San Diego author Edith Hope Fine’s seventeenth book comes out next year. Edith is active in the San Diego Chapter of SCBWI where she heads the published members’ group. A former teacher, Edith swims, reads, has fun with grandkids, and worked with friends this year to make 600 hats for Christmas for the kids of David Lynch’s school at the Tijuana dump. She and Judith Josephson wrote about David’s work in ‘Armando and the Blue Tarp School’ (Lee & Low Books).
For what age audience do you write?
I started out with articles and stories in newspapers and magazines and a 13-year weekly column. Unlike some children’s authors who specialize in one genre, I’ve done both fiction and nonfiction books (science, grammar, biography, picture books. . .) for a variety of ages. The two Nitty-Gritty Grammar books started as refreshers for adults and are based on a light-hearted class Judith Josephson and I taught through San Diego State Extension. We used zany syndicated cartoons to make grammar points in a user-friendly way. One day a guy asked after the class, “Where’s the book!” Heads up—ideas are everywhere; you just have to capture them.
I’ve done four biographies for young readers. Two went out of print (yes, books do that!) and are now eBooks: Gary Paulsen, Adventurer and Author and Barbara McClintock: Nobel Prize Geneticist. Find them at Amazon.
Henry: Having met Edith in person, I can attest to her zest for language, which is evident in both how she writes and how she speaks.
What do you hope readers will get from reading your books?
I’m a bibliophile—I belong to a book group and read every day. Sometimes I have three books going at the same time. As a writer, I want to respect my readers. I know that readers bring something to each book. Pedantic books that talk down to kids are revolting: “And that’s why good boys and girls should always . . .” or “. . . good manners are so important.” Ugh. The themes that underlie your story must be unstated and subtle—they need to grow from your plot and characters. ‘Under the Lemon Moon’ is about sharing and forgiveness. ‘Armando and the Blue Tarp School’ is about a boy who longs to learn and grow but lives at the Tijuana dump where there is no school. ‘Water, Weed, and Wait’ is about the fun of building a school garden with friends, and being curious—what will happen with these seeds and seedlings? ‘Cryptomania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin’ with the CryptoKids takes five CryptoKids on an adventure with Greek and Latin roots. With the fun ‘Nitty-Gritty Grammar’ guides, our goal is to lead adults and kids painlessly and with humor to stronger grammar skills. As the Grammar Patrol, Judith and I write a monthly grammar blog at efrogpress.com.
I also hope that kids will read the pictures in my picture books. Children are adept are reading art. In my author presentations, I show thumbnail sketches, talk about page turns, and double-page spreads vs. vignettes, and color palettes to give young artists the inside story.
Henry: Edith is also punctilious with her punctuation. And yet, her writing is not too tense…
Tell us about your latest book.
My sixth picture book, ‘Sleepytime Me,’ comes out next May from Random House. I can barely wait to hold the finished book in my hands. I’ve now seen the astonishingly gorgeous illustrations that artist Christopher Denise has created. It’s the kind of art where you spot something new each time you return to a page. This was a tough story to find. Here’s a true story—the refrain came to me in the early 90’s. Now we’re in 2014 and it’s 132 words long. That’s the reality for writers.
Henry: I’ve seen an ARC, and both the artwork and Edith’s words are stunning.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Only three things matter. Read. Keep learning. Don’t give up.
Borrow the CryptoKids’ motto: “Carpe curiosity.”
Henry: Isn’t “carpe curiosity” Latin for curiosity killed the fish?
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Three? Are you kidding? I’d have a banquet. Rumer Godden, Nevil Shute, Jessamyn West, David McCullough, Harper Lee, Abraham Verghese, Sandra Cisneros, Homer, Kate Douglas Wiggins, Michael Connelly, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Steve Allen, Will Shakespeare, Barbara Kingsolver, Harriet Doerr, Kaye Gibbons, Julia Alvarez, the beloved Ray Bradbury, and maybe Chaucer to liven things up, plus a slew of children’s writers too numerous to name (Mildred Taylor and Cynthia Voigt and Sherman Alexie for sure), both living and from the great beyond. Wait. Change banquet to week-long ice cream social. You’re all invited.
Henry: Your response reminds me of the scene in ‘The Hobbit’, where Gandalf asks if he and Bilbo can dine with Beorn, and by the time Gandalf is done, he’s also wrangled dinner for 13 dwarves as well.
Where can readers find your work?
My books can be ordered from independent bookstores (come on, support the indies!) or big bookstores and Amazon. Google the two eBook biographies. Order ‘Cryptomania’ and the ‘CryptoKids Decoder Kit’ (34 weeks of Greek and Latin roots and affixes for schools and homeschoolers) at cryptokids.com. My website is http://www.edithfine.com.
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.