I was so pleased to interview Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, author of Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO, last week and talk about her new book, inspirations, and her upcoming projects. Tallulah is introduced to readers among fresh and retro illustrations that depict her everyday life and background before jumping into the story. This principled and disciplined business woman then meets a challenge that stops her in her tracks. Unsure of what to do, Tallulah calls a meeting and discusses it with her closest confidants. Then confident in her decision, she puts in motion a plan that will leave readers smiling broadly (whether or not they have all their teeth).
What was your inspiration for the story?
At the time I got the idea for the story, my now seven year-old Noah was six. He is a brilliant kid but he has a tendency to misplace things. He was so excited that he’d lost one of his front two teeth, and I told him all he needed to do was hold on to the tooth until bedtime. Well of course he lost it, and I was four or five months pregnant at the time and very emotional. I remember asking him, kind of in a panicky way, “Now what are we going to do?! There’s no tooth to leave the tooth fairy.” Noah may be a little flighty at times, but he is a very rational and intelligent person. He simply and calmly replied, “I’m just going to leave her a note and explain what happened.” That one statement activated my imagination immediately. I thought it was so interesting and cool that he not only believed in the tooth fairy, but deemed her to be a logical and rational being. I put Noah and his brother Milo to sleep by 8:30 or 9 that night and began writing furiously–by midnight the story was written.
Did you have specific inspiration for the details of Tallulah’s life: her schedule, acquaintances, etc.? Where did it come from?
Yes, absolutely. I dear friend of mine here in Rome is a well-known Dominican-Italian actress named Iris Peynado. She’s been such a lovely, supportive presence in my life that when I tried to think of what the tooth fairy might look like, only she came to mind. Iris really is a beauty, inside and out, and she has this amazing afro. I also drew inspiration from another Iris I love but have never met–Iris Apfel. She’s sort of a life muse of mine. Other than that, the story really did write itself.
I love this idea that Tallulah has been head of this company for years but when she isn’t quite sure what to do with this dilemma, she consults her Board of Directors. A great message for kids that we don’t have to make hard decisions alone. Are Tallulah’s Board based on actual people? Who makes up your board of directors?
Tallulah’s Board of Directors is reflective of my Board of Directors in real life. 🙂 From left to right the Board consists of: a book publisher and a friend, Mrs. Dunn (my elementary school’s nurse), my mom, my sister, a friend, another friend and attorney, and my mentor and owner of a production studio in Dallas–whose actual name is Tom. The characters were illustrated to resemble these individuals.
What message do you hope young readers will take away from your book? What about older readers?
I really enjoy taking fairy tales and well-known characters within them and flipping them on their heads. I suppose I’d like for readers to find Tallulah to be a plausible character. I like the ‘not necessarily’ element that rewriting fairy tales entails. As far as one particular message I’d like for readers to gain–hmmm, perhaps that being a tooth fairy is a complicated position–one that’s been misunderstood for far too long and requires a great deal of business savvy and efficiency. For older readers, there are so many gems to be found and expanded upon in this book. I think re-imagining the tooth fairy as Tallulah is just an invitation for readers to activate their own imaginations and create their own characters.
The illustrations are so bright and fresh. Do you have a favorite page? How much collaboration did you have with Federico Fabiani in regards to the illustrations?
I love all of the illustrations, but I think my favorite pages are the one with Talluah speaking with her therapist, the yoga pose and the Board of Directors spread. Federico is just a genius. While collaborating on the illustrations, I served as what I call ‘the book stylist.’ So that means I sent Federico illustration inspiration as well as little notes and ideas, and he really just ran with it. The book was his to illustrate. What’s so weird and cool is that on the cover of the book, there’s a gray and white blanket that he illustrated without ever having seen my home. The blanket is thrown on the couch where Tallulah is seated. I have a blanket with that same exact pattern that he illustrated thrown on my couch…and he’d never seen it. Yeah, the book was his to illustrate.
Who’s your favorite children’s book author or illustrator and why?
My favorite children’s book author and illustrator of all time is James Marshall. His work is just so clever and endearing. I love his word usage and also the nuance in his illustrations. There’s no better book on the planet than Miss Nelson is Missing. The Cut-Ups series is a riot. And I adore his retellings of the classic fairy tales. I mean, he’s the only author I know who regularly uses “Egads!” in his storytelling.
When and why did you start writing? Was it always children’s books?
I started writing about three years ago. My eldest son Noah served as inspiration for my first published book, The Ghanaian Goldilocks. As a former Kindergarten teacher, I’ve been fond of quality children’s literature and read-alouds for some time, but writing and publishing books was a welcome and surprising change from what I did as an educator, which was just collecting them. I have plans for the near future to branch out into content for adults as well.
You have quite a few ABC books with a twist: from food to international destinations. A definite deviation from the traditional A is for Apple. Where do you get the inspiration for these?
My experiences sparked the ideas for M is for Mohawk, M is for Marrakech, F is for Fufu and B is for Breakdancing. I also must credit the fact that at the time that I was on an ABC kick, I had a child who was of kindergarten age. That time span, from five to six years old, is such a magical period. A is for apple is good and all, but I wanted to create content for him that was dazzling and engaging, so that’s what I did. I know if these books had been around when I was teaching kindergarten and first grade, I would have lost my mind with excitement. I’ve been fortunate to travel a great deal, so I wanted to share some of my favorite cities (as well as my love for vintage travel posters) with readers. I love to dance so I thought it’d be fun to have an ABC book that highlights moves from around the world.
I’ve heard you have a book of retold fairy tales that you’re working on. Will these be traditional fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella, Snow White, etc.) and can we expect some more Tallulah-esqe twists?
Yes, I definitely am! I’m so excited about this project. It will feature many of the traditional fairy tales, retold, and reimagined–so yes, more flipping fairy tales on their heads. I mean, who says Cinderella was a girl? There’s so much fun to be had with these types of projects. For this book, I’m enlisting the genius of master Italian painter Elena Tommasi Ferroni. If you’re into whimsy and wonder, just take a break from your life and check out her website, elenatommasiferroni.com. What that woman can do with paint is nothing short of auspicious and glorious.
If you could twist or retell any story (children’s or otherwise) which would it be?
Yes, the 2016 American elections. No further explanation needed. :0)
If you want to find more about Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO or Dr. Pizzoli’s work check out theenglishschoolhouse.com or follow her on Facebook (Dr. Tamara Pizzoli), Twitter (@engschoolhouse), and Instagram (@tamarapizzoli).