Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Q&A with Linda Ashman



Linda Ashman is the author of the new children's picture book Fire Chief Fran. Her many other books include I Like This, You Like That. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


Q: What inspired you to write Fire Chief Fran?


A: I wanted to write an action-packed story set in a fire station that would be fun to read aloud—written in rhyme with lots of repetition. And I wanted the star of the story to be a female fire chief.


This was important to me, especially as I learned more about the scarcity of women in this field, particularly in leadership roles, and spoke with some female fire chiefs about the work they do. They’re so impressive!


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about firefighters?


A: Many people have been surprised at how few female firefighters there are relative to men. Less than 10 percent of all firefighters—and only 4 percent of career (vs. volunteer) firefighters—are women, and female fire chiefs are just a fraction of that total.


Another misconception is that firefighters mainly put out fires. In reality, firefighting is a relatively small part of what they do. The majority of calls to fire stations—about two-thirds, on average—are for medical emergencies.


One fire chief told me she prefers the term “All Hazard” department because they’re typically the first on the scene in any sort of emergency—whether it’s an injury, building collapse, flood, animal rescue, earthquake or fire.


And lots of folks think that firetrucks are always red and firehouses all have fire poles. In fact, many places have done away with or modified their fire poles—they’re too dangerous!

Q: What do you think Nancy Carpenter's illustrations add to the story?


A: Nancy Carpenter is one of the most talented illustrators around and brings so much to every book she illustrates (this is actually our second book together).


Fire Chief Fran is fiction, of course, but Nancy and I both wanted to give a reasonably accurate sense of what life might be like in a small town fire station. Nancy manages to do this while also conveying action, excitement, personality, warmth and humor.


I love her depiction of Fran as a strong but relatable leader running the show. And, as a dog lover, I was so happy to see Nancy’s adorable firehouse pooch. And, wow, that cover! As my husband says, it really pops.


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


A: My first hope, always, is that kids like the story and want to read it again (and again).


Second, I hope it normalizes the idea of women in leadership positions, especially in non-traditional fields, and empowers some young girls to think: I want to be a fire chief!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve got a few manuscripts out on submission and need to start something new—always the hardest part for me.


And I’ve got a few books coming out in 2023 that I’m excited about. Wonder Dogs!, illustrated by Karin Obuhanych, will be published by Simon & Schuster in February. And Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals, illustrated by Aparna Varma, comes out with Kids Can Press in June.


Both, in different ways, feature one of my favorite subjects—the amazing abilities of animals.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d love to give a quick shout out to four female fire chiefs who took the time to answer my many questions: Donna Black (Duck, N.C.); Wendy Stevens (Monroe, Mich.); Tracy Kenny (Broadview, Ill.); and Toni Washington (Decatur, Ga).


I’m also grateful to Brenda Berkman, the first female firefighter in the New York City Fire Department. I happened to hear an interview with her on Preet Bharara's podcast after Fire Chief Fran had been rejected by a few publishers who’d said things like “We already have a firefighter book.”


Hearing Brenda’s struggles as the only woman in the department reinforced my feeling that it was important for kids to see a woman in this kind of leadership role. My agent tweaked her pitch letter to emphasize this aspect of the story, and Astra acquired the book not long afterward. If not for Brenda and Preet, this book might not have happened!


Thanks so much, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment