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Children's Author Takes On The Dreaded Itchy Head


David Shannon has written books about an adorable West Highland terrier, a duck on a bike and a fairy named Alice. Maybe he's tired of drawing cute. So, now the author and illustrator has done a book called "Bugs in My Hair," and it isn't about pets, forests or fantasy creatures. No, it's about head lice. David Shannon joins us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco. Thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID SHANNON: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: Yuck.


SIMON: Why a book about head lice?


SHANNON: Well, it all started when my daughter came home with head lice. And I really hadn't been exposed to them before that. And every time I mentioned it to my friends, they all had a story about, oh, I remember when my kid had them. It was terrible. It seemed like this dirty little secret that needed to be exposed.

SIMON: And how much research did you do about - I can't believe I'm asking this - how much research did you do about head lice?

SHANNON: Well, too much. I was forced to do research because my daughter got head lice several times.

SIMON: I mean, we all do that when our children get head lice. But you had to draw them.

SHANNON: Yeah. I did research what they looked like so that they're somewhat accurate. But I wanted to make them silly but also with just a slight amount of menace to them.

SIMON: I thought they were kind of cute, I must tell you.

SHANNON: The whole idea of the book is to sort of take the sting out of the whole thing.

SIMON: I mean, you address this. I turned it to two pages that I particularly admire where you write - and the illustrations are just wonderful 'cause you've got a sequence of kids scratching their heads. Well, you write: I wonder how I got lice. Maybe a sofa, from a hug, a hat, at school, at the movies, from a dog? And that's quite true. When children get head lice, they look all around the classroom and all of their buds. And I don't mean to over-politicize the issue, but there's a kind of McCarthyism that goes on in every classroom, isn't there? You know...

SHANNON: Yes, there is.

SIMON: Absolutely. You might have head lice. You might have given me head lice.

SHANNON: That's right. When the fingers aren't scratching, they're pointing.


SIMON: Is head lice, at some level, harder for the parents to take than children?

SHANNON: I think it is. Parents are kind of, they're kind of in denial about it.

SIMON: Well, the feeling is you must be a bad parent if your child gets head lice.

SHANNON: Yeah, you know, there's this feeling that, oh, it's from not bathing or something like that, and that's just not true.

SIMON: The eggs of lice are called nits.


SIMON: And there are a group of people in this world called professional nitpickers.


SIMON: And by that I don't mean the people that write in on our website - or just the people who write in on our website - but people who actually get paid to pick nits.

SHANNON: Yes, they do. There are professional anti-lice salons.

SIMON: And these are pretty pricy, aren't they?

SHANNON: You know, some can be very pricy. There's other people who will come to your house sometimes too. And we definitely made use of them.

SIMON: But a point your book makes is that the little boy gets his treatment - I don't mean to give away the ending - and he gets a good night's sleep and then he discovers the next day they're back. And it has been my anecdotal impression you can never get rid of them with just one treatment.

SHANNON: They do come back. And I just, you know, that was definitely a part of my experience. My wife did a lot of the nitpicking herself. And just when you think, oh, thank goodness that's over with, and then you see your kid doing that two-handed scratch again - you go, oh, no.

SIMON: I failed them , once more I failed them. On the other hand, you have the advantage of when you're locked inside a family psychodrama like this of being able to look at your spouse and say, aha, this would make a good book.


SHANNON: Well, I was able to write off the professional nitpickers as research.

SIMON: No. Is the IRS listening or are they shut down now too? Just when they should be tuned in and listening.

SHANNON: That's right.


SIMON: It does raise the question - without giving anything away - what's next for you? Maybe a book about Lyme disease?

SHANNON: How about bedbugs?


SIMON: Yeah. I have seen pictures of them - they are truly menacing.

SHANNON: Actually, I think I'm going to do something completely different. Because the whole time I was working on this book, I kept scratching my head and wondering, you know, the psychological toll that it took was something I don't want to repeat.

SIMON: I just - I was scratching now...


SIMON: ...in the middle of the interview.

SHANNON: There's a warning on the back of the book that says: warning, this book will make you itchy.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. I just noticed that, as a matter of fact. How right you are. David Shannon, who is the author and illustrator of the new book, ostensibly for children, "Bugs in My Hair." Speaking with us from San Francisco. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHANNON: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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