Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An Interview with Laura McGee Kvasnosky

Our guest today is Laura McGee Kvasnosky, author of the popular series, Zelda and Ivy. Laura is both writer and illustrator, and she teaches at Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

1. Before your Zelda and Ivy series, you wrote two board books, One, Two, Three, Play with Me, and Pink, Red, Blue, What Are You?. What made you shift into the early chapter books?

I am not wedded to any particular type of picture book. My approach is to explore whatever ideas I have and as the project develops, I recognize what age group it best fits and nudge it that direction. The first book I sold was What Shall I Dream?, a picture book illustrated by Judith Schachner and published by Dutton. It came out after I had published board books and toddler books because of the time it took to illustrate. I am the illustrator of all of the rest of the picture books I have written.

2. In your opinion, which is easier to write and illustrate, a board book or an early reader?

I can’t really compare. A board book is like a beautiful pot of flowers; an early or beginning reader is like a garden bed. Both are equally satisfying when you get them planted right. As you might expect, a board book with its short text usually takes a lot less time.

3. Your novel, One Lucky Summer, was a 2002 Junior Library Guild Selection. Do you think you will write more books for the 8-to-12 year old audience?

I hope so. I have been working on another middle grade novel off and on for many years.

4. Do you have other series in mind besides Zelda and Ivy?

I have no other series in mind.

Zelda and Ivy began life as a picture book with three little chapters. Initially it was not intended as a series. But never say never. It wasn’t until the fourth book of the series, Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways, that the books were downsized to the standard 6 x 9-inch beginning reader format, which seems to be a good fit for them.

5. You have had great success in both writing and illustrating many of your books. With that in mind, what makes you decide to illustrate a book you haven’t written? And what makes you decide to have someone else illustrate one of your books?

This is easy to answer. If I wish I had written a book, then I am glad to try my hand at illustrating it. Of books I have written, only What Shall I Dream? was illustrated by another illustrator and that was the choice of the editor at Dutton who believed that since I was a new author my work might have a better chance with an established illustrator.

6. In 2007, your book, Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways, won the 2007 Theodor Seuss Geisel Beginning Reader Award. Can you tell us a little more about the award and how it felt to receive it? Did you know your book was nominated?

Of course this was very exciting. The ALA was meeting in Seattle (where we live) that year, so I was notified the night before and was sitting in the big ballroom of the convention center with a bunch of my friends when the award was announced. Very exciting. The following July we went to ALA in Washington DC to receive the award and were wined and dined by the publisher, Candlewick Press. Also lots of fun. The award is a nice affirmation of my work and also I think it has drawn more publishers to bring out beginning readers.

7. Your first book in the series, Zelda and Ivy, won the SCBWI Golden Kite Honors for both picture book illustration and text, as well as the Oppenheim Best Book Gold Award, and it was chosen as the American Library Association Notable Children's Book, in addition to other honors. Zelda and Ivy: Keeping Secrets is on the Bank Street Best Books of 2010 list. Does such prestigious recognition put any pressure on you when you write new books?

When I am creating a book, all the rest of the world goes away. I enter the world I am creating. That’s the seductive and wonderful part I love about writing and illustrating a book. The only part of the publishing equation that I have control over is to put in the time, to keep working at it. Once I send a book out into the world, it begins a life of its own. It is always gratifying when a book does well, but I put just as much passion and care into all of them.

8. You write, illustrate, teach, speak at conferences and offer workshops at schools. Which do you find the most challenging? (I’m assuming you find them all rewarding in different ways.)

I teach at Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. These are my peeps. A wonderful community of faculty and students. I learn so much through teaching that feeds my own work. The processes of talking about making books and making books feed each other. Because I secretly want to be a professional ukulele player and singer, I really do enjoy making presentations.

9. Can you talk a little about “The Inside Story”, a twice-yearly event started by you and author George Shannon ten years ago and now hosted by SCBWI?

George and I invented THE INSIDE STORY as a salon where children’s book authors and illustrators in the Seattle area could meet twice yearly to introduce their new books. After the first several years, our Seattle chapter of the SCBWI kindly took it over and it’s been rolling ever since – maybe 11 years? We rotate the venue through independent bookstores in Seattle and each presenter has three minutes to tell the story behind the story of his new book. Librarians, teachers, and booklovers provide the audience.

10. What advice do you have for children’s writers who want to write for very young children?

Mostly, I don’t think writing for the very young is different than writing for any audience. It helps to write every day, to foster the habit of combing through life for stuff that belongs in a story. I don’t really set out to write for a certain age of audience. Instead, I tell the best story I can and then figure what the audience is.

I am a big believer in READING as a way to steep yourself in any particular genre of picture books. If you aim to write for the very young, find ten books that are the kind of book you want to make and deconstruct them. What makes the best ones so good? Notice how the story starts, the voice, the characterization, the language, design, pacing, page turns etc etc -- all the myriad elements that make the best ones best. There’s a whole university waiting for you between the covers of a well-done picture book.

A little developmental research can help, too. If your intention is to write for the very young, spend some time with little kids. Get down on their level and look at the world. Notice what draws their attention. Read magazines for parents of little kids. What are the issues and concerns? Then reach down in yourself and connect something from that research to something from your own experience to find the story that is yours to tell.

Visit Laura’s website at: http://www.lmkbooks.com/bio/index.php .
In addition to a list of all her books, there are fun activities for children, as well as information about programs and workshops for schools and conference presentations.

As for where to buy her books, Laura says:

I think it's great if people buy books from their local independent booksellers so that we will continue to have local independent booksellers -- but amazon.com has them all, too, plus resellers who stock the out-of- print titles through the amazon site.


Rachna Chhabria said...

I agree with Laura that "It helps to write every day, to foster the habit of combing through life for stuff that belongs in a story," and a little Developmental Research goes a long way when we start a new project/book. Great interview Elizabeth.

Amy Tate said...

What an amazing interview! Thank you, Elizabeth. My daughter and I are big Zelda and Ivy fans and we look forward to reading more.

RAD - Dot Painter said...

Wonderful interview, Mitty! Thank you for sharing this award winning writer with us.