Five questions for Matt Ringler

Strollercoaster (Little, Brown, 2–5 years) written by Matt Ringler, illustrated by Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay, takes viewers on a high-octane adventure throughout a vibrant city…all from the comfort of an over-tired little girl’s stroller at naptime. Good thinking, Dad! Father’s Day is June 20; find more book recommendations and links from the Horn Book here.

1. How has your “day job” (executive editor at Scholastic) informed your approach to writing children’s books?

Matt Ringler: Being an editor gives me the structural knowledge about books that not everybody has. It’s like how a person on the street might look at a house and see it as a complete unit but an architect or a contractor might see it as a system of two-by-fours, bricks, and pipes running through the walls. But writing has also made me a better editor. I’ve borrowed a few tricks from my Strollercoaster editor [Susan M. Rich] and put them into practice with my authors. I’m always trying to get better at the craft of storytelling. When I read for work or fun or watch television or movies, I’m constantly processing the plot and character choices that were made and breaking down how they make me feel.

2. The text is a mix of straight narrative, dialogue, sound effects, and more. How did you strike that balance? Are you a manuscript reader-alouder?

MR: The initial idea for the book started when I was actually pushing my daughter around in a stroller. I started singing “Stroller-coaster of loooooooove” to the tune of “Love Rollercoaster” by Ohio Players, so it really started out in the most musical way possible. One piece of writing advice I give is to try and hit as many senses as you can, so that’s where the sounds and smells and whooshes of feeling came from. I also try to be really economical with my words. Only essentials that move the plot, develop character, or provide a sensory or emotional experience get to make the cut.

3. What was your reaction to Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay’s exuberantly dynamic illustrations?

MR: I was already such a huge fan of theirs, so I felt like I hit a half-court shot and won a million dollars when I got to work with them. The art is so colorful and bright and has so much energy and motion to it. And there are so many little hidden details. Hearing all of Raúl’s influences for each tiny part of the art is fascinating to me because that’s how I write; if somebody wanted to hear it, I could explain where each line of the book came from in my life. With the art, I’m still finding new elements throughout the spreads, and I hope I always do.

4. Do you have favorite strollercoaster routes? (And/or roller coasters?)

MR: I walk everywhere! The most fun thing about forming a route is when you break it and find something else totally cool like a block away. As to rides—I went on Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure. It’s basically a freefall. It goes straight up and then corkscrews down. And the queue is really long so you watch it happen thirty to forty times before you get on. Once you get close to the start, there’s a sign warning you that it’s possible the ride won’t build enough momentum to make it over the cusp and you’ll basically fall backwards. I was rooting for that to happen, and my friends were not happy with me. I don’t recommend riding these rides with me if you’re going to be annoyed by someone hoping for the worst outcome.

5. Any tips for navigating crowded city sidewalks?

MR: If you have a stroller you have to keep your head on a swivel. You don’t want to be one of those people who run over someone’s foot or edge them off the curb. But you also have to watch out for that one person who is going to stop short out of nowhere in front of you. Maybe they grab their phone or something. There’s always one. You have to think fast and give them the quick swerve and keep going. The Strollercoaster stops for no one!

From the June 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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