Saturday, October 20, 2018

Q&A with Ged Adamson

Ged Adamson is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Douglas, You're a Genius!, a sequel to Douglas, You Need Glasses!. His other books include Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) and Shark Dog!. He lives in London.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Douglas, You're a Genius!?

A: I was initially thinking about an idea where Douglas and Nancy are in competition with each other. There’s some objective and they disagree about how to achieve it. They try out their own plans and it gets crazy.

But then I thought what if it’s a bit more co-operative and there’s something they want to find out? The idea of what’s on the other side of the fence came to me. It’s also a symbolic thing in a way and it’s about reaching out instead of putting up barriers. Quite topical really!

When Douglas and Nancy finally meet the kids from the other side, they see that they’re just like them and they all create something wonderful together.

Q: Did you know when you wrote about Douglas and Nancy in

 Douglas, You Need Glasses! that you'd be doing a sequel?

A: I didn’t at all! At that time it was all about seeing how the first book went down. The response was really positive from a lot of people. Especially children with glasses and their parents, which was lovely to see.

It was so great to get asked to do this new one. I love Douglas and Nancy, and knowing I would be doing a second book with these two was very exciting.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from this new book?

A: I’ve mentioned already two of the main messages but here’s a few more things:

That it’s very good to be curious about stuff that’s a little outside your immediate environment and experience.

That solving problems can be fun and can involve silliness and creativity!
Nancy gets a bit bossy in this story and doesn’t let Douglas have his say - so I hope kids will see that it’s important to let everyone contribute and be heard.

And that sometimes the simplest solutions are best!

Q: In our previous interview, we talked about your writing and illustrating process. What was it like this time around?

A: It was different in that this new story has a slightly more surreal quality than the first. The idea that there’s this huge fence at the bottom of the garden and the two characters (whose back yard it is) have no idea what’s on the other side is pretty dream-like!

Douglas You’re A Genius! is more like an allegory whereas the first book is more straightforward in its message.

The illustration side of things was more of a challenge this time around. For most of the story, Douglas and Nancy are standing on a grass lawn next to a fence. So I had to make sure there was lots of variety, fun and movement in the images--hope I managed it!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a book about a fox who finds something interesting buried in the snow. The great thing is I’m doing this one with the Douglas publishers, Schwartz and Wade, so I’m very excited about it. The illustration style is slightly different to the Douglas books - it’s been a lot of fun so far. It will be out next year.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: For more Douglas, foxes and other silly stuff, check out my instagram.

Thanks for having me, Deborah!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ged Adamson.

Oct. 20

Oct. 20, 1940: Robert Pinsky born.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Q&A with Jacqueline Jules

Jacqueline Jules is the author of the new children's book Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Hears It All, the seventh in her Zapato Power series. Her other books include Never Say a Mean Word Again and Drop By Drop. She is also a poet, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Dragon Poet Review and Marsh Hawk Review. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new Freddie Ramos book?

A: Zapato Power #7:Freddie Ramos Hears It All continues the storyline of Zapato Power #6: Freddie Ramos Rules New York.

Zapato Power #6 answers the question young readers have asked me at almost every school visit. What happens when Freddie outgrows his sneakers? After all, Freddie’s super-powered purple sneakers are special and the source of his super powers. Can they be replaced when Freddie’s feet get too big for them?

The answer is fortunately “YES.” But the new magic sneakers don’t work exactly like the old ones. Freddie receives a new super power. In addition to super speed and super bounce, Freddie now has super hearing.

The plot line of Freddie Ramos Rules New York gave Freddie only a few brief opportunities to test his super hearing. I wanted to give Freddie more time to use his new super power and to consider the possibilities for his career as an elementary school super hero.

While super hearing is a wonderful asset, it can also be a big responsibility. What do you do if you have overheard a private conversation? Should you use the information? Can Freddie use his super hearing without becoming a super snoop?

In Freddie Ramos Hears It All, Freddie must deal with the dilemma of having a super power which constantly distracts him. Should he answer every call for help?

Q: Much of the book takes place at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. Why did you decide on that as a location?

A: The Air and Space Museum setting was chosen for two reasons. First off, I wanted to keep the series fresh by giving Freddie a new environment for adventure. Many of the earlier stories take place in and around Starwood Elementary and Starwood Park Apartments. It was fun to see Freddie in New York for Zapato Power #6. Why not give him a new place to run around in Zapato Power #7, too?

I chose a field trip to the Air and Space Museum. On a field trip, Freddie would be able to interact with his friends from school and have new opportunities for helping others. By Chapter 2, Freddie is off searching for a young child lost in the museum.

Since I live in the Washington, D.C., area, visiting the Air and Space Museum to do research was easy. I spent a lovely day at the museum, gathering ideas for Freddie Ramos Hears It All. 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: Most kids are attracted to superhero stories. They enjoy imagining themselves with extraordinary abilities like Superman or Wonder Woman. When Freddie mysteriously receives a box with super-powered purple sneakers, he lives every kid’s dream.

However, the reality of getting what you want can be more challenging than you expected. How do you manage your real life with the distraction of super hearing? Would you be tempted to use your super hearing in the wrong way?

As kids read Freddie Ramos Hears It All, I hope they will consider how the ability to eavesdrop could complicate their lives. Freddie learns new things about himself in Freddie Ramos Hears It All. He grows emotionally. I love giving Freddie the chance to grow as a character as the series continues.

Q: What do you think Miguel Benitez's illustrations add to the books?

A: I adore Miguel’s illustrations. They provide a comic book dimension to Freddie’s adventures. Some of the illustrations are done in panels. In Zapato Power #1: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, Freddie is seen racing out of a panel, as he experiences the freedom of super speed for the very first time.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: This morning, I went over the copyedits for Zapato Power #8: Freddie Ramos Adds It All Up. I am thrilled to share that Freddie will have an 8th adventure in 2019.

This story is set at Starwood Elementary where Freddie is failing math and afraid his friends will make fun of him. At the same time, he is trying to help a mysterious new girl who is being bullied. As he grapples with both problems, Freddie gains a new perspective on how to help someone who is sensitive about being different.    

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Please visit my website to find activity sheets, songs, and other ideas for using my books in the classroom.

Please Like Me on Facebook at Children’s Books by Jacqueline Jules to hear all the latest news on my books.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jacqueline Jules. 

Q&A with LaTanya McQueen

LaTanya McQueen is the author of the new book And It Begins Like This. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Carve Magazine and Passages North. She is a visiting assistant professor of English-Creative Writing and African American Studies at Coe College and the creative nonfiction editor for Gigantic Sequins.

Q: You write of your ancestor Leanna Brown that “her story became a prism for me to look at all these other issues relating not just to race but how I had come to understand myself.” Can you say more about this?

A: I struggled a lot with issues relating to my black identity. I had a lot of self-hatred over that. Part of the book was me trying to figure out where it came from. My family had a lot of issues relating to race, and a lot came to my mother. A lot angled back to that story [about Leanna Brown]….

For me, I was trying to examine the history of where the self-hatred came from and why I had it. Part of it had to do with my mother, part with the story, part with the way culture privileges ways of looking at some versus looking at others. Part is that, and part of behavior.

With the University of Missouri, during the time I was there, a lot of racial protests happened. I was going through comprehensive exams. I wasn’t really involved. After that, I thought about why that was. The main thing was thinking about my identity and where the feelings about that came from.

Q: What initially inspired you to write this book?

A: I’m primarily a fiction writer. Around that time, I was doing my Ph.D., and midway through, I was reading a lot about trauma, about black history, a lot of things that were upsetting. That was laying the foreground.

Around the beginning of 2015, my grandmother died. It was one of those things where she was the last person in my family I could talk to about my mother and what possible trauma could have happened to her.

That was the catalyst for thinking about my mother, trying to do research into her ancestry and the story. You have cops in the background, and I was already thinking about race, and we were coming off the tail end of the protests over Michael Brown.

Also, I was working on this novel and was struggling with it. I felt very frustrated. I wanted a different outlet. I said to myself, I am going to spend time looking at the story and trying to write something on it. I’m going to see what I can do.

At the time, I didn’t identify myself as a nonfiction writer. I wrote one essay and then another. It went very quickly.

Q: In the book, you write that “with every moment of progress there comes a moment of backlash. We have made progress and now we are seeing the tide of it recede.” What do you hope readers take away from your book, given the current situation surrounding race relations in this country?

A: For me it was important; in order to understand myself, I had to look at my beginnings. For me, it was this story. Now, with the election, there was a question of how did we get here? What happened?

If you look at history, there are patterns. Progress is very much cyclical. Part of it was thinking about that—also to have change, we have to understand how we got to the place we did.

It’s important to recognize the history of that, how we’ve gotten here. Thinking about institutional racism, policies that have harmed people of color and marginalized groups. We have to look at the beginning and then assess how we got here. We can’t selectively choose from history.

Q: As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, do you have a preference?

A: I started with fiction. I love fiction. Both genres are really interesting. When I was in school I was a journalist. I wanted to do in-depth feature reporting. I didn’t want to do straight news.

If I had realized what the nonfiction genre was early on--there are so many subgenres I find fascinating--I might have been drawn to that first.

I don’t know if I necessarily have a preference. With fiction, I’m always attempting to do something different. It’s really important to me. Whenever I have something new, I tend to gravitate toward fiction.

With nonfiction, it’s more of a question that motivates me. I’m planning another nonfiction book—trying to understand something.

Q: I was going to ask you, what are you working on now?

A: I’d written a novel for my dissertation and am scrapping that. I’m starting a new book, set in North Carolina. The premise is that the ghosts of slaves come back to murder the descendants of the slave-owning ancestors.

It takes place on a plantation that was renovated into a park. I wanted to write a book about it and take it to an extreme. The workers have jobs where they reenact aspects of plantation life. The main plot is that a woman has come back for the wedding of friends, and people start disappearing because they’re being murdered. I’m trying to finish it [soon].

For nonfiction, I’m in the planning stages of essays that look at race. I’ll go across the country looking at different symbols of how the country grappled with race. There’s a man who travels across the country staying at slave cabins. There’s a museum of racist memorabilia. I was wanting to go to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello but maybe by next year it will have settled down.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 19

Oct. 19, 1931: John le Carré born.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Q&A with Philip Padgett

Philip Padgett is the author of the new book Advocating Overlord: The D-Day Strategy and the Atomic Bomb. He worked in the field of national security and preparedness analysis for 40 years.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on this particular period during World War II in your new book?

A: Having canoed the same waters years later as a teenager, I went through my career in national security analysis with an enduring curiosity about a fishing trip that Franklin D. Roosevelt made in August 1943 to a remote area of Ontario, 760 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. 

How could the president leave the capital – in secret as became clear – at a critical time in directing a global war? Why did he go? What happened if indeed anything did? Setting the temporal context for that 10-day fishing trip expanded in stages. What transpired over the year 1943, from January to December, captures well the revealed drama of related decisions whose effects are with us today.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill during this period?

A: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were gentlemen and cordial to each other, qualities not in evidence in all of today’s leaders. Having had no relationship before World War II, by 1943, FDR and Churchill had come to see themselves as personal allies, not just the leaders of allied nations. 

I say allies rather than friends because, as the book describes, the closeness of their relationship did not preclude either from manipulating, breaking oral commitments, or deceiving the other. At heart, each was a national leader diligent in pursuit of his country’s national interests. 

Before the fishing trip, Roosevelt always took the position that in the Anglo-American alliance “there is no senior partner.” After the fishing trip, FDR asserted himself as senior partner. But, before making final a key decision on what would be the posture of the United States in the postwar world, FDR nevertheless consulted Churchill.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Answering the last part of your question first, the link between the outwardly separate Anglo-American war strategy negotiation and negotiation of resumed atomic research cooperation was a surprise. The evidence is mostly – not entirely – circumstantial, but extensive and, to me, persuasive.

Starting from a president’s simple 10-day fishing trip, I quickly became amazed by the proliferating paths my research took. Over the course of eight years, many people, sometimes in unexpected places, helped me. 

I made extensive use of national libraries and archives in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. I benefited from material from all of the U.S. military service historical organizations, but also from universities, local historical societies, and corporate historians. The FDR Presidential Library is a wonderful resource. Site visits in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and France yielded insight obtainable nowhere else.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: In 1943, beyond the details of their differing military perceptions, the military chiefs of Britain and the United States confronted a difficult barrier not at first defined by them, but which had to be overcome before they could agree on how to go on to win the war in Europe from the west. 

As they finally said to each other, “Our problem is that we are not trusting each other.” The reasons for that, built up between the end of World War I and 1940, should be familiar to us today: misplaced sense of being taken advantage of by the other; suspicion of the motive and capability of the other; real and perceived impact of the protective tariffs of the other.  

The enormous Allied power building in North America could not be directed onto agreed course to liberation in Europe without the chiefs first trusting each other. That trust, so easily dissipated after cooperation in the First World War, could not be reestablished by throwing a switch, even in the presence of a shared existential threat. That is a lesson for our time.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m looking for something that winks at me. Possibly that could be a book on the British general who acted against orders, thus risking his career, to send to Washington at a critical moment the first Overlord plan.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One good way to prevail over the 24-hour churn of “breaking news” is to step back, take a breath, and read something…like a book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jessi Rausch

Jessi Rausch is the author of the new children's picture book She Shines Bright. She lives in New Jersey.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for She Shines Bright?

A: My daughter is by definition a "girly-girl," obsessed with princesses, mermaids, ballerinas, and unicorns. I wanted to explain to her in a very positive light that while those things are great, she has the ability to be whatever she dreams someday. And though her current dreams involve wearing a tutu every day, there's something bigger out there waiting for her!

While she still loves a good dress and her favorite color is purple, I think it has helped open her eyes to dream bigger!

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

A: As mentioned, I originally wrote this book for my daughter. However, after working through it more, I realized its ability to help young minds be open to future possibilities. While media is slowly starting to change over, there is still a strong need for these types of books.

Young girls deserve to be the star of the show, and even more importantly, they can be the star without needing someone else's help to get there. My hope is that girls everywhere will know they are capable of making their dreams happen...even as President! 

Q: What do you think Monica Nicolosi's illustrations add to the book?

A: I really appreciate Monica's edgy drawings. I think they add an extra layer of unique character to the book. I wanted to make sure only females were included in the book and I like the way her raw, unrefined approach is set apart from the average children's book illustrations.

I also enjoy norm4eva's border image for the cover, as I believe it makes the book stand out more....which is the same idea I had for young girls reading the book, to shine bright!

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: This is definitely the most difficult question! I have a hard time defining anything as a favorite, besides my kids of course!

Recent books I've read and thoroughly enjoyed are Liane Moriarty's What Jane Forgot, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber, and even Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan; so as you can see I shift around from a good drama, to self-help, and even non-fiction.

Reading is all about expanding the mind and a lot of that depends on what type of mood you're in. For children's books, I love a good rhyme, as well as the What Do You Do with an Idea? series and I can never get enough of watching my kids do ABC Yoga by Christiane Engel.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a few other children's books right now. They follow similar themes of girl power and/or respecting those who are often a minority. I hope that my next books continue challenging young readers to accept and empower those who are different than us!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: She Shines Bright is not just for girls. I think it's a very important lesson for boys to also understand. We need our next generation of men to know that women can be anything and deserve just as much. It's a very important lesson for our boys because they have the ability to help us close the gap.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb