Children’s author Jane Kohuth says her relationship with books as a child was so powerful that she hasn’t been able to leave children’s literature behind. Sure, she loves a lot of literature written for adults, but there’s a deeper love for children’s books.
“When I decided that I wanted to be a writer (way back when I was a child) I knew that I wanted to write the kind of books I loved — and those were children’s books,” Jane told Cracking the Cover. “It is a fantasy of mine that one of my books might end up being part of the formative experience of another writer.”
Picture books also give Jane the opportunity to work on projects that combine writing and visual art, which she’s always loved. “Though I’m not an illustrator myself, I like creating texts that will work in tandem with images,” she said. “And it’s very exciting for me to see how an illustrator will bring those ideas to life!”
Jane says ideas tend to come from snippets of language that she find interesting, fun or beautiful. “I find it important to write down these seeds of ideas, so my notebooks have lists of rather cryptic words and phrases. I’ll then refer back to the lists when I’m looking for an idea to develop.
“I’ll spend time thinking, sometimes days or weeks, about how these bits of ideas could be turned into stories. Sometimes I start with a deep question I want to ask or an underlying theme for the story, and sometimes I’ll discover it after I’ve been working for a while.”
Jane’s latest book to come to life is “Duck Sock Hop,” a tale of three ducks who pull socks from a big box and decide to hold a sock hop. She doesn’t remember how the words came into her head, but the idea grew out of the words “sock hopping/sock shopping” written in her notebook.
“The words are written in my husband Michael’s handwriting, which means we must have been bouncing ideas off of each other,” Jane said. “We have a silly streak, and sometimes ideas for picture books will come out of conversations in which we each try to make the other laugh harder with successively ridiculous bits of nonsense.”
The first draft of “Duck Sock Hop” actually featured a number of stories, one of which was “Ducks Go Vroom,” which became Jane’s first published book (her other published book is “Estie the Mensch”). The word “duck” went so well with the word “sock,” she said, that her ducks found a second life again in a sock hop. “The visual of ducks wearing socks was very appealing to me!” she said. “The ducks in ‘Duck Sock Hop’ ended up being different ducks from the ‘Ducks Go Vroom’ ducks, but they do have a jolly manic energy in common.”
When Jane was very little, her mother would recite nursery rhymes to her. It was an interactive experience, with her mother stopping before the end of each line so Jane could chime in with the rest.
“I have always loved language, words said aloud, rhymes, alliteration, assonance, rhythm,” Jane said. “I loved them in picture books and poetry, and I try to create picture books texts that live up to that love. I think the appeal of language that’s fun to say is almost universal, so I think the rhythm and rhyme of ‘Duck Sock Hop’ will appeal to children and even to babies, who will love the bouncy sounds even if they don’t understand all the words. I also think that the humor and energy of the book (ducks dancing in socks!) will appeal to children. Jane Porter’s ducks are funny and lovable without being cloyingly cute.”
As a child, Jane was inspired by poets like Jack Prelutsky, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, who wrote humorous rhyming poems. “Duck Sock Hop,” she says, harks back to some of her earliest work. “I definitely see a through thread from those early poems to my current work. But my work has also evolved. When I started writing picture book manuscripts, they weren’t as well developed in terms of character and plot as my texts (I hope) are now. Learning plotting and conflict development has been a real challenge for me, as I am a language, image, and theme-based thinker.”
Jane says she’s always reading at least two books at a time, and she’s always working on at least two stories. Right now, she’s working the back matter for a Step Into Reading book about Anne Frank, which focuses on her growing love of nature while in hiding. That book will be published by Random House in 2013.
She’s also working on the final revision of two picture book manuscripts and is excited to get started revising another. “And finally, I have a new idea percolating, but it hasn’t quite formed yet,” Jane said. “It’s at the stage where my mind strays to it while I’m in the shower or falling asleep. Eventually it will coalesce into something solid enough so that I can start writing.”
Also among her busy writing schedule: Jane is planning a series of sock hop events for “Duck Sock Hop.” Check out her website for more details.
**Jane took a lot of time answering Cracking the Cover’s questions. Read a complete transcript of her interview.
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