Mike Thaler

Mike ThalerMike ThalerMike is the author of Black Lagoon picture books & Black Lagoon Adventures chapter books. Mike is a legend in children’s publishing. His first book was acquired all the way back in 1961 by famed editor Ursula Nordstrom-the same editor who worked with children’s literature luminaries such as E. B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Crockett Johnson, Syd Hoff, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, among others. Read our interview to learn about Mike’s early career, the inspiration behind the Black Lagoon series, tips for using the books in the classroom, and more.A Conversation with Mike ThalerABDO: Mike, thanks for joining us! Spotlight is so excited to bring your fantastic Black Lagoon stories and characters to libraries and schools in our high-quality editions. Can you tell us when and how you first got the idea for the Black Lagoon series?

MT: The idea for the title The Teacher from the Black Lagoon came from the title of the movie The Creature from Black Lagoon. One day I realized that teacher rhymes with creature, so I substituted it and I had a great title. The book, however, took three years to create.ABDO: We know the Black Lagoon series has been such a popular series with kids, teachers, and librarians. Tell us more about your amazing career in children’s books!

MT: I have been blessed to be able to write children’s books for 51 years. Since I am only 36, that is quite an amazing feat! My first book, Magic Boy, was published in 1961. It has been followed by over 200 books for children, consisting of picture books, I-Can-Read books, riddle books, and many series including Happily Ever Laughter, It’s Me Hippo, Funny Firsts, and The Bully Brothers.At the age of 60, God inspired me to write two series: Heaven & Mirth, which are funny Bible stories, and most recently, Tales From the Back Pew, which takes a Lagoon look at church life from a kid’s perspective.I believe the most important things about my books are that they have a morally sound base and make kids laugh.The books that I am most known for are the Black Lagoon series. They have been an integral part of school life for over 23 years. This series consists of 25 picture books and 21 chapter books, which to date have sold over 19 million copies.ABDO: What are some of your favorite stories and authors to read?

MT: My two favorite children’s books are The Little Engine That Could and Ferdinand the Bull. To me these are incredibly simple, but both carry a profound message. When I’m faced with a hard situation, I still say, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”When kids ask me, “What is my favorite book in all the world?” I always answer, “The Bible.” And when they ask, “Who is your favorite author?” I answer, “God.”ABDO: Was there a special teacher or librarian who influenced your life and got you on the path to literature, writing, and reading?

MT: When I was a kid many years ago, every Friday night my family would go to the library. Eventually after going through every picture book in the kid’s section, I asked the librarian if there were any picture books in the adult section. She led me to the New Yorker cartoon annuals. These books inspired my first career as a cartoonist, which grew into writing children’s books.Ursula Nordstrom, at Harper Brothers, saw a cartoon Christmas story called The Fallen Star that I had done for Harper’s Bazaar and called me about doing a children’s book. I immediately made an appointment for the next day, since the rent was due. I sat down that evening, folded eight pieces of paper and wrote Magic Boy. Ursula loved it, bought it, and published it, and I paid the rent.Since Ursula, there have been many editors who have loved and believed in my work, among them Jean Feiwel, who first put Jared Lee and I together 30 years ago to collaborate on a book called A Hippo Ate the Teacher.ABDO: Our new Black Lagoon Teacher’s Guide is filled with great activities for teachers and librarians to expand learning opportunities with these great books. Can you share some advice for teachers and librarians who use your books?

MT: I have heard from many kindergarten and first grade teachers that they use the Black Lagoon series to teach the different school jobs and introduce the staff to their kids. One day the principal will come in and read his book, the next day the school nurse, etc., etc. Many school librarians introduce themselves to new classes by reading The Librarian from the Black Lagoon. Also The Substitute Teacher from the Black Lagoon has been valuable for breaking the ice with a new class. Kids can also easily follow the Black Lagoon format to write their own Black Lagoon-inspired stories.ABDO: Thanks so much for being here, Mike!

MT: I hope that this series, so beautifully printed by ABDO in library editions, will bless you and your kids.Contributor: ABDO Publishing ReviewsThe Gym Teacher from the Black LagoonMike ThalerIllustrated by Jared Lee   A gym teacher is transferring from the junior high school to the elementary school and the junior high students have lots of tales to tell about him. Mr. Green is big and mean. He is hairy like an ape and barely speaks, choosing instead to blow his whistle a lot. He keeps his office full of balls and clubs and tires. He makes students run laps–first around the gym, then around the school, and then a lap around the world. For a fitness test, students need to pick up his pickup truck. He sets the bottoms of the climbing ropes on fire so students must make it to the top and he presses bodies between boards to improve posture. Other horrible things follow up to the last, worse thing–square dancing with girls! After many pages of imagining all the tortures in store for them, the elementary students meet Mr. Green–and he is a regular guy. The crazy cartoonlike illustrations and the satisfying ending will likely appeal to another generation of young readers in this reissue of a book from the popular series, “Black Lagoon.” 2011 (orig 1994), Scholastic, Ages 5 to 8, $21.35. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).ISBN: 9781599617947The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon (DVD)Based on the book written by Mike Thaler and illustrated by Jared Lee   Issued to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Black Lagoon series, this DVD is an animated version of Thaler’s zany tale about a boy who is worried about meeting his new gym teacher. Some say the teacher is very hairy, that he keeps his office full of balls, clubs, and tires, and makes his students run laps around the school. Others say that he will make you climb the rope and that “there are still kids up in the ceiling of the junior high gym.” Any child who has ever been apprehensive about meeting a new teacher will be able to identify with the child’s fear, laugh at his exaggerated woes, and be comforted by the reassuring ending. Lee’s cartoon-like illustrations come to life vividly in this delightful DVD. Narrator Joey Stack’s performance is pitch-perfect. Also included are interviews with the author and illustrator. 2009, Weston Woods, 9 min., Ages 4 to 8, $59.95. Reviewer: Peggy Morgan (Catholic Library World, March 2011 (Vol. 81, No. 3)).ISBN: 9780545196529The School Nurse from the Black LagoonMike ThalerIllustrated by Jared Lee   Originally published by Scholastic in 1995, this story is one of perennial appeal wrapped up in an extra-sturdy hardcover package with library binding. This title tells the tale of a boy’s curiosity about a mysterious creature called…the school nurse. No one has ever seen her, he says to himself. What follows is a vivid imagining of what might lurk behind the school nurse’s clinic door. The text’s ghoulish thoughts are illustrated in great detail, and with great fun, by Jared Lee’s squiggly, cartoon-like, full-color illustrations. (The illustrative style calls to mind notebook doodles, a perfect match for the text’s school boy fantasies.) By the time the main character has worked himself into a fearful frenzy about a thermometer the size of a flagpole, and eyeballs used for billiard balls, he finds himself in need of a trip to see Miss Hearse the School Nurse. Not only is she not swamp-like or scary in any way, she actually makes it all better. This is a great choice for kids who like a little gross-out humor along with a good lesson about making assumptions about other people. Sure to be a popular addition to library shelves. 2011, Spotlight/ABDO Publishing Group, Ages 6 to 8, $21.35. Reviewer: Dianne Ochiltree (Children’s Literature).ISBN: 9781599617985The Science Fair from the Black LagoonMike ThalerIllustrated by Jared Lee   When Mrs. Green announces that the class is going to have a science fair, Hubie thinks of scientists who turn themselves into giant pickles, monsters, and huge flies. His teacher then announces that everyone in the class has to invent something. Hubie tells the story that leads up to his idea for an invention. He talks to his friends who want to invent a monster, make themselves invisible, or make a time machine. Hubie wants to clone himself, and thinks of all the things the clone could do. Hubie would have the clone do all his chores, take his piano lessons, and go to bed early while he stays up late. He thinks of other things to invent, but nothing is quite right. He watches the Sci Fi Channel to do some research. He decides his invention is going to be either “cloning or clowning.” He learns more about scientists in class and has fun imagining inventions. He has dreams about crazy inventions, but in the morning he has it figured out and all ends well. Lots of cartoon illustrations add humor to the silliness, and a frequent use of word play creates more jokes. This chapter book is number four of the “Black Lagoon Adventures” series. It would be appropriate for children who are beginning to read chapter books. 2011 (orig. 2004), Spotlight/ABDO Publishing, Ages 7 to 10, $22.78. Reviewer: Vicki Foote (Children’s Literature).ISBN: 9781599618142 Updated 5/1/12To stay up to date on new books by this author, consider subscribing to The Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. For your free trial, click here.If you’re interested in reviewing children’s and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to marilyn@childrenslit.com.Back to Top

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