Star-Bulletin Features

On the cover: William Joyce's 1985 original illustration for "George Shrinks."


William Joyce with one of his most popular creations, Rolie Polie Olie.

The wonderful world
of William Joyce

Artistic flights of fancy

By Nancy Arcayna

A baseball-playing, trumpet-blowing brontosaurus, a boy who shrinks, and round joyful robots are a few creatures that populate William Joyce's enchanting world.

His stories are a reminder of the playfulness and openness of children, who are often willing to embrace strangeness with enthusiasm. Adults could learn a lot from them, and toward that end, Joyce will presents workshops on imagination and creativity at the Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii's Children, Thursday through Saturday at the University of Hawaii.

Joyce's first book was "George Shrinks," a tale of a boy who wakes up to find himself smaller than his teddy bear. A round of chores becomes an adventure as he tries to fulfill them in novel ways. The story began simply enough: Joyce was intrigued by odd-size individuals. "Gulliver was the wrong size, King Kong was too big and Stuart Little was too small.

"And, when you are a kid, everything is the wrong size. Refrigerator doors are huge, and the tops of kitchen counters are something you just can't see. The kitchen table and chairs were made for people 2 1/2 feet taller than you. And car doors can also be a big problem," said Joyce.

Joyce was inspired by favorite artists such as Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are"; Beatrix Potter, who wrote "Peter Rabbit"; and N.C. Wyeth, who illustrated "The Legends of Robin Hood" and "Treasure Island."

This illustration from "George Shrinks" is part of the "Dream Worlds - Real Worlds" exhibit.

"Sendak really understood how kids think," he said. And that doesn't mean trying to pass on heavy-handed lessons, as often happens in children's literature. Authors often make the mistake of presenting adult views, ignoring a child's sense of play.

There's no shortage of fun in Joyce's works. His "Santa Calls," "Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo," "Rolie Polie Olie," and "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" are bestsellers full of fantastic imaginary worlds and creatures.

Born in Louisiana, where he still resides, Joyce claims to have been raised by a bunch of "Southern screwballs." His eccentric family was the inspiration for the household in "A Day with Wilbur Robinson," where anything can happen.

In Joyce's story a young boy visits the Robinsons and encounters a pet octopus, an anti-gravity device, a dancing frog band and a search for Grandfather Robinson's lost false teeth.

"Dinosaur Bob" came about because Joyce often wondered what it might be like to have a dinosaur of his own. "Think about how great show-and-tell would be. Bullies would definitely leave you alone -- who's going to pick on a kid with a pet dinosaur?" he said.

Although most writers view television as an evil, Joyce has no such aversion. "I was raised on it. Children should be allowed to watch plenty of TV as long as its not pornographic or violent."

Television has given him a second career. His Emmy Award-winning children's show, "Rolie Polie Olie," has enjoyed a four-year run on the Disney Channel and will begin a new season in the fall.

This summer will mark the release of Joyce's feature film "Big Time Olie," in which an evil villain tries to suck up all the fun from Rolie Polie Olie's happy-go-lucky robot planet.

"When you are working on a book, it almost requires total isolation. I did books for years and years, and it was really kind of lonely," he said. So, he turned to the TV and film industry.

He is currently working on a short film with Pixar featuring a comic-strip rendition of his favorite fairy tale, Humpty Dumpty. "It's a musical story about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. He becomes a 'funky dumpty' with a voice like James Brown. It reminds me of the old 'Soul Train' episodes," said Joyce. The short movie will be shown before the next Pixar Disney feature film.

"It's fun to collaborate with a group of talented people and work as a team. Watching the stories come to life is exciting."

Joyce's accomplishments seem endless. He has also illustrated a number of covers for the New Yorker; he co-wrote and produced the film "Buddy," which starred Rene Russo; created characters in the films "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story"; had his works adapted for stage; and his artwork has been displayed at galleries across the nation. (See "Local Color" for Honolulu Academy of Arts exhibition.)

Although he enjoys working on movies and television ventures, books remain his passion. Joyce's next book features illustrations done the old-fashioned way: by hand.

"I'm always going to work on books. I miss the solitude sometimes," he said.

All of his off-the-wall characters are his pals; he claims no favorites. "They tend to live a life of their own. I'm not sure what they are up to when I leave the room."

11th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii's Children

Learn how to create, use and interpret literature at the Children's Literature Conference beginning Thursday. General sessions are free, though there is a $15 fee for Teen Track programs and $20 fee for professional how-to sessions.

The conference guests are William Joyce (see story) and Christopher Paul Curtis, author of "Bud, Not Buddy."

Curtis' writing career was launched when his wife, Kaysandra, told him to "hurry up and start doing something constructive with your life or find a new place to live."

His first book, "The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963," earned him the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor, two of the most prestigious awards in children's literature. Curtis also recently received the Nene Award.

Both Curtis and Joyce will conduct workshops and critique works at the two-day conference.

>> Teen track: Teens in grades 7 through 12 may also gather up their artwork and questions for critique sessions with Curtis and Joyce.

Curtis will work with young writers on Friday, providing creative-writing guidance and exploring the potential of words.

Joyce will works with teen illustrators on Saturday. Learn how he relates images to words, and about the film and publishing worlds.

>> Storytime Magic: Curtis, Joyce, Honolulu Theatre for Youth members and Jeff Gere will take keiki on an adventure using conflict resolution, art and crafts, films, music and storytelling from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Cost: $5 per child accompanied by an adult.

Where: University of Hawaii-Manoa Campus Center

When: Opening celebration 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday; workshops 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Admission: Opening and general sessions are free; professional sessions with featured guests are $20; single-day Teen Track programs are $15; and children's activities are $5 per child.

Call: 956-7559 or visit for a detailed schedule and list of fees.

Note: William Joyce keynote address 8:45 to 10 a.m. Saturday.

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