Carin Berger is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book A Curious Menagerie: Of Herds, Flocks, Leaps, Gaggles, Scurries, and More! Her other books include All of Us and Good Night! Good Night! She lives in New York City.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Curious Menagerie?
A: As a kid I loved collective nouns because of their wonderful wit and wordplay and poetry, so A Curious Menagerie was a project that has been incubating for a very very long time.
When I started to research the origins of these collective nouns I became even more intrigued. Many of the collective nouns included in A Curious Menagerie date back to medieval England and were published in "Books of Courtesy" which were etiquette guides for young aristocrats. Some come from The Book of St. Albans, which was printed in 1486 and written by a prioress named Dame Julyans Barnes.
Q: How did you choose the animals to include?
A: It was practically impossible to narrow down the list of animals to include. There were so many collective nouns that spoke to me. In the end I made the decision based on a combination of those that seemed either funniest or most poetic or most fun to illustrate. But as you can see, I couldn't completely edit the list down: I created the endpapers in order to include many more of my favorites.
Q: Were there any collective nouns you especially enjoyed writing about and illustrating?
A: I found "A Memory of Elephants" particularly poignant, and I loved a "Mischief of Mice" because I had a pair of especially mischievous pet mice named Trinka and Milo when I was in elementary school.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope A Curious Menagerie will ignite a love of language and wordplay and puns. That it will foster creativity and inventiveness. Perhaps readers will feel inspired to create their own collective nouns.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have become really obsessed with gardening. It feels endlessly optimistic to plant seeds and bulbs, and the resulting plants and flowers are always a delight. I also have vivid childhood memories of being outside at night...the smells, the dark, the mystery, the quiet. I am working on a book called In the Night Garden about those memories.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have signed bookplates and postcards that I would be happy to send to anyone who orders a copy of A Curious Menagerie. To get yours, email me at email@example.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Carin Berger.