written or was it something that came you later?
DB: When I was eight years old I began writing. I wrote songs, of all things. Actually, that makes sense because I do like to write in rhyme, which I did back then. So I had it in me way back when. I dabbled here and there for a long time and then got serious when my daughter lost her first tooth!!
AL: On that note, one question I have to ask, and I am sure you have heard before: What does the Tooth Fairy do with our teeth?
DB: Okay, I’ll answer, but don’t tell! For one thing, she changes them into some really beautiful things you’d find in nature, like the sparkles in the snow, for example. I won’t tell you how she does it, but there’s a little magic involved. And sometimes, because the tooth fairy carries way too many teeth in her arms when she’s flying around, she drops some. She can be very clumsy like that. These are the tiny, bright things we see from Earth which we call stars. She also has fun with them; she builds an ice rink with them and skates all around. She loves to show them off to her friends, but she dusts them with a feather first, of course! And with just a touch of her wee fingertips she turns them into cookies with chocolate chips and so many more things! There are over twelve concepts in the book and they’re all playful and so beautifully illustrated.
AL: Did you tell these stories to your children when they were losing their teeth?
DB: Actually, no. Bad mommy! I began writing the book when my daughter was losing her teeth, and really never finished until my son was halfway through his. I read the drafts to them so many times my kids don’t care what the Tooth Fairy does with their teeth anymore! Just take them, and give me the money—ha! The life of a writer’s child.
AL: As a writer and a parent, I go to great lengths to keep ideas and imagination alive with the children, yet the Tooth Fairy is one tale my eldest son cannot accept. Do you think that it is the weakest of the magical beings we talk to our children about?
DB: Wow, I never thought of it that way. I do believe you have a point. Even though the Tooth Fairy is legendary, it’s not like Santa Claus where you talk about it with your kid for weeks beforehand. The Tooth Fairy comes up when the tooth comes out, and that’s about it. But I think parents look forward to the Tooth Fairy. I know my friend, who has three boys, looked forward to the Tooth Fairy’s visit. Her kids got letters with glitter and little gifts. I guess it’s more of a special event which touches a parent’s heart. I do think this book can change the paradigm though. After you read it, you’ll be able to open discussions with your children about what they think the Tooth Fairy does with their teeth. It’s really incredible to hear what’s inside their brilliant little minds! The book is filled with opportunities to brainstorm and interact!
AL: What are you currently working on?
DB: I’m finishing a really fun children’s picture book called “Soap On A Rope.” My illustrator is waiting on it. This book is very fun and as always, imaginative. It’s about a little girl named Abigail who gets a beautiful box in the mail, and she hopes it’s a really cool toy. Her dog, Foo Man Chew, hopes it’s a bone or an ice cream cone! It’s neither. It turns out to be a bar of soap! On a rope! She thinks it’s a mean joke…does she stink? Foo Man Chew wants to run away from home! It turns out Abigail’s brother finds the perfect thing to use if for, and they spend all day having a bubbly blast. I am also working on a middle grade book called “Sweeney Mack in the Slurp and Burp Competition” which will be the first in a series. This will be a really smart, sophisticated boy’s book, if that makes sense—even in light of the title!
AL: Often, children’s books can be rather patronizing. When writing your stories, are you conscious of the fact that while children are young, thay are sharp and neither want nor warrant being spoken down to?
DB: Oh my gosh, that is so true. I absolutely dislike books that shove a moral down a kid’s throat, and when I wrote Sweeney Mack, I left things unsaid, because like you said, kids are sharp and would be offended by the lack of trust I’d be putting in them. I actually believe children have this innate sense of perception which most adults have but don’t access anymore.
AL: I always say that I think school, for people of all ages, should have one lesson a day devoted to daydreaming. Do you agree that modern society cripples the imagination?
DB: My son doesn’t like sports, and there have been teachers that have belittled him for it. That blows my mind. My point is that society wants to put us in little boxes. Boys are supposed to like sports and hunting, and girls are supposed to like shopping and…I don’t even know, because I am not into anything I’m “supposed to be.” I have taught my kids that it’s ok to do your own thing. Not to be “different” because that has a bad connotation. Do your own thing. Every person who has been successful in life has been brave enough not to have caved to society’s standards.
AL: As your family matures, and you mature as a writer, do you see yourself moving your writing to an older age group, moving with your audience, or are you at the perfect place for your stories right now?
DB: That is such a good question, and I’m not trying to evade answering, but I couldn’t say because I literally try to live in the moment. I know whatever is supposed to be will be, and if I try to get in the way of that with expectations and wants, I won’t be doing what I’m supposed to be doing next.
AL: One last question then. If you had to summarize your writing in just three words, what you they be?
DB: This is the hardest question yet! Fun, inspirational and outside the box. Sorry, that’s five words, but three meanings!
What Does the Tooth Fairy Do With Our Teeth? is an adorable, beautifully illustrated children’s book—perfect for a Christmas stocking and available now!