Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Author Interview: Galen Longstreth

by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Galen! I’ve really been enjoying Yes, Let’s since we heard you read at the bookstore’s Kids’ Literary Festival in May. We took the book with us on a camping trip this summer, and it was a lot of fun to read and ponder, even inspiring a timed family photo in the woods!

I understand the story is based on a game you played growing up. What was the game like? How did you arrive at the idea to base a book on it?

At summer camp one summer I learned an improv game called Yes, Let’s. The version we played entailed a group of eight or ten campers. One would make a suggestion, something like, “Let’s run over to the creek!” And the whole group would respond, “Yes, let’s!” We always had to say yes, and we ran all over camp doing silly things. It was exciting and fun, and I loved the positive spirit of it. I still love saying, “Yes, let’s” when someone makes a suggestion for something to do.

Yes, Let’s is a wonderful exploration of hiking and nature. Did you do day trips like this a lot with your family? Do you do much hiking yourself these days?

My family did lots of hiking, camping, and day trips when I was growing up in Seattle. We spent a lot of time outdoors with our dog in the woods near our home or farther afield in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Now I’m a city girl and I love living without a car. The trade off is that I don’t get to the woods very often. My husband and I go on a backpacking trip every year. Our favorite so far on the east coast has been Bond Cliff in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

What was the writing and publishing process like for you, as the writer of a picture book?

I wrote this book for fun while I was getting my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A person I knew in Portland, Oregon, who publishes comic books liked it and bought it. His company, Tugboat Press, published the book as a small, staple-bound paperback, and people liked it! Later I sold it to Tanglewood, and the hardcover edition was born. I’ve been very lucky to have had a great experience with my first book.

How much input did you have for the illustrations? Once the illustrator was assigned to the book, did you get to make requests/suggestions? If so, what kinds, and how did that process work?

Usually a writer doesn’t have any say about the illustrations, but Tugboat Press encouraged me to be involved with the illustrator for Yes, Let’s from the very beginning of the process. We auditioned different artists and chose Maris Wicks. I provided detailed illustration notes for her, and we talked about the number of characters, their personalities, and specific moments to include, like the dog shaking off after a swim and spraying the father. On top of all this, Maris added her own details to the pictures, and a lot of humor. I had ideas, but she’s the expert!

I love the distinct and well-illustrated personalities of the kids and parents. Are they at all like your own family? Is there someone who seems most like you?

In my family, there are three kids. My younger brother, my older sister, and me, right in the middle. I wanted the family in Yes, Let’s to have four kids so that every page would be bursting with energy – lots of activity, lots of personality. Also, my father grew up in a family with four children, and this always fascinated me when I was a child. What would that have been like? So it was fun to play with that in the book. The only explicit link between a character and someone in my family is the boy with the yoyo. On one of our family vacations my sister got a yoyo and did not stop playing with it for a solid week. She had that yoyo going in the hotel room, at the gas station, outside a restaurant waiting for a table – anywhere she could. It became one of our family stories and I love having been able to include it in Yes, Let’s.

Throughout the book, there are all sorts of little surprises -- details and connections from page to page, or on the inside covers. Micah (age 3) liked the morning and evening owl, and some of the other animals that repeat throughout the book; I also liked the lists and photos...and the various footwear issues. Were these surprises to you as well? Do you have any favorites?

Yes! Maris included so many wonderful surprises in the pictures. My favorite is the squirrel, which you have to watch carefully during the middle of the book.

Are there going to be more books that feature this family? Do you have current or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Maris and I would love to do another book together. We both have lots of projects going at once, though, so it hasn’t happened yet. I’m working on other picture books (including one biography), and a graphic novel about two best friends at summer camp.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were 3 of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?

When I was young and reading picture books, I loved Elizabeth by Liesel Moak Skorpen, Peabody by Rosemary Wells, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

The Loopy Coop Hens: Oh No! A Fox! by Janet Morgan Stoeke made me laugh out loud. Cynthia Kadohata’s newest novel, Half a World Away, struck me for its captivatingly destructive and dysfunctional main character. And I love the simplicity and beautiful illustrations of William Low’s new picture book Daytime Nighttime.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

At the time I was writing Yes, Let’s, and ever since, I’ve paid a lot of attention to successful rhyming picture books. I am in awe of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr., and Roadwork by Sally Sutton. I also love Jamberry by Bruce Degen. These are all wonderful books to read aloud.

Thank you so much for joining us!

Thanks, Jen!

Galen Longstreth grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, where she spent a lot of time outdoors with her family and their dog, Sunday. One summer she learned a game called “Yes, Let’s,” which involved a lot of running and laughing. Galen has taught kindergarten, sold children’s books, and written book reviews. She now lives in Philadelphia and works at Children's Literacy Initiative. Yes, Let’s is her first book.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Yes, Let’s. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

No comments: