Meet a Pilot Who is Also a Children’s Author. Mike Downs, the Spotlight’s on You for Aviation History Month
Posted by lindamartinandersen on November 17, 2012
“Meet a Pilot Who is Also a Children’s Author. Mike Downs, the Spotlight’s on You for Aviation History Month”
“A Writer’s Playground”–A place to find wordplay, writing, and monthly calendar activities for kids and those young at heart.
It’s Aviation History Month. And joining us today to recognize this special month is Mike Downs–pilot, author, juggler, and unicyclist. What a fun guy! Please give him a round of applause and your best airplane noise.
*Applause. Thrum, Thrummm, Thrummmm. Thumpity, Thump. Rrr-Rowrrr. Click. Ding. Whirrr.*
Mike Downs, please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a person who loves to try everything! I am a pilot, I write books, I practice martial arts, I own a dance studio, and I travel and learn about different cultures. I also think it’s important to learn other fun skills, so I taught myself to juggle, ride a unicyle and surf.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did that work out for you?
As long ago as I can remember, I always wanted to be a pilot. This really became a passion when I was about 12 years old. I was hiking with the Boy Scouts and saw a glider fly overhead. I was definitely hooked. I found out the gliders were owned by the Hawaii Civil Air Patrol (yes, I grew up in Hawaii), and I joined the C.A.P. when I turned 14. I started flying gliders at age 15. From there I went on to attend the Air Force Academy, then became a Fighter Pilot and now an Airline Pilot.
The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs and David Gordon is a picture book about sounds heard on a flight.
Which came first—Mike, the author or Mike, the pilot? Tell about it.
Mike the pilot, came first. In fact, I never considered doing any writing until I was in my late thirties. At that time, I tried to write a novel in my “down time” as a pilot. Hah. It was horrible. I couldn’t get motivated to do any editing. That’s not a great formula for getting a manuscript to publication. It wasn’t until I was 39, with two young children, that I came up with the idea of writing a riddle book. It happened because I would come up with silly rhyming riddles for my kids. When I went to the store to find a book of rhyming riddles, there weren’t any, so I wrote one. It was published as PIG GIGGLES AND RABBIT RHYMES, by Chronicle Books.
The best move I made in my writing career was to attend an SCBWI weekend event right after I began writing. This probably cut off years of toil by learning what not to do. Also, I heard the mantra, “write what you know,” so I eventually came up with the idea and format for THE NOISY AIRPLANE RIDE, Tricycle Press.
Although THE NOISY AIRPLANE RIDE is a kids’ book, it’s also written for adults. Most people have no idea what the strange noises are that an airplane makes. This book follows a young boy through a typical flight and explains all the noises. It’s written to comfort both children and adults.
You See a Circus, I see… by Mike Downs and Anik McGrory is a picture book about circus performers and real people.
Mike, you shared with me that you are a juggler and a unicyclist. Which came first? Why did you decide to write a circus book?
One day my older brother told me he could teach me to juggle in 10 minutes…and he did! Even though it took much more practice to get good at it. But it was great fun. I eventually decided I should also learn how to ride a unicycle (somehow they seemed to go together). YIKES! Learning to ride the unicycle was quite a challenge. But these had nothing to do with my circus book.
In fact, my circus book is my favorite type of story. It’s about looking at things from a different perspective. In the case of YOU SEE A CIRCUS, I SEE…, the story is not really about the circus. The story is about how different people can look at the exact same thing, but see something completely different.
Pig Giggles and Rabbit Rhymes by Mike Downs and David Sheldon is another fun book. Lots of kids like to read riddle and joke books. They also like to read rhyming word books. You combined the two and created riddles that rhyme. Very clever.
Thank you. Rhyming riddles are great fun, and writing them is simple. The trick is to start with the answer. Here’s how:
A Step-by-Step Method of Writing Rhyming Riddle:
1. Come up with two silly rhyming words. This is the ANSWER!
example: Bear Chair
2. Figure out another way to say Bear and Chair
example: Bear – a furry creature, a Panda, a Grizzly
example: Chair – a seat, bench, lounger, Lazy Boy, something you sit in
3. Form a question using the definitions in step 2.
example: What does a Grizzly sit in?
answer: a BEAR CHAIR
Thanks for sharing the way to write a rhyming riddle. Sounds like fun! Would you like to share what you’re currently writing about?
My current “favorite” manuscript is HOW DO YOU MEASURE? It’s about viewing the world in completely different ways. Here’s a stanza:
How do you measure the sound of a snowfall? In decibels?
Do you measure a snow by its whispering hush,
The blanket it lays, the splatter of slush.
The crunch of a footstep in powdery white,
Or whooshes of snowballs and cheers of delight.
In this manuscript, I talk about the scientific measure, and then show different ways that various things might be measured.
Mike, this is lovely. It’s scientific poetry. I hope it is in readers hands soon.
Do you ever get teased by airline employees about writing children’s books? Do they have a nickname for you like “The Rhyming Pilot?”
Ha. Not really. In fact, the people at work who know I’m a writer are very supportive. I’ve also met other airline employees who are writers, which is great. But if you want to come up with a new nickname for me, feel free:)
Have you ever written a message in the air (skywriting)? Can you explain how it is done?
I’ve never actually done any skywriting though I’ve seen some. There are two ways to do it. One is to have a single airplane with a smoke generator. The pilot flies above the audience twisting through the air as he writes a message. The other way is to put five airplanes in a line- abreast formation (side-by-side). They fly straight and level while a computer controls the smoke generator behind each one of them. You really have to see a video of this to understand it. Try googling “dot matrix sky writing.”
What picture books would you recommend for children who want to learn about aviation history? What aviation titles for older readers would you recommend?
If you are technically oriented, JANE’S ALL THE WORLDS AIRCRAFT has the most detailed specifications on all types of planes. Just interesting data. Any version of I LEARNED ABOUT FLYING FROM THAT would be fun to read, too. These are collections of short stories about mistakes pilots have made, collections of short stories about mistakes pilots have made, and stories about mistakes pilots have made.
What museums or locations would you recommend children visit to learn about aviation history?
If you ever have the chance, you must see the SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR and SPACE MUSEUM, in Washington, DC. Part of it is downtown, the NATIONAL MALL BUILDING, and another incredible part is near Dulles Airport, the UDVAR-HAZY CENTER. This center is huge, with over 200 aircraft and space objects. Just amazing!
The next time you have a day off from work, would you rather read, write a story, juggle, ride your unicycle, or something else? Why?
So much to choose from! I try to mix it up and do something different so I don’t get bored. Lately I’ve been kayaking and mountain biking at the National Whitewater Training Center near Charlotte, NC. If you have any other ideas, let me know!
Thanks so much for joining us today, Mike Downs. Keep your head in the clouds and your eyes in a book!
Readers, here’s your chance to leave a comment or share a rhyming riddle. Thanks for coming. Come again soon and bring a friend. Shop for a copies of Mike Downs books at online stores or at a local bookstore near you.
Copyright © 2012 Linda Martin Andersen
This entry was posted on November 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm and is filed under Careers, Character Traits, Interviews, Monthly Activities, Reading, Writing. Tagged: & Rabbit Rhymes, airplane noises, Aviation History Month, career as a pilot, children's author, circus, dot matrix sky writing, fighter pilot, flying gliders, Giggles, Hawaii Civil Air Patrol, I See..., juggler, measurement, Mike Downs, Pig, pilot, recommended books about aviation, riddle books, scientific measure, skywriting, step-by-step method of writing rhyming riddles, The Noisy Airplane Ride, unicyclist, write what you know, You See a Circus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.