Friday, January 12, 2018

Q&A with Judy Sierra

Judy Sierra is the author of the new children's picture book The Great Dictionary Caper. Her many other books include Wild About Books and The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Great Dictionary Caper, and how did you pick the words you included in the book?

A: Even though I’m not an illustrator, my picture books nearly always begin as images in my mind. Often, they arrive unbidden.

About three years ago, I was toying with the idea of a picture book about a parade—a really silly parade. Around the same time, I was blogging about words.

I was in the midst of a post about “onomatopoeia” when I suddenly envisioned noisy words marching in a word parade (Word Parade became the working title of the book). I imagined that all sorts of words had escaped from the dictionary to attend Lexi-Con in Hollyword, and started writing the book.

How did I pick the words for the book? I used a combination of my brain and internet searches. I agonized over which words to include in each category. Eric Comstock, the illustrator, made the final choices from the lists I provided.

Q: What do you think Eric Comstock's illustrations added to the book?

A: I knew from the beginning that this would be a difficult text to illustrate. It called for an artist with a wild imagination. That’s Eric! He understood my ideas and he added many of his own.

The illustrations both delighted and surprised me, which is one of the things I love about being a picture book author—seeing the unexpected things a great illustrator comes up with.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story, and what age group do you think would especially enjoy it?

A: The message of the book is definitely “words are fun.” Every kid who becomes a voracious, lifelong reader goes through a stage of playing with words (some of us never outgrow that stage). Wordplay is absolutely necessary to the process, because when kids play with words, they make them their own.

The best possible reader for this book isn’t one single person, but a duo or group of adults and kids—adults to answer kids’ questions, kids to point out little details that adults often miss.

Kids reading the book by themselves need to have some background knowledge about word categories. The book is perfect for a second or third grader who knows a few of the concepts, like rhyming and onomatopoeia. The book will introduce them to other fun categories such as palindromes and archaisms.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a biography of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. This book has a connection to The Great Dictionary Caper. The Brothers Grimm loved words, and their final project was a dictionary of the German language.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Here is a puzzle: one of the words in The Great Dictionary Caper cannot (yet) be found in any Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I like to think that if Noah Webster were still alive, he would be jolly enough to include it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Thanks again to Judy Sierra for appearing. For other stops on the #DictionaryCaperBlogTour, please check

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