5 QUESTIONS with AARON BECKER, creator of “JOURNEY”

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Greetings, Aaron. Let’s talk about your book, Journey. You do a masterful job in that opening spread, making full use of the copyright page, establishing the core elements of the story to come. Journey begins with a bored girl on her front stoop. Inside her home, through a cutaway device, we see her father looking at the computer, her mother talking on the phone, her sister staring at an electronic device. The world is dull and monochromatic –- except for one red scooter and, off to the side, almost unnoticed, a boy with a purple piece of chalk. Is that how this story started for you? As a reaction against our hyper-involvement with technology?

Yes, to the extent that much of my childhood was spent hoping my Dad would get off the home computer. I never saw the computer as an answer to life’s biggest questions; to me it was clear that there was more value in my imaginary play than anything I could gain on a machine’s screen.

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Next comes what I consider the essential illustration to the story. And my favorite. The girl is alone in her room: bored, bored, bored. I love that critical moment, because I’m a huge believer in the positive value of boredom. Most people have an aversion to empty space –- on the radio, silence is called “dead air.” Thanks to technological progress, we can now pick up a phone and scroll through Instagram at the first momentary lull. Crisis averted. Many of us seem to have lost our ability to work our way through (and beyond) that boredom.

This is the crux of it. It’s interesting too, because during the lead up to the election, I depended a lot on the internet as a source of comfort to ease my concerns for the outcome that I feared. I was aware of this, and even went so far as to go on a writing retreat away from the news cycle the week before the vote. Now that we’re on the other side, I can see so clearly that these tools were a false comfort to begin with. It’s been much easier for me to stay off social media and news websites this past week, and not just because I don’t want to see evidence that we have a new President. It’s more that I realize there’s no use in building one’s sense of reality on something that is so removed from our actual physical existence on Earth. In a sense, I felt betrayed by technology once again. It’s a lesson I hope to remember.

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I’m sorry, what, were you talking? I was just checking my . . . [puts away phone]. It occurs to me that if you gave your central character an iPhone, she would have never gone on that journey. You would have lost an entire trilogy.

I do think there’s a loss. When I was a kid, I watched way too much junky TV after school (which, I would like to add was brought on by actual policy from Reagan’s FCC that allowed toy makers to create half hour commercials as entertainment for children) and I often think this hampered my brain’s ability to function as an adult. But I’m also not entirely convinced that we were that much better off before. People have a lot more access to different types of storytelling (and stories) than they ever have. It’s a busy landscape to navigate and I’d like to think that the children out there today that can manage the overload will come out with some pretty amazing stories to tell. That said, I’m not sure I could survive it. When my friends were all moving onto advanced gaming consoles, Pac Man was about all I could handle. One joystick and no buttons.

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I think when people are bored, they ultimately have two choices: 1) Stay bored (and become boring themselves), or 2) Get creative, do stuff, make things happen. Quick story: I witnessed this dynamic when we took our kids on vacations in the Adirondacks. We often rented a cabin on a lake with no Wi-Fi, no TV, no town, no stores. For the first half hour, every year, they were lost. What now? Then, you know, they got busy. They built forts, went fishing, swam out to the pier, played cards, explored the grounds, looked for frogs, read, drew. All thanks to that wonderful boredom!

I was bored for most of my childhood. School was excruciatingly boring. At home, my family was of the serious academic variety and I was the only one interested in play. So I had to figure it out on my own. I didn’t need the Adirondacks; it was like that for me 24/7. I was industrious. I used the Styrofoam from my Dad’s computer boxes to build stuff. And in 5th grade, I moved down into the basement to decorate my own universe. I should also add that three of my close friends from elementary school in Baltimore, who suffered the same boredom as I did on all fronts, have gone on to distinguished careers as writers including a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a New York Times staff writer, and a children’s book author. Go Baltimore City Public Schools!

Stuck in a room, another famous children's book character had to imagine his escape from boredom. Illustration by Maurice Sendak from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE -- but everybody knows that.

Stuck in a room, another famous children’s book character had to imagine his escape from boredom. Illustration by Maurice Sendak from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE — but everybody knows that.

In the girl’s bedroom, you scatter little clues about her character. The air balloon hanging from her ceiling, the drawings of the pyramids, the map of the world on her wall –- and even, very small, a plane flying outside her window. That’s important to you, isn’t it? The sense that we’re living in a great big world.

I think I’ve always been looking for a way out, and so to that end the world offered possibilities. It’s not that my home life was terrible. I just wasn’t getting what I needed so I looked beyond it for an answer. I’d imagine most of us can relate to that!

Obviously, your book owes a debt to Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. The device, the crayon, is the same, but the execution could not be more different. Also, the basic plot is timeless: using the imagination as escape, as a way to explore new worlds. Were those books important to you as a child?

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Actually, I was never a big fan of that book! I think the drawings bugged me somehow. But I do remember that when I finished Journey someone mentioned the similarity and so I looked at it as an adult. I was amazed at the similarities in the story! I probably would never have made Journey if I was aware that there was something so similar already out there!

Yes, I hear that. I was talking about this issue with Jessica Olien recently. There’s a freedom in not-knowing. I mean, I’m aware of authors who avidly read Publishers Weekly and stay up-to-the-moment about what’s being published. But I’m the opposite, because my tendency is the same as yours: “Oh, rats, it’s already been done.” Creatively, I feel better off not knowing too much. A little bit goes a long way. I’m not a librarian or a publisher; I’m a maker. Our work has different requirements.

I’m a big fan of picture books and illustration in general, so I’ll often go to stores that do a nice job of curating their shelves (like the one at the Eric Carle Museum here in Amherst) and pick out a few books to take home that I like. But I’ve never been interested in following trends or trying to interpret the market of what sells or is popular with critics. I feel like I have this chance with the books I make to create something akin to actual fine art, in that I feel like I’m making something entirely fueled by my own curiosity and interests. The minute I start to create books that I think will sell well is the minute I might as well go back to working as a hired gun for advertising or film. 

Amen, brother! During her journey, our female protagonist experiences great beauty in the natural world. But there are also dark forces at work. The soldiers and guards who seek to capture and control. Are you saying, in effect, that there are forces that conspire against our imagination?

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I’ve always thought that the emperor and his soldiers are interested in capturing the purple bird because it represents something they can’t understand or access. They’re aware that the bird has some sort of magical quality to it and it frightens them. But the girl just wants to set it free. She doesn’t hesitate. The emperor represents that force inside of us that might more against that spontaneity of creation. Self-doubt, jealousy, envy, fear. We all have it.

We hate what we do not understand. Except for your art! I have no idea how you do it, Aaron, but I love your work. What materials do you use to create these illustrations? Smoke and mirrors and what else? Forgive me, I’m no Julie Danielson; I’m a little lost when it comes to talking about artwork.

Pencil sketch, opening spread.

Pencil sketch, opening spread.

I start with pencils until the story is working. Then I build some 3D models in the computer to aid in the perspective of the architecture; these models get printed lightly out onto paper and I do another, more detailed pencil drawing for each spread. Then I scan that pencil in the computer so that I can print it out very lightly onto watercolor paper as the basis for my ink drawing. From there, it’s just like a traditional water color painting. Journey took me about a year and a half to produce. It’s laborious but it’s the only way I know!

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This is a wordless book, and your very first. Congratulations on such a jaw-dropping accomplishment, for it is a debut book that announced the arrival of an exciting new voice. I enjoyed thinking about your story long after I first encountered it in the wild. Did it have words in early iterations? The wordlessness seems to open up the potentialities of story in ways that wouldn’t be possible if it included text.

Thanks. I do feel like I made the book I wanted to make and the success that has followed has been just one giant blessing. I didn’t plan on it being wordless. But my when I fished my first draft, which was literally a series of small thumbnail sketches on one big sheet of paper, I realized that adding words would only be redundant. The story was already there.

 

There are currently three books in Aaron Becker’s “Journey” Trilogy: Journey, Quest, and Return. If readers are feeling bored, you can find Aaron’s website by searching high and low on the interwebs. It might inspire your imagination.

 

ABOUT THE “5 Questions” INTERVIEW SERIES: It’s a little project I’ve assigned myself, hoping to reach 52 authors & illustrators in the course of a year, always focusing on one book. I almost called it “Author to Author” but I didn’t want to push myself to the front of it, though that is part of what makes these interviews unique. We’re in the same leaky boat.

Coming next week, my great pal Matthew Cordell (Wish) You can hit the “SUBSCRIBE” icon and, hopefully, it will work. Scheduled for future dates, in no particular order: London Ladd, Lizzy Rockwell, Matthew Phelan, Bruce Coville, Jeff Mack, Jeff Newman, and more. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES, and scroll till your heart’s content. Or use the handy SEARCH option. 

Guest so far:

1) Hudson Talbott, “From Wolf to Woof”

2) Hazel Mitchell, “Toby”

3) Susan Hood, “Ada’s Violin

4) Matthew McElligott, “Mad Scientist Academy: The Weather Disaster”

5) Jessica Olien, “The Blobfish Book”

6) Nancy Castaldo, “The Story of Seeds”

 

Six Critical Life Messages That Every Child Should Hear, by Barbara Coloroso

 

UPDATE: I originally posted this in April of 2010, as a tribute to the influence I felt from Barbara Coloroso while writing the book Bystander. In these troubling times, I felt it was time to remember her wise words, which she delivers in 90 seconds.

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In previous blog entries, I praised this book by Barbara Coloroso . . .

. . . a title that has informed, enlightened, and guided my own work as a writer, coach, and father.

She’s awesome, that’s all there is to it.

I came across this short video this morning. In less than 90 seconds, Barbara delivers a message that every teacher and parent needs to hear and remember — so that the children in our world hear those same things from us.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

BANG: 30 Songs About Guns

I’ve made mixes all my life. Still do, though now we call ’em playlists. In this case I went thematic. I can’t say why, it just worked out that way. I’m passing it along for your (possible) enjoyment. And, of course, as document. Feeding the interweb’s gaping maw.

Note: As with any playlist, I created it for my own listening pleasure. There are some obvious songs I didn’t include here — “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, for example — and entire genres that I ignored in the interest in continuity. Also, there’s simply a lot of songs I haven’t heard or didn’t think of. If you’d like to add a song, make a comment. Sonically, I think it holds together pretty well through the first 20 tracks, then it gets kind of wobbly after that. But it’s an interesting subgenre. Guns & America. Let’s get it started with a banjo . . .

 

Time To Get a Gun, Fred Eaglesmith

Miranda Lampert covered this song, which I gather was good news for Fred Eaglesmith and his bank account. For my mix, I’ll stick with the man who wrote the song.

“Time to get a gun.
That’s what I’ve been thinking.
I could afford one,
if I did just a little less drinking.

Time to put something,
between me and the sun.
When the talking is over
it’s time to get a gun.”

– –

Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash

This song had to be here, so might as well get it out front.

“When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy/
Don’t ever play with guns,”
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die.”

 

The Devil’s Right Hand, Steve Earle

Another song that begins with a Mama’s warning, unheeded.

“My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt,
Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a might slow.
It loads a mite slow and I soon found out
It can get you into trouble, but it can’t get you out.”

 

Put Down the Gun, Peter Case

He was the leader of the mighty Plimsouls for crying out loud. The man is a legend. And he’s a legend, too, for writing this song.

““I don’t want to swear it/ But it’s something that I’ve heard/ A gun in the first act/ Always goes off in the third.”

 

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Nancy Sinatra

Written by Charles Harmon, Shaffer Smith, and Mr. Sonny Bono. To me, Nancy Sinatra forever owns this song. Quentin Tarentino used it to great effect in the film, “Kill Bill.”

“Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down.”

 

Bang Bang Bang, Ellen Jewell

Ellen Jewell offers a new take on Cupid, who in this version has upgraded his weaponry.

“He fired off a few hot rounds
Right into the sorry crowd.
No blood, no gore, no one hit the ground.
They all just fell in love
With whoever they happened to be around.

It’s funny, till it happens to you,
But be sure you stay well out of his way.
Love is careless, random and cruel,
He don’t take aim he just —
He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang.”

 

Gun, Uncle Tupelo

More gun as metaphor than actual gun, but a great tune and one of Jeff Tweedy’s best Uncle Tupelo numbers.

“Don’t tell me which way I oughta run
What good could I do anyone.
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun,
But it’s unloaded now. . .”

 

That’s When I Reach for My Revolver, Mission of Burma

Punk anthem, 1981.

“Tonight the sky is empty
But that is nothing new
Its dead eyes look upon us
And they tell me
We’re nothing
But slaves (That’s when I reach for my revolver)
Just slaves (That’s when I reach for my revolver)
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver
That’s when I reach for my revolver.”

Guns on the Roof, Clash

From the great “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” LP.

“Guns guns, a-shaking in terror
Guns guns, killing in error
Guns guns, guilty hands
Guns guns, shatter the lands.”

 

The Eton Rifles, Jam

Written by Paul Weller, who is awesome, in 1979.

“Sup up your beer and collect your fags,
There’s a row going on down near Slough,
Get out your mat and pray to the west,
I’ll get out mine and pray for myself.”

 

Bullet With My Name on It, The Dream Syndicate

I finally caught these guys live at Solid Sound, 2013, but I can still remember the first time a friend introduced them to me, on vinyl, in his East Village apartment.

“If you ever saw me
walking around
swear I’d try to disappear
I wouldn’t make a sound
Then something
got me on the run
it’s gonna be the last time
I let you hold my gun.”

 

Shoot Out the Lights, Richard and Linda Thompson

Thompson matches the gun’s menace note for note with his slashing guitar riffs.

“In the darkness the shadows move
In the darkness the game is real
Real as a gun
Real as a gun

As he watches the streets of the city
As he moves through the night
Shoot out the lights
Shoot out the lights.”

 

99 Year Blues, Hot Tuna

Originally written by blues musician Julius Daniels, this song appeared on the famous Anthology of American Folk Music box set. This “Burgers” LP was just huge with my friends and me back in high school. Jorma, man.

“Well, now give me my pistol, man
And three round balls
I’m gonna shoot everybody
That I don’t like at all.”

 

Bring Me My Shotgun, Lightnin’ Hopkins

Another “my woman done me wrong” song — with a nice twist at the end.

“Go bring me my shotgun,
You know I just got to start shootin’ again.
You know I’m gonna shoot my woman,
Cause she’s foolin’ around with too many men.”


Billy, Green on Red (Dylan Cover)

Nice cover by Green on Red of a minor Dylan classic off the underrated “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” soundtrack. Gillian Welch also covers this tune in a way that’s worth hearing.

“They say that Pat Garrett’s got your number
So sleep with one eye open when you slumber
Every little sound just might be thunder
Thunder from the barrel of his gun.”

 

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan

Live by the gun, die by the gun. Sticking with the same LP, here’s the tune everybody knows — and everybody, it seems, has covered.

“Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”

 

Me and Billy the Kid, Joe Ely

One more in our Billy the Kid trilogy. Here’s a classic take by the great Texas songwriter Joe Ely.

“Yeah, me and Billy The Kid never got along:
I didn’t like the way he buckled his boots an’ he wore his gun all wrong.
One day, I said to Billy: “I got this foo
lproof scheme.
“We’ll rob Wells Fargo, it’s bustin at the seams.”
I admit that I framed him. I don’t feel no remorse.
It was just my way of gettin’ even with the man who shot my horse.”

 

The Rifleman, The Minus 5

Scott McCaughey’s pop collective out of Seattle. Maybe it would have been brighter if I grabbed something of their 2006 release, “The Minus 5”, AKA “The Gun Album,” but I don’t know it that well. Sorry. So shoot me.

“Did you see the rifleman, did you see that episode?
Every Crawford in the country got to see his little head explode.
Just a loaded Texas tin star who tried to fill his boots
With bullets from a stocking Christmas morn'”

 

Shoot Out on the Plantation, Leon Russell

Another fallen legend, Leon died on 11/13/16. I’ll always love him best for his work leading Joe Cocker’s sprawling band, Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
“Yeah, the drummer’s got the drum, the colonel’s got the gun,
And Junior’s only got a knife, he’d better run.”

 

I Wanna Be Your Gun, The Mayflies USA

Sonically maybe not the best fit for this playlist, but I’ve long had a soft spot for this NC band’s melodic power pop and vocal harmonies. Their first two CDs were produced by the great Chris Stamey, so there’s your bona fides.

“I don’t want a shot, I just wanna be your gun.”

Tommy Gun, Clash

The only band that gets two songs on this playlist, breaking all the rules. Boy, they seem to matter now more than ever. We miss you Joe Strummer!

“Tommy gun
You ain’t happy less you got one
Tommy gun
Ain’t gonna shoot the place up
Just for fun
Maybe he wants to die for the money
Maybe he wants to kill for his country
Whatever he wants, he’s gonna get it!”

 

Hand of Fate, Rolling Stones

Pretty good band. They might make it someday.

“My sweet girl was once his wife
He had papers the judge had signed
The wind blew hard, it was stormy night
He shot me once, but I shot him twice.”

 

Jeannie Needs a Shooter, Warren Zevon

The man, the myth, the legend.

“The night was cold and rainy down by the borderline
I was riding hard to meet her when a shot rang out behind
As I lay there in the darkness with a pistol by my side
Jeannie and her father rode off into the night.”

 

With a Gun, Steely Dan

“I could be wrong but I have seen your face before
You were the man that I saw running from his door
You owed him money but you gave him something more
With a gun
With a gun”

 

Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Beatles

Another song where they are not really singing about a gun, but there’s a lot of shooting going on. “She’s not a girl who misses much.”

“Happiness is a warm gun (bang bang shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, mama (bang bang shoot shoot)
When I hold you in my arms (oh, yeah)
And I feel my finger on your trigger (oh, yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm (oh, yeah)
Because, (happiness) is a warm gun, mama (bang bang shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is (bang bang shoot shoot)”

 

Ray’s Automatic Weapon, Drive-By Truckers

A man slowly losing it . . . with a gun in his possession. Songwriting Patterson Hood style.

“I got to tell you
You got to take that gun back
Cuz these things that I been shooting at are getting all too real
Don’t want to hurt nobody, but I keep on aiming closer
Don’t think that I can keep it feeling like I feel.”

 

Ten Cent Pistol, Black Keys

A scorned woman with a gun. That’s a combo for you. Hell, the song practically writes its darn self.

“There’s nothing worse
In this world
Than payback from a
Jealous girl
The laws of man
They don’t apply
When blood gets in
A woman’s eye.”

 

Pray for Newtown, Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek was at his shambolic, idiosyncratic best on the 2014 CD, “Benji.” This is one of the songs on a weird, great disk.

“December twenty-fifth, and I was just laying down
I picked up a pen, I wrote a letter to the guy in Newtown
I said I’m sorry bout the killings, and the teachers who lost their lives
I felt it coming on, I felt it in my bones and I don’t know why.

So when Christmas comes and you’re out running around
Take a moment to pause and think of the kids who died in Newtown.
They went so young, who gave their lives
To make us stop and think and try to get it right
Were so young, a cloud so dark over them
And they left home, gave their mom and dad a kiss and a hug.

So when your birthday comes and you’re feeling pretty good
Baking cakes and opening gifts and stuffing your mouth with food
Take a moment for the children who lost their lives
Think of their families and how they mourn and cry.”

 

Shots, Neil Young

One of those great Neil songs it’s easy to miss, because this hidden gem is off the  1981 “Re-ac-tor” LP, which is about when I began losing some enthusiasm for Neil who wandered lost in the 80s wilderness until he surprised us with “Freedom” in 1989. I went with the electric version here, though there’s some really nice solo acoustic versions floating around the interwebs. If I was feeling clever, I could have started this thing off with the acoustic and then closed it out with the visceral noise of Neil and Crazy Horse kicking up a storm.

“Shots
I hear shots, I keep hearing shots
I keep hearing shots
I hear shots.”

 

Two Gunslingers, Tom Petty

Off the “Into the Great Wide Open” CD. My last song for this set, and I hope a fitting way to close it out.

“Two gunslingers walked out in the street and one said
“I don’t want to fight no more”
And the other gunslinger thought about it and said
“Yeah, what are we fighting for?”

QUOTE FOR THANKSGIVING: For Teachers & Everyone Else

We’ve all heard a lot about the “echo chamber,” the perils of hearing only a narrow field of opinions, calcifying our unchallenged opinions into dogma.

On the other hand, there’s Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives!

“What was that you said, Uncle Frank?”

Yikes.

Anyway, I came across a great quote by journalist Walter Lippmann and wanted to share it. Actually, I had to track it down to its source, a book titled The Stakes of Diplomacy (page 51). When I first googled the quote, I kept coming across variations, all credited to Lippmann. It got to the point where I wondered, “What did he actually say?” No one seemed to care.

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A good thought for all of us to keep in mind. I actually saw it in an article I edited many, many years ago for a Scholastic educational catalog. It was about cultivating higher-order thinking skills in the classroom. Ideas about convergent and divergent thinking, and so on.

It was a good concept then, and necessary today. Public discourse — democracy — thrives when shaped by a variety of informed opinions.

 

 

5 QUESTIONS with NANCY CASTALDO, author of “THE STORY OF SEEDS”

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Nancy Castaldo, international jet-setter, thank you for stopping by. You know, I’ll be honest. I already read Ruth Kraus’s The Carrot Seed. I figure it’s one of the most perfect books ever created. When it comes to seeds, she pretty much said it all: dirt, water, sun, and hope. Then you come along and blow my mind. In all seriousness, I didn’t realize there was a much, much bigger story to tell –- and yet, you found it. How’d that happen?

Ah, The Carrot Seed! That’s a great one. My favorite as a child was What Shall I Put In the Hole that I Dig? I think the subject of seeds has been with me ever since. But, like you say, The Story of Seeds goes a little deeper. I was bombarded by a bunch of news back around 2008 about heirloom vegetables, seed banks, and GMOs. I started to become aware of a global concern – crops were going extinct. I had no idea that could even happen! Then I learned about seed scientists who have risked their lives to protect these valuable treasures. I knew I had to spread the word.

 

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Why is biodiversity important?

Let’s chat about potatoes. The Great Famine in Ireland occurred mainly because there was a lack of diversity. Once the potato crop died, there wasn’t any more food. Biodiversity gives us options. In the Andes Mountains in South America there are countless varieties of potatoes. If one suffers from a blight, another might still flourish. Biodiversity insures a healthier planet.

Your book has a decidedly global outlook. We hop around from Russia to Norway, India to Iraq, to places all over the United States. You must have put a ton of work into this – and it shows in all 136 pages. Tell us about your research. And don’t worry, we have all day here at James Preller Dot Com. Most of my readers are unemployed. I mean, both my readers.

pom-1-of-1Well, you might have all day, but I have to keep writing! LOL. But actually, I could talk all day about the research. I am a research junkie. It’s the best part — part scavenger hunt, part Indiana Jones. I wish I could have traveled to all of the places in my book, but some were off the table — like Iraq. Those places I had to visit by the magic of technology. I did, however, travel to Russia and many wonderful farms and seed banks. Russia was by far a place I never thought I would visit. Due to the seed scientists’ schedules and our calendar, and my deadline, I ended up visiting in the dead of winter when it is the coldest and darkest. I felt like I really experienced Russia! I was able to use that experience to understand more of what went on during the Leningrad Siege I was writing about.

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You put a spotlight on what you call “Seed Warriors.” Did you create that term? How did that narrative strategy come about?

I stole it from myself! I highlighted people who are champions of the environment in my book In Keeping Our Earth Green, by calling them scan-2Earth Heroes. I wanted something similar for this book and since this feels like a battle I used the word warrior to describe these scientists.

Here’s comes a two-parter, so I hope you’re sitting down. Who do you think reads a book like The Story of Seeds? And also, were you once that kid?

That’s a good question.

Finally!

I would hope that teens are my first readers. They can do great things when empowered. I have faith in them. I also have lots of adults who are readers.

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I loved reading books about the environment when I was a kid, like that picture book I mentioned earlier. When I was older I loved reading the essays and books by John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, John Muir and others who wrote about our world. I still draw inspiration from them. (Of course, I also read books about investigator, mystery-solver Nancy Drew!)

I loved that the book concluded with a five-page “Call to Action,” where you offer practical ideas for motivated readers who want to make a difference. I identified with that, because I recently wrote a fictional, middle-grade book set in that near future that touches on some of the negative effects of climate change. It can bring us, writer and readers both, to some dark places. Did you feel it was important to leave your readers with a sense of hopefulness? Or at least, purpose?

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Like I said — my readers can make a difference. I just want to give them some tools to help them do that!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your work with SCBWI. I know you are busy with that organization. First, how do I pronounce that word? Is it a kind of fish? Like scrod? I’m confused.

SCBWI stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and you are right, it’s a mouthful! I am the regional advisor for the Eastern NY region. So, that means that when I’m not writing, I’m planning events and meet-ups for other writers and illustrators. I love it! It’s a great organization for both published and aspiring children’s book creators. Just take a look at the website scbwi.org — it’s chock full of info on creating kids books!

I know that SCBWI has been a great source of perspiration — wait, strike that, inspiration! — for many aspiring authors and illustrators. As always, Nancy, I’m somewhat awed by all the good work you do. The Story of Seeds stands as an important, meaningful book. It’s what our world needs, now maybe more than ever.

Hey, thanks Jimmy Preller, for this great chat. It’s been fun. I can’t wait to read your latest eco-fiction title! Climate change is a big topic. It’s really frightening, but there’s hope!

Hope is not my strong suit, Nancy, but I’m working on it! If your comment makes any readers curious about that book, Better Off Undead, they can click here.

9780544088931NANCY CASTALDO is the author of several nonfiction books, including Sniffer Dogs, Keeping Our Earth Green, The Race Around the World, and many more. She lives in the Hudson Valley but she cares about the whole dang planet.

 

 

ABOUT THE “5 Questions” INTERVIEW SERIES: It’s a little project I’ve assigned myself, hoping to reach 52 authors & illustrators in the course of a year, always focusing on one book. I almost called it “Author to Author” but I didn’t want to push myself to the front of it, though that is part of what makes these interviews unique. We’re in the same leaky boat.

Coming next Monday, Aaron Becker (Journey). After that, my great pal Matthew Cordell (Wish) You can hit the “SUBSCRIBE” icon and, hopefully, it will work. Scheduled for future dates, in no particular order: London Ladd, Lizzy Rockwell, Matthew Phelan, Bruce Coville, Jeff Mack, Jeff Newman, and more. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES, and scroll till your heart’s content. Or use the handy SEARCH option. 

Guests so far:

1) Hudson Talbott, “From Wolf to Woof”

2) Hazel Mitchell, “Toby”

3) Ann Hood, “Ada’s Violin

4) Matthew McElligott, “Mad Scientist Academy: The Weather Disaster”

5) Jessica Olien, “The Blobfish Book”