Robin Pulver is the award-winning author of illustrated read-aloud books for kids ages 3-9. Beginning with her first book, MRS. TOGGLE’S ZIPPER, they include NOBODY’S MOTHER IS IN SECOND GRADE, AXLE ANNIE, NEVER SAY BOO!, THANK YOU, MISS DOOVER; PUNCTUATION TAKES A VACATION, CHRISTMAS KITTEN, HOME AT LAST, and many others. Horn Book Magazine has called her “The Queen of Grammar for the Elementary Set,” thanks to her humorous approach to writing about such things as silent letters, suffixes, punctuation, and capital letters.
Please tell us about your latest book.
SATURDAY IS DADURDAY is my newest book, published May 2013 by Walker Books for Young Readers, and illustrated by R.W. Alley, whose wonderful pictures enhance the story’s exuberant emotion.
The story is about a little girl named Mimi who looks forward to having her dad to herself on Saturdays, when they give Mom time with the baby twins. They call that day DADURDAY, and Mimi and Dad always plan fun things to do. But then Dad has to work on Saturdays, and Mimi must cope with disappointment. She’s mad and sad, but ultimately figures out her own way to save DADURDAY.
What do you hope readers will get from reading the book?
Mostly what I hope readers (kids AND their parents and their parents) get out of it is a good, warm, loving, laughing, moving time together. Good read-aloud books bring people of all ages together. I want my books to help kids relate the act of reading to family caring and love.
It’d be nice if this particular book gives readers an understanding of empathy, even if they’re too young to know what that word means.
What aspect of writing do you find the most challenging?
I’m a very slow writer. I do lots and lots of revising and polishing. It’s a challenge for me not to compare myself to other writers. In the same vein, it’s a challenge to face the blank page. I don’t have a lot of faith that I’ll be able to write anything decent. But I must, must, MUST throw words down on the page, if only so I can get rid of them later. Without those early words that no one will ever see, there would be no momentum, no story!
Henry: It is funny that writers construct their literary edifice on top of a foundation of often discarded words. Literary Jenga!
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
That only by doing the writing will I discover what I have to say.
Henry: Ah, you only recognize the words after they’ve travelled from your brain to your fingers, and spilled onto the manuscript!
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
l) I’d never have been invited to the White House to read at the Easter Egg Roll. That experience was so much fun!
2) I’d never have visited schools—so many—to meet and talk with large groups of children, if I hadn’t been a writer.
Both of these experiences were beyond the bounds of my imagination until I became an author of children’s books.
Henry: The White House!? Wow. I only got invited to North Korea. By the South Koreans. That hurt.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Not very original, but this: Read, read, read, and write, write, write.
By reading, you fill yourself up with experiences of all sorts. You learn what it’s like to walk in somebody’s else’s shoes (empathy!). At the same time you acquire a feel for story structure and plot as well as language and sentence structure. Especially, read the kind of books you want to write, but really, it’s helpful to have a wide-ranging reading habit. Then, doing the actual writing is the only way to find your own voice and be a writer!
Then there’s this: When primary/elementary kids ask for advice as to how to become I writer, I encourage them to play, imagine, dream! Gather experiences. Use their five senses. Maybe keep a journal. Be curious and have a sense of wonder about the world around them.
Henry: Superb advice.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
You will do foolish things…but do them with enthusiasm. (Colette)
Henry: That reminds me of Toy Story’s “That wasn’t flying, it was falling with style.”
The secret of a long and happy life can be uncovered if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways. (Edith Wharton)
“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” (Dr. Seuss)
“Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
The closest thing I have to a ritual is to pull out the (pullout) shelf of my desk and plop my little dog, Poppy’s, bed on there. Then I lift her up into it, so she can be at my level. If I don’t do that, she will NOT let me write. She cries and barks her high-pitched bark at me. My other much bigger dog, Sadie, is content to have the couch to herself. They are good company for the solitary writing life.
Henry: It’s a good thing Sadie doesn’t feel the same way as Poppy. Appreciate life’s little blessings.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I’m a lover of solitude and silence, but if I could have a superpower it would be super-hearing. I would have to be able to turn it on and off, up or down, when I want. The reason is that I love to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations when I am out in the world. It’s very frustrating to hear only half of what somebody is saying.
Henry: Nice. And if you ever decide to stop writing, you could work for the NSA.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Barbara Kingsolver, because I love the way she combines respect for and love of science and nature and history into great fiction.
Maurice Sendak, whose WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE hooked me on children’s books long before I ever thought of writing my own. Besides, I bet he wasn’t as grumpy as people have said. He was hilarious on the Colbert Report.
L.M. Montgomery. Reading Anne of Green Gables at age 9, I had the revelation that reading allows you to live in other world with other people at the same time you live in your own.
Two others I’d like to have been able to mention: Michael Morpugo (War Horse) and Farley Mowat. (NEVER CRY WOLF). I have a nice big table.
Henry: Great choices. Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is probably what initially stimulated my love of reading and fantasy in particular.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Unicorns and dragons, because of two members of my writing critique group, Bruce Coville and Vivian Vande Velde. Bruce read aloud to us all the third book of the wildly popular UNICORN CHRONICLES, when it was a work in progress. Dragons also show up in Bruce’s work, and it’s not unusual for a Vande Velde book to be inhabited by a dragon or two. It’s been fascinating and entertaining and inspiring to work with these two fantastic writers and human beings.
Henry: Hey, I asked for three dinner guests and you gave five. I asked for a favorite creature and you gave two. 🙂 And most egregious of all, you forgot Tedd Arnold’s Super Fly!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I like to be outdoors. Hiking, cross-country skiing, walking the dogs, swimming, bird-watching. Some of my earliest writing was for Ranger Rick magazine, and nature is still my passion. I enjoy movies and plays and of course, I love to read. So if the weather’s too awful to be outside, I’m happy to stay in, to read and write.
Henry: Ranger Rick! Oh, now I feel old.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Ideally I won’t have one.
Henry: As in cremation or immortality?
Where can readers find your work?
In libraries! For purchase, it’d be nice to support your independent bookstore. B&N often only carries on their shelves the latest book by an author, if the author is lucky. But you can always ORDER a backlist book at any bookstore, if the book is still in print. Of course there are on-line venues, like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.