Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Author Interview: Bonny Becker

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Bonny! 

Thanks so much for joining us on the Big Blue Marble Bookstore blog. I have been a huge fan of the Bear picture books since my own (now 8-year-old) twins were small. I love the dynamic between Bear and Mouse. For some reason, reading the books out loud I always read Mouse in a British accent! 

Did Bear or Mouse come to you first? Or their relationship?

Mouse came first. He popped into my head one day full grown as a pesky mouse who just couldn’t be gotten rid of! Then I had the delightful task of figuring out who my mouse would bug. I went through several animals in my head before I hit upon a bear and that seemed perfect.

Are there any more Bear and Mouse books coming soon? Have you ever thought about writing a book from Mouse’s perspective? 

Yes, there are two more Mouse and Bear books in the works. A Library Book for Bear comes out this September. And next year or perhaps the year after that will be A Halloween for Bear. I never thought about doing a book from Mouse’s perspective. I wonder who cheers him up?

Good question! Maybe another tiny animal . . . While having been familiar with the Bear and Mouse picture books for a long time, I just finished reading The Magical Ms. Plum. What a funny book! The kids and I were laughing and laughing. When the first tiny horse came out of the closet I was really surprised. The book has this surreal quality to it. Where did the idea for those books come from?

This book is a lot harder for me to track in terms of how the idea came together. I know I was working on a story about a boy who finds a tiny t-rex. One small enough to fit into his backpack. I just couldn’t seem to make it work! I think that got me thinking about other tiny animals and one thing led to another. I do remember the various elements—at school, a magical school teacher, different kids, different animals, a lesson learned—kind of assembled themselves one by one in my mind.

My kids were wondering what would happen to Lucy if she went into the closet . . . they would like a sequel so they can find out! If you had been in Ms. Plum’s classroom as a child, what animal do you imagine would have come out for you?

That’s a good question and a hard one for me! There are animals I would want to come out like a jaguar or a unicorn. Then there’s the animal that probably would have come out given my personality. I was a huge reader and a thinker and a little odd. I’m thinking maybe an owl? But then again maybe I needed a wild, funny monkey! I am working on a sequel, but it will be a new class not Lucy’s class. I like to think, though, that every kid in Ms. Plum’s class did get a chance to go into the closet. Lucy is such a good sport, I think I’d give her a unicorn.

It is interesting that in both the Magical Ms. Plum book and the Bear and Mouse books, there are small animals in unexpected places. (The Mouse in the cake maybe being my favorite.) What is your own relationship to animals? Do you have many pets?

I have animals in almost all my 12 books! And it’s not something I realized until I’d written about five or six books. My books include The Christmas Crocodile, the story of crocodile who gets delivered to the wrong address at Christmas, An Ant’s Day Off about the first ant in history to take a day off and, of course, the Mouse and Bear books. I’ve written about a lizard who wants to be an artist and one about the way various animals feel to the touch—like the wooly curls of a sheep or the slippery scales of a fish. Animals show up a lot in my work.

I had four sisters and a brother, so I grew up with a lot of siblings and a lot of pets. But I’m not sure if that’s the reason animals show up so much. They are good substitutes for people. They can be such distinct characters. You can have a lot of fun with them without making fun of people themselves

And now, our three for three book-related questions:

1. What were three of your favorite books as a child and/or teen?

All the Oz books, Mary Poppins, and the Narnia books. Anything with magic in

2. What are three books you’ve read recently that surprised you?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green both surprised me by how caught up in the story I got. I don’t read much YA, but I was impressed! And The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. I’m just starting it, but it’s full of fascinating facts about brain development and gender differences.

3. What are three books that influence/d your writing?

Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Thanks so much for joining us, Bonny!

Bonny Becker is author of the best-selling Mouse and Bear books, including A Visitor for Bear, New York Times bestseller, winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and Amazon’s Picture Book of the Year. Her latest book is A Birthday for Bear. Poor Bear is even grumpy about birthdays! Her middle-grade novel, The Magical Ms. Plum, won the 2010 Washington State Children’s Book Award. In all, she’s published 12 books for children. She is also an instructor for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, an accredited program for a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing. Visit her at bonnybecker.com.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like a copy of A Visitor for Bear, or any of Bonny's other books. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call us at (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: In mid-March, come check out Jen's interview with Elisa Ludwig, author of Pretty Crooked and the upcoming Pretty Sly.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Author Interview: Judy Schachner

by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Judy! We're looking forward to seeing you at our Kids' Literary Festival in May. Congratulations on the release of Bits & Pieces this past fall! Here’s a bit of synopsis from the book jacket:

“Tink has everything he ever wanted: delicious treats, hugs and kisses, and even a kitten to raise. The only thing missing is wild outdoor adventure. So when the opportunity arises, Tink sneaks away -- and becomes an outdoor cat for one unforgettable night...”

I was sorry to hear the news of the recent death of Tink, your model for the protagonist in Bits & Pieces, and I’m curious to know what he was like. Was he truly as spacey as his portrayal in the book? As adventurous? And did he indeed acquire a kitten of his own to raise?

Tink was hilarious! I say was, because he passed away only just recently at the age of 21. He had a long and wonderful life eating inappropriate things like pool noodles, packing peanuts and a flip-flop. Tink was generous with his licks - He licked everything and everyone in sight and he was SO nurturing to the kittens that came to live with us, especially one kitten named Skippyjon Jones. My old cat Simon had earned the name of "The Grannyman" because he was just like a kindly old Granny to Tink when he was tiny. In turn, Tink earned the name of “The Mother-Brother" when Skippy came along because he was both like a mother and a brother to his new kitten. Was he spacey? Most definitely! I seriously think that he had a brain the size of a frozen pea…a dried up frozen pea, which rolled out of his ear one night at dinner. I know this to be true because I found it on my kitchen floor when i was cleaning up after we had finished our meal…what else could it have been? We had eaten creamed corn that night.

I have developed the strong impression (please correct me if I’m wrong...) that in the Grannyman/B&P series, the plot and characters are drawn fairly true to life, whereas the Skippyjon Jones books...tend toward the fanciful. (Though I do see a Siamese called Skippy on your Grannyman dedication page.) How does the writing experience feel different for the two series?

Yes, Jen, both The Grannyman and Bits & Pieces are drawn upon my life with our cats, but to some extent so are the Skippy Tales. Skippy was a very funny Siamese with an adorable personality. One day he was stung on his noggin by a large bee in our basement and that was when he began to speak with a Spanish accent…no one else ever heard him, but I can assure you that it was all true. I love writing the SJJ books because that is when I am most in touch with my six-year-old self…I can really let the cat out of the bag so to speak and I do.

The dedication page for The Grannyman has a beautiful display of cats, some grouped together and some by themselves, who I presume are your feline companions (up through 1999). How many of your cats have you drawn and written about? Do you specifically favor the depiction of Siamese cats, or is that just the way things turned out?

The title page in The Grannyman is one of my favorites because they are indeed the portraits of all my fur children dating back to the 1950’s. Our tabby, Mr. Mickey, made an appearance in my first book Willy and May (still in print) along with my very first Siamese named Frankie. Our dogs have been in my books as well. Buster, our adopted pit bull, is in Skippyjon Jones Class Action, though he made his first real appearance in Yo Vikings (my most favorite book) along with another one of our adopted pooches named Mugsy (talk about a crazy dog!). I do have a special relationship with the Siamese model of feline fuzziness though. They are so very different from other cats. Male Siamese are known to be the most nurturing of all the cat breeds and I have found that to be true. I lost my mother when I was quite young and my oldest brother, knowing that I was having a tough time, brought home a Siamese kitten just for me. I have been smitten ever since.

How do you feel your drawing style has changed over time?

Well…I don’t know quite how to answer that one. The Skippy books are very colorful and boisterous and labor-intensive while books like Bits & Pieces and The Grannyman are quieter in both color and line. I think I prefer the quieter ones and will be doing more of them in between the Skippy books. I just hope to keep improving - I have ever so much to learn (she said in her very best British accent). I am a very harsh critic of my own work - I tend to see only the mistakes. Plus I am a luddite; I have NO computer skills - none. Having said that I must confess to a preference for artwork done by the human hand. I love the imperfections and the warmth of real live art.

Among my favorite scenes in the book are the pages outlining Tink’s intoxicating stroll in the daylight and moonlight. Do you share Tink’s fascination with the outdoors? Do you do any of your drawings “on location,” or do you create the outside world from an inside space?

For an indoor cat, Tink certainly did have a fascination for the outdoor life; in his later years it became an obsession - trying to escape every time he heard a door open. I’m more of an indoor girl - though I think I have an obsession with weather. I love storms, especially snow storms. I love being in my studio working on my books when it snows - I can think of nothing better. Most everything I draw or paint is pulled out of my head…my imagination.

I'm glad to hear you like the snow, considering the winter we've been having!

I’m a cat person myself, and I recently included Bits & Pieces in a “staff pick” list of books with cats in them. What are some picture books featuring cats that you particularly like?

It’s not really a cat book but I love Sam, Bangs and Moonshine by Eveline Ness. I identify with the little girl who has just lost her mother. Sam has a cat that follows her everywhere. She talks to him and she says that Bangs could talk if he wanted to. I think it’s a near perfect little book which deals beautifully with the subject of death. Other favorites of mine are Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless Her Cat by Lore Segal, love the orange tabby in the Church Mice books by Graham Oakley and it goes without saying, anything by Clare Turlay Newberry.

Do you have current or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

I am finishing up the newest Skippy adventure, titled Snow What. It involves tights, sausages, and kissing. It will be on your doorstep this fall - that is, if I ever do finish!

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

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

I adored Little Black Sambo - The idea of tigers turning into butter positively floored me. I can even remember drawing that image in my first grade classroom - only, I think I drew the tigers melting by the stove in our kitchen. I don’t remember having many books as a kid and anyway the thing I was most interested in was drawing. When I was a bit older, I do remember just loving the book Rascal by Sterling North. I didn’t have glasses and I needed them, so reading was difficult.

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

I was never a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Signature Of All Things. Loved it! And who knew how interesting it would be to spend time inside the mind of Thomas Cromwell? Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both by Hilary Mantel, blew me away - could not put them down. Finally, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes was, in my opinion, bloody brilliant!

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

A Visit To William Blake's Inn, by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel, and, last but not least, all works by Arthur Rackham.

Thank you so much for joining us!

Judy Schachner was born into an Irish Catholic working class family from New England. Money was as tight as their apartment was tiny and though she may not have had the easiest of childhoods, she credits her imagination with helping her survive it.

She can't ever remember a time when she was not drawing and like most budding artists she doodled on everything, including her father's bald head. She drew herself into stories where she was the smartest in her class and into a family where mothers lived to a ripe old age. In many ways, Judy feels that her own life has resembled the fairy tales she loved reading as a child, complete with a happy ending. And the best part of this author/illustrator's story? She married a prince of a guy and they had two beautiful daughters and just like the mothers in her earliest tales, she plans on living to a ripe old age.

Described by the New York Times as “…something like the James Joyce for the elementary school set…,” Judy Schachner is the #1 NY Times Best Selling Author/Illustrator of over 23 books for children including Bits & Pieces, the Skippyjon Jones series, Yo Vikings, The Grannyman, and Willy and May. She has won many awards including the first E. B. White Read Aloud Award.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like a copy of Bits & Pieces, or any of Judy's other books. 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.

Also, come check out our annual Kids' Literary Festival this May, where Judy will be among our lovely literary guests.
Next up: On February 25th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Bonny Becker, author of the Bear series and the Ms. Plum books.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Grace's Five Books Mentioned in Cheryl Strayed's Wild

To celebrate Wild's place as #1 bestseller at this store in 2013, I've decided to make a list of some of the great books Cheryl Strayed mentions in her memoir. On her hike from the Mojave Desert all the way to Washington State, Strayed collects books to read in her tent, and against her spiritual judgment, she burns each one after finishing it to reduce the weight of her hiking pack. (Don't try this at home!)

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Vintage Books, $14.00)

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich (W W Norton, $14.95)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage Books, $15.95)

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $18.00)

The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (New York Review of Books, $14.95)

Grace Gordon, February 2014