Tell me a little about yourself: I’m the youngest of seven girls who grew up on a fruit farm in Southern Ontario, Canada. Because of that, I spent my early years playing outside all the time, and I ate lots of healthy food we grew ourselves, so those are two topics—the outdoors and food (even if it’s pretend food, as in Salad Pie)—that seem to work their way into lots of my stories.
When you were my age, did you like to read? Yes! I loved reading. In fact, I’d get so into the story I was reading that my sisters would talk right in front of me and I wouldn’t hear a thing. Then they’d laugh really loud and I’d finally look up and ask what was going on.
What was your favorite story? There was a strange and imaginative book I had that I read over and over called What the Wind Told. As you can see on the cover, the main character is sick in bed. Every day, the wind tells her fantastical stories about the windows across the way. For example, behind one of the windows, and old lady always leans on a cushion because the floor turns into a pond every day. Her furniture is nailed up high on the wall to keep dry. Maybe it’s because I read this book so often that I still like looking at windows and making up a story about what’s going on in the rooms behind them.
How do you get your ideas? I do a lot of thinking, imagining and wondering about people and situations and my ideas come out of that. Also, I do a lot of observing and noticing details. When I look closely at the world around me, I see something different every hour, even if it’s my own backyard.
Just yesterday I saw a strange little millipede with yellow markings on it and my daughter and I watched her for a long time as she hurried along the cracks in the deck. Where was she going? What was she thinking? Did she notice us? Why was she moving so fast and then going back in the same direction she came from? When I can’t answer my questions, I make up the answers, and after that there might be a story to tell.
Is it hard to write/illustrate a book? Yes, it is hard to write a book, though I try not to think about it that way because the story is better if I focus on the characters, the plot, the words. While I was writing Salad Pie, it was important for me to read it aloud over and over again and then to show it to my writing friends and listen to their questions and comments.
Do you have a favorite among the books you have written/illustrated? I’ve written lots of stories but Salad Pie is my favourite because it gets to be in bookstores.
What author do you really like right now? Hmm…this is tough. I think Mac Barnett is really funny, so I read a lot of his picture books. I love Kadir Nelson’s illustrations, so I will pick up any book he’s illustrated. I also read lots of novels, but I have too many favourites to name.
What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author? First, read a lot of books—books you know you’ll like and books that people recommend. It’s important to see all of the different ways of approaching an idea, so I read some books all the way through even if I don’t really like them. Also, reread books you like. Then read them again. Think about why you like them and how the author wrote the parts you love.
Second, start writing. Write journal entries, letters, emails, reports, articles, stories. Writing is like exercise: you have to do lots of it before you get stronger.