Interview: Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird
Current Mood: mischievous
Current Song: Astronaut by Paris Carney
If you appreciate children's literature and want to know the stories behind your favorite stories, pick up WILD THINGS! written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Read my review of the book. Packed from cover-to-cover with funny stories and little known facts about famous authors, secret feuds, inspired illustrations, and classic characters, this is a great resource for readers and writers alike. The authors - all three proud bibliophiles and bloggers - clearly had fun putting this book together.
Little Willow: This book is filled with anecdotes. Is anyone in your family a master of tall tales?
Betsy: In my family we've all had a predilection towards storytelling, but then I went and married a clear cut storyteller as well. Now I'm so steeped in them that it's only natural that a book like this would be the result. Here in New York City a children's literature gathering often involves members of the old guard (people who've been working in the field for decades) so you get all kinds of fascinating stories. Seems only natural that they should have ended up in a book at some point. As for me, I actually prefer to hear anecdotes to telling them, but some of them are just too good NOT to tell.
Jules: My family isn't necessarily filled with storytellers, but I'm fascinated by storytelling. In fact, I once took a grad course on the very subject, and I loved every second of it. For my final course project, I memorized every word of Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child." That is a wonderful story to tell. I no longer have it memorized word-for-word, but it'd probably not be that challenging to re-learn, since it's probably still hiding in the cobwebbed corners of my brain. "In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk...." (I love that singular beginning.)
Little Willow: That's impressive. Did any of the real-life stories change how you viewed a particular author or book?
Betsy: Well, I don't think I'll ever look at The Cricket in Times Square the same way again. That's all I'll say.
Jules: There's a very tender story about James Marshall and his mother, a story that didn't make it into our book. We did, however, share it at the site, where we are sharing stories cut from our manuscript. I'm a big Marshall fan, but this made me want to learn even more about him.
Little Willow: How did the three of you come together to write this book? Who had the first inkling that you should and would write a book together?
Betsy: That was me. I had this notion that there were some pretty amazing bloggers out there and that their sites would naturally adapt into a book format pretty well. Ironically, of the three blogs that came together here (A Fuse #8 Production, Collecting Children's Books, and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) mine is probably the least book-worthy. But I've an eye for talent and these guys were talented. So I reached out to them and asked if they'd be keen to work together on something. As luck would have it, they were!
Little Willow: Describe the writing process. How did you divvy up tasks between the three of you?
Betsy: First we decided which chapters should be in the book. Then we pooled all the stories we wanted to tell. Once each story was slotted into the right chapter we assigned chapters. There was a lot of swapping of stories between chapters and a lot of rewriting and editing of one another. That may account for the single "voice" found in the book.
Jules: Yep, we each worked on assigned chapters and then passed them around. We made suggestions for editing, adding, deleting, you-name-it. At one point, Peter and I were working on the same chapter and didn't even realize it. So, we eventually merged what we'd written. Whew. That worked out well!
Little Willow: What's your favorite part about collaborations? What does working with others bring out of you?
Betsy: For me, it makes me more confident about the final product. When I write something entirely on my own I may love it but there will always be this little voice in the back of my head that says I could have done more. When I work with other people who are as smart as Peter and Jules, that little voice disappears. I can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that no matter how much I screw up, they'll be there to point me in the right direction. It's an enormous relief, I can tell you.
Jules: I learned so much more about writing, I think, just by watching Betsy and Peter do their thing. And when someone edits your work, you learn TONS. I feel like if I'm a better writer at the close of this project, it's thanks to them. I love collaborating. I mean, no one likes, say, those grad school projects where you're stuck with people who don't pull their own weight OR you're assigned to a topic you hate, but if I dig my partners-in-crime and I love the subject, I'd much rather work in a group.
Little Willow: As a kid, did you have any teachers, librarians, or booksellers that you went to regularly to get (and give) book recommendations?
Betsy: Nope. And what's more, I couldn't tell you single one of their names. That said, my mom worked in an independent bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan and she was always suggesting books or handing books to me. My Aunt Judy was the same, so that's where I found the bulk of my recommended literature.
Jules: I didn't read a TON when I was a kid, which is why I'm trying to get caught up now! I did have a high school English lit and drama teacher who really got me fired up about reading, and I'm still friends with her. She's one of those amazing teachers you'd like to clone.
Little Willow: What aspects of blogging do you find the most enjoyable?
Betsy: I think it's a combination of the pleasure of the regularity (I am required to blog four times a week on my site), the fact that I can highlight books, people, or events that may not be getting a lot of publicity (I always alternate big publishers with little publishers in my reviews), and the different ways in which I can make my opinions known.
Jules: Hands down, I love the community. I love getting to know those folks who are as passionate about children's lit as I am. It's even better when you get to meet them in person.
Little Willow: How has blogging has changed how you read and recommend books, and how you interact with readers and authors?
Betsy: Since I work for New York Public Library and blog for School Library Journal I see a LOT of books in a given year, but there's always this sense that I'm not seeing ALL the books. And boy howdy do I want to see absolutely everything. So blogging, for me, is a way of filling in the gaps. It also allows me to recommend sites to friends who are looking to specialize in certain areas.
Jules: Well, before blogging I rarely interacted with authors and illustrators, but since I do a lot of interviews, I talk to many of them now on a pretty regular basis. As for how blogging has changed my reading habits, I tend to have less time for novels (though I still read them as much as I can), since I'm blogging about picture books and illustration. But it's worth it. I love writing about picture books and art.
Little Willow: What books did you love as a child that you still love just as much today?
Betsy: I was recently weeding my bookshelves, so this question was already in my mind. On my part, I think I'll always love Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, various Steven Kellogg titles, The Secret Garden, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, and any number of Apple paperbacks found via the Scholastic Book Fairs.
Jules: Shel Silverstein, the Grimm Brothers, Trina Schart Hyman, Maurice Sendak, Beverly Cleary.
Little Willow: Would you rather travel with Max to meet the Wild Things, or go with Harry Potter and attend Hogwarts?
Betsy: Hogwarts. Is there any question? I wonder about folks who would say Wild Things. You'd have to be a very particular kind of person, I suspect. For me, there's no contest.
Jules: The Wild Things, without any doubt. Because maybe perhaps possibly if Sendak is there, too, we can chat.
Little Willow: Would you rather visit Narnia or Never Never Land?
Betsy: That is a very hard question. I go back and forth. Narnia, I guess. Though they both dwell in very distinct metaphors. But I should like to see a faun, so Narnia wins.
Jules: You're going to think I'm just saying the opposite of Betsy now, just to mix things up, but honestly I'd go to Never Never Land. I want to meet Mrs. Darling first, though.
Little Willow: Would you rather have a sip at the tea party in Wonderland or snag a treat from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory?
Betsy: Wonka. Admittedly, you'd never be entirely certain what the Wonka treat would do to you, but I also suspect that the food at that tea party can't be entirely hygienic (there's a dormouse in one of the teapots, for crying out loud!). Plus there's always a chance that Wonka will look like Gene Wilder and I've always had a hardcore crush on that guy.
Jules: Well, given the theme of my blog, I gotta attend the Mad Tea-Party, yes?
Little Willow: Would you rather have the job of The Giver or be the head gamemaker for the Hunger Games?
Betsy: I don't think I'm skilled enough to pass muster as a gamemaker. I suspect I'd construct some little landscape and forget to do something essential like install the video cameras. And I'm always telling and retelling stories of the past ad nauseum anyway, so maybe I'm halfway to Giver-ship already!
Jules: Oh, The Giver! Definitely that. I recently read that book again---this time I read it aloud to my daughters---and it blows my mind how good it is.
WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta is now available at a bookstore near you.