Dean Robbins is the author of the children’s picture books Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass (Scholastic); Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote (Knopf); and Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing (Knopf).
His books have been featured on National Public Radio and praised in the New York Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and other publications. Dean has been interviewed in the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Radio, Milwaukee Public Radio, and Isthmus. Two Friends was chosen for the Amelia Bloomer List and adapted as an animated film by Weston Woods Studios; Miss Paul and the President was chosen for the 2017 List of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People; and Margaret and the Moon was chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection.
Dean has presented at the Wisconsin Book Festival, Naperville Reads, and University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute, among other venues. As a journalist, he was the longtime editor of Isthmus, an arts critic, and a reporter who won many state and national awards. His television column ran in fifteen newspapers and magazines around the country, and he has written about the arts for USA Today, the Grammy Awards, the Village Voice, and dozens of other publications. He’s interviewed a wide range of arts figures, including Robert Redford, Yoko Ono, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, and Ella Fitzgerald. Dean is also a regular contributor to Wisconsin Public Radio, which broadcasts his personal essays on arts and historical topics.
Learn more about Dean Robbins on his website.
We caught up with Dean for a few minutes and here are the things we learned about him during our Q&A.
Q1: What three things would we always find in your creative space/studio?
Dean: You'd always find framed photos of my heroes, including (1) Louis Armstrong, (2) Mark Twain and (3) Susan B. Anthony. But there would be more than three: add Houdini, Jackie Robinson, Alice Paul, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, and others.
Ever since childhood, I've been in love with certain heroic figures from politics, sports, and the arts. They're people who displayed remarkable courage or insight and have helped me make sense of the world. They're also the people I've devoted myself to writing and speaking about as a children's author, hoping to inspire the kind of wonderment I felt as a child.
Q2: When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
Dean: I loved writing silly stories in grade school, satirical pieces for the junior high newspaper, and English papers in college. It was so fun to get a reaction, either from a teacher or fellow student.
After college it occurred to me that some people write for a living, so why not me? I taught myself news reporting and arts criticism and became a journalist. About ten years ago I turned to writing for children, whose reactions are the most satisfying of all.
Q3: What authors have most inspired you?
Dean: I first understood the magical power of writing when my kindergarten teacher read us Dr. Seuss's extravagant And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. I moved on to A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, fascinated by their gently absurd tone.
Then I discovered a collection of Mark Twain's complete short stories on the bookshelf at home. Twain's deadpan humor and satirical genius touched a deep chord. From there I moved on to Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, Emily Dickinson, and other English-major obsessions.
Q4: Our festival theme this year is Twists & Turns. Which would you rather play, Twister or dominoes?
Dean: Dominoes have the potential for frustration and loss, but Twister is fun no matter what disaster occurs.