Thursday, December 6, 2018

Q&A with Deborah Bruss and Lou Fancher

Deborah Bruss
Deborah Bruss is the author of the new children's picture book Good Morning, Snowplow, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Bruss's other books include Don't Ask a Dinosaur. Fancher and Johnson have worked together on more than 50 picture books. Bruss lives in Concord, New Hampshire, and Fancher and Johnson live in Northern California.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Good Morning, Snowplow?

DB: There’s a popular children’s bedtime story about construction equipment. Before I had read it, I thought, “But snowplows don’t get to sleep.”

The idea came easily, but how to approach the writing was much more difficult. I often write in the first person point-of-view, but I wanted to avoid giving the snowplow human thoughts and feelings while creating a magical mood.

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

DB: Great question! Some children worry about what will happen during a snowstorm. Others love them, just like I still do. Either way, it’s comforting to know that adults and their trusty equipment keep the world running.

Also, the story is about working as a team and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. And maybe an accident will be prevented by a 5-year-old backseat driver who sternly tells a parent, “Don’t pass a plow when it’s slippery!”

Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
LF: We hope they find inspiration for writing their own stories and creating artwork. Oh, and a little respect and appreciation for the men and women who work hard to keep them safe. Not just snowplow drivers, but parents, families, friends, teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement, peace activists and others.

Q (For Deborah Bruss): What do you think Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson's illustrations add to the book?

DB: Their illustrations blew me away! They created a snowplow that has a can-do personality and that obviously enjoys its work. This mirrors the attitude of the two snowplow drivers who came to my book signings and told the audience, “I love to plow!”

Fancher’s and Johnson’s color palette balances the darkness of a nighttime snowstorm with the bright colors that keep a young child’s attention and gives the illustrations a magical quality.

When an illustrator adds a character who isn’t in the text, it’s always fun. What better partner for the driver than a dog with a calm personality.

Also, I’m always on the lookout for characters who aren’t what most readers expect. In this case, the drivers of the snowplow and the front loader aren’t white males. Also, it was a good surprise to see the story set in the Midwest instead of a familiar snowy New England town.

Q (for Lou Fancher): Who are some of your favorite illustrators?

LF: We actually learn and value the work of every person making visual art. That includes fine artists, illustrators, graphic designers, filmmakers and more. Even an artist whose work we wouldn’t say is similar to the art we make or whose art is still developing teaches us important lessons about art’s possibilities.

Q (for Deborah Bruss): Who are some of your favorite authors?

My favorite author from my childhood is Robert McCloskey. I never tire of reading Blueberries for Sal to my granddaughters.

Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon has been a favorite ever since I read it to my sons in the 80s. Jane is one of those rare authors who can write in many different genres including picture books about silly dinosaurs, poems for all ages, epitaphs that are outrageously funny, and historical fiction for middle-grade readers.

She’s also one of the queen-pins of the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI), who graciously shares her time, knowledge, wisdom and humor with other authors, be they experienced or just beginning.

Doreen Cronin’s ability to write hysterical stories with a minimum of words, such as Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, never bore me no matter how many times I read them.

Q: What are you working on now?

DB: I’m writing a middle-grade historical fiction novel about Nazi spies in Maine, which was inspired by a (true?) family story. The research was a blast. Trying to write it is like trying to catch a swarm of fireflies with a jar. When you take off the lid to catch one, others escape.

Also, ever since writing Don’t Ask A Dinosaur with Matt Forrest Esenwine, I’ve been imagining clumsy or mischievous dinosaurs becoming teachers or camp counselors or restaurant waitstaff.

LF: A new children’s book and with our publishers finding more great manuscripts to illustrate!

We were honored to illustrate the story by Deb Bruss. To take any writer’s work into the visual realm is a unique and precious opportunity involving trust and the freedom to express ourselves, for which we are always grateful.

Sure, there’s hard work, months of research and tons of drawing, drawing, drawing—but always, as in the case of designing a funky snowplow, there’s an element of fun!

Q: Anything else we should know?

DB: As a child, I didn’t read a lot partially due to a slight, undetected learning disability. I didn’t figure it out until I had read many thousands of pages out loud to my boys and discovered that my eyes no longer backtracked every few words; they were able to track smoothly across the page.

Writing was not a favorite subject of mine either until I had an inspiring teacher in college.

Later, when my firstborn refused to read, I wrote him a simple adventure story, which I then blindly submitted to a popular press. An editor asked me to revise it, but I didn’t have a clue about the process so I took courses, began writing humorous and educational essays for a Sunday paper, and helped start a writing group.

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

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