Interviews with the writers of the winning books.

By Heather Vogel Frederick and Laurie Campbell, Photo from Photodisc
October 05, 2005
author profiles

About the Authors, p.1

Beyond the Great Green Room

Mention Goodnight Moon, and you're likely to get an instant smile from any child or parent. First published in 1947, this beloved classic by author Margaret Wise Brown and illustrator Clement Hurd has sold more than 10 million copies and has never been out of print. The title My World, however, is just as likely to draw blank stares. Published in 1949, this volume was only printed in black and orange, unlike Goodnight Moon, which came out in full color from the start. And while My World features the same little rabbit, it has long since been out of print.

So why wasn't My World printed in full color from the beginning? Sales of Goodnight Moon, which hadn't taken off immediately and become the phenomenon it is today, probably didn't justify the expense, says Clement's son, Thacher Hurd, noting that full-color was "a big deal" back then.

Now, thanks to Thacher, 52, whose birth was announced in the book's dedication and who is himself an accomplished children's book author and illustrator, My World has been given a second life -- with a new printing and a new look. "I'm sure my father and Margaret Wise Brown would have wanted it in full color," says Thacher, who used a computer to recolorize the book in the same palette as Goodnight Moon. "While My World isn't a sequel, it's related and the colors worked right away."

-- Heather Vogel Frederick

An Eye for Detail

Reading one of Graeme Base's picture books is like peeling an onion. "There are layers of meaning that slowly reveal themselves," says Base, 43, who lives with his wife and children in Melbourne, Australia. This is true of his latest book, The Water Hole. At first glance, you might simply see a counting book. But as you read on, you may wonder, "Wait a second -- what's going on here?"

A companion volume to Animalia, his best-selling alphabet book, The Water Hole was initially going to be set in Africa, which Base calls "the single most inspirational place I've ever been." As he developed the idea of using a water hole as a metaphor for the world's water resources, however, "it grew into a global book." Each scene in The Water Hole introduces readers to a new geographic region and its indigenous creatures (some visible, some hidden).

As the water hole begins to shrink, the first thing to disappear are the frogs. The amphibians' gradual departure creates a counting game in reverse, with the frogs declining as other animals increase. They also provide the final surprise involving the celebratory return of the water hole and all the animals. Says Base, "I was initially stumped as to what to do for the final picture search, but then realized --what else? -- bring back the frogs and hide them in the trees!"

-- Heather Vogel Frederick

About the Authors, p.2

Weaving a Tale of Compassion

"There's a tiny piece of truth in everything I do," says Eileen Spinelli, 59, author of Sophie's Masterpiece: A Spider's Tale. That includes her latest yarn, about a spider who weaves a beautiful blanket for a young penniless mother and her baby.

The inspiration came from Spinelli's short stay at a boarding house in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, when she was 18. There, she met a young pregnant woman whose husband had left her. The only blanket the woman could get for her baby, Spinelli recalls, was a scratchy brown quilt from the landlady. "I felt so bad for her that she wasn't going to have any of the things we take for granted," Spinelli says. So she decided, many years later, to write the tale as her way of giving the baby a "blanket."

Spinelli, who lives in West Chester, PA, with her husband, Jerry, a Newbery Medal-winning author, has 15 grandchildren, who always ask about her stories. "They loved Sophie's Masterpiece and they loved the pictures," she says. The watercolors by Jane Dyer, who illustrated the best-selling When Mama Comes Home Tonight, also by Spinelli, glow with delicate details. Even though Spinelli never described the boarding house, Dyer drew it just as she remembered. Says Spinelli, "When I see what she did, it boggles my mind."

-- Laurie Campbell

Tomie, A Kid At Heart

Tomie dePaola, 67, is the first to admit that he's been blessed with a good memory. "Not only do I remember all my teachers -- I even remember the substitutes!" he says with glee. His gift for recall has stood the award-winning author in good stead throughout his long career, fueling numerous picture books as well as his recent memoirs, the third installment of which is On My Way.

Although dePaola says he first balked when young fans asked for chapter books ("my first response was no, no, no, it's not my genre"), one letter in particular finally changed his mind. It began: "Dear Mr. dePaola, you are my most favorite author in the entire world. I'm in the fourth grade and I have to do a book report, but my teacher won't let me do one of your books, so please, please, please write me a chapter book!" Says dePaola, "How could I resist?"

26 Fairmount Avenue, the first in the autobiographical series, took him 2 1/2 years to write. "In picture books, you leave out the adjectives because you can draw them, so I had to learn adjectives all over again," he quips. The book went on to win a Newbery Honor, and dePaola was (literally) on his way.

In addition to his robust memory, he relies on old home movies to refresh himself on such events as a trip to the 1939 World's Fair and the costume he wore for a kindergarten tap dance recital. Though dePaola plans to drop the curtain on the series with the year he turns 11 (1945), fans can rest assured there will be plenty of tales to come before then. "I'm just chomping at the bit to get going on the next one," he says.

-- Heather Vogel Frederick

About the Authors, p.3

Returning to Her Roots

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez, 51, seldom read children's books. "We're primarily an oral culture," explains Alvarez, who moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 10. In fact, the noted author of such adult novels as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents didn't discover children's literature until just a few years ago.

"My husband and I started a farm in the Dominican Republic," she explains. "As we got involved in the community, we realized the village had a 95% illiteracy rate. And here I am a writer!" So Alvarez helped build a school and a library and organized readings of Spanish children's books. "The whole village would come, and later we'd hear adults and children retelling the stories," she says.

Back home in Vermont (she's a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College), Alvarez was inspired to write a picture book based on a Dominican legend. With her current book, How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay, Alvarez wanted to show "the complexity, richness, and variety of ethnicity." She drew on her own experience straddling two cultures and based the character of Miguel on many boys of Latin origin and the flamboyant Tia Lola on her many aunts. "My grandfather was married twice, and my father was the youngest of 25, so did I have aunts, or did I have aunts!" she says with a laugh.

-- Heather Vogel Frederick

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