Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Author Interview: Liz Garton Scanlon

It’s not every day I welcome a bestselling author and poet to my blog so I’m beyond thrilled that Liz Garton Scanlon has stopped by to discuss her latest picture book Happy Birthday, Bunny! with us.  She’s a prolific picture book author and some of her highly acclaimed books include All the World, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes and Think Big. When she’s not writing or teaching or visiting schools, she’s busy with her girls making art, sharing quiet time with her loving hubby or finding a home for an abandoned animal. Thanks for making time in your busy schedule to chat with us!  

Happy Birthday, Bunny! Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Beach Lane Books, Jan 2013) invites readers into an adorable family of rabbits as they celebrate Bunny’s birthday. Birthdays are such a special part of a child’s life, a day they look forward to and treasure all year. What were birthdays like for you as a child? Did you tap into your childhood as you created the story? And how do the Scanlons celebrate birthdays today? Any traditions carried forward from your childhood?

I remember my birthdays being happy when I was little – my mom was very good at making special events extra special. This was back in the day when cakes were homemade, and mine were always beautiful. My birthday is in the spring so one year I even had a bunny cake – maybe that’s where I first felt the tickles of this book!

I’ve always tried to make my daughters’ birthdays special, too. For a number of years, we made piñatas in the weeks leading up to the big day. Often, our papier mache was so strong that not even a dad with a bat could break it open!

But even best-laid birthday plans can go awry. I grew up in the mountains and my “spring” birthday was often interrupted by a late season blizzard. My oldest daughter’s September birthday often sees record-breaking heat. And my youngest daughter was so sick on her 2nd birthday that we practically had to skip the whole thing. Plus, birthday parties sometimes require patience, etiquette and sharing skills well beyond what the birthday boy or girl is truly up to. I think it’s those things that really inspired this book for me. Birthdays are full of expectation – sometimes so much so that they’re a little overwhelming for the guest of honor.

You skillfully unveil the inquisitive nature of a child in choosing a question and answer structure for this book, did the story start out this way or did it evolve over many drafts? 

Even my very first draft was in question/answer format (though LOTS of the specific questions and answers later changed). I’ve never written a piece using this structure before, but it worked because of that sense of birthday overwhelm I was just talking about. We bring so much energy to birthdays, but little ones – turning 1 or 2 or 4  or 5 – must be SO confused. They don’t know the traditions, the rituals, the rules. What would happen, I wondered, if one of them just asked? And we answered?

Liz and I in 2008 at the Hill Country  Book Festival

At what stage did you see Stephanie Graegin’s art for the book and were there any surprises?

I saw some of Stephanie’s sketches relatively early on and I adored them. But, I was surprised, once the final art came along, how much MORE I loved it with color. Her palette is so rich and creamy, and every inch of the book is awash in color – from the endpapers on. I feel very lucky to have been paired with her and her beautiful work.

Here’s one other fun thing to share about Stephanie’s art. Her animals were so endearing – so perfect – that we changed the title for them! The book was originally called HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BABY! but once those animals came to life, our editor suggested changing it to HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUNNY! and I’m so glad we did.

You’ve just returned from a fabulous vacation with your family, will this latest adventure spawn any future stories? Can you share a favorite memory from your trip?

We just spent a month traveling around Asia – specifically China, Laos and Thailand. I hope a story might emerge from the experiences we had, but there are no guarantees. I work with a very independent muse J.
There is a really interesting tradition of haggling for goods in developing countries – my kids find it fascinating and a little off-putting. The key is to be gracious but straight-up. The artisans are quite good at balancing those, and with a little practice you can mirror them. I’ll bet there’s a story in there somewhere, don’t you think?

As for a favorite memory, wow. That’s like asking if I have a favorite book. We loved every place we went, everything we did, and nearly all the food we tried!  I think the best part of the whole thing was just being together as a family. Our girls are getting older and are off living their own lives more and more, so to have so many uninterrupted days together (and nights, crammed into little guesthouse dorms!), that’s something I’ll treasure forever.

The book officially released on January 15th, and a release party is planned, please share all the juicy details for readers.

I’ll be at BookPeople in Austin,Texas, this Saturday, January 26, at 2:00 p.m. Think “birthday party meets storytime”: bunnies, balloons, cake! Come one and all…

Thanks, Liz

Thank you, Carmen, for having me. It’s been a treat!

To read more advice from Liz, click HERE to read highlights from her panel at the 17th Texas Book Festival on the Hen & Ink Literary Studio blog.

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