Children’s book author Christopher Paul Curtis on the joys of artistic collaboration
By CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS February 7, 2014 4:32PM
Christopher Paul Curtis
Updated: March 4, 2014 4:33PM
Please do not disturb me if you happen to be in a men’s clothing store and see me frantically looking for a larger hat. My need is entirely understandable, because in addition to having the best job in the world — children’s book author — I just spent a weekend in Chicago completely enthralled by Chicago Children’s Theatre’s new musical adaptation of my book “Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money.” As a result of viewing those performances, my head has grown six times larger! It’s hard to express how proud I am to have been a part of the great collaborative effort that put this show together.
The beauty of having one of my books produced in a different medium is that I was very lucky to see that other artists — in this case, Artistic Director Jacqui Russell, playwright David Ingber, composer Lamont Dozier and director Derrick Sanders — really got the gist of what I was originally trying to express.
In my writer’s dreams, I’d hoped that in addition to having a riot while going on adventures with Mr. Chickee and the Flint Future Detectives, young readers would also be able to glean several important lessons about life from my books. As the Flint Future Detectives’ quest for a mysterious quadrillion billion unfolds, their leader, Steven, soon discovers that although friends can be difficult and often are far from perfect, his friends and the love of his parents are what have already made him rich — and they are found right in his Flint neighborhood. These life lessons in my book have been successfully translated onto the stage.
I have been a fan of Motown legend Lamont Dozier’s since I was much younger and was amazed at how he could craft a line such as “... they pretend to be my friend when all the time, sweet Bernadette, they long to persuade you from my side ...” into a song and make it a classic. Imagine my joy and pride when he gave something I wrote that same Dozier touch. I’m certain you can see why my head has, as we put it in Flint, “swole up.”
But being from Flint, Mich., I’m always reflexively waiting for the next blow. Sure enough, I was blindsided right in my seat at the show’s premiere. As I anxiously waited for the play to begin, a teacher brought several of her students to my seat to talk to me about my books. One 8-year-old boy told me how much he liked the book and that he was glad to meet me. A woman sitting in front of us turned around and said to the boy, “Oh, let me take a picture of you and your favorite author.” Never being one to make assumptions, I said, “First let’s ask him if I am his favorite author.” The third-grader never skipped a beat. He said, “Well, right now you are.”
As a different R&B composer wrote, “Back to life, back to reality.”
“Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money” runs through March 2 at the Ruth Page Center for the
Arts (1016 N. Dearborn). For tickets, visit