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Gail Carson Levine Interview with Gail Carson Levine August 2010

Once upon a time a bestselling author named Gail Carson Levine wrote a picture book about Little Red Riding Hood. Levine was already renowned for her fresh takes on classic fairy tales, such as Ella Enchanted, her Newbery Honor-winning novel based on Cinderella. For this new book she decided to turn a traditional tale on its head. Or turn a sheep's tail into a lamb's ear. Or change a wolf into a sow's purse. Oh, never mind.

A feisty young shepherd girl teams up with a wolf in Betsy Red Hoodie (HarperCollins), which Publishers Weekly calls an "uproarious adaptation." It's a followup to the popular Betsy Who Cried Wolf, both illustrated by Scott Nash. Levine works her signature magic with action, suspense, and plenty of woolly humor as the story takes a surprising twist.

Betsy and Zimmo the wolf are friends who guard the sheep. But when they set out for Grandma's house and Zimmo suddenly races ahead, Betsy worries that maybe he really does intend to eat Grandma. Wisecracking sheep and punning lambs don't pull the wool over anyone's eyes in this hilarious tale, from which every young reader is sure to come away in a good, not B-A-A-A-D, mood. Nash's funny illustrations depict a contemporary-looking Betsy (in a red hoodie, of course!), sheep that sport hats, shoes, and backpacks, and an earnest wolf in men's clothing who enjoys picking daisies.

Young readers first encountered Betsy and Zimmo in Betsy Who Cried Wolf, which Kirkus Reviews called "a must-have." The determined young heroine, fresh out of Shepherd School, outfoxes Zimmo the wolf when she discovers his fondness for pie. But Zimmo, in turn, has a surprise for Betsy. Drama and wit abound in this delightful romp.

Gail Carson Levine's first book, Ella Enchanted, won a Newbery Honor and was made into a major motion picture. She has received numerous awards and is the author of seventeen other children's books, many of which have been bestsellers. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages.

Levine lives in New York's Hudson Valley. Learn more.

Betsy Red Hoodie
Ages 4-8

Betsy Who Cried Wolf!
Ages 4-8

For more books by Gail Carson Levine, search ETC's web site.

ETC: How would you describe Betsy, the heroine of Betsy Red Hoodie?

LEVINE: She's intensely moral, as many children are, and loyal. She defends her best friend and fellow shepherd, Zimmo the wolf, against accusations that he has evil designs on her grandmother. When Zimmo runs off and Betsy begins to doubt him, she shows her mettle by finding a missing lamb, coaxing her uncooperative sheep in a rainstorm, dragging them up a muddy hill one by one, all while rushing valiantly to save Grandma.

ETC: You're best known for fantasy novels. Why write a picture book?

LEVINE: When I started writing in 1987, I began with picture books - which no editor would publish. I attempted a novel only after an editor asked me to expand an eight-page manuscript called Dave at Night into a chapter book. While doing the expansion I discovered that the long form suits me, but I still love picture books. Most of my books are retellings of old tales, and some stories seem meant for a younger audience. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is one, and I based my first Betsy book on it, Betsy Who Cried Wolf. Another is "Little Red Riding Hood", which took me straight to Betsy Red Hoodie.

ETC: Why rewrite fairy tales?

LEVINE: When I was little I enjoyed the nonstop action and the exotic details in fairy tales: the seven-league boots, cloaks of invisibility, genies popping out of lamps. As an adult I'm more interested in the mysteries. Why does the prince in "Sleeping Beauty" go through that wicked-looking hedge? The answer gave me my Princess Tales book, Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep. Why does Cinderella obey her awful stepmother and stepsisters? The answer gave me Ella Enchanted.

ETC: Why write for children rather than for adults?

LEVINE: My most important reading experiences were as a child. I was the kind of kid who read while walking down the street - and stumbled when I came to a curb. My family lived in a cramped New York City apartment and I shared a bedroom with my older sister. I rarely felt I had enough privacy, so books became my refuge. I never thought about writing for adults; it's been children all the way.

ETC: What is the difference between writing a picture book and a novel?

LEVINE: Compression. Picture books are hard to write! In a novel I can wander around a bit, but in a picture book every word has to count. The vocabulary can be challenging, because an adult will read the book to the child. But each word must contribute somehow - to plot or humor or feeling or rhythm.

And omission. In a novel I have to show everything, but in a picture book I can leave description to the illustrator. One of the treats of writing these books is to see what Scott Nash comes up with. When I wrote Betsy Who Cried Wolf I had no idea the wolf and the sheep would stand up on two legs. And in Betsy Red Hoodie, Zimmo is in striped pants and a vest; the sheep wear hats, some carry backpacks, and one sheep even plays the guitar!