Bob Odenkirk is best known for his memorable acting roles, as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and the title role in the spin-off, Better Call Saul. His background is as a comedian, though, having forged a TV career first on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He’s also an Emmy-winning producer and an accomplished filmmaker.
But his longest and finest role? Dad to Nate (24), and Erin (22). He teamed up with Erin for his latest project, a children’s book called ZILOT & OTHER IMPORTANT RHYMES, which he wrote and Erin illustrated. The book of whimsical and funny poems, out in mid-October but available now for pre-sale, is already drawing comparisons to Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein.
We asked Bob and Erin to share a bit more about this father-daughter collaboration, for this week’s Meet a Dad (and Daughter!) interview:
How did this book come about?
Bob: These poems were written with Nate and Erin when they were little! Between the ages of 4 and 8, at bedtime, as part of our going-to-bed ritual of reading books, we would write a poem or two a week. The kids would suggest and idea, or an opening line, and add to it as we wrote. I would write anything they “pitched” verbatim, then continue the poem with a line, so they could really see their own words written in, and put to use. I knew that a few of the poems were pretty great, or had a great “idea” at the core, so I kept those early scribblings. Then, during the pandemic, my kids grown and sitting in their rooms doing college classes via Zoom, I started re-writing, punching up, the poems and asking Erin to make a drawing for each.
So amazing! Can you tell us about how you went from Hollywood to writing?
Bob: I grew up in Naperville, Illinois, very far from Hollywood and anyone who might be making art for a living. As I made my way into showbizness I became acutely aware of the “drag” on progress it can be to simply BELIEVE you have the capacity to “make art.” I knew only one person who did as a young person, a neighbor who was a cartoonist (Dick Locher who drew & wrote Dick Tracy).
So I wanted my kids to see that they could be writers, actors, artists…and to read a published book and then immediately have them write a poem, I felt it would help them see themselves as part of the world of storytelling that is open to all.
Love that. Erin, how did you become an illustrator?
Erin: I have been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil! I learned to draw at first by drawing our family cats, Gracie and Theo. As I got a little older I started attending some self guided art classes, and kept on it through graduating from Pratt Institute.
Amazing! Bob, what does it feel like with Better Call Saul ending after so many amazing seasons – and is more writing in your future, for kids or adults?
I am still taking in the entirely of the Better Call Saul experience. It was so massively impactful on my life, creatively and personally. I can’t imagine ever having a role that goes so deep, that I become so close to knowing. It asked a lot of me, and I think I’ll be decompressing from it for a long time to come. I will forever be thankful for it, I did nothing to deserve the level of quality and care that surrounded me through the entire experience. “Once in a lifetime” is what it was.
Incredible. Your book has draw comparisons from iconic writers like Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein—do you agree with the comparisons?
Erin: Undeniably adjacent, inspired by, and in the wake of– but different. We approached each poem with our own, unique brand of humor that is tied a little closer to reality (and what’s so funny about it) than the fantastical routes Silverstein goes down. And we also made an effort to soften the edges a bit. We think this is a sweeter book than some of Silverstein’s poetry books, for a slightly younger crowd.
Bob: We read The Giving Tree a lot to our kids, but Shel’s poems were not a part of our nightly ritual. One reason being they always felt like they were for slightly older kids than my kids were at the time we wrote these. But Shel is the gold-standard of silliness and prickly attitudinal behavior…supremely fun, too. Our work, having been written at least partially by a child, is just softer and sweeter, overall.
Erin, what’s your favorite childhood memory?
A favorite childhood memory that comes to mind makes an appearance in a Zilot poem titled ‘Umbrella Practice.’ Growing up in California, it was mostly sunny, and so my dad invented ‘umbrella practice.’ We would go out in the yard in rain boots and pajamas, umbrellas in hand, and Dad would use the garden hose to make it ‘rain.’ We would run around, splashing in puddles, using the umbrella at first and then ditching it. It was a very silly and fun family tradition.
Sounds like a blast! What are your favorite children’s books, besides your own, of course?
We are huge children’s book fans. Thanked in the back of our book are the authors and illustrators of Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers (beautiful poetry anthology), Beast (a lovely tale about friendship), Who needs Donuts (a feat of illustration), amongst others.
Bob also loved: Eeny Meeny Miny Mole (Jane Yollen), Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks (Calef Brown), Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You (Dr. Suess), The Very Kind Rich Lady and her 100 Dogs (Chinlun Lee) and so so so many others!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Erin: There will be an accompanying called ZILOT & OTHER IMPORTANT RHYMES audiobook! We have wonderful voices reading them: Bob, Emo Phillips, Ron Funches, Maria Bamford, and Samuel Robert Epstein. Together they do beautiful, sweet, hilarious work bringing these characters to life.