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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Archive | Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip with Roxanne Orgill

bk_mahaliaWhat keeps you up at night?

Thoughts of my two children: their school issues, health problems, things they said or didn’t say. What calms me and gets me to sleep, perhaps oddly, is to think about the book I’m writing at the moment. I can think about parts of it I like, what I’ll write next, and even problems whose solutions are right then, anyway, out of my grasp, and drift off, content.

What is your proudest career moment?

bk_ShoutSisterBeing at the New York Public Library presentation of its Best Books for the Teen Age with two books: Mahalia, a biography of the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and Shout, Sister, Shout! Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Century.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

Lavender cotton short pjs, a gift from my grandmother, who had a bathroom all in lavender (towels and rugs and smelling of lavender soap and sachets), which I enjoyed.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Raising (and not giving up on, not for a minute) a teen with mental illness.

bk_footworkWhat’s the first book you remember reading?

I’m afraid the first book(s) I remember reading are the Dick and Jane books, and not with any fondness, in first grade. But the first book I remember falling in love with is Pippi Longstocking.

 What TV show can’t you turn off?

The Good Wife. Really good writing, and Juliana Margulies is too good not to watch to the end.

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Skinny Dip with Loretta Ellsworth

bk_searchmockingbirdWhat keeps you up at night? 

Usually my son Andrew – he’s blind and sometimes gets day and night mixed up.

What is your proudest career moment?

Finishing a novel, meaning writing and revising until I’m satisfied with it – no matter what happens with the manuscript, I know I’ve accomplished an amazing goal.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever

When I was young I had a pair of footie pajamas that I loved and wore out.

Serena_Williams_at_the_Australian_Open_2015In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal? 

I love to play tennis and would love to win a gold medal in that – if only I could play like Serena Williams!

What’s the first book you remember reading? 

My parents had a book of nursery rhymes that all seven of us children read (or were read to).  I loved the pictures in that book and memorized most of the nursery rhymes.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

The Simpsons, because my son loves to watch it and he won’t let me turn it off.  I’m now an expert on anything Simpson-related.

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Skinny Dip with Candace Fleming

bk_stuartWhat’s the first book you remember reading?

The first book I remember reading on my own is E.B. White’s Stuart Little.  I was seven years old and it was the Saturday before Christmas – the day of St. John Lutheran’s annual holiday party. I loved that party! The potluck. The carols. The visit from Santa Claus (really Pastor Frankenfeld in a red suit). 

My father had spent the morning decorating the church’s community room. 

My mother had spent the afternoon baking sugar cookies. 

And I had spent the entire day asking how much longer until we went. 

No one noticed the snow coming down until my Uncle Howard stopped by. “Six inches and more coming,” he reported. “We’ll be snowed in by dinnertime.”

He was right. The party was cancelled. My parents were left with six-dozen cookies and one very whiny second grader. I stomped. I pouted. I flung myself on the sofa and howled. The last thing I deserved was a present. But that’s exactly what I got. My mother went to her stash of gifts meant for Christmas morning and returned with Stuart Little. She also gave me a plate of warm cookies.

ph_Skinny_FlemingCookiesI took both to the bay window in our living room. Settled in the window seat, I turned to the first page. And fell into the story. I was delighted, enchanted, completely swept into the story. I got all the way to the part where Stuart sails across the pond in Central Park before the real world returned. I blinked. It had gotten so dark I could no longer see the words on the page. I blinked again. And when had I eaten those cookies?

written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

This was the first time I experienced the transporting power of a good book. I’d traveled to New York City without ever leaving Indiana. Amazing! It made me hunger for more of these “travels.” I quickly became an adventurer through books, visiting places I could never travel to on my bike, or in my parent’s Chevy. And whenever possible I bring along some cookies.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas you’ve ever had.

My favorite pair of pajamas? That’s easy. It’s the pair I’m wearing right now, the ones made of blue flannel and patterned with black Scotty dogs sporting red hair bows. I like them because they’re big and roomy have been worn to threadbare silkiness and because the right sleeve is stained with blue ink from the Bic pen I use to write all my first drafts. They’re working jammies, the best kind.

bk_FamilyRomanovWhat is your proudest career moment?

The first time I saw my book at the public library. That was my proudest career moment.  After all, I’ve long known that libraries are sacred spaces, the repositories of all good things in life (picture books, story hour, librarians). So when I found my book on the shelf, I was overwhelmed. Me! Included in this place! I looked on in wonder. I couldn’t get over it. I still can’t. Want to know a secret? I continue to look myself up whenever I find myself in a library I haven’t visited before. I still get that electric thrill. I still look on in wonder.

What television show can’t you turn off?

ph_claire-underwoodI simply can’t turn off House of Cards. I binge-watch every new season, spending hours on the sofa, popcorn and cat in lap. Oh, that Clare Underwood is a manipulative piece of work. Looove her! I’m drooling for the next season.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Ice dancing.  Does that seem like a typical female response? Who cares! As a person who has two left feet, I adore the notion of gliding gracefully across the ice in the arms of my partner, while performing twizzles and dance spins. I also think the costumes are pretty spiffy. Sigh. A girl can dream. 

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Skinny Dip with Catherine Urdahl

bk_emma_cv_485What’s your proudest career moment?

I had just started doing author visits and was at a small school that serves a high-risk population of students from preschool through eighth grade. I started with the little ones, and it went well. I had this. Then a group of TALL sixth through eighth graders sauntered in. They slumped in their seats and looked away.

My picture book Emma’s Question (my only published book at that time) is officially for ages 4 to 7, but someone had told me it didn’t matter because everyone liked to hear stories. I wished that someone was there. I introduced myself and started reading—though it did not seem like a good idea. When I was a few pages in, I glanced up. The body language had changed. Students sat taller. They looked up. When I was finished I read from The Great Gilly Hopkins and The London Eye Mystery—books that, like Emma’s Question, deal with difficult topics. I talked about how the students could write about their own lives.

When I finished, one of the boys walked up and said in a quiet voice, “I want to be an author when I grow up.” I think that was my proudest moment—or at least my most grateful.

bk_polka-dot_newDescribe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

When I was about six, my grandma made matching nightgowns for my two sisters, my cousin and myself. They had a white background with pink flowers. (At least I think they were pink; the photo of us, lined up by height, is black and white.) I do remember the feel of the fabric—thick cotton flannel—not the fake-fuzzy polyester of store-bought pajamas. Most of  all I remember the sense of belonging and security that comes from matching pajamas. Last year one of my sisters bought us matching pajamas. It still works.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? 

I began telling people I was trying to write books for children. When I was writing in secret, I could quit if it was too hard or just didn’t work out. But once people knew, I felt accountable. One day I found a to-do list written by my then 9-year-old daughter. One of the items was Encourage Mom to get a book published. This was years before my first book was published—at a time I was tempted to quit. But what could I do? I kept going. Telling someone you’re pursuing a long-shot dream isn’t the same kind of brave as skydiving or picking up a snake (which I did once and will never do again). But sometimes it feels just as scary.

bk_CowSiloWhat’s the first book you remember reading? 

I remember my grandpa reading a Little Golden Book—The Cow in the Silo by Patricia Goodell—to my sisters and me every time we visited. The book is long out of print, and probably never received any awards. But I loved it. Maybe that’s because my grandpa, a quiet farmer from northern Minnesota, took time from his fieldwork and chores to read it again and again and again. And maybe because, in the end, Mrs. O’Crady solves the problem of the stuck cow by covering her in Crisco and pushing her through the door. Brilliant. And probably the best use of Crisco ever.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

I don’t know whether I should admit this, but it’s Gilmore Girls. I love the cast of quirky characters, each of them distinct and full of enough contradictions and imperfections to make them loveable and believable in a really weird way. I also enjoy the strange pop culture references and the speedy-quick dialogue. I once read that the scripts ran about 77-78 pages, compared to 50-55 pages for a typical show with the same running time. I think about picture book writers like myself struggling to write shorter and shorter manuscripts and wonder whether we could apply the Gilmore Girls trick (or something like it). Maybe tiny type?

 

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Skinny Dip with Anne Ursu

11_25UrsuWhat keeps you up at night?

My cats biting my feet.

Describe  your favorite pair of pajamas ever

A student got me sushi pajamas. What could be better?

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Figure Skating. However, this is very unlikely.

11_25MonsterWhat’s the first book you remember reading?

There’s a Monster at the End of this Book

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Power Rangers, much as I’d like to.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Pet! Most of the time. There was a French teacher who hated me.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I’m not sure about the first, but I remember doing Where the Red Fern Grows, and crying on the book report.

11_25ShadowThievesWhich of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

I think Shadow Thieves. I don’t know who could play Charlotte and Zee, but I would love Johnny Depp to play Philonecron.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

You actually get to be a writer. Also, you’ll have that stuffed bear for at least thirty more years.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Next to my son.

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Skinny Dip with Maurna Rome

What keeps you up at night?

My mad dash attempts to finish a video, write an article, apply for a grant, or get to the last page of a terrific book often keep me up at night. 

bk_ElDeafo_NewberyWhat is your proudest career moment?

My proudest career moment changes each year as I discover the unique talents of a new bunch of students. My most recent would be finishing a read-aloud of the Newbery novel, El Deafo. My “kids” were gathered around the promethean board as I shared each page of the graphic novel with our doc camera. The conversations about friendship, the 70s, smoking, hearing impairments, and fitting in were priceless.

Describe  your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

My favorite PJs are my Dr. Seuss footie pajamas that I bought about 7 years ago. They are perfect for school PJ parties that sometimes take place during “I Love to Read” month.

11-18Skinny_JohnCandyIn what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Does it have to be a “real” sport? If yes, then bobsledding (I loved the movie Cool Runnings with John Candy). If no, then reading aloud while keeping kids begging for more.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was to move to Japan for 6 months, after graduating from college, to teach English. It was a memorable experience that affirmed my life-long desire to travel and learn about other cultures.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

bk_Little-Golden-Book-Four-PuppiesThe Four Puppies, a Little Golden book, is the first book I remember reading. I found a tattered and well-loved copy of it on Ebay and snatched it up. I read it to my students every year, and explain why the author’s message is so important to me (in a nutshell: embrace change and make the most of your situation!).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

The Good Wife. Alicia is a complex character who has a few flaws yet strives to be a “good” person (I wish they could change the title!).

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Skinny Dip with Rick Chrustowski

praying mantisWhat animal are you most like?

Sometimes I am a Zen-like praying mantis, sitting and watching the world. And other times I am hopped up like a hummingbird zipping around trying to get a bunch of things done at once or, if I am at a party, trying to meet everyone in the room.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

My new book Bee Dance was the most difficult. It is only 250 words long, but it took me 9 years to write it! I should tell you that’s not the only thing I worked on during that time. I did the research about how honeybees communicate and wrote a manuscript. When I read it out loud I felt like it just wasn’t good enough. So I put it away and worked on other projects. A couple years later I pulled it out again and worked on it some more. But it still wasn’t good enough. I worked on other books and forgot about it. Then a few years after that, my good friend Susan Marie Swanson said “Hey, whatever happened to that bee book?”

bk_bee_dance_300pxI pulled it out of the drawer where I keep stories in progress and read it again. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! I learned that if I just focused specifically on the bee dance that would be the way to go. I worked on it some more, and took it to my writers’ group. They helped me make it a little better still. Then I did several dummies to figure out how the illustrations should look. I showed it to my editor, Laura Godwin, and she loved it. My advice to writers out there: sometimes your work might take longer than you think it should. But, if you believe that it’s a good idea, don’t ever give up! I could have given up on Bee Dance so many times. I’m really glad I didn’t.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

bk_batHmmm. I actually think that the book I’m working on right now would make a cool movie. But I can’t tell you about that one yet….so let’s see, I’ll pick Big Brown Bat. Johnny Depp would make a great bat, I’m sure.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

“Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow without sound.” From Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen.

What book do you tell everyone to read?

I really love the Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. I would recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t like long-form comics.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

If I am on a tight deadline I work late into the night. Otherwise I like to see the morning sun.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

None of the above. In my elementary school the library was very tiny and it was in the principal’s office! Who would want to pick out a book with the principal watching? I wonder if that’s why I was never a big reader as a kid. Now I love to read and I usually have 2 or 3 books going at once, but back then I liked playing outside or drawing pictures in my room more than anything else.

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Skinny Dip with Steve Mudd

bk_tangledwebWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

A Christmas tree!

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Sadly, pet.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

bk-ShaneThe first one I can remember that made an impression on me was an oral report on Shane (with which the teacher, one of my favorites, was not overly impressed).

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

When I have the time and resources, indeed.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Quit worrying so much and enjoy life more.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Eleanor Cameron, for children’s authors. In addition, Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny. And Andre Norton.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

A rocking chair or a recliner in my living room.

 

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Skinny Dip with Emilie Buchwald

bk_FloramelWhat keeps you up at night? 

All that I didn’t accomplish during the day. All that I hope to accomplish the next day.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The marathon. The long distance performance inspires me.  I’ve driven a marathon course of 26.2 miles and can’t imagine being able to run it. However, the idea of a long distance journey of the intellectual or imaginative kind is very appealing to me.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? 

Since I’m a klutz, the bravest thing I’ve done is to learn to ski after the age of 40. I fell a number of times getting off the lift at our local ski hill before I successfully skied off.  It was worth it to stand at the top of a mountain and experience the panorama—and then to ski very slowly down.

 What is your proudest career moment?

The first time I dared to stand up, go to the lectern, and read my poems before an audience. Like learning to ski, the experience of sharing those poems was worth going through the trepidation.

What TV show can’t you turn off?   

The West Wing.

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Skinny Dip with Diana Star Helmer

What animal are you most like?

My answer to this question could unwind like an endless ball of yarn! But I shall try to be brief.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved cats. Looking back at my life, I can see how I am cat-like. I watch; I always have. When I first went to school, I was an “elective mute” for some time, just watching and figuring things out. (A cat may look at a king, you know.) Like certain cats I have known, I can do things that absolutely must be done, even things I’d rather not do. But I am happiest to simply be, with the sun and the rain and the grass and the trees, and all the mysterious creatures.

bk_Dog'sBestFriendWhich book of yours was the most difficult to write?

My Kindle novel, A Dog’s Best Friend, is by far the most difficult writing I’ve undertaken to date. There are a few reasons:

First, the story’s hero is a dog, and I have lived only with cats. Yet, I felt this character needed to be a dog: dogs seem, to me, to be Everyman.

Secondly, A Dog’s Best Friend is my first long work. I had been writing for newspapers and magazines for many years when I began the novel. I’d become quite sure of my ability to tell an entire story in 600-800 words. I thought such skills would translate easily to novel-writing.

Ha!

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

bk_threescroogesI cross my fingers and hope that all of my stories would make good movies, because good storytelling is cinematic: visual and concise.

Because most of my novels are about non-human animals, this means animation would be marvelous, and I love animation! The voices could then be any fantastic performers—no famous names required.

A Dog’s Best Friend would be nice as a film because it’s a buddy/road trip, a classic film situation.

Elsie’s Afghan would be amazing because of the magical transformation required.

The Three Scrooges would be a great candidate because half of its inspiration—the Stooges, of course—began as film characters!

What’s your favorite line from a book?

Good heavens, that’s like asking what is my favorite shell on the beach!

I’ll try to narrow it down:

Favorite line from another writer: 

Thoreau:

“My life is the poem I would have writ / but I could not both live and utter it.”

My favorite line from the book I’m working on:

“Oh, do not seek wisdom, my dear. If you find it, you’ll never be fit for mixed company.”  

What book do you tell everyone to read?

I seldom recommend books. It seems so personal! But I have mentioned to a few people The Book, by Alan Watts. I have gone back to it many times over the years.

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Skinny Dip with Amy Baum

gr_sleepy-hollow-moonWhat keeps you up at night?

The Disney version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I had to sleep in my sister’s room for 6 months after that terrifying cartoon.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. I loved Little Bear and his very functional family. Also, I thought it was simply magical that all of the letters spelled out a story. I am still a fan of large type (though that could be my age).

Disclaimer: There was one story that caused many sleepless nights: “Goblin Story” in Little Bear’s Visit. I highly recommend reading this story during a clear, bright day. A big shout out to Kim Faurot at the Saint Paul Public Library Children’s Room.

What’s Your favorite holiday tradition?

Giving Presents for all occasions – I am most certain that there is a holiday packed into every week of the year.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Oy, such a challenge. I have dyslexia, but that wasn’t a “thing” back in the sixties – hence I was trundled off to speech therapy. It was great fun. We did a lot of puppet shows with Steiff puppets – and while they were very itchy I was a proud porcupine.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

gr_aaxmanwithlogoYes, shopping, presents and holidays all go hand-in-hand. I have a closet full of cool gift wrap which I buy all year round. I must admit to using gift bags on unwieldy items. Though one can get some swell boxes at The Ax-Man surplus store. It also delights me to watch the painstaking measures some recipients will go to in an effort to preserve the wrapping paper. You people know who you are.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Such an unfair question. I would require the capacity of the Algonquin Round Table and I would try to accommodate SOME list of some of my heroes:

  1. Maurice Sendak
  2. Ursula Nordstrom, aside from being a fabulous editor she wrote one of my favorite books of second grade, The Secret Language.
  3. Edward Gorey
  4. ph_wedgewoodMargaret Wise Brown
  5. A.A. Milne
  6. E.L. Konigsburg
  7. Eric Carle
  8. Nancy Ekholm Burkert
  9. Walter Dean Myers
  10. Beatrix Potter – I eat off her Peter Rabbit Wedgewood every day
  11. E.B. White
  12. Tomi Ungerer
  13. Charlotte Zolotow
  14. Dr. Seuss
  15. M.E. Kerr

I am quite certain that I am leaving several important guests out. By the way – I would not cook out of deference of my guests – catering all the way! I do not use my stove – I occasionally dust it.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”– Charlotte’s Web

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Phantom Tollbooth, Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, The Nutshell Library, The Moon Man, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. It depends on who my audience is and what their needs are at the time.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

Both – nighttime is for reading and hanging with my faithful dog. Morning is for “catching up.”

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Skinny Dip with Nancy Bo Flood

ph_popcornWhat keeps you up at night?

Popcorn in the brain. Ideas are popping and images are streaming through my brain. I know that if I don’t get up (ugh, really, 3 am?) and write them down, I won’t have a clue in the morning what they were. All those brilliant ideas, gone! I like to read a chapter from my current work just before I go to bed. The thoughts stir up new ideas, sometimes even solutions to problems. Of course sometimes I look at what I’ve written in the middle of the night and there are no treasures, just stale popcorn. Sometimes there are some real jewels, like finding the magic ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

What is your proudest career moment?

Cowboy Up!Two very happy moments—from this past year. I was asked to read from Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo at the Poetry Roundup session of the Texas Library Conference. Me, a poet? Watching kids race horses around barrels, throw a lasso from on top a galloping horse to snag a dodging calf’s back hoof—now that’s poetry. My favorite is watching the “mutton busting” three– and four–year-olds ride a bucking sheep. That was the inspiration for my favorite poem. When I shared this poem with about 200 librarians at their Texas conference, they all kindly stood up and pretended to ride along. Librarians are heroic. They got right on that imaginary sheep, held one hand up high, and grabbed tight onto a fistful of wool.

My happiest career moments happen when I’m with students, especially the responses I’ve received from Navajo school children. During author visits they give me a big smile and say, “You wrote Navajo Year? That is my favorite book.” The very best moment of all occurred while reading from Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo to a classroom of second-graders at Many Farms Elementary. This little guy wearing a too-big tee shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, looked at me, grinned, and raised his hand. Then he said, “I am in your book.”

Less than 1% of the books published for children are by or about contemporary American Indians. Childhood is short; children grow up fast. All children need to see themselves in books, now.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Equestrian! I have imagined competing on the combined equestrian event which includes dressage, cross-country, and jumping. As a child I wished for, begged for, even plotted for getting a horse of my own. No luck. But as soon as I was grown up and living in the country with room for a horse, I bought a horse, a strong beautiful, calm golden palomino, Natchee. My next dream was to be become a “real rider,” which meant not being scared of the horse. I wanted to be able to walk out into a pasture through wild waving grass, catch my horse with just a rope halter, slip on a bridle, and ride. Fast. Leap over ditches and splash through creeks. And I did. Once I even jumped over a picnic table! Natchee and I were riding in the Olympics.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

bk_BoFloodWarriorsSwim with sharks. As part of my research for Warriors in the Crossfire, I needed to paddle my kayak over the reef, leave the safe calm lagoon behind, and head to the open ocean. I loved snorkeling in the lagoon. I could see bottom—white sand 30 or 40 feet below with fish of all colors nibbling on coral heads. But in the open ocean, when I looked down, there was blue that continued until it became black. That alone sent shivers up my back. But my main character in Warriors jumps out of his outrigger to save the life of his friend. They had been hunting turtle in the open ocean and, meanwhile, a shark had begun hunting them.

So I paddled out. I put on mask and snorkel and slipped overboard. The rise and fall of the waves made me a bit nauseated. I was so scared my heart was pounding, and I was still holding on to the side of the kayak. I needed to let go and drift around a bit. Every shadow and shift of light under the sea’s surface looked like the silhouette of some kind of hungry sea creature. I kicked away from the kayak and then I saw them. Beneath me. The sleek backs of three reef sharks! I watched them circle around and then one shark slowly come directly at me. There was no time to haul myself back into the kayak. If I could have walked on water, I ph_Grey_reef_shark2would have. The shark was so close I couldn’t think, I automatically did what I’d been taught in those boring diving lessons. I fisted my hand and punched him in the nose. He turned and disappeared. Would he return? With my arms pummeling like a crazed wind mill, I swam to the kayak, without breathing, without caring how much I was splashing. I pulled myself up over the side expecting to feel teeth chomp through my legs. Finally all of me was in the kayak. My whole body was shaking but I paddled back over the reef and straight to shore. I lay on the warm wet sand, closed my eyes, felt the safe, hot sun.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Bugs and Insects, the World Book Encyclopedia, and comic books.  I grew up in a rural farm area of Illinois. We did not have a library or a bookstore. My parents valued education and the first step was learning to read. My older brother could read and I was determined to read, too. But there wasn’t much available. My parents bought a set of World Book and Childcraft Encyclopedias. My dad was a basketball coach and the team earned extra money to pay for “away” tournaments by collecting newspapers for recycling. Dad drove a pick-up truck and my brother and I got to help load tied-up stacks of newspapers into the back of the truck. Our payment was when we unloaded the stacks, we could search through the piles of newspapers for discarded comic books.

I read one book of the encyclopedia at a time, alternating with Bugs and Insects, and comic books. For many years that was my summer reading!

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Skinny Dip with Melanie Heuiser Hill

9_30RamonaWhat’s the first book you remember reading?

Ramona the Pest. My elementary school was visited by RIF (Reading is Fundamental) twice a year—the best days of the year. You had to be in second grade to peruse the tables of novels that were set up in the entry-way to our school. It was enormously exciting—so many to choose from! I picked that slim Ramona volume from all the other books piled high on the table and I read it “hidden” in my lap during math class that afternoon. I can’t imagine I fooled my teacher, Mrs. Perkins, but she had commended me on my choice earlier, so perhaps she didn’t mind…even at the expense of math.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

That someday I would actually love being tall. I was 5’10” at the age of ten and it was rough. I’m six feet tall now and really enjoy being tall—but it took a long time to get here. I suppose my 10-year old self would have just rolled her eyes—what an adultish thing to say to a kid! But it’s true and I wish I could’ve believed it then.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?  

Only three?! Well, I’d have to have a series of dinners, I guess. Here are two in that series: If I could invite three who are no longer living, I’d invite L.M. Montgomery, Arthur Ransome, and E. L. Konigsburg. If I had to limit myself to the living (reasonable, I suppose) I’d invite Virginia Euwer Wolff, Kevin Henkes, and Deborah Wiles. Now to plan my additional dinners….

Where’s your favorite place to read?

This week it’s my new bright red Adirondack chair in the garden. SO comfortable, big wide arms for a glass of iced tea and a pile of books, and beauty all around. It is bliss.

9_30SwallowsWhat book do you tell everyone to read?

For the last ten years I tell everyone about Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series—mostly because American readers have almost never read it and it has been A Formative Series for my kids. It’s a series of tremendous adventures with quotidian details—somehow a magic combination. Several of the books feature the Walker kids—four dear siblings who are afforded a tremendous amount of freedom on their summer holidays and know just how to use it. In other books in the series there are frightful pirates and ne’er-do-wells. We have read them almost exclusively on vacations—a big novel each trip, me growing hoarse reading by lantern in the tent, on picnic blankets, and in hotel rooms. The audiobooks done by Gabriel Woolf are tremendous and hours and hours of time in the car have been filled with these books.

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Skinny Dip with Candice Ransom

9_23SkinnyRebelDo you like to gift wrap presents?

Yes! I’ll buy the gift wrap before I buy the present! Years ago when I was a teenager, Hallmark started carrying their products in Dart Drug. I lathered over the Hallmark section, spending my allowance on Peanuts cards and gift tags and wrapping paper, yarn and fancy bows. My sister once said that I always spent more on the wrapping than the actual gift.

Even now I buy beautiful paper in museum gift shops. In April I took a trip to New York. I bought so many paper goods I had to buy an extra suitcase. My favorites? Sheets of Cavallini gift wrap from the American Museum of Natural History. I carried the rolled tube on the train like the Holy Grail.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I don’t remember the very first book report, but I do remember writing a wonderful book review of The Yearling for eighth grade English. And then, the teacher lowered the boom. Instead of turning them in, we had to give them orally. I froze. At that time, I was so shy I couldn’t even answer the phone. Only a certain number of students read each day. Each day I waited in terror for my name to be called. On the fourth day, it was. I could not—simply could not—get up in front of the class. So I lied and told my teacher I hadn’t done my report, even though it was in my notebook, beautifully written, and I took a zero.

What book do you tell everyone to read? 

9_23DiamondWhen I was eleven, the most wonderful book ever fell into my hands, A Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton. Even now, I chase everyone down and beg them to read this fantasy-mystery-historical-family story liberally sprinkled with Thoreau, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott. It changed my life. I had to be married on Valentine’s Day because of a chapter in the book (try explaining that to your husband-to-be during the Blizzard of ’79—three feet of snow on the ground, but we made it).

Ten years ago I met Jane Langton and told her how much her book meant to me. I was so eager, so, I don’t know, hero-worshipful that I was not ready when she said in her kind voice, “Oh, every year people tell me the exact same thing.” The breath left my body. No! Her book only changed my life!

Well, I still tell everyone to read it, if they can get hold of a copy. It might change their life, but not the way it changed mine.

Describe your most favorite pair of pajamas ever. 

I was five and we had just moved into a house in the country (read: sticks). I had my own bedroom for the first time, and my own bed (until then, I lived in someone else’s house and slept in a crib—that’s why I’m so short). My mother bought—or made, she sewed all of our clothes—a pair of Donald Duck pajamas. The print was turquoise and yellow. I loved those pajamas beyond all reason. When I finally outgrew them, my mother tucked them in her bottom dresser drawer with her sewing supplies.

When I was in my twenties and on my own, my mother made me a twin-size quilt. Not a fancy quilted quilt, just a nine-patch tied off. She’d used fabric from some of clothes she’d made me. There in the center is a piece of the Donald Duck pajamas. I still have the quilt. I love it beyond all reason.

What do you wish you could tell your ten-year-old self? 

9_23FitnessOh, my. She was such a brave, funny girl. Shy and yet adventurous. Smart but she failed math and the President’s Physical Fitness tests (she was proud of walking the 600, earning the slowest time in the history of field day—over 13 minutes). She wanted so many things, that girl. She wanted to be a writer and a detective and maybe a vet and, secretly, a ballerina even though she was stiffer than barn wood and had never had a dance class in her life. She also wanted to be an artist and she believed she could do all of those things!

Part of me wants to warn her of what’s coming, but a bigger part of me wants her to stay in the dark, let her be herself as long as possible. I wouldn’t tell her that she won’t be able to do all the things she wanted: the sight of blood makes her faint, she can’t stay up long enough to be a detective (all those night stake-outs), and, saddest of all, that she won’t be able to go to art school. Or any school, really, until she’s 50. No, I won’t tell her that.

I think I would tell her to remember better where she lived, every little bit of it. The trees, the garden, the strawberry patch in June, the martin house she asked her stepfather to build but stayed empty, the blue candle lights in the picture window at Christmas, the canning-jar smell of the basement, the rumbly sound of Half-Pint purring, the taste of fried squash washed down with sweet iced tea on a hot July evening, the feel of the brush as Mama worked the tangles from my hair.

Yes, that’s what I’d tell her. Remember better, girl, because your sixty-three-year old self will have trouble. And she needs the gifts of those memories to get through the day. They don’t even have to be wrapped in fancy paper.

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Skinny Dip with Vicki Palmquist

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

A good many things, but most emphatically I would tell myself to not listen to the comments about being too smart or showing off by using big words or being too curious. I have always enjoyed learning about new things and sharing what I’ve learned. I love discussing ideas and unknown-to-me corners of the world and people who have accomplished great things and shown great imagination. In hindsight, my 10-year-old self would have found more joy in school and in life without accepting those limitations. “To thine own self be true” is something I’ve learned to live by, but it’s taken many years.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Start my own business in partnership with my husband. There’s the working-with-your-husband aspect twenty-four/seven, which I’m happy to say has been rewarding and enlivening. Being in business (which was always anathema to me when I was in my teens and twenties—I may have coined the term “suits”) has been a process of continually reinventing ourselves, keeping ahead of the changes in a rapidly globalizing world, and learning every single day. Most of all, it’s been the kind of challenge I’ve needed for the past 27 years.

From what public library did you get your first card?

The Rice Lake Public Library in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I was ten. I could ride my bike there during the summers when I visited my grandparents. They gave me a wicker bike basket for my birthday in June. I rode to the library every other day and filled up that basket with new treasures. It was a Carnegie library, upon a hill, with the adult collection upstairs and the children’s collection downstairs. We weren’t allowed to go upstairs. Who knows what trouble we might have gotten into!

Did your elementary school have a librarian?

I adored my elementary school librarian at Ethel Baston in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. I don’t think I ever knew her name. Is that possible? She always had a new book to recommend when I ran out of steam. I remember reading the Boxcar Children books, racing through the mysteries, and the Landmark History books. When I’d finished all of them, she had wonderful new suggestions. In sixth grade, our librarian and my teacher, Mr. Gordon Rausch, cooked up a scavenger hunt in the library, asking us all kinds of questions that could only be found in specific books in that library. It was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever participated in. Then and there, I decided that I would become a librarian, too. I’m not but I do have a minor in library science.

What’s on your nightstand?

My Kindle. A clock radio that plays internet stations. It’s on all night, playing jazz or classical music. A beautiful coral rose that a friend brought me today.  Samurai Rising, a new book by Pamela S. Turner and Gareth Hinds. The Most Important Thing by Avi. Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman. I’m a very lucky woman—I have to read for my job!

 

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Skinny Dip with Augusta Scattergood

What is your proudest career moment?

bk_Destiny_5x8_300My proudest career moment? Being invited to the American Library Association’s mid-winter conference to introduce my new book. As a career librarian turned middle-grade novelist, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I was also honored to have my first novel, Glory Be, which takes place during Freedom Summer, chosen by several groups highlighting the fiftieth anniversary of that event. Como, Mississippi and Oxford, Ohio were both important to the Civil Rights movement, and both places invited me to their commemorative events.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

A green, oversized Better Homes and Gardens Storybook collection. Classic children’s books, poetry, a few original stories. I can still quote almost the entire poem that begins “The Goops they lick their fingers. The Goops they lick their knives…”

What TV show can’t you turn off?

bk_BetterHomesWay too many to confess to. Breaking Bad would be at the top of that list.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Kirby Larson, Barbara O’Connor, and Susan Hill Long. Because I’ve had a couple of dinners with them and the fun never ended.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

Deliver attendance and get supplies while chatting with the principal.

 

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Skinny Dip with Anita Silvey

bk_UntamedWhat keeps you up at night?

Usually one of my beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs. My girl developed a love affair with the local raccoon and woke me every time he came near the premises.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Left a nine to five job with benefits to become a full-time writer.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

 Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Newsroom or Nashville

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

I’m dangerous with scissors and tape, so as few as I can.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Relax and enjoy the journey; it is going to be okay.

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Skinny Dip with Avi

bk_OldWolfWhat keeps you up at night?

Meeting deadlines.

What is your proudest career moment?

When, after fourteen years of trying to write, I published my first book, Things that Sometimes Happen (1970).

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

I don’t know if the game of Squash is part of the Olympics, but if so, that would be it.

bk_ThingsWhat’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Becoming a step-parent.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Otto the Giant Dog.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I don’t turn any show on.

 

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Skinny Dip with Lynne Jonell

bk_SignCatFavorite holiday tradition?

One of my favorite things ever is when we sit around the table at Thanksgiving and take turns telling what we are particularly thankful for, that year. I get a little choked up, especially when I listen to my sons.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

I was a teacher’s pet up through sixth grade, and then teacher’s nightmare thereafter. (My ninth grade English teacher hated me so much, she slotted me into the slow class for tenth grade English. I couldn’t figure out why I was in a class with a high proportion of good-looking jocks, but I wasn’t complaining! My mother discovered what had happened in my senior year, but by then it was too late.)

Upon reflection, I think I was probably a fairly challenging teacher’s pet, as well.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

bk_WitchFamilyI can’t be absolutely certain, but I think it was The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes. Besides the fabulous mix of reality and fantasy, which I have always loved, the great thing about that book was that I discovered it when it was my turn to choose library books for our small in-classroom library. All the other third grade girls loved my choice, and begged to read it after me; and for a week, I was popular!

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Yes, and I thought I was pretty good at it until we had an all-family Olympics one summer. One of the events was gift-wrapping—blindfolded—and my team put me head-to-head with my older sister, Kathy. Not to put too fine a point on it, she mopped the floor with me.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

In the immortal words of Bob Marley, “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

gr_authorsLouisa May Alcott: She captivated me on a family vacation with Little Women. I had already read through the stack of books I’d brought for the car trip, and my mother bought that book for me instead of the comic book I wanted. Though I complained at first, I read the first page—and I was hooked forever.

C.S. Lewis: He pulled me into his magical world of Narnia, with its great themes of good and evil and children whose choices had powerful repercussions, and I only wished he had written a hundred stories for me to devour, instead of just seven.

Madeleine L’Engle: I still remember exactly where I was when I read A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade, and how I reread the final chapter because I couldn’t bear for it to be over. When I closed the book at last, I knew that what I wanted to do most of all was to write stories like that, for kids like me.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

It depends on the season!

Winter: curled up in bed with my electric blanket on high. Summer: on the back patio, in the wooden swing, with cushions and a tall glass of something cool. And in spring or fall, on a comfortable sagging corner of my favorite couch, next to my grandfather’s old glass-fronted bookcase (which houses my favorite children’s books.)

 

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Skinny Dip with Terri Evans

bk_EleanorParkWhat keeps you up at night?

Just about everything – I am a worrier and haven’t had eight straight hours of sleep in almost two years.

What is your proudest career moment?

There are two, both of which occurred in the past couple of years. The first began two years ago (as did my inability to sleep well) when the parents of a child involved in a summer reading program, on which my Library Media Specialists colleagues and I were collaborating, challenged the book we had chosen on the grounds that it contained graphic language and sex. The Parents Action League (one of eight groups in Minnesota that the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group) got behind the challenge and made several demands—that the book be removed from all schools in the district, that the author not be allowed to visit our schools, and that the Library Media Specialists who chose the book be disciplined. The story went national. One of my proudest moments was when I spoke in front of our school board, along with two of my colleagues, in order to defend the book (the award-winning Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell). I am passionate about the freedom to read and the freedom of information—and providing my students with books in which they see themselves reflected, even if their lives aren’t pretty. This freedom also allows these students to look into the lives of others and develop empathy. Having the opportunity to express this passion, and eventually winning this battle (the committee charged with deciding the fate of the book voted unanimously to keep the book on the shelves in our schools), changed me forever. The following fall I was awarded the Lars Steltzner Intellectual Freedom Award. In addition, that year I was named a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. One of the most challenging times in my life was also one of the most rewarding.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Gymnastics or figure skating. In fifth grade my teacher told me I was clumsy. It would be a great “so there” moment!

What’s the first book you remember reading?

bk_Little-Women-book-cover-2As a child, my parents could not afford to buy me or my four siblings books, nor did we ever go to the library. I was not a reader. The summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family and I moved back to Minnesota from Michigan.  As a going-away gift, my friends gave me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was the first book that I ever owned and the first book I remember reading cover to cover. That was the beginning of my journey to becoming a reader. I treasure that memory and that book (which I keep in a safe spot and look at frequently).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

So You Think You Can Dance – reality competition shows, especially those that involve something artistic, are my guilty pleasure (Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway – I LOVE them all!)

 

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Skinny Dip with Mary Casanova

Grace coverWhat keeps you up at night?

I have two kinds of sleepers in me: 1) the one who sleeps soundly from the moment my head hits the pillow until morning and 2) the restless non-sleeper (usually hormone induced) who keeps an ear open for the cat, Apollo, meowing at the door; who hears one of our three dogs—Kito, Sam, or Mattie—every time they get up to lap at the water bowl, which I imagine must be getting low and so I climb from under my covers to go check; the sleeper whose mind starts whipping through a “rolodex of worries” or possible story ideas (I have a one-word mantra I use to stop the whirring and it’s SLEEP); and the sleeper with restless legs syndrome, which feels exactly like worms crawling in my legs until I move them around, or as I’ve discovered, get up and do ten minutes of stretching. Sleeper #2 needs three cups of strong coffee to get going in the morning.

What is your proudest career moment?

One Dog coverOh, there have been many moving, humbling, amazing experiences with fans. But just recently, at an elementary school in Duluth, Minnesota I had another. I’d picked kids to come up and help act out One-Dog Canoe in front of the audience with a laminated red paper canoe and puppets. As we neared the end of the skit, one boy who hadn’t been selected, barreled up unexpectedly, seized the microphone from my hand, and shouted into it “Can I come, too?!!!” I was surprised, but before I knew it he ran off as an adult made a dash for him. Turned out, he was a boy with autism who rarely tuned in to what was going on around him. But from the back of the auditorium, he’d become fully engaged in the story and skit and wanted to be part of it. As the teacher said, “You connected with him and he was right there with you!”

Describe your most favorite pair of pajamas ever.

Two years ago I ordered pajamas for myself for Christmas from BedHead. Pricey. More than the cheap pj’s I had always settled for. The red, gray, and light blue paisley pattern has faded (they were pretty wild at first), but from the start, they’ve been soft and comfy and welcoming. Pajamas should say “Ahhh.” These do.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Because I love horses (we own three: Sable, Ginger, and Midnight,) I’d definitely do an equine event. And if I knew I’d win gold and not break my neck, I’d go for three-day eventing, which involves cross-country jumping, dressage, and stadium jumping. Short of that, I’ll have to settle for occasional 3-day horse-camping trips, trail-riding, and riding at a friend’s indoor arena, just a few miles down the road.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

bk_Dick_JaneThe bravest thing? I wrote a first novel and finished the draft. And second, once published, I braved my deep and profound fear of speaking. Only by speaking countless times, over and over and over, did I gradually overcome the clenched stomach, visible shaking, and sense of impending death. I told myself, “Do this for your books. It won’t kill you, even if it feels like it will.” And now, to my utter amazement, the fear is 99% gone and I enjoy sharing with audiences. I never thought that would be possible.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I remember Dick and Jane books in 1st grade and thought they were incredibly dull and boring stories. If this was “reading,” I wasn’t impressed. It took Charlotte’s Web, perhaps in 3rd or 4th grade, to change my attitude toward books.

 

 

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Skinny Dip with Will Hobbs

Never Say Die coverWhat animal are you most like?

Sea turtle.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

Bearstone, my first book, had six drafts written over an 8-year period. It even had several different titles, including Pride of the West. When I wrote the sixth draft I knew it was a quantum leap.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

Crossing coverI’d love to see a movie of Crossing the Wire. The star would be an unknown Mexican teenager. Are you listening, Hollywood?

What’s your favorite line from a book?

The last line of Johnny Raven’s letter in Far North: “Take care of the land, take care of yourself, take care of each other.”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Wind in the Willows. Mr. Toad is one of my all-time favorite literary characters.

 

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Skinny Dip with Debra Frasier

ph_orangesWhat is your favorite holiday tradition:

When I was fourteen years old I assumed the role of Christmas Ambrosia Maker in my southern-novel of a family. I was the youngest appointee, ever, and surprising, as it requires welding a very sharp serrated knife, but I had a knack for it. We were a “fruit-rich” family due to a small, scraggly orange grove west of Vero Beach, FL. You needed to be fruit-rich because my family ambrosia method requires cutting deep into the naval skin to not only remove the white pith, but to also cut into the tiny juicy orange cells, leaving a little ribbon of actual orange on the spiral skin. This is why our ambrosia is better than any other you will taste. Ever. But. You need a lot of oranges for this method.

When I was sixteen, and had faithfully repeated the recipe for two years, I removed the traditional canned pineapple. Scandal! There were arched eyebrows from my grandmother. When I was seventeen, I removed the coconut, and my mother raised her eyebrows. But once the knife had been passed, it turned out you can do what you want, my first taste of family matriarchal power. Now we have ambrosia just how I like it: plain, un-doctored naval oranges in a brimming bowl. And I now add finely chopped mint. My daughter will probably remove it one day.

Long answer to a short question.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

My teachers loved me because I was a perfectionist amid a pack of wild Florida boys. In those days we received paper report cards where teachers could write, in gorgeous script, comments for each child. A reoccurring comment was: “Debbie is an excellent student however she is very hard on herself.”

Little did I know that this would be the report card for my life…

What was the first book report you ever wrote?

bk_YearlingI don’t remember my first book report but I remember Book Reports. I always drew the cover and an illustration in a carefully measured box. My favorite book was read aloud in the fourth grade by a long-term substitute. It was a desperate attempt to control an unruly class—and it worked miraculously well: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, trumped 25 Florida ruffians committed to ruining a substitute’s life. My report on the book was filled with pictures of fawns, curled in the Florida scrub, and bounding in the cabin yard. This book changed my life forever, as hearing it kept the divorce–wracked world at bay, and I realized that stories were the ultimate magic, some kind of medicine for the heart.

Do you like to gift-wrap presents?

When I was growing up wrapping presents was considered An Art. I was taught to carefully fold tucked in corners, and to make sure the scotch tape was perpendicular to the gift’s base line. My mother, somehow, got on the mailing list for the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. She could never have afforded to order anything but she studied the wrapping methods in the over-the-top section. I remember one particular wrapping that she showed me with such amazement: Take ten cashmere sweaters, each a different bright color. Find a very tall glass container, preferably shaped like a fountain soda glass. Lay each sweater in the glass so as to appear to be a layer of ice cream. Add a bow to the base, and save a white sweater for the whipped-cream top.

So, yes, I grew up loving to wrap presents, wrapped at a department store for a teen job, and now…am the worst present-wrapper you ever met. Sloppy, I use recycled paper and bags, and never match my corners. What happened?! But I STILL often think about my mother’s delight in the ice cream glass filled with cashmere sweaters—

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Laugh more. I was a serious child, and had this thing for doing everything too, too perfectly. The report cards were right: Lighten up, for heaven’s sake, Debra! But I could tell myself that TODAY, too!

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

OK, defying The Rules of Time my guests would be: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, after orange season so she is relaxed and she can bring Max Perkins as her date, Ursula Nordstrom, after finishing Carrot Seed with Ruth Krauss so she is pleased as punch, and Ursula LeGuin, so things are always looking forward with her remarkable mind and its insistence on recognizing the feminine in us all.

Let’s make the dinner in NYC, somewhere street level, with red leather booths but we take the round table in the window, beneath the tied back drapes…Candles on the table, wine ordered.

bk_spike_228Where’s your favorite place to read?

My favorite place to read has more to do with time than place—I most like to read wherever I feel there is space, psychic space, I mean. I love to read, for example, when traveling, especially in the air if it is not bumpy. There is a lot of psychic space in an airplane, untethered to all those strings below. I also have a little sleeping loft in a North Carolina cabin that you get to by a rope suspended ladder—perfect reading space, and once again, up high, always summer, always untethered. But if I waited for an airplane or summer, I’d never read, so I squeeze reading into a lot of odd spaces: before sleep, waiting in lines, over lunch, in my studio…In later life I have developed a severe addiction to narrative so I have to ration myself or I will stay up all night trying to find out the age old question’s answer: What happens NEXT? At night I have to read only cookbooks because it does not matter so much what happens next and I can turn the light off at a sensible time and go to sleep. Seriously. It’s a problem.

 

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Skinny Dip with John Coy

7_15HoopWhat animal are you most like?

I have a strong love for the Graywolf.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

All the ones that have not yet found a publisher.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

Lots of students think Crackback would. I’d be happy with any star.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

“Go, Dog. Go!”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Watson go to Birmingham—1963

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

I used to be a night owl. Now I’m much more of an early bird.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

I hardly ever visited the school office for any of these reasons. Our elementary school was so small we didn’t even have a regular nurse. We hardly ever saw the principal and we had no lunch at school. We all walked home every day for lunch. And the idea of being too cold to go outside for recess hadn’t been invented yet.

 

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Skinny Dip with Heather Vogel Frederick

7_8patienceWhat is your proudest career moment?

I don’t think anything will ever beat getting that phone call over a dozen years ago from Simon & Schuster (editor Kevin Lewis, to be exact) letting me know that they were going to publish my first book, The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed. I hung up the phone afterwards and burst into tears. I’d worked so hard on that novel, for so many years! I was floating on air for weeks. In some ways, I still am.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

I was five, they were leopard print, and I thought I was the coolest thing ever. I loved those jammies to shreds. I had matching leopard print slippers, too—which met an untimely end when I accidentally stepped in the toilet. But that’s another story.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Curling. Just to see the looks on people’s faces when I told them.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Twenty-three years ago, my husband and I picked up and moved from the East Coast to Portland, Oregon, sight unseen, no jobs. Friends and family thought we were nuts. We probably were, but it was also a fabulous adventure. We fell in love with Oregon the minute we drove across the border. The Pacific Northwest is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s been a great place to raise our boys.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

7_8WestWindOn my own? This is a tough one, because my memories of reading on my own are so tightly interlaced with nightly read-alouds with my father. I remember him reading Thornton Burgess’s Old Mother West Wind stories to me, which were his favorites when he was growing up, and I also remember sounding the words out myself and reading them back to him. As a solo read, though, I think it was either Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog or Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (both of which I later read to my boys, who also loved them—isn’t that one of the best things about books?).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Believe it or not, The West Wing. Somehow we missed it the first time around when it aired over a decade ago, and now we’re streaming it on Netflix and can’t pull ourselves away. It’s held up remarkably well, and in many ways is still topical and timely. And the writing! Don’t get me started on the writing. Sharp, funny, smart, informative. I can’t get enough of it.

 

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Skinny Dip with Susan Cooper

7_1GhostHawkWhat animal are you most like?

I’m a giraffe. A medium-sized giraffe, because I was tall when I was young, but now—to my fury—I’ve passed the age when you begin to shrink. A giraffe is shy, and doesn’t make much noise: that’s me, I think. The giraffe and I are both good at looking around and noticing things—though in my case I’m collecting material for books, and in hers she’s looking out for the lion who wants to eat her. The giraffe is good at pollinating flowers and spreading seeds while she’s browsing on treetops, and I do those things while I’m gardening. And we both have special friends, though we don’t belong to a herd.

Oh yes, and we both have long eyelashes.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write?

It’s called Silver on the Tree, and it drove me mad. It was the last in a sequence of five books called The Dark Is Rising, so it had to tie together all the strands of story in the first four books, and rise to a terrific climax in which good triumphs over evil. Writing it took twice as long as any of the other four. There are things in it that I love, though I never did feel the climax was terrific enough. But when I wrote the last page, I cried, because I’d lived with my family of characters through five books and I was never going to see them again.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

One of my books has been a bad movie, with a story remarkably unlike the one I wrote. But I’d love to see a book called King of Shadows made into a film, ideally by Wes Anderson. It’s about a modern boy actor who finds himself back in Elizabethan England, acting opposite William Shakespeare in the Globe Theatre. So the star would be a boy actor whom nobody’s yet heard about. And Shakespeare would be played by…….got any ideas?

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The next one by Marcus Sedgwick or William Alexander.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

In my twenties I was a night owl, sitting up late writing books after spending the day as a newspaper reporter. In my thirties I had young children, so I was up both early and late. Gradually since then I’ve turned into an early bird—because today I live on an island in an estuary saltmarsh, where I open my eyes in the morning to the sunrise. Every day it’s different, every day it’s beautiful. Can I show you one?

7_1CooperSunrise

 

 

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Skinny Dip with Jen Bryant

What animal are you most like?

Probably a cat. I’m very independent, I love to sit in a puddle of warm sun, I spend a lot of my free time watching birds, and I’m very attached to my home. (I would have said a dog, but I’m not that obedient!) 

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

book coverThere were several reasons why my verse novel Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial was the most difficult to write. I wanted to tell the story in many voices, so I had to experiment with how to keep the real/ historical events moving forward, while at the same time keeping track of the fictional characters and how they were growing and changing and interacting with one another. I used a LOT of those brightly colored sticky notes! I also used my husband’s pool table to periodically lay out the pages for each section so that I could physically see where and how each character was contributing to the story. I also faced the challenge of making a trial that was (quite unlike the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, which centered on a brutal crime) very philosophical and full of “legalese” into an entertaining and more easily understandable narrative. 

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

book coverI think several of my novels would be good screenplay material, but I think if Pieces of Georgia is ever made into a feature film, I would want Robert Duvall to play Andrew Wyeth, Sabrina Carpenter (a southeastern PA native) to play Georgia, and Matthew McConaughey to play Georgia’s father.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

“There’s no place like home.” –from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of OZ.

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski. It’s brilliant. I was so relieved to read in the back matter that it took him more than 10 years to write. It’s scaffolded on the Hamlet tale, but set in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s. (It’s also a book that I only recommend to people who love dogs and who are empathetic.)  

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

Actually, I’m neither one. I’m very boring in that regard—my best, most productive hours are generally 9am to 5pm.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

Hmmm…. That was a long time ago! I’d say probably to deliver attendance/ get supplies. I was a reliable kid, although I’ll bet I made several unscheduled stops on the way there and back. I’ve always been pretty distractible!

 

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Skinny Dip with Virginia Euwer Wolff

book coverWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

I have so many favorites. One of them is the hanging of the Christmas stockings. My aunt made felt and appliqué stockings for my two tiny children in the 1960s. Thirty years later, my daughter made felt and appliqué stockings for her husband, their two children, and me. She designed the appliqué motifs to reflect each family member. For instance, my son-in-law’s has an abstract painting in felt pieces; mine has a violin, complete with fragile strings made of thread. We hang these old and new stockings on Christmas Eve. The youngest family members go to bed. The older generation sneak to the mantel, one by one, and put Santa’s gifts into the stockings. Santa gives small surprises that will fit in the stocking, souvenir postcards, cartoons, lactose pills, always a candy cane, always a lump of coal. First thing on Christmas morning we open our stockings, one by one with everyone watching. Many laughs, many memories of previous Christmas mornings, and Christmas spirit in abundance.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

gr_campfireAs a small child whose father had died when I was five, living in a rural community where everyone knew my family, I was at first handled carefully and tenderly by teachers. As a painfully shy person and the last child in my first grade class to learn to read, I must have needed some extra coddling. And it turned out that I was a good reader (at long last) and a very good speller. Those went a long way up the rungs to teacher’s pet. That and pity for our widowed and orphaned family in wartime, as well as the public fact that our mother was now running the orchard business and playing the organ for church and serving in the PTA and supervising our Camp Fire Girls’ group and seeing that we had music lessons and Sunday School. (And we didn’t have electricity yet.) Soon, though, That Thing happened to me. That mystifying Thing that some middle school girls are susceptible to. I became a problem. Loud, irritating, gossiping and whispering, nearly blind to the beauties of science and math. And it turned out that I was actually having to study in order to succeed academically. Oh, cruel world, to have thrust such burdens upon me. These extremes, teacher’s pet and teacher’s irritant, have stood me in good stead as a watcher, listener, teacher, and story maker.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

We did some some oral ones in early grades, but I can’t remember a written one till a ghastly horrible inadequate one I wrote in seventh grade (Jane Eyre), or maybe it was the ghastly horrible inadequate one I wrote in eighth grade (A Tale of Two Cities). Both still make me ashamed, which may be why I can’t remember which was which, trying to dilute the guilt by draping a cloud over the memory.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

I LOVE gift-wrapping presents. Like ironing, it’s a craft that can satisfy in minutes. Unlike writing a book or learning a sonata, which can take years (and the gratification with these latter two is never complete), gift-wrapping is its own reward. I iron papers and ribbons from previous gifts, and in our family we often wrap in maps from National Geographic.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

“Get a grip. Read more broadly, more deeply. Practice the violin much, much, much more methodically. Leave less and less to chance. In a couple of years you’re going to find that math is getting harder and you’re going to have to have more tenacity than you’ve even dreamed of. Learn at least a couple of new words each week. Yes, you will get breasts. Yes, you will eventually get your period. No, your father is not going to come back to life. Be considerably more grateful to your mother, who’s working harder than any other five mothers you know. On the other hand, you’re beginning to do some things OK: You’ve already learned at your mother’s knee that all people are created equal, but you will have to keep re-learning how to deploy that truth. You’ve got some basic optimism; hang on to it. And another thing: Eventually, you’ll learn the word ‘halcyon’. And then you’ll know the name for these summer days on the lawn, reading about Betsy and Tacy and Nancy Drew, and playing with the cat and dog, and looking up at flying squirrels darting among the towering Douglas firs at the edge of the world.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Terry Pratchett, Ashley Bryan, A.A. Milne.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Anywhere. The light has to be good, though. Indoors, outdoors, upstairs, downstairs, in libraries, on trains, on porches, in the woods, on beaches, on airplanes, in bedrooms, in airports. At breakfast, at sunset, in the middle of the night. With classical music in the background or silence. And I love being read to, so in my car I always have a book going.

 

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Skinny Dip with Maryann Weidt

book coverWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

I love getting together with my children—all grown-ups now—at Christmas. My daughter-in-law majored in ‘entertaining’ and she always has ‘Poppers’ and we always play games. One year she taped a question on the bottom of each plate. Questions like these: What is the best Christmas present you ever received—and we each had a chance to answer the question. It was a great way to get to know each other a little better—and to enjoy a laugh together too.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I think the first book report I ever wrote was on Clara Barton. It was one of those very old orange biographies. Do they still exist? I kind of hope not. That might have been in 4th grade. Then in 9th grade, I wrote my first research paper and chose Eleanor Roosevelt as my subject. When I was asked to write the Carolrhoda biography of Eleanor, I kind of wished I had saved that paper.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Who wraps presents anymore? Don’t we all just tuck them into a gift bag and stuff in lots of tissue paper? In fact, I loved wrapping presents when I was in my teens. I worked a few hours a week at Esther’s Gift Shop in my home town of Hutchinson, MN. People came in to buy wedding gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, gifts for every occasion. There was a machine we used to make bows. I became a wrapping whiz.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

I’ve been very fortunate to in fact have dinner with several authors—Judy Blume, Madeline L’Engle, Jane Resh Thomas, Mary Casanova, and Margi Preus, among others. But if I could sit down and have a chat with Eleanor Roosevelt, that would be a mighty thrill. O.k., I guess she wasn’t a children’s author—but she was an author.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Nowadays I read in bed every night before going to sleep. I really have to limit the amount of time I read and sometimes I fall asleep with the book in my hands and the light on. When I was growing up, my favorite place to read was lying on my belly on a plaid wool blanket under the giant oak tree in the front yard of the farm. I could hold that position for hours, reading Betsy, Tacy and Tib and all the rest. I’d read the entire series and then start over.

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Skinny Dip with Phyllis Root

cover imageWhat keeps you up at night?

My cat Catalina keeps me up at night, meowing and wandering back and forth over me, looking for our other cat Spike, who died last fall and with whom she’d been together since kittenhood.

What is your proudest career moment?

I have two, and they happened close together. When Big Momma Makes the World had its launch in London, the London planetarium was filled with children, and someone narrated the text while Helen Oxenbury’s amazing art was projected onto the planetarium ceiling. The lights all went out when Big Momma made the dark, and then the stars filled the sky. At the end of the book the London Gospel choir sang, and all the children waved the balloon sculptures and swords in time to the music.

cover imageNot long after, I visited a school on the Navajo reservation where my daughter was volunteering and read Rattletrap Car to all the classes at the school. Back in the trailer where she stayed, I was helping my daughter pack when one of the little boys from the school, maybe six years old, burst in, saw me, cried, “Bing Bang Pop!” and laughed and laughed. Seldom has a book of mine received such a joyous reaction.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

ph_ZambeziRiver

Zambezi River, Africa

Some days I think just getting out of bed and sitting down to write is the bravest thing I ever do. Other times I think it was standing on the edge of a live volcano or whitewater rafting down the Zambezi river. Almost everything scares me, and I like the quote (although I can’t remember who said it and I’m probably mangling it), “Use all your courage today. We’ll get more tomorrow.”

What’s the first book you remember reading?

A Babar book, written in longhand rather than typeset, in the bookmobile that came at the foot of the hill where we lived.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Basketball. Unless there’s a medal for reading.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I no longer have a television, so this one is hard to answer. I watch a few shows on my laptop once in a while, and the one I watch most is the Rachel Maddow Show.

 

 

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Skinny Dip with Liza Ketchum

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

cover imageMy non-fiction books required the most intense periods of research, but the YA novel, Blue Coyote, was the most personally challenging. How could I, a straight woman, take on the character and voice of a young male teen who was exploring his sexuality? Yet a number of readers who had read the novel’s prequel, Twelve Days in August, had written to ask, “What about Alex? What happened to him?” They also asked the question I couldn’t answer myself, without writing the book: “Is Alex gay—or not?” I felt these readers deserved answers. As I worked through many drafts, I received wonderful insights and suggestions from my writer’s group, as well as from a couple of gay friends who read the manuscript in draft form. Writing the story in a third person limited point of view also gave me some needed distance. When students in schools ask me which book I’m proudest of, Blue Coyote is at the top of the list.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

cover imageNewsgirl—because it is an adventure story with plenty of action, an exciting setting (Gold Rush San Francisco), and a diverse cast of characters. Amelia should be played by a feisty, determined 12 or 13 year old girl who can hold her own in a gang of boys. And since she goes flying off in an unexpected balloon ascent, she shouldn’t be afraid of heights.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

I will cheat and cite three. The first is the famous opening line from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Marcia Marquez: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

I also love the opening sentence of M.T. Anderson’s novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: “I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees.” This is followed by six more breathtaking sentences that introduce the narrator’s amazing voice and set the tone for the story that follows.

The last sentence of Elizabeth Bowen’s novel, A World of Love, has stayed with me forever. While many final sentences wrap up a story, this one opens the reader’s mind to a whole new beginning for the protagonist, who has been through a difficult time: “They no sooner looked but they loved.”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

cover imageA tough question, when there are so many great books out there! I often mention Philip Hoose’s magnificent non-fiction book, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Melanie Kroupa books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It is one of the few non-fiction books that I have reread a number of times; I even read and studied the footnotes at the end. It’s a true story with the drama, pacing, and characterization of the best fiction. I learned a lot about birds, avid birders, and about the interconnectedness of commerce and the environment. Who knew that the disappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Louisiana was linked to the rise of the Singer sewing machine? I certainly didn’t.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

I’m an early bird. I raised my sons in Vermont, where the school bus came early, and we had animals to feed before starting the day (a small flock of sheep and a goat or two to feed and milk). My sons were also early risers, so I got into the habit of being up with the sun. In good weather, I love to walk or garden first thing in the morning. When I was teaching at Hamline University, I was lucky to room with Jackie Briggs Martin. We woke up at the same early hour during the July residencies and explored Hamline’s St. Paul neighborhood, admiring the gardens, butterflies, and birds as we walked the quiet streets.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

cover imageI hated school from the middle of kindergarten—when we moved from Vermont to Washington, D.C.—to the end of third grade. I had stomach cramps every day. When I complained of pain, my teachers sent me to the principal’s office. She was a fierce older woman who scolded me and accused me of inventing my symptoms. When I was grown and living in Vermont years later, I learned that a close writer friend had attended the same school, a few years ahead of me. She, too, suffered from repeated stomach trouble. “It was because of recess,” she said. “Remember how the boys played war?” I had forgotten, but it all came back: the gangs of boys on the playground, who tortured and bullied us girls. They chased us until we fell and skinned our knees; they yanked our hair and called us names, while the staff—who were supposed to be watching—ignored the whole scene. When we moved to New York State—where I attended a wonderful public school—the stomach aches disappeared, and so did my trips to the principal’s office.

 

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Skinny Dip with Nancy Loewen

cover image

 illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa Two Lions Publishing, 2011

What keeps you up at night?

At various times: Panera’s iced green tea; the sound of my 18-year-old daughter raiding the fridge; playing Sudoku on my phone; and, as with everyone, a head full of this-and-that.

What is your proudest career moment?

I’m going to reach way back for this one, more than 20 years ago. I had just published my first book with Creative Education/Creative Editions. It was a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated with beautiful and haunting photographs by Tina Mucci. One day I was working at home and I received a fax from the marketing director at Creative. I watched the fax come through, bit by bit, and was elated to find that Poe had received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. The first line said, “Calling upon her significant storytelling skill, Loewen adds large measures of drama and pathos to her interpretative biography of Edgar Allan Poe.”

cover image

Photographic interpretation by Tina Mucci Creative Education, 1993

I had never really thought of myself as a storyteller before. To me, storytellers were those people who could spin a good yarn off the top of their heads, who could effortlessly keep young children—and anyone else—entertained. My mind doesn’t work that way. I’m more of an archeologist: digging cautiously, then slowly piecing artifacts together. But that starred review made me realize that just as there are countless stories to be told, there are also countless ways to bring them into the world.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

Nick and Nora light blue flannel pajamas covered in sock monkeys. At one point my whole family had matching pajamas—me, my two kids, my then-husband, even my brother and sister-in-law. Made for some great family pictures!

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

gymnastProbably gymnastics. (Everything but the balance beam—that just does not look like fun.) I was barely able to master a cartwheel as a kid, so this is strictly in the fantasy realm. I don’t see how it’s even humanly possible to do all those flips and spins and rolls and twists. But what a joy it must be, to be airborne of your own will!

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Sometimes our bravest actions are also private ones. I’ve done a number of brave things in recent years, but what I want to tell you about is something brave—and very public—that I did way back as a sophomore in high school. It was 1980 and I was on the Mt. Lake (MN) speech team in the category of Original Oratory. I chose a difficult topic that was just starting to edge onto the public radar: incest. I had only three solid sources, but I made the most of the information I had. I sometimes look back in wonder at that 15-year-old small-town girl who knew that just because a subject was uncomfortable didn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

At that time, my brother was attending college in Kansas. The night before Regions, he was in a serious car accident. My parents left for Kansas immediately, but I stayed with my grandparents and went through with the competition. All I knew was that my brother had head injuries and wasn’t conscious. I walked around in a daze, but somehow, when I was standing in front of the judges, I was able to focus. I took first place, and later took first place at state as well. My brother eventually made a full recovery. But what a challenging spring that was, for all four of us.

I’ve also wrested candy bars and slimy plastic bags right out of the mouth of my very bad beagle, Dorie. And I once pulled a tick off my son’s leg, barehanded!

What’s the first book you remember reading?

cover imageI’m pretty sure it was Peppermint by Dorothy Grider, illustrated by Raymond Burns. It’s a great story about a white kitten who lives in a candy store. His brothers and sisters find homes, but no one wants scrawny little Peppermint. Then Peppermint finally does get adopted and his new owner pampers him and wants to enter him in the Best Pet contest at school. Peppermint accidentally dyes himself blue—but still wins the contest. Love that book!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

One of the perks of working at home much of the time is that I get to watch TV while I eat lunch. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is what I watch most often, now that The Colbert Report is off the air. Recently I binge-watched the second season of Orange is the New Black. I was hooked on Breaking Bad and the British Sherlock. But if I am to be completely honest, there are times when I give in to the temptation of the TLC lineup: Say Yes to the Dress, What Not to Wear, or 19 Kids and Counting. I draw the line at My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, though.

 

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Skinny Dip with Karen Cushman

 

Will Sparrow's Road coverWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Phil is Jewish so we celebrate Hanukkah. I light the house with candles—one hundred or so white candles of all sizes and shapes. It looks beautiful but makes the house very, very warm.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Oh, teacher’s pet, without a doubt. I was too nervous to misbehave, smart enough to learn quickly, and quiet enough not to show off (see question #5).

 Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Love it. I decorate packages with greenery, rosemary springs, red berries, whatever is growing outside that I can gather and tie to a package. My career goal as a young teen was to be a package wrapper at Walgreens at Christmas time. Haven’t made it yet but I have hope.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Not to be so nervous and quiet. I don’t know what I was afraid would happen if I ever spoke up but I was too fearful to test it.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Kirby Larson, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Sherman Alexie when he’s in a good mood.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

In bed. No contest.

 

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Skinny Dip with Marion Dane Bauer

 

Newbery HonorWhat is your proudest career moment?

My proudest career moment I suppose should be the day in 1986 when On My Honor won a Newbery Honor Award. But though that was the moment that changed my career more than any other, it’s not my proudest.

My proudest was when I was just beginning writing, had finished my first novel and had no idea whether what I was doing had any value at all. I had no one to read it to tell me. So I presented this first manuscript—it was Foster Child—at a writer’s workshop where the Newbery-Award-winning author Maia Wojciechowska read it. She made an announcement telling the entire conference that “Marion Dane Bauer has written a novel called Foster Child, and it’s good! It’s going to be published!”

That’s the moment when I knew for the first time that I could do this thing I wanted so badly to do, and I’ve never been prouder. From that moment on I’ve believed in myself and my work.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever

pinsThey were newly made, pink with cheerful kittens all over them, and they were coordinated with pajamas made new for my identical-twin friends, Betty and Beverly.  Their grandmother had made the pajamas for the three of us and finished them just in time for an overnight together. The only problem—and this is what makes the pajamas particularly memorable—was that their grandmother’s sight was no longer very good, and she simply sewed all the straight pins into the seams and left them there. We spent the whole night, all three of us in the same double bed, saying “Ouch!” every time we moved and pulling out more pins.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

No question . . . having children was the bravest thing I’ve ever done and, as well, as being the thing I’m most grateful I did. I didn’t have children because I was consciously brave but because I had no way of knowing what lay ahead, all the difficulties, all the joys. When you have a child you connect yourself to another human being—a complete stranger—for the rest of your two lives. No divorce possible. And that, if you stop to think about it, is really scary! Fortunately, few of us stop to think those thoughts before we bring a child into our lives.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I’ve forgotten the title and have no idea who the author was, but I can still see the fuzzy pink lamb on the pale blue cover. It was a story of a lamb with pettable pink fuzz who got lost and couldn’t find his mother. Things got so bad that on one turn of the page lightning cracked in the sky and rain fell and the pettable pink fuzz went away entirely. All the colors went away, too. That whole spread was done in grays. I remember touching the smooth gray lamb again and again, wanting to bring the pink fuzz back. Of course, another turn of the page brought everything back and the lamb’s fuzzy, pink glory. The lamb’s mother came back, too. Such a surprising and satisfying ending!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I seldom watch TV, but I’ll admit to being in love with Downton Abbey. When an hour’s show ends, I always want more!

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Skinny Dip with Sharon Chmielarz

What keeps you up at night?

bk_ChmielarzNothing keeps me up at night (knock on wood). I have a couple of glasses of red wine, then shower (usually), hit the mattress, do some leg exercises, and I’m a goner until the next morning. If I slip from that routine and drink something with caffeine too close to 6:30 pm or so, then it’s a different story. Then in the dark at 11:00 pm I worry when and if I’m ever going to fall asleep. 

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

What’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done? Try to stab my father in the back with a scissor when he was attacking my mother.

Describe your favorite pajamas ever.

Oh, yes, I remember my fav PJ’s. My mother worked at a clothing store (Barton’s) and got a discount on whatever she bought. One day she brought home a pair of pink and charcoal gray diamond-patterned cotton PJ’s. The diamonds repeated themselves as in a Harlequin costume. Each pink diamond had a tuft of gray in its center. But the pièce de resistance was the robe that matched it. Knee length. Big side pockets. Sleeves just past the elbow. Any pajama outfit featured in Seventeen would be jealous. The complete outfit was a bit warm in the summer in our non air-conditioned, no-fan house, but I wore it anyway.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Currently, Downton Abbey is my favorite TV show. Don’t call me at 8:00 p.m. Sundays. When the clock’s hand in the TV room edges toward 8:50, I think, “Oh, (expletive).It’s almost over.”

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Slalom skiing has it all for me. First, it takes place in a beautiful landscape. Second—or maybe first—the skiers are beautiful, schussing down a mountain, sashaying this way and that through the gates, leaving a trail of powder spray. I’m amazed by the strength in their legs. I’m very sorry Lindsey Vonn didn’t make the world championship giant slalom finals this year. She has such grace and power schussing down a slope.

 

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Skinny Dip with Elizabeth Verdick

bk_PeepLeap140What keeps you up at night?

Reading much, much too late!

What is your proudest career moment?

In 2005 I won the Henry Bergh Award, which honors books that recognize the need to treat animals with kindness and caring (for my book Tails Are Not for Pulling). I got to stand on a stage in New Orleans with Norman Bridwell, author/illustrator of the Clifford books. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with him. Plus, he was just as nice as I’d imagined he’d be.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

I had a bright red pair of long johns in college, the kind that are all one piece with a flap in the behind. I have no idea when, where, or why I bought them, but I remember one very strange party in the Carleton College dorms where everyone was wearing long johns and this bright red pair came in handy. They got soaked with beer, stained my skin, and went in the trash when I got back to my room. I’m pretty sure beery dorm parties are no longer allowed at my alma mater.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Golden BookWhen I was little, I had a lot of Little Golden Books. Baby’s Mother Goose Pat-a-Cake was one of my early favorites. (I was obsessed with anything that had a cat on it. Still am.) The pages of the book are now faded, yellowed, and torn. The art was by Aurelius Battaglia, and one interior illustration looks a lot like my cat Tom, a tuxedo cat with perfect white mittens and bright green eyes. Now all he needs is a big red bow.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

Peep Leap, my first published work of fiction for children. It took me years! I had written nonfiction but not stories…I had a long learning curve.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

I still love “Let the wild rumpus start!” It gives me shivers. I feel powerful like Max in Where the Wild Things Are.

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. It made me laugh so hard I almost peed.

 

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Skinny Dip with Margo Sorenson

Tori and the SleighWhat is your proudest career moment?

My proudest career moment was doing my first author visit at Hale Kula Elementary School, Wahiawa, HI, the Schofield Barracks elementary, where I spoke to 200 kindergarteners and their parents, many of whom were in cammies, about Aloha for Carol Ann. Tears came to my eyes as I watched the parents and kids interact in the activity the librarian (SLJ Librarian of the Year Michelle Colte) had designed for them, based on my book. To think these parents, who put their lives on the line for our country, took the time to show their kids how important reading and writing are by their attendance and involvement was truly inspirational.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

My favorite pair of pajamas ever are my Royal Stuart red plaid flannels – especially in Minnesota!

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Fencing would be my pick, being a medieval history major, but, sadly, I’ve never even taken one lesson or held a foil in my hand.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was punch the neighborhood bully when I was twelve years old, because he was throwing rocks at two other little neighborhood kids. I’ve not punched anyone since—at least, not that I remember!

What’s the first book you remember reading?

The first book I remember reading was Our Island Story, by H.E. Marshall, the classic children’s storybook about English history from its purported beginning to the 1950’s, with its stories of all the kings and queens and intrigue. The historical characters came to life on the page and they seemed so real to me. It is still on my desk for inspiration. Yes, it’s true; I am a geek!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

The TV show I can’t turn off is Downton Abbey. The characters are classic, the dialogue witty, the plots and subplots intriguing, and the acting marvelous. I wish it would go on forever; it is such a kick!

 

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Skinny Dip with Joanne Anderson Reisberg

Zachary ZormerWhat is your proudest career moment?

I entered a Writer’s Digest Contest and received an Achievement Certificate for having placed 37th out of 100 in ‘picture books.” I felt thrilled to be included, and then I read the contest had received 11,000 entries in 5 different categories. Woo Hoo.

 Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever

When I was ten, I received an outrageous pair of silk pajamas from a childless aunt in Chicago. The bottoms were Chinese red with a black silk top and a mandarin collar, so different from the cuddly flannel PJ’s most of us wore. And that made them…awesome. It’s the out-of-the-ordinary that makes life exciting.

 What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The bravest thing in writing has to have been sending in a quatrain to The Wall Street Journal’s Pepper and Salt, a small cartoon with a quip below it. I haven’t seen it in print, but I made sure to take a picture of the check I received from Dow Jones Publishing Inc.,

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Years ago books were given at birthdays and by the church at Christmas. I received a Grimm’s Fairy Tales and memorized bit’s of the 51 stories as I escaped into fascinating words, yet I always felt safe.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

A gold medal in tennis would be the one. I played competitive tennis for a club at one time, brought in a younger player for a tournament, and had a blast. I still play tennis and love poaching at the net.

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Skinny Dip with Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the CowWhat keeps you up at night?

I don’t need anything to keep me up at night—I am almost always up at night no matter what! When I have morning obligations, I force myself to go to bed at a reasonable time. But when I have a few days in a row where I don’t have to get up “early,” my bedtime slips to a later and later time—until I am regularly staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. The very early morning hours (before I have been to bed) are a very creative time for me. But very early morning hours AFTER I have been to bed—on days I have to get up super-early—are a nightmare!

What is your proudest career moment?

Seeing my name on the cover of a book for the first time (it was my picture book Not Enough Beds!) still ranks as one of the biggest thrills of my life. I determined in 5th grade that someday I would become a published author, and I was really proud to have made that dream come true.

Describe  your favorite pair of pajamas ever

When I was a little girl, my grandma gave me a light-blue nightgown that had light-blue fake fur around the neck and the bottom of the sleeves. I thought it was the most glamorous thing I had ever owned, and I wore it until it was in tatters.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

I grew up in the northern part of Minnesota, where I took figure skating lessons and skated in ice shows. I would love to win a gold medal in figure skating—it’s such a beautiful and athletic sport!

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

I don’t know if it was brave or stupid, but I did scare off a bad guy when I was in college. I was on a trip to Europe with classmates, and some of us were walking through the London subway system late at night when a guy started in our direction in a menacing fashion. Rather than running away, which probably would have been the smart thing to do, I threw myself in front of my companions, lifted my chin, and growled at him. He took one look at me making my “Dude, I’m scarier than you are” face and ran off. I’ve since figured out that I can be very brave when I’m protecting other people, but not necessarily when it’s just about me!

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I think it might have been Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman, one of Dr. Seuss’ Beginner Books. It was definitely from that series. I was really proud that I could read the entire book to my mom, but my teacher secretly told her that rather than actually reading, I had memorized the whole book and was reciting it back.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I like goofy things, so I am a huge fan of Fnding Bigfoot—nothing makes me laugh harder than watching those true believers (and one skeptic) roaming through the woods, howling and knocking on trees in the hopes of attracting the attention of Bigfoots (and yes, that is a correct plural usage). There is something about the seekers’ wide-eyed certainty that someday Bigfoot will show up for the cameras that I can’t resist.

 

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Skinny Dip with Melissa Stewart

Feathers

Charlesbridge, 2014

What keeps you up at night? 

Nothing. I fall asleep the instant my head touches the pillow, and I’m probably the world’s soundest sleeper.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of pajamas.

When I was in college, I spent a term at the University of Bath in Bath, England, and rented a room at a house nearby. Because heating oil is so expensive in Great Britain, most people keep their homes very cool in winter. My little room at the top of the house was freezing. Luckily, my mom found a pair of adult-size pajamas with feet and sent them to me along with a very warm hat and mittens. I was so grateful.

What’s the first book you remember reading? 

Mr. Mysterious and Company by Sid Fleischman. I’m thrilled that I was able to meet Mr. Fleischman and tell him how much his book meant to me.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

The Voice.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal? 

I’m not very athletic, but I do like miniature golf. I don’t think that’s an Olympic sport, but it should be.

 

 

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Skinny Dip with David LaRochelle

Favorite holiday tradition?

Moo

by David LaRochelle Walker Books, 2013 illus. by Mike Wohnoutka

 Without a doubt my favorite holiday tradition is carving pumpkins. It has become such a trademark of mine that people start asking in September what I plan to carve for the upcoming Halloween. I’ve learned to jot down possible pumpkin ideas in my sketchbook throughout the year, but it usually comes down to crunch time (the week before Halloween) before I finally decided on the 4-6 pumpkins I carve each year. I have a gallery of past pumpkin designs, including some I’ve carved for Good Morning America, on my website.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Hopefully I wasn’t obnoxious, but I was very much a teacher’s pet. I would stay after school and go from room to room asking teachers if they needed help putting up bulletin boards or correcting papers. I usually spent the first day or two of summer vacation helping teachers pack up their rooms for the year (it helped that we lived right across the street from the elementary school), and one of my favorite things to do the first week of summer was to “play school” with the extra worksheets that teachers had given me. No wonder I became an elementary school teacher myself!

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

Mr. PudgensWe had an independent reading program when I was in third grade where instead of writing book reports, we could make a diorama, draw a poster, etc. I often enlisted the help of a few classmates and put on a short play based on the book I had read (we loved getting out of class to rehearse on the school’s old stage!). One of the books I have vivid memories of performing was “Mr. Pudgins” by Ruth Christoffer Carlsen about a magical babysitter and a flying bathtub. In one scene a bush begins to make popcorn. One of my friends brought in a huge plastic trash bag of popcorn and hid behind a chair. The class went crazy when he began to throw handful after handful of the popcorn out into the audience. We loved it!

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Some day you will have the last laugh on all the bullies who are calling you “fag” and “homo.” You will also become a published author and illustrator and make lots of kids happy with your funny books.

Or more simply, I wish I could tell my 10-year-old self, “Everything is going to turn out okay.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

I would love to visit with George Selden (author of “The Cricket in Times Square” series, Mac Barnett (author of “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” and many other incredibly creative books) and famed children’s editor Ursula Nordstrom.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

On a plane, heading off on vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

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Skinny Dip with Toni Buzzeo

bk_whosetools_140

Available May 2015

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Although only my father is Italian, I grew up with a strong connection to my Italian heritage. And really, when does one’s heritage shine more brightly than the holidays? So, every Christmas Eve finds me with my family in our Maine farmhouse kitchen making homemade ravioli. My husband Ken rolls out the dough that has been resting on the counter under a bowl for several hours while my son Topher and I wrestle the circles of dough he provides us into folded cushions of deliciousness that we drop into a boiling pot of salted water. Later, we light the candles in our formal dining room and sit down with our grandbaby Camden and our daughter-in-law Caitlin to a feast of baked ravioli, homemade rolls, green salad, and glasses of red wine—the perfect Christmas Eve feast.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Oh goodness, I was neither teacher’s pet nor teacher’s challenge. Instead, I was the invisible child. If my best friend, Linda Benko, was absent, I spoke to no one the entire day, including my teacher! I was so desperately shy, and lived in a cocoon from which I didn’t emerge until I was sixteen years old when I suddenly and quite unexpectedly metamorphosed into the gal I am now, verbally exuberant and highly interpersonal.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

While I don’t remember writing my first book report, I am absolutely sure that, as an enormously passionate reader, I wrote it with great enthusiasm and ardor.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Presents! I adore presents—getting them and especially GIVING them. For me, a deeply satisfying part of preparing a gift for giving is the wrapping, the beribboning, the embellishing. Of course, that means that I keep a five-foot- wide drawer full to the top with a tangle of wrapping paper, ribbons, tags, flowers, gauzy bags, and all manner of doo-dads.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

“As you gobble those piles and piles of library books, Toni Marie, think about what it would be like to WRITE books like those. Dream the dream of being an author.” Sadly, I was never encouraged to write, even in high school when surely, I’d begun to show signs of talent, which is why it took me so very long to launch my career writing for children. How much earlier I might have begun had I heard that advice!

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Here’s one of the best things about being a children’s author. I often get to have dinner with my favorite (living) writers. So, given this opportunity, I’d like to go to my childhood favorites and invite 98-year-old Beverly Cleary, author of my beloved Beezus and Ramona and Henry books; Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books I read over and over; and Carolyn Haywood, author of my other favorite Betsy books. And before that dinner, I would re-read every single one of those childhood favorites.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

For me, there is something completely luxurious about crawling back into bed, of a morning, with a cup of tea and pillows piled all around, and spending an hour or two with a book and not a single electronic device in sight.

 

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Skinny Dip with Nikki Grimes

bk_chasingfreedom_140What keeps you up at night?

My brain! I can’t shut it off. I’m constantly bombarded with thoughts about what’s on my to-do list (I live or die by the list), what arrangements I need to make for the next conference, book festival, or school visit; what work I need to do to elevate the relationships of my characters or ways to make them more authentic; what manuscript I need to concentrate on next (I’m always juggling three or four at one time). When those things aren’t keeping me up, it’s one of my mouthy characters, deciding he or she has something to say that just can’t wait until morning!

What is your proudest career moment?

Entering the White House as a guest for the first time, on the invitation of First Lady Laura Bush, as part of the National Book Festival in 2003, with my sister—my oldest fan—on my arm, beaming! Winning the Coretta Scott King Award for Bronx Masquerade is what got me there.

bk_bronx140In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Ice-skating! I have absolutely no talent in this area, but ice-skating is the one Olympic sport that keeps me glued to the television screen. That combination of lyrical movement and technical skill fascinates me. I especially love those moments of spontaneity when each athlete’s personality shines through. The programs are planned and choreographed, but the performances are very much in the moment. Anything can happen, and I love that! I feel that way when I’m writing a story. Anything is possible. Anything can happen! I put in the work, I lay in the structure, set my character’s back-stories, and then, somewhere along the way, I get into the zone, and—boom! Magic happens, and I score tens across the board—in my mind, at least! Yeah. Ice-skating.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Face down an armed robber, high on drugs, in a Swedish boutique I managed in Stockholm. I was working behind the counter when this guy came into the store and confronted me, his hand in his pocket pointing a gun in my direction. He demanded the money in the register and, when I did not comply, he bared a mouthful of yellowed teeth.

“I will blow you straight to hell,” he told me.

“No,” I said. “You’ll blow me straight to heaven.”

That got him off his game, I think. He took a step back from the counter and gave me a long, hard look.

“What? What did you say?” he asked.

I, calm as the proverbial cucumber, explained to him that, as a Christian, when I died, I was going to heaven, not to hell. Then, blanketed in the perfect peace of God, I proceeded to share with him the gospel of Christ, and invited him to accept Jesus.

Now, mind you, this was an out-of-body experience, because part of me was standing back, watching, asking myself, “Are you crazy?! This man’s got a gun!” But, somehow, in that moment, by God’s grace, I felt no fear.

I talked with him quietly, slowly as if I had all the time in the world.

He asked me a few honest questions about faith and forgiveness, which I answered. As the scene played out, his posture changed. His shoulders softened, his head began to bow, the hand in his pocket relaxed and he let the gun drop.  Eventually, with both hands at his side, he shuffled out of the store, whispering a string of apologies. 

Once he was gone, I returned to my body and trembled from head to foot, like a normal person! It was an extraordinary moment that taught me the reality of the power of God and the perfect peace he can offer in any circumstance. Okay, so maybe this is as much a story about faith as it is about bravery. Anyway, there you have it.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

There are a few, but the one that most surprises me is Shark Tank!

There is something riveting about a person baring his heart in pursuit of a dream, and fighting for that dream in a do-or-die moment, when self-confidence is the key to success. I have wrestled in pursuit of my dreams my entire life. Maybe that’s why this show resonates with me.

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Skinny Dip with Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets

Available August 2015

What keeps you up at night?

Generally I wake up worrying about my kids or my career. The middle-of-the-night scenarios are dire: accidents, Alzheimer’s, awful reviews, abject humiliation in one form or another. Unfortunately I’m a world-class worrier, so there I am lying in a pool of sweat whipped into a fretting frenzy when suddenly an idea pops into my head. A good idea. An idea that solves a writing problem I’ve been grappling with for days. But I don’t know it because middle-of-the-night ideas come in disguise. An image, a line of dialogue, a name, a character I hadn’t thought was important that suddenly begins to speak to me. I write everything down but I often don’t understand the significance of what I’ve written until the next morning.

What is your proudest career moment?

I’m the kid in the back-back of the station wagon. The one who tries hard and everyone says: is such a nice girl. I’m not the star. I don’t have a history of winning anything. The day I won the Newbery Honor changed my life. It made me believe in my dreams in a way nothing else ever has.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas.

My favorite PJs look like an 18th century orphan’s rags. They are worn to threads, the elastic frayed down to one thin rubber band. I live in fear that someone outside my family will see me wearing them, but I simply can’t give them up. They feel like me.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

I’d like to win a gold medal in gymnastics or tennis although in my mind’s eye I look good in those skimpy little outfits. Clearly, I have a great imagination.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Putting the Monkeys to Bed

Available June 2015

Once, I spoke to 1500 middle school kids in a gymnasium the size of the state of Texas. The screen where my laptop projected the images essential for the presentation was the size of a fortune cookie. The audience could not see it. I was the only speaker for an entire hour. I thought I was going to faint when I walked into this situation but the kids had read my books. They wanted to hear what I had to say. You could have heard an ant cross that gymnasium floor. I will always be indebted to the teachers who prepared those kids so well.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Strauss and Crockett Johnson. I still remember holding it in my chubby little hand, reading it for the very first time. I believed I was the main character. In one hundred and one words, Strauss and Johnson told a powerful story that spoke to me on the deepest level. Incredible!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Interesting the way you phrased this question: “can’t turn off” which implies that you should be turning TV off. Or in fact you shouldn’t turn it on in the first place. Honestly, I think that’s a dated point of view. The best writing is in books. No doubt about that. But a close second is writing for television. The Sopranos, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Leftovers, Madmen, Transparent . . . this is fine, fine character writing. Writing for movies, on the other hand, is not nearly as strong as it was ten years ago.

What book do you tell everyone to read?

Not surprisingly I have a lot of favorite books so I will just talk about this month’s favorite books. For YAs: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. For MG readers: Nest by Esther Ehrlich.

 

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Skinny Dip with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamilloDo you remember any book reports you wrote or gave while in elementary school?

No one has ever asked me this question before! Here is the truth: I don’t remember doing one, single book report. Have I blocked the memories out? Or did I really not do any? I’m thinking it’s the latter. Truly.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of pajamas.

Red flannel. Decorated with dogs. And Milk bones. Divine.

What was the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn or seen?

I love the Bugs Bunny mask I wore when I was three. I can still smell the interior of that mask. I can still feel the power of *hiding* behind that mask.

Are you good at wrapping presents?

Ha ha ha. I am laughing. And I can hear my mother laughing from the great beyond. I inherited my inability to wrap presents from her. Present-wrapping always ends up with me in the middle of a great big snarl of wrapping paper and scotch tape. Imagine Bink wrapping a present and you get the right visual.

Do you like to cook for friends or meet them at a restaurant?

Still laughing. Cook for friends? Me? I like to go to *their* houses and eat *their* food. But I do take them out to restaurants to return the favor.

Which outdoor activity are you most likely to participate in: running; fishing; leaf raking; parade watching?

Parade watching. I love a parade. And it’s all a parade.

When did you get your first library card, and from what library?

*Swoon* I got my first library card when was I seven. I got it from the Cooper Memorial Public Library.

Favorite bird?

Crow.

 Which children’s book do you wish you’d read as a child?

Matilda. It wasn’t in our school library or the public library. Strange, huh?

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