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Author of the Month
2010 Archive
Gary Golio
Meet Gary Golio
Author of Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow:
A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix

ETC: Did you have any problems selling JIMI or getting it published?

Golio: Oh, yes. In fact, when my agent was first shopping the book around, he was told by two prominent editors-one of whom was a person of color-that you couldn't do a picture book on Jimi Hendrix! Some people thought it was inappropriate for children, even though the book is about Jimi as a boy. So that's where my own feathers get ruffled, when people talk about bringing powerful or unusual stories to children, and then refuse to look beyond myths and stereotypes. Jimi's devotion to music and creativity was very pure, as were his youthful dreams and desires.

ETC: Is Jimi a good role model for kids?

Golio: Definitely. Here was a kid who had very little materially, but relied on imagination and hard work to reach his goals. Starting out with a one-string ukulele that his father found, Jimi made the most of what he had, graduated to an old $5 acoustic guitar, and sat for hours listening to the radio and his father's records, trying to duplicate what he heard. He originally wanted to be a graphic designer or artist, and his love of color inspired his approach to music-making. Isn't this what we want to teach our children-the value of imagination and determination?

ETC: What made Jimi different as a musician or creative person?

Golio: Whether you credit his mixed heritage (African, European, American Indian) or the tradition of music-making that existed within his family, Jimi was very open to a wide variety of influences-drawing and painting, blues, jazz, rock and roll, world music and pop. He seemed unhindered by boundaries, and he drew upon everything he saw and heard in composing his music. One of my favorite Jimi quotes is: "I'd like to get something together-like a Handel, Bach, Muddy Waters, flamenco type of thing. If I could get that sound, I'd be happy." That's pure Jimi!

Gail Carson Levine
Gail Carson Levine

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?

Adele Griffin
Adele Griffin

Lisa Brown
Lisa Brown

Adele Griffin and illustrator, Lisa Brown talk about Picture the Dead

ETC: Your book has some dark themes—Andersonville, specifically, and the Civil War, in general, showcase particularly brutal moments in American History. Was there anything that either of you thought was too grim for this book?

BROWN: I think that there is very little that would be too grim for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the gory and grotesque. But we had to be careful when presenting some of this to the general public, who might not share in Adele and my morbid obsessions. The battlefield casualties, the soldiers’ deathbed letters home, the suffering of the wounded and the on-the-field surgeries—we could have made this story very different, tonally. But it is primarily a ghost story, not a war story. Ghost stories tend to be more about a frisson of fear and less about blood and guts. And of course, there is the romance.

ETC: A gothic, illustrated ghost story is an unusual idea. Did you go into this story with one idea, and change any plans midstream?

GRIFFIN: We did. We killed off a character we loved, who wasn’t doing anything for the narrative. And while we knew there would be a strong visual component, the idea of framing the illustrations as a scrapbook was not on the table immediately. It just became intuitive, as we went along, that Jennie would be the one choosing and pasting and creating this book-within-the-book. And then Lisa began to create pieces of art, along with the portrait illustrations, that were more intimate to a young girl’s keepsakes, such as Jennie’s dance card and the dinner menu from the Harvard ball.

Michael de Guzman
Michael de Guzman
ETC: Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus Of Life is your fifth novel for middle readers. What's it about?

de Guzman: Henrietta is a clown. She was born into a small, down-at-the-heels traveling clown circus. Her parents are clowns. Her teachers are clowns. Everybody she knows is a clown. The circus never stops moving. In her opinion, she has the best life of any twelve-year-old on the planet. She never wants things to change. But things do, whether we like it or not. The circus is on its last legs. Henrietta has to face the prospect of it closing. Then she's forced to confront a tragedy that's beyond her imagination.

ETC: Why a traveling clown circus?

de Guzman: Well, to start with, I think life is a circus. It's chaotic and entertaining and confusing and noisy all at the same time. So many things are going on at once it's hard to know where to look. It's bright lights and music and big moments and small ones. Awe and wonder. Laughter and love and tragedy. Then I wanted the story to take place in a tight, somewhat isolated community so that things would be felt more intensely. The clowns, there are only thirteen of them, spend every day of the year, year after year in each other's company. They work together, live together, travel together, and solve their problems together. What effects one, effects them all. I like to make up unusual settings. I like marginal environments. Fanciful places and people. Inside those worlds I like to tell stories about real life, about difficult situations and relationships. The clown circus is Henrietta's world, and ultimately it's no different than any other.

Marc Tyler Nobleman
Marc Tyler Nobleman
ETC: You've written on an eclectic variety of subjects. How do you choose your topics?

Nobleman: For years, I have kept a list of subjects I want to write about; at this point I will likely not get to cover them all, even if I live to be 120, which I fully plan to. Like many writers, I choose subjects that I’m passionate about because that, of course, makes the process more fulfilling and (hopefully) the final product more engaging. (And to be clear, I began my career by writing certain books that were not my idea.) Currently, I’m focusing on picture book nonfiction about subjects that have not been the focus of a book, let alone a picture book, before. For example, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is the only standalone biography of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Hard to believe the story behind Superman, the world’s first (and still greatest) superhero, had not been done yet. I consider myself lucky that I had the good fortune to be the first to tell it in that format.

Meet Tracy Trivas
Author of The Wish Stealers
ETC: What would you want people to know that they never ask?

TRIVAS: What I want people to know that they never ask---is how much I believe in the power of words. As a writer, every day is full of words...picking the most electric verb or choosing an adjective that will sculpt a sentence so smells waft off the page. The right words can help describe the exact shade of my heroine's red hair: "Half autumn leaves and caramel kisses, half blazing sunset."

I love words and often, as a child, I would write words down that I read in books that I didn't know. Then I would look them up in the dictionary...the poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about the power of words and how the word "sword" has the word "word" in it as well...

There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man --
It hurls its barbed syllables
And is mute again --

I love this poem because it so perfectly reveals how the right or wrong word can inflict or incise a wound like a knife. One Native American belief is how words are sacred and one does not give his or her word without great thought and the intent to honor whatever it is that he or she has spoken. The words we speak to our children are alive, filled with incredible power and must be used carefully.

Selene Castrovilla
Selene Castrovilla, Author of Saved by the Music
ETC: Your story begins with fifteen-year-old Willow sent off to spend the summer with her free-spirited aunt in a boatyard, on a barge. How did you come up with such a unique setting?

Castrovilla I can't take credit for creating the setting - I lived in it. When I was a child I helped my aunt Olga Bloom transform a dilapidated coffee barge into a floating concert hall. It's called Bargemusic, and it's been offering concerts for more than thirty years. I used this metamorphosis as the premise for my book.