“As a writer, you’re always pitching--trying to convince others to get on board with your ideas,” says author Veronica Chambers. So when friend and editor Elisabeth Dyssegaard suggested Chambers create an anthology of essays on Michelle Obama, she was delighted. “It was really wonderful to have someone say, ‘I know you’re interested in this, and I know you’d do a great job with it.’” Although it was late in 2015 and Chambers knew the “crazy” math of publishing a book in about a year, she still felt a sense of excitement.
I wanted to be many things when I grew up,” says Sharon Creech Rigg. “A painter, an ice skater, a singer, a reporter. It soon became apparent that I had little drawing talent, very limited tolerance for falling on ice, and absolutely no ability to stay on key while singing. I also learned that I would make a terrible reporter because when I didn’t like the facts, I changed them.”
After a college teacher told Kate DiCamillo that she had “a certain facility with words,” she went around wearing black turtlenecks for 10 years and telling people she was going to be a writer. She didn’t actually put much on paper during that time but supported herself with jobs “at the margin of society,” including stints working at Disney in Orlando. “I learned a great work ethic and about the show and being on stage. At the Magic Kingdom,” she explains, “there were underground tunnels connecting everything. Down there it was quite grim, but upstairs it was glorious! The first time I started to write a story I realized: Here is the tunnel--the hard work--and up there is the show.”
Sammy Keyes, the 13-year-old heroine of Wendelin Van Draanen’s series, is intrepid and determined and has a seemingly endless source of energy—much like her creator. When she isn’t writing, Van Draanen is probably teaching high school computer science, jogging with her Siberian husky, spending time with her family, or singing in a rock band! (Curious readers can hear her perform on the CD that is provided with her newest novel, the eighth in the series, Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception, which includes an interview with the author, a reading from her previous book, Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes, and a rocking rendition of "The Sammy Keyes Song.") Van Draanen received the 1999 Edgar Award for her first book in the series, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief. Seven unabridged Sammy Keyes books are available from Live Oak Media.
Mordicai Gerstein always wanted to be a painter. "It wasn't until after I had illustrated a few picture books with writer Elizabeth Levy that I started working on writing, and after about 10 years, I published my first book--my first 'written and illustrated by.'"
“You have to not love the words.” What a surprising thing for author Walter Dean Myers to say!
Chris Raschka’s “musical” audiobooks are so catchy, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. Raschka remembers the exact moment that he conceived the idea of his first book about jazz, CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BE BOP. “I was walking in Central Park,” the New York-based writer recalls, “and I knew I wanted to distill everything I knew about Charlie Parker into two ideas: Charlie Parker played bebop and Charlie Parker played saxophone. To build on those two facts, I suddenly came up with the idea of basing the structure of the book itself on a jazz piece. So I took those simple lines and manipulated and altered them the way a jazz musician does a melodic line.” One part of the text even resembles “scatting,” nonsense syllables used by jazz singers to “become” a musical instrument. Raschka started out as a graphic artist and a classical violist; after getting tendinitis, he put his viola down and concentrated on art. For a number of years he would work on commercial graphic arts in the afternoon and children’s book ideas in the morning. Some adults didn’t “get” the Parker book at first, he remembers. “Some reviewers felt that it was too sophisticated for children because it doesn’t have a traditional story line, and it repeats a lot, and it has those nonsense syllables.” But kids, of course, did get the book’s playfulness, and happily, it was a bestseller. Raschka’s second jazz book, Mysterious Thelonious, about pianist Thelonious Monk, features a color pattern in its art work that allows the listener to play the book’s music, Monk’s “Misterioso.” “If you get 12 pieces of colored tape that match the rainbow of illustrations and you place them on adjacent keys of a piano, you can follow the colors and play the piece,” Raschka explains. As for new projects, Raschka is thinking about books on John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and, particularly, Dizzy Gillespie. If ever books were meant to be heard, these are the ones—by kids and adults.
—Elizabeth K. Dodge
Pam Muñoz Ryan’s books take her places. She went to the Metropolitan Opera and to Marian Anderson’s childhood home in Philadelphia as she wrote WHEN MARIAN SANG. She traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, when researching BECOMING NAOMI LEÓN. But her new book, PAINT THE WIND, the author says, was a real departure for her. “I had to make my mind and my body work differently than they ever had before. My character was taking a journey, and I was taking a journey as well.”
The year 2008 was a big year for children’s book author Jon Scieszka. In January, the Children’s Book Council and Library of Congress pronounced him the first National Ambassador of Books for Young People. Then he left on a national tour with David Shannon, the madcap illustrator of his Trucktown series. Scieszka describes a wild two weeks. “Kids all over the country made me sashes and crowns. We laughed ourselves sick, and because this was the first ambassadorship, we used the opportunity to make things up left and right on how it should go.”
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