Let's Read A Book

Augusten Burroughs Has A Children’s Book For The Brave (& Not-So-Brave) Kiddos

Burroughs never skips out on details, and neither do kids.

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An animal friend that seems to communicate only with you, a pile of treasures, the promise of chocolate cake when you’re feeling blue. These are childhood dreams, and Augusten Burroughs has brought them to life in his first-ever children’s book, My Little Thief.

I’m a huge Burroughs fan and find his storytelling to be some of the best in the entire world, so hearing that his penchant for details and whimsy would now branch out into a children’s story about a little girl who befriends a crow that brings her gifts? Sold. As the mother of three little girls, one who has recently taken to reading a book in a tree every day after school and asking me if she can sleep outside in a hammock, I adore any story that puts a confident little girl front and center. Burroughs is a master of weaving backgrounds and details so that you get a full picture of a character in just moments, and My Little Thief is no different.

“The story itself was inspired by a true story about a little girl in England who made friends with a crow,” Burroughs tells Romper. “But my character, Chloe, was inspired by my childhood friend. She was a red-headed tomboy, two years younger, but fathoms braver than me. She was bold and daring and I was very curious, but shy and kind of afraid. I had the most incredible experiences with her because she was so fearless. And it’s a quality I have continued to admire throughout my life. If you are a strong, opinionated, free-spirited person, I am your fan!”

What kid doesn’t need that kind of energy? Below, Burroughs shares with Romper what he’s kept from his childhood that inspires his writing, his favorite children’s book, and what he wants all of the brave (and maybe not-so-brave) kids to get out of My Little Thief.

You're known for details in your stories, and you didn't skip out on any in My Little Thief! Do you feel a kinship with children who ask lots of questions and want to know all the details? This story really seems to capture the perfect energy of inquisitive kids who always want to know more!

Thank you for that question tucked inside a compliment! I have a rather puzzling memory. I would have to sit here and stare at the ceiling and really think about what I had for dinner two nights ago, but when I was 7 or 8, I would reach out the kitchen window in the wintertime and snap off one of the icicles that hung from the roof. I can remember exactly how they tasted — and yes, they did have a taste… a little like iron. As a child I spent most of my time alone and quite focused on my surroundings. I grew up in the country, so my surroundings meant frogs, birds, sticks, rocks, plants, and all of those tiny details I observed are still with me.

Did you have any input in Chloe's look? I'm obsessed with her fashion and confidence.

My only input with respect to Chloe’s look was the text of the story itself. Bonnie Lui, the brilliant illustrator, brought my words to life, and it is Bonnie’s creative genius we see reflected in Chloe’s appearance.

What do you hope kids get out of My Little Thief? What do you hope resonates with them?

My hope is that My Little Thief inspires curiosity in children; that it lets children know it’s wonderful to have strong opinions and it is equally wonderful to revisit those opinions and perhaps change them! I hope children feel a taste of the awe I feel when it comes to witnessing the intelligence of animals and how powerful our friendships with non-humans can be.

Chloe asks her parents for chocolate cake to really make her feel better about them not believing her. If you wanted someone to earn your forgiveness, what treat would you ask for?

Chocolate cake.

That’s one of my favorite parts of the story, when Chloe's parents ask her for forgiveness. You've written a lot about your childhood and parents — what would it have meant for them to ask you to forgive them for something or for them to apologize?

I think it’s rather earth-shaking when a parent asks a child to forgive them. I think people are sometimes apprehensive about showing vulnerability to children, but by asking forgiveness, a child is placed into a position where they must step back and evaluate. Hopefully, parents don’t have to do this too frequently! But when there has been an accidental injustice, I think nothing is better or more respectful than for a parent to say to a child, “I tried, but I made a mistake.” This teaches children that mistakes are OK things to make.

What do you hope parents take away from this story?

I hope that parents find My Little Thief to be a durable book; endlessly interesting for their child, with something new to discover upon each reading.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Where the Wild Things Are.

If a crow was going to bring you a gift, what would you love?

A jade pi disk.

In your memoir Toil & Trouble, you share about having a home and creating a sacred space for yourself. Crow bringing these gifts for Chloe feel a little sacred, too. Do you collect anything like a crow?

I have always loved and collected the neglected things, the overlooked treasures. I love rareness. I am drawn to rare objects. This doesn’t mean, necessarily, expensive objects, but rather uncommon. I am always on the look out for the four-leaf clovers of the world — and the crows that drop by for a visit!

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