Monday, November 5, 2018

Q&A with Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman is the author of the new children's picture book If You're Going to a March. Her many other books for kids include Zap!, Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question, and Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Q: What inspired your new book, If You're Going to a March?

A: Like a lot of people, I have found myself going to a lot of marches since January 2017. To make lemonade out of the situation -- this is a good thing. I think many of us were complacent and the current political situation has shaken us awake. (Shaken us "woke"?)

At these marches, there were a lot of kids. Since many of the issues (gun violence, family separation, climate change) disproportionately affect today's kids today and as representatives of future generations -- this made sense.

But I thought young children especially might not know what to expect at a march, and might not know the larger significance of political action in a democracy even if they'd been to one or two. I also thought parents could use a book like mine as a jumping off point for talking with their kids. 

Q: What has been the reaction to the book from readers?

A: Overwhelmingly positive! Happily, many people have said, "This is exactly the book I was looking for my (child/grandchild/niece/neighbor)!"

One blogger especially lauded me for putting portapotties in the book. He didn't think he'd ever seen portapotties in a picture book before. This made me laugh, but I did want to get down to the nitty gritty of marching, and that's definitely part of the deal (along with traffic and parking). 

I anticipated some pushback from adults who don't think kids should be involved in things they don't understand -- at least I think that's the point they're trying to make. There are a couple of online reviews to that effect. To that I (and most readers) say, so leave kids home from Sunday school and science class, too -- God and science are obviously too big for kids to understand. 

Likewise, I've always rejected the idea that kids' books should be written in kids' vocabularies. How do you learn new words (or new ideas) if you're only exposed to what's familiar? I mean, at the most fundamental level, what is a book for? Learning, right? 

Q: What do you think Violet Kim's illustrations add to the book?

A: A whole lot! I was so grateful that Sterling approached her and she accepted. I think they strike just the right tone, playful without trivializing the importance of the message.

Most of my books are middle-grades, so it's been fun to see my words brought to life in illustrations. I particularly like the final spread where you see my kids' various bedrooms -- definite clues to their varied personalities and backgrounds there.

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

A: I hope kids are informed and families are energized to get back out there and march for what they believe in. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A bunch of things, but today (besides answering your thoughtful questions) a hilarious re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood in which Grandma may or may not be a wicked queen, and Bobby Bear (formerly known as Baby) helps her navigate woods and wolf. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Next year I have a nonfiction book in the queue -- Curious Is as Curious Does, 20 Girls who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists. It was really fun to research and to write. I learned a ton, and readers will, too. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Martha Freeman.

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