Skinny Dip with Laura Purdie Salas

Laura Purdie Salas
Lau­ra Pur­die Salas

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas is a poet, a researcher, and a pop­u­lar vis­it­ing author in ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools. Sev­er­al of her books have turned heads and stirred up a buzz, includ­ing Water Can Be … and If You Were the Moon. She has pub­lished many books about writ­ing for chil­dren and fre­quent­ly speaks at con­fer­ences. We’re pleased that this very busy author is spend­ing some time with Bookol­o­gy this month.

What's the weirdest place you've ever read a book?

Perched in a tree and lying underneath a trampoline in the shade were two favorite spots when I was a kid growing up in Florida. I have also read books on boring carnival rides, during recitals (don’t tell!), and while canoeing. There is pretty much no place I would not be happy to read a book.

Laura Purdie Salas, reading in a tree
Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, read­ing in a tree

What is the predominant color in your wardrobe?

Black, but that sounds so sad! I live in yoga pants in my daily life, and black ones are the most flattering. My top half is usually more colorful—I swear!—and blues and purples are my favorite colors to dress in.

Which library springs to your mind when someone says that word? What do you remember most about it?

The original Winter Park, Florida, Library. I would ride my bike to the small, ancient-looking building once or twice a week. When I would walk between the tall white columns to go inside, it was like entering another planet. Big wooden card catalogs. The bustling hush of people walking purposefully around. The children’s area, where I knew I was supposed to be. The rest of the library, where I wandered around and learned about the world beyond the happy little children’s books. I can still picture the wall around the corner that had all the mysteries, where I worked my way through the Agatha Christies. I felt like everyone there was smart and happy, and I knew books were the reason. l always checked out as many books as I could juggle home. Halfway through my childhood, they built a new library, which was very nice and modernized and bigger. I know I used that one constantly, too. But my memories are all of the first one—my very first library.

Which book that you read as a child has most influenced your life?

The Figure in the Shadows John BellairsI devoured books like they were potato chips, and I went for quantity—and escapism. I lost myself in books, and they were sort of like lost dreams afterward. I don’t remember too many individual books, but The Figure in the Shadows, by John Bellairs, was a big favorite. It showed me that family isn’t restricted to your biological family. And it scared the bejeebers out of me—I loved it! Two others I read around (I think) 7th grade, Crooked House, by Agatha Christie, and Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, still haunt me a little. SPOILER ALERT: In Crooked House, the murderer is a child, which totally shocked me. Not a misunderstood child. Not a mentally ill child. A greedy, selfish child the same age I was when I read the book. It made me think about the enormous capacity for good and evil human beings have. Flowers for Algernon, which I recently reread, shaped my thoughts about love, intelligence, kindness, and the limits of science. And it broke my heart.

Have you traveled outside of the United States? Which country is your favorite to visit? Why?

In the past ten years, I’ve gotten to visit Scotland twice, Ireland, France, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Iceland. So far, Scotland is my favorite—so beautiful and with so much history. Familiar enough to be comfortable, but foreign enough to be an adventure. But seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland was my favorite single event while traveling. This world is just so amazing.

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, on the shore of a loch in Scotland
Lau­ra Pur­die Salas with her hus­band, Randy Salas, tour­ing a lava tube cave in Iceland
the north­ern lights as viewed from Iceland

What’s the last performance you saw at a theater?

Improv comedy at ComedySportz in Minneapolis. Improv is so much fun—watching people create stories, live, in the moment, is incredible. It’s like being thrown into a thunderstorm of a first draft, and you never know when lightning will strike.

When you walk into a bakery, what are you most likely to choose from the bakery cases?

Something frosted! Or with gooey caramel. Or with a mousse. When I buy cupcakes, I always ask the baker to choose the one with the most frosting for me. It drives me nuts on baking shows when a judge will say with disdain, “This cream cheese frosting is just too sweet.” Or “You have way too much buttercream on this cake.” Scientifically impossible statements, in my opinion.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in outer space, and why?

Outer space fascinates me, but I’d want to live in the ocean. The idea that there are still so many mysteries and unexplored places on our very own planet is crazy! Plus the ocean is so … watercolory and gorgeous and tranquil. Outer space seems less hospitable—all darkness and sharpness and empty space.

If you could write any book and know that it would be published and tens of thousands of people would read it, which book would you write?

I would write a picture book, maybe a poem, that would reassure kids that they are who they choose to be. They are not defined by their home, their family, or their family’s jobs, income, cars, education level, illnesses … But without sounding preachy, of course! :>)

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Sara Matson
6 years ago

Thanks for shar­ing, Lau­ra! Your descrip­tion of that library brought back mem­o­ries of my own child­hood library. I will always remem­ber the smell of paper and air con­di­tion­ing there! (I think most of my vis­its must have been on hot sum­mer days. :))

Laura Purdie Salas
Reply to  Sara Matson
6 years ago

Fun­ny how smells take you back:>) Thanks for read­ing, Sara!

Tunie Munson-Benson
6 years ago

Your incli­na­tion to grav­i­tate to the gooey (where sweets are con­cerned!) was no sur­prise to me, but there were plen­ty of new insights about you, Lau­ra, in this engag­ing inter­view. So glad I read it,

Laura Purdie Salas
Reply to  Tunie Munson-Benson
6 years ago

Thanks, Tunie! Yeah, you Word­smiths know all my sweet secrets;>)

Heidi Rabinowitz
6 years ago

My first library also made the biggest impres­sion. They’ve ren­o­vat­ed and expand­ed since then. It’s beau­ti­ful but not real­ly rec­og­niz­able as my old library.

Laura Purdie Salas
Reply to  Heidi Rabinowitz
6 years ago

It’s like some­one you love get­ting plas­tic surgery – they might look bet­ter (though that’s debat­able, too), but you still want the “real” person/library:>)

David LaRochelle
6 years ago

Great inter­view, Lau­ra! I’m envi­ous of your trav­els, espe­cial­ly to Scot­land and Ice­land. If you enjoyed “The Fig­ure in the Shad­ows,” I bet you’d enjoy the new book I just fin­ished last night, “Win­ter­house” by Ben Guter­son. It’s got mys­tery, puz­zles, an exot­ic loca­tion, and creepy dan­ger. I loved it!

Laura Purdie Salas
Reply to  David LaRochelle
6 years ago

Thanks, David. Wow, you’re the trav­el man, so I’m sur­prised to hear that. You would love Scot­land and Ice­land, I think. The land­scapes and history…amazing. Thanks for the book rec­om­men­da­tion and for all the games pictures!

Joyce Sidman
6 years ago

Great ques­tions and great answers! I loved Flow­ers for Alger­non, too, and it def­i­nite­ly changed my think­ing about the world. Thanks for show­ing us a piece of your child­hood, Laura!

Laura Purdie Salas
Reply to  Joyce Sidman
6 years ago

Thanks, Joyce – so fun to hear we have a for­ma­tive book in common:>)