A line of excited children from ages 9 months to 9 years sat in the front row of the Wellesley Free Library, while an overwhelming group of 18-22 year old Wellesley students sat behind them, possibly just as eagerly.
“This is a book with no pictures,” B.J. Novak begins while the children squirmed and giggled in anticipation. He continued reading his new text-only children’s book, and explained the rules to the excited audience.
“Here is how books work,” he begins. “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say … Even if the words say …” he says, flipping to the next page slowly, “BLORK,” he declares, loudly and prominently. The crowd goes wild.
He goes on to say the silliest things, following the book’s rules of reading every single word.
“My head is made of blueberry pizza!” he exclaims at one point. The kids erupt into laughter and even the little two-year-olds know — this man is a comedian.
B.J. Novak is well known for being a writer for NBC’s “The Office,” where he also served as a co-executive producer and co-starred as the bored-turned-incompetent temporary employee Ryan Howard. After the release of his collection of short stories, “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories,” he added “author” to his list of titles, and now with the release of “The Book with No Pictures,” he’s can also add “children’s author.”
On Sunday, Oct. 5, Novak made his way to the Wellesley Free Library to perform a reading of his children’s book “The Book with No Pictures,” followed by a Q&A. After his highly entertaining reading, the group of children that gathered in the very front of the room were asked if they had any questions, and one little boy asked, laughing, “Why do you have a blueberry head?”
This book’s writing, combined with Novak’s theatrical presentation made him an instant hit with the children.
“What did this book have a lot of?” he asks them. “Funny!” a young child responds immediately. “Words!” an older child says.
When one of the “grown-ups” (as he referred to the rest of us) asked about his process for writing a children’s book, he spoke about using a trial and error method, reading to kids and seeing what they would react to. And even before then, he would read to his friends’ children and realized that every kid’s dream would be to make the reader say silly words to them.
“When you read to children, it’s like they’re handing you a script,” he said. So he thought about what kids would hand to an adult as a script and about how to make the kids feel in control of what was read to them. And thus came the idea of a book (with no pictures) in which the reader must say every last funny word.
Novak wrote this book as a way to inspire children to recognize the power of language and appreciate the written word. In his own childhood, he viewed reading and writing as adventurous forms of rebellion. He wants to encourage kids to, when they approach that inevitable age of rebellion, read.
“I want to make sure kids know books are always their allies,” Novak said. “I used to view reading as a revolution: rebellious and cool.” He described his history with literature, getting caught reading about Harriet the Spy under his covers late at night. This love of writing and stories led him to create a radio show with his friends in which they performed for each other. He’d always find a way to write to entertain.
His advice for any writers in the audience? “Write for the kid sitting next to you.”
On what he would like to do next with his writing, Novak said, “Nothing makes me happier than reading this to kids. What I really dream of doing — what my whole career has been trying to imitate — is being a public writer.”
He mentioned the tradition of public writing, of wanting to perform his own work and bring his writing to the audience directly.
And finally, he spoke about his first book, published through Knopf, called “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.” Novak gave some insight into his process of writing these short comedird and other pieces.
“Always start with your favorite part,” he said. “Starting from love in your writing is much more pleasant and [I find,] much more productive.”
It is obvious that he did just that with “The Book With No Pictures,” which was published through the Penguin Group and released on Sept. 30.