Thursday, December 11, 2008


In No Mush Today, one determined little girl is tired of having mush for breakfast, tired of trying to make herself heard over the squalling of a new baby brother. Maybe Mom and Dad won’t listen, but Grandma will, and Grandma’s house isn’t far away….

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

I want them to remember Nonie as a happy, bright little girl from a loving family who knows how to make her needs known.

What is your favorite scene from your book?

Nicole Tadgell's love for her mother shines through in the picture of Grandma embracing Nonie.

Why did you elect to write for children?

I write for children because they love and devour a book the way a grown-up never does.

What did you learn while writing this book?

I thought I was writing a book about Nonie, but when I finished, I realized I was also writing about "listening," how we all need to listen to one another. In the book, you realize that it's probably because Grandma has always listened that Daddy is willing to, and that by the end of the day Nonie has learned to listen too.

It's also a book about speech patterns. I love it that people don't all speak alike. I love all sorts of "non-standard" speech-- Yorkshire dialects, mixtures of Yiddish and English, the "Pennsylvania Dutch" my great-grandmother spoke-- as well as that of my Black friends whose speech is often both colorful and musical. In the original text of "No Mush Today" Nonie's speech was even more her own, but there is such a prejudice against "ungrammatical" speech I was advised only to hint at Nonie's inventive way of talking. I respect my editor's judgment (One critic already has said that Nonie's occasional grammatical irregularities add nothing to the book, a judgment which saddened me and with which I wholeheartedly disagree) but I loved my original text. (As did Nicole Tadgell).

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

I do wish people would realize that it's every bit as hard to write a good picture book as it is to write a longer piece.

What is the best lesson you have learned from another Children book writer?

I meet regularly with a few other children's book writers. We gently but honestly critique one another's work. The best thing I have learned from them is that each writer has her own strengths and weaknesses, so you need to be aware of your own. For example, I need to remember my tendency to over-explain, to "mother" my readers.

What is the toughest test you've faced as a writer?

The hardest thing for me was to work with a strong-minded editor whose vision for my book didn't agree with mine. The book as it finally came out was a disappointment to me, and since then I've learned to be more assertive.

What is something readers would be surprised you do?

I correspond regularly with Sylvia Waugh of England, author of the Mennym books and the Ormingat Trilogy, Space Race and its sequels.

What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?

1. Someone will always think your book is wonderful.
2. Someone will always think your book is dreadful.
3. If you think it's wonderful, then you've succeeded.

How do you reach new readers?

I just write the best books I can and hope.

Can you give us five Children book authors you admire?

I could name 100--but here are some whose recent books I've admired-- Marilyn Nelson, Andrea Cheng, Eva Ibbotson, Gary Schmidt, Janice Harrington.

If you could have dinner with 3 authors to talk with about their writing (living or deceased) who would you invite and why?

I'd invite Terry Pratchett, Sarah Ellis and Helen Cresswell because I love the humor in their books.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a children’s book writer?

One, learn to accept that the book you write will never be as good as you thought it would be when the idea first came.

And two, Don't worry about whether there's a market for the book you want to write, Just write it, and it will find its readers.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

My website, gives my email address and the rest of my contact information.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

My next book, Kyle's Island (Charlesbridge 2010) will be my first middle-grade novel. The island of the title is in the middle of a small Michigan lake, and like Kyle, when I was growing up I was determined to explore it someday. An important character in the book is modeled on my Uncle Dick Derby, who was a prisoner of war during World War II. Next, Lee & Low will bring out another of my picture books, Sunday Shopping, If all goes well, it may be illustrated by Shadra Stickland, illustrator of Bird, a beautiful book. So exciting!

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book.

1 comment:

Pamela J said...

What a fun-looking book! I have three grandchildren. The oldest can read, just in this last year, like a knife can glide through water. The middle grandchild is just getting the grasp of reading down and will soon be a thrill to all who listen to her read.
I love books so much, I hope to instill in them through books that same love.
Please enter me in your drawing. Thanks so much.
Pam Williams
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

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