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Interview: Jacqui Robbins

November 18th, 2009 (07:30 am)

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: The Prisoner score music

Before she became a full-time writer, Jacqui Robbins was a first and second grade teacher, a drama teacher and director, an SAT tutor, and a bookseller, among other things. Is it any wonder that we get along so well? I met Jacqui earlier this year, when she hired me to design her website. We had fun painting her virtual walls with stars and stripes. I was glad that she was willing to take part in the Winter Blog Blast Tour, so I could help spread the word of her delightful picture books and forthcoming works.

All of your previous and current professions incorporate reading, writing, and education. For you, what's the most magical part of reading? Of writing? Of teaching?

For me, teaching and theater and writing are very similar. They're all about bringing your audience into your story and making sense of the world. And they all are about letting people know they're not alone. That's the magical part of all three for me.

I agree. Now, for my readers who may not be familiar with the publishing protocol for picture books, would you mind taking us through the process? Did you write and submit The New Girl...and Me as text only, or did you have pictures in place?

I submitted The New Girl...and Me as a completed, text-only manuscript, which is usually how it's done. Unless you are a professional illustrator, the art department at the publishing house will match your story with an artist. This makes some people nervous, handing over their work for someone else to interpret, but it makes me excited. I am a terrible artist and so I'm happy to have someone else make the story complete. Also, I like the challenge of making sure the story stands alone.

Prior to your collaboration on The New Girl...and Me, were you familiar with Matt Phelan's work?

Not at all. The New Girl...and Me was Matt's first book. Our editor, Richard Jackson, sent some sketches Matt did to ask what I thought and I was thrilled. Then, when I saw the final artwork I was amazed; even though there were no art directions in the manuscript, somehow Matt drew the exact pictures I had in my head.

You teamed up with Matt again for Two of a Kind. Did you approach that story or project differently than you had for The New Girl?

What was different for me was that I had the validation of being published. This made it easier to write, because I felt like I "deserved" to call myself a writer. It also made it much harder, because I kept thinking, "What if they find out I'm a phony?!"

The collaboration with Matt was much the same. I still submitted text only for him and he still drew pictures even better than what was in my head. The only difference is that we consulted on what the science project in Two of a Kind looks like. Also, in between the two books, I met Matt face to face and Anna, the main character in Two of a Kind, looks a little bit like me.

Have you ever staged something based on your own writings?

No, but now I want to! Maybe next year, you'll see The New Girl...and Me: The Musical.

If you do, please let me know. I'd be happy to help! What are you presently working on?

I have three different projects going right now: two new picture books and a chapter book that I'm calling a "mystery/adventure story with a hint of romance but not too much." I'd love to write for other ages, but I think maybe my own development got stuck in elementary school.
Hmm. It just occurred to me that all three of my current projects deal with the war between girls and boys. Don't tell my husband.

My lips are sealed. What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Aak! What a question! I'm going to have to answer off the top of my head. These are subject to change, depending on my mood.

Jacqui's Ten Favorite Books This Week, arranged by age:

1. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (the only novel I have ever read, finished, and then started over again immediately)
2. My collected works of Shakespeare (is that cheating?)
3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (possibly the best novel ever written)
4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
6. Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone (I just re-read these because my daughter is obsessed. I know they're everywhere and it's cliché to have them as my favorite, and blah blah blah, but wow, they're really good.)
7. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen (the perfect marriage of poetry and art)
8. My Fierce Tiger, by James Hepburn (which has been my favorite picture book since I was very young)
9. Goodnight, Gorilla! by Peggy Rathmann
10. Untitled. I am saving this spot for the next book I read, because my favorite book is always partly the one I am holding in my lap, unread and full of possibility.

Visit Jacqui's website and blog.

Visit all of today's tour stops:
Sy Montgomery (Part 1) at Chasing Ray
Jacqui Robbins at Bildungsroman
Sarwat Chadda at Finding Wonderland
Cynthia Leitich Smith at HipWriterMama
Beth Kephart at Shelf Elf
Annie Barrows at Great Kid Books

Here's the Bildungsroman schedule for WBBT 2009:
Monday, November 16th: Courtney Sheinmel
Tuesday, November 17th: Laurie Faria Stolarz
Wednesday, November 18th: Jacqui Robbins
Thursday, November 19th: Thomas Randall
Friday, November 20th: Joan Holub

View the full schedule for WBBT 2009.


Posted by: Vivian Lee Mahoney (hipwritermama)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)

This is cool. I've found out about Jacqui's blog through Twitter. Thanks for the interview, LW and Jacqui! And nice website!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

Thank you! :)

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)

Ah, the power of Twitter :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 10:53 am (UTC)
Tanita Says :)

Oh, I've seen these! The girls are TOO cute. I'm not usually a person who follows picture books that closely, but these impressed me immediately as two I wanted to read. Thanks for the interview!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)

Definitely check them out. They are very cute, both in story and pictures!

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)

Thanks, Tanita! I love the way Matt drew them too.

Posted by: deborahfreedman.wordpress.com (deborahfreedman.wordpress.com)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC)

I would love to see "The New Girl...and Me: The Musical", especially if it includes a live iguana.

Love the new website, you two!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)

Wouldn't that be fun?

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)

Gosh, I look away for a morning and look at all the fun folks who came by! Debbie, does that mean we can't convince you to wear a giant iguana suit?

Posted by: saralholmes (saralholmes)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)

As a fan of both of you, I loved reading your conversation with each other.

P.S. The New Girl and Me: The Musical, starring Little Willow!!! I'm SO there. :)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)

Thank you. :) Bring it on!

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)

Sara, thanks for playing matchmaker.
This musical is going to rock. I want a guest appearance a la S.M. in the Twilight films.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)

Y'all know I compose music and choreograph too, right? :)

Posted by: thehappynappybookseller.blogspot.com (thehappynappybookseller.blogspot.com)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)

I learned about this book about a week ago and was very excited because I loved The New Girl. Two of a Kind is just as lovely. It's in my soon to be reviewed queue. The cover is great everyone should laugh that hard.

The author includes a craft to make a rainbow with a coffee filter. Does anyone know if it actually works?


Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)

:) I haven't tried that myself because I don't drink coffee, so I don't have coffee filters!

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)

Yes! It definitely works. You have to use non-washable, non-permanent markers. The best are old school PaperMate felt tips. You can do any color, not just black. And if you add a little vinegar to the water, the colors spread even better.

Thanks so much for the kind words about both books!

Posted by: joanholub (joanholub)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
Jacqui and Little Willow interview

How fun that would be to be able to visualize your own book for the stage. So many authors I meet were or are teachers, librarians, or attorneys, but I can see how working in theater could help you visualize the flow of a book you’re writing..

I usually turn in a text-only manuscript as well, Jacqui, but often I create a rough dummy even when I’m not illustrating the book, especially if the book has speech bubbles or asides.

Enjoyed seeing your website—good job, LW! Thanks for the link to Matt's work also. Beautiful.

Thanks, Jacqui and Little Willow!

~ Joan Holub

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Jacqui and Little Willow interview

Thanks, Joan! I think you and Jacqui would get along quite well. :)

Posted by: bookiewoogie.blogspot.com (ext_132267)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)

"Teaching and theater and writing are... all about bringing your audience into your story and making sense of the world."

I love that! Great connection!

- AZ

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: November 18th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)

Agreed. :)

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: November 19th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)

Thanks. I wasn't sure it made sense, other than in my head, so I'm glad you agree!

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