Anne Renaud is the author of the new children's picture book The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle: The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson's Famous Frozen Treat. Her other books include The True Tale of a Giantess and Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament. She lives in Montreal.
Q: How did you learn about Frank Epperson and why did you decide to write a children's picture book about him?
A: I don’t recall when I first heard of Frank Epperson. I regularly contribute to children’s magazines and had written an article about him several years ago. When I was trolling for ideas for my next children’s book, I came across the article and thought Frank would make an interesting topic for a picture book biography. There was so much kid-appeal: Popsicles, experimenting, inventing at the age of 10. What’s there not to love!
Q: How did you research Epperson's life, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: I was very fortunate to be able to track down and communicate with his surviving children and some of his grandchildren. I owe a lot to Ancestry.com. His family members provided ample background information, including family photos and some of Frank’s personal journals. Frank was truly an inventor, an entrepreneur and a risk taker at heart. I really hope this comes through in the narrative.
I did find out a lot of interesting things about Frank. For example, he and his sweetheart married when they were both still teenagers; they had nine children, including two sets of twins; and Frank designed and built his homes and modeled them on castles.
Although he took out a patent on the process of making his frozen treats on a stick, Frank never trademarked the name Popsicle. Today, Unilever holds the trademark. Following the stock market crash, Frank sold the rights to the Popsicle to pay bills.
Although he later regretted this, given the wealth the rights could have brought him and his family over time, he was always quick to remind his children that what was important was not what they had, but who they were. Frank had a handle on what truly mattered in life.
Q: The book includes some science experiments--how did you come up with those ideas?
A: My publisher, Kids Can Press, requested that I include four science experiments and I thought it was a brilliant idea. It was a challenge trying to find simple science experiments that would mirror some of Frank’s experimentation and I learned quite a lot in the process. I hope readers find them as fun to do as I did when I tested each one out.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: That you can invent at any age, even at 10 years old, as in Frank’s case. That to invent you have to experiment and that it takes patience and perseverance.
Also, that sometimes the person who is credited with an invention is not necessarily the first to have thought of it, or even taken out a patent on the idea. It is often the person who acts upon the idea, manufactures and promotes it that is credited with its invention. Creating something or taking out a patent and doing nothing more with it, is in the end, just that, it is an idea on a piece of paper.
In Frank’s case, it so happens that he is the person who invented a treat, then mass-produced it and promoted it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have been trying my hand at writing free verse and lyrical texts to stretch myself as a writer. I truly believe that I would be a better writer if I read more poetry.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am once again a free agent and am in search of representation.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anne Renaud.