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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds

Peter H. Reynolds is best known for his children’s books about “authentic learning, creativity and self-expression”, including THE NORTH STAR, ISH, THE DOT, and SO FEW OF ME. THE DOT, published by Candlewick Press, has been published in over twenty languages, and has won a number of awards, including the Oppenheim Platinum Toy Award, Borders Books’ Original Voices 2003 Award, and the Christopher Medal, as well as the American Library Association’s 2005 Carnegie Medal of Excellence for the book’s animated adaptation. Reynolds has also published a book series for young children, based on the character “SugarLoaf”. The first two books in this series are titled MY VERY BIG LITTLE WORLD and THE BEST KID IN THE WORLD. Reynolds’ award-winning publishing work also includes the best-selling JUDY MOODY series written by Megan McDonald, Eleanor Estes’ THE ALLEY and THE TUNNEL OF HUGSY GOODE, Judy Blume’s FUDGE series, and Ellen Potter’s OLIVIA KIDNEY books. His collaboration with Alison McGhee, SOMEDAY, spent 2 months on the New York Times Best Seller list for Children’s Books.

ReynoldsPeter

For what age audience do you write?

I create picture books–often referred to as children’s books, but I write them for all ages.

Tell us about your latest book.

PLAYING FROM THE HEART was recently published by Candlewick. It’s a story about a boy named Raj who discovers a piano in his house. His playful and joyful explorations are followed by years of lessons. Many years later he rediscovers the original joy of his childhood “playing.”

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope the book encourages us to hold on to joy we knew as children, but also to encourage parents and teachers to allow kids play–as well as themselves. Kids don’t need instructions in the sandbox. They can play for hours with no guidance and no assessment. There is no pressure that their sand playing abilities will be tested. We don’t have to be great at things that bring us joy and conversely, sometimes the things we are good at don’t bring us joy. These are ideas that fascinate me.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

My biggest challenge is to keep the energy and looseness of my original sketches. Traditional publishing involves a team and a process of sketches, comments, editing, revisions, finals, revisions to finals–it can yield some polished results, but it can also wear down the original, raw energy. My challenge is to shelter that spark through the process.

Henry: I’ve experienced the same thing with my picture book manuscripts. I have to be careful not to allow critiques to mask the original voice and heart of the story.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?

Creating a moving and memorable story is one of the hardest math problems you’ll ever solve. The logic of a story is the backbone. Keeping the art and text lean and sparse allows the backbone to stand strong and not get lost.

Henry: I write, but do not illustrate. I remember, when I first started writing, how hard it was for me to let go – to not include much scene description, to not add copious art notes. It’s hard trusting someone (the illustrator) you’ve never met.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator? 

A 6th grade girl reached out to me and shared how my book ISH changed her self-identify. She had struggled with being a perfectionist. My book had helped her see things in a whole new way. http://stellarcafe.blogspot.com/2012/01/6th-graders-journey-to-ish-how-book.html This made me aware of the impact my work could have on people around the world. It amazes me that I can touch peoples lives without ever meeting them.

Henry: Yes, the amazing power of books and the internet.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?

Let it flow, not just work hard. In fact, the “working hard” can often dull your instincts. Just let it flow. Your way. Your journals belong to you. You never have to share them unless you find something in those pages that you feel needs to be shared. My other advice: keep going, never stop.

Henry: Yup. Never stop learning. Never stop writing. Never stop submitting.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” — Horace Mann

“Pessimism is destructive. Realism lacks imagination. Optimism inspires and opens doors.” — Bert Jacobs.

This is a little poem I heard when I was 15 and it has stuck with me all these years: I Meant To Do My Work Today by Richard LeGallienne

I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?”

Henry: Beautiful. Plus, ode to ADHD.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

I like being barefoot while I draw and write. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I suppose it could be connected to the freedom I felt when we moved to the grassy suburbs of Chelmsford, MA from the city of Somerville, MA when I was six years old. The first thing I did when I jumped out of the car at our new house was to take my shoes and socks off and run through the dewy grass. By the way, lot of my character are shoeless.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Instant transport. Blinking my eyes and being in a new place. I am eager to experience the entire planet, meet as many people, experience as many cultures as I can, but traditional travel is exhausting and time consuming. I’d love to blink and be in India. Blink: Iran. Blink: South Korea. Blink: Brazil. Blink: the International Space Station. I am certain the experiences would inspire new insights and stories.

Henry: That WOULD be handy. Plus, no waiting in airport lines.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

DEAD:
Aesop – I’m a big fan of fables.
William Steig – I had the pleasure of one dinner with him. We painted together. I’d love to do that again.
Charles Dickens – He was a champion of the underdog. His books captivated me as a young boy.

ALIVE:
Tom Robbins – I’m a huge fan of his quirky, brilliant brain.
Judy Blume – I have had the honor of meeting her and creating covers for some of her books, but I’d love to have a meal with her.
Any elementary school kid – They are natural storytellers. Honest. Funny. Inspiring.

Henry: Next day, 4,329 elementary school kids show up at Peter’s house…

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature? 

My recent favorite is the Snatchabook (featured in the book by Helen and Thomas Docherty)

snatchabook
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love being with my kids. My 29 year old daughter, Sarah and my almost 5 year old, Henry Rocket. I also love spending time in my wonderful downtown of Dedham, MA and more specifically, in my bookshop: The Blue Bunny.

Henry: I approve wholeheartedly of the name Henry Rocket and an author owning a bookshop.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

That is one project I’d prefer not to think too much about. I am absolutely stunned thinking that this blessed journey on Earth has to end. I don’t think the tombstone needs to say anything. My books, films, work will do that for me. You DID make me imagine a tombstone that was designed by kids. OR a big stone dot that people would be encouraged to write on, paint on, make their mark. That would make me smile.

Henry: Giant stone dot with paint set it is – hopefully a long time from now.

Where can folks find your work?

All sorts of places. My bookshop in Dedham, MA.  Your local library and indie bookshop, I hope. For more info, see my website.

Thanks, Henry. I enjoyed pondering your questions and sharing my thoughts with your readers.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Peter. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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Be an Animal to Write a Picture Book

On November 20, 2014, the following guest post by me was featured on Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) blog.

Everything I know about writing picture books, I learned from animals.

Animals make great picture book characters. Just ask the Very Hungry Caterpillar. And animals offer authors and illustrators eight B’s of inspiration for creating PBs:

Be a sponge.

sponge

Soak up everything around you. View, listen, sniff, taste, and feel. Watch people (in public, not with a telescope from your house), read books (especially picture books), and watch TV and movies. Take notes. Even the most mundane situations can unexpectedly feed your muse.

Be a sharktopus.

sharktopus

OK, that’s not a real animal, but I’m making a point here, people. Combine elements into unlikely (and therefore hilarious) pairs, as in Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type. Practice riffing on the things you soak up. I did a classroom reading where this boy had a torn-up sneaker. I thought, picture book title: The Boy With Exploding Sneakers. Let your creativity run free. 

Be a honey badger.

honeybadger

Have no fear. Don’t be scared to put words to paper. Don’t flee from constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid of rejection. They all line the path to traditional publication. Honey badger don’t care, and neither should you! Get outside your comfort zone.

Be a dung beetle.

dungbeetle

Be tenacious, even on crappy days. Becoming published isn’t easy. But it won’t happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit! 

 Be an armadillo.

armadillo

You need to be thick-skinned and learn to roll with the punches. Understand that a publisher’s or agent’s rejection isn’t personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you’re in good company.  

Be an ant.

ants

No man is an island, and no ant is a bridge. Teamwork is your best friend. Take advantage of critique groups to hone your craft. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to develop a support network. Leverage social media to connect with fellow writers. You’re not alone.

Be a hagfish.

hagfish

Be flexible enough to incorporate helpful feedback. But feel free to ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with your gut. Follow the rules, but recognize that they can be broken when the result is a success. Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is a picture book with over 1,000 words and inanimate characters. But it’s also a New York Times bestseller.

Be a peacock spider.

Male peacock spiders don’t just have stunning colors. They have a delightfully entertaining mating dance (think MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”). They show the ladies some enthusiasm! They wear their passion on their, er, sleeves. Writing is also an act of passion. Write about what you love. Have fun writing. Write the story that is inside you, trying to get out. But hopefully not like a chestburster from Alien, or Ian Ziering in the final scene of Sharknado.

Be a cat.

cat

Cats are lucky. They always land on their feet, and have nine lives.

There’s an expression, “luck favors the prepared.” Working at the other eight B’s is the best way to earn some luck. Good luck to you!