Molly Idle is the author/illustrator of TEA REX, CAMP REX, and FLORA and the FLAMINGO, which was awarded a Caldecott honor. Her next book, FLORA AND THE PENGUIN will out this fall. This bio is short because Molly feels awkward writing about herself in the third person…
In what genres do you write?
You know, we’re only on the first question, and I’m already stumped Can you believe I’ve never stopped to consider exactly how I would categorize my picture books? I guess that says that I don’t write with a particular genre in mind. But… I do tend to gravitate toward stores that contain a mix of comedy, theatricality, movement, and heart.
Henry: Stumping Molly Idle earns me another SCBWI merit badge. Just like the time I made Ame Dyckman laugh milk out her nose.
Tell us about your latest book.
CAMP REX is the first follow-up book to TEA REX. Like the first REX book, the text reads as a straight forward “how-to” guide (this time, it’s about how-to camp in the great outdoors). The pictures, on the other hand, read more like a “how-NOT-to” guide.
Henry: Hilarity ensues. Seems like a Triceratops would be a handy camping companion for making s’mores.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they will get a few good laughs (And maybe some camping tips too…)
Henry: Learning what NOT to do is often as important as learning what to do.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
Without a doubt, writing is the most difficult for me. Sitting at the computer, word choice, revision… all of it. I’ve spent so much more time honing my skills as a visual artist, that I am much more at ease telling a story visually than verbally. I think that’s why I prefer creating wordless books, or books – like the REX books- that have a very simple, straightforward, deadpan style of narration.
Henry: I would LOVE to do a wordless picture book. The only thing stopping me is a complete lack of illustration skills…
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?
Stories take time. They take time to find, time to mull over, time to make, time to tell and retell…
Henry: Very true. And time to sell (at least for me).
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
A few weeks before FLORA AND FLAMINGO was awarded a Caldecott honor- someone sent me a picture of their little girl holding a copy of the book and positively beaming, with the caption “I read it all by myself”. It was her first ever all-by-myself-book. The look of pride and accomplishment and sheer delight on her sweet face… I’ll never forget it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
If it scares you… do it. Now, I don’t mean this piece of advice to apply for every situation. For example: The thought of being out in the open ocean surrounded by giant sharks scares me. I don’t feel compelled to do that. But if I am thinking… “Oh my gawd- this story could be amazing. But … is going to be hard for me to tell- the depth of the work involved is terrifying.” Then, I feel compelled to dive in. It’s good to be a little scared…to go out so far that you can’t touch the bottom… then you have to learn how to swim (sharks optional).
Henry: Thank you for the clarifying shark metaphor to remind us all to stretch as writers. That’s how we grow. And get eaten alive.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“It is not because it is difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that it is difficult”— Seneca
Henry: And there’s the similar, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write/illustrate?
Hmm… You mean like wearing lucky socks? No I don’t really have any strange rituals (or lucky socks for that matter). But, I am surrounded by a strange assortment of wonderful things as I work. Like… a taxidermic rubber chicken, an antique diving helmet and harpoon, my original Muppet Movie lunchbox, elk antlers, and a plethora of pencils, paper and picture books.
Henry: Taxidermic rubber chicken!? Harpoon!? Nothing to see here people. Move along. Move along.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would have the power to stop time- then I’d never miss a deadline, or story time with my kiddos, or the opportunity to take a nap
Henry: That is the most popular answer to the superpower question. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Mermaids. When I was little, I wanted to be one… I’ve always loved the ocean. Though it’s always scared me a bit too. Every time I dip a toe in, whether it’s to collect seashells or surf, I immediately hear the theme from JAWS playing in my head. I think that’s because 1. The film JAWS terrified me as a kid- but I LOVED watching it. 2. We’re so out of our element when we’re underwater. I think being a mermaid would mediate the latter point… not so sure about the former.
Henry: I’m sensing a trend here. Well, it was Shark Week recently on TV… Plus, Molly tells me she’s currently working on a SEA REX. 😉
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to watch classic films Technicolor musicals, film noir, westerns, epics, screwball comedies…
Henry: We must feed our muse.
What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?
My name. It would be really awful to have my name written inaccurately on my tombstone…
Henry: Good, practical response.
Where can readers find your work?
In libraries, online, and at my favorite local indie Changing Hands Bookstore… and hopefully at your favorite local indie too!!
This interview can also be read on the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.