Doug's newest title, Little Monster Trucks GO! (Blue Manatee Press, April 2020), features five adorable trucks that have their own talents but ultimately shine when they work together. His sweet messaging appears in other Blue Manatee titles as well, like My Mama Is a Mechanic (2019) and My Papa Is a Princess (2018). And Monsters isn't Doug's only title for 2020. His latest installment in the educational series with Dr. John Hutton, Bugs! (April 2020), has crawled onto the shelf beside Cows!, Dogs!, and Cats!
QUESTION: Okay, your Monster Trucks book is just about the cutest thing ever! How did you come up with this? Did the idea arrive in a flash, or did you play around with it for a while?
DOUG CENKO: Thank you! The initial idea for Little Monster Trucks GO! came about while I was attending a book event in Cincinnati. I was talking with the publisher, Dr. John Hutton, about how we'd both love to work on a truck book. Once I got that idea in my head, it just stuck there and I had to start working on it. The previous books that I had written: My Papa is a Princess and My Mama is a Mechanic were definitely more illustration-based than word-based, so it took me a little while to figure it out. I started with sketches of how I wanted the story to progress and then worked out the words to go along with the sketches afterward. For me, doodling out rough ideas is the best way to come up with new stories and characters.
DC: My daughter sounds exactly like your kids. Whenever there's a road or a dashed line in a book, my daughter always has to stop and follow the path with her finger. I wanted to include one or two spreads with branching pathways so that kids could race along the tracks themselves. Also, I liked drawing the trucks smaller on each spread to be able to see more of the track and really give an idea of which truck was in the lead.
My Papa is a Princess and My Mama is a Mechanic were definitely based on the relationship that I have with my daughter, but Little Monster Trucks GO! was written for the 6-year-old version of myself. If you asked me at 6 to create a book about whatever I wanted, the end result would probably be pretty close to Little Monster Trucks GO!, only drawn with crayons.
DC: I definitely enjoyed designing the trucks and the Monster-Bot. Monster-Bot went through quite a few revisions before we came up with the final version. The trucks form a giant Voltron-esque robot at the end of the book and it was important that the reader could still identify each individual truck. I didn't want this book to be labeled as a "boy book," so I made sure to include a variety of trucks that all kinds of kids would enjoy. My daughter loves cats, so including a cat truck was a must.
I think that the part I had the most fun with was the rhyming. It's my first rhyming book and trying to come up with words that rhyme but also advance the story was tough. I tend to read rhyming books at a faster pace. Since this book is about a race, making it a rhyming book seemed to make the most sense to me. In the long run, I think that it added to the story and was worth the extra effort.