Mercer Mayer: Still going strong at 70
Mercer Mayer has been writing his beloved children's books featuring Little Critter for over 30 years. His stories and illustrations still capture the imagination of young children — and he continues to create more.
Mayer turns 70 this year, but he is right in line with the digital age, staying current in an area that is full of change.
If you raised a child any time during the past 30 years, you know all about Little Critter, the adorable creation of author and illustrator Mayer. He has written over 300 books in the Little Critter series — collaborating on many of them with his wife. We had the opportunity to speak with Mayer about his recipe for success, his ability to stay current with his latest project and the one topic Little Critter hasn’t dealt with.
Even though the Little Critter books have been around for such a long time, they remain popular with kids today. There is something timeless about the books — and the issues that Little Critter deals with as he grows up — that keeps these books moving off library shelves.
We asked Mayer what the secret is for the timeless appeal of his stories and illustrations. “I don’t really understand it myself! These ideas just come to me when I’m working,” he shared. “Little Critter just came to me one day, many years ago. Often I do feel like they are timeless, for some odd reason!”
Mayer’s books and illustrations are usually based on something he remembers dealing with from his own childhood, or something his own children have faced. Now that he is a grandfather, he still has a window into the world of a child to drive his creativity and spark ideas.
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Keeping up with technology
While many almost-70-year-olds might be ready to hang up their career and retire, Mayer is still creating ways for today’s children to have fun with Little Critter. We talked about how the digital age has changed the way people read, and he is actively embracing new technology as a way to reach the next generation of readers. “I’ve been in the technology thing for a long time, actually,” he says. “Years ago we developed all sorts of educational software, back when they had CD-ROMs. Whatever the medium is that’s available, we should be there.”
His latest venture is an app, based on one of his classic books Little Critter’s The Trip. This story features Little Critter and his family going on a fun-packed vacation with adventure along the way. They have included reading activities, mini games, puzzles and more — aimed for children ages 3 to 7. The app is available for iOS and Android platforms.
“The app is a wonderful, fun and educational reading adventure,” Mayer shares. “Little Critter that you can actually interact with — that’s really the key to the whole thing. Stickers, educational games and just a whole lot of fun for kids.” He says that he is anxious to share it with his granddaughter.
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With over 300 books to his credit, we wondered if there was any topic that faces kids as they grow up that Little Critter hasn’t dealt with. “You know, the one topic I haven’t really dealt with — and I haven’t been able to find a way to do it in a sensitive way — is death,” Mayer admits. “It’s really hard. I’ve had a number of starts on it, like with pets [who die], but there is so much grief surrounding it that it’s just hard.” He shares that most of his story ideas and topics just come to him when he’s thinking about his own childhood, or that of his children.
Mercer Mayer is a delightful, creative and enthusiastic person — and his Little Critter books will live on for the next generation to enjoy.