Why do you write? Why specifically for young readers?
I write because I get story ideas or characters or bits of conversation stuck in my head and writing lets me explore them and see what they are about. It’s a lot like getting a song stuck in your head. You have to sing it and pass it on to someone else!
As strange as it might seem, I don’t really write for young readers. The truth is that I write for myself and what I happen to find funny or interesting also seems to appeal to kids! That’s the case for many people who write kids’ books. We have never forgotten how to see the world in the same way kids do. I love that because I think that kids are so smart and funny and creative.
How did the Questioneers get started?
The Questioneers began when I wrote IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT after watching my young son build towers from pots and pans and cans of soup. Iggy was a stand-alone book and I never imagined it would evolve into a whole universe of characters and adventures. It has been such fun exploring Blue River Creek and the kids in Miss Lila Greer’s class. The fun part about the chapter books is getting to meet even more people in the town. All of them are funny and smart and also very quirky and passionate about things that interest them.
Not a clue!!! But I love that these characters connect with people around the world and maybe help kids make a little more sense of their own experiences.
Why do you think they resonate with young readers?
That’s such a great question. I think that these books connect with kids because they explore something true. While IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT talks about architecture, it’s Iggy’s love of architecture that is at the heart of the story. It’s about passion. Rosie is about perseverance. Ada is curiosity. And Sofia is about bravery and kindness. Those are all things that kids experience. Every kid loves doing something, fails at it sometimes, is curious, and has to be brave. Those traits also map to being an architect, scientist, engineer, or activist. So, kids who understand the feeling of persevering or being curious can identify with the characters and imagine themselves being engineers or scientists.
How does writing the picture books differ from writing the chapter books?
One analogy that I think makes sense is to think of writing a picture book as a 100 yard dash and writing a novel as running a marathon. Picture books focus on one thing or one idea but chapter books are a whole series of ideas that have to make sense together.
Having said that, sometimes it takes me much longer to write a 900 word picture book than a 25,000 word chapter book. Each book is really its own thing and I never really know how they will go until I jump in and start writing!
I’m a big fan of architecture and I have always loved history and old houses. I knew that Iggy would also. Also, I loved mysteries as a kid and still do. So, I wanted to write a mysterious adventure that involved one of the crazy old houses where people added on in new styles over time. David’s art really captured the Scooby-Do kind of feel I was aiming for. It was a hoot to write and I am delighted that kids are enjoying it!
History is always a big part of these stories because I think we can learn so much about our current world and how to move forward by looking back. When I wrote this book a year ago, I was reading and thinking a lot about the Spanish Flu pandemic which struck a century ago and the role of science and vaccines in our world today. As is often the case, things I am thinking about find their way into whatever I’m writing at the time. As a result, the 1918 flu plays a bit of a role in the backdrop of this story. Fast forward to now. We are in a pandemic which was unimaginable even a few months ago. It’s a very scary time, but I have taken great heart from hearing from parents who have used this story in a small way to help their kids understand a bit about what’s going on now. It is reassuring to know that we have gone through terrible things in history and come through them.
My 6-year-old wants to know:
- How long have you been an author? My first book came out in 2005 but I began writing long before that. I’d say that I’ve been at it for about 25 years. Ish.
- Where did your ideas for Ada, Rosie, Iggy and Sofia come from? Iggy was inspired by my son who loved to build things when he was very young. The other books are all inspired by David Roberts’ illustrations! He puts clues in the art about each kid’s personality and I try to figure out who they are and write about them.
- Are you creating new characters, like an artist or geologist? I am writing more books, but I don’t know who the characters will be or what they will love doing. I have to live with David’s illustrations a long time and figure out who the characters are from the art. It’s a very slow process.
Looking back, how has your writing evolved over the course of your career?
I think that I am more brave in my writing than I used to be. That comes from being older and also from the strange, complicated, difficult times in which we live. They are times which, I believe, demand us all to assess what’s important and how we can help others and to stand up and speak out when needed. We each have a role to play in our communities and that requires a little bravery. Just like Sofia Valdez shows when she wants to help her community.
What are you working on now?
Lots of fun things. I’m working on more chapter books and project books. Plus, the next picture book in the series. Also, some picture books that are not part of the Questioneers. This fall, ONE GIRL will come out. It’s a picture book which is beautifully illustrated by Dow Phumiruk and which explores the power of books and education in the lives of girls around the world. It’s stunning and explores this topic which is so important to the future of this world!