In my opinion, books are the best accessory.
Nina Laden is one of my author/illustrator heroes. (I mentioned her last year in one of my first blog posts!) I’ve adored every book she created (can’t say that about many authors) and often have her books as my “go to” gifts for friends’ children! My favorite book I give to friends who just have a baby is: (I JUST gave this lovely book to two wonderful friends who have new babies, one in Oregon and one here in Hong Kong!)
Button Nose– fabric book perfect for those children just developing their dexterity, wonderful for parents who want their children to practice how to button, zip, tie, and snap. When I was in college a very dear friend told me she was having a baby. I bought felt and zippers and snaps and TRIED for many weeks to create a fabric book to send her way. I failed that project but felt such JOY when I discovered Nina’s creation! (My son’s favorite book by Nina for the longest time was Grow Up!, another terrific board book, quite a special one to me! I never tired of reading him Peek-a-WHO?)
As I mentioned I adore all of Nina’s books. If you have a Tumblebooks subscription, you can enjoy four of her fantastic titles animated online. My favorite picture book to share is The Night I Followed The Dog. Every year I share this book and every year more children are drawn into the brilliance of having words enlarge, come to life, roll over, and almost be rebus-like across the text page. I shared the book first in print form and then online and children were thrilled to hear the book again but sad to not see the special text features online. Amanda Bynes read it aloud on the Storyline Online page as well.
Nina is a generous author and artist who shares her incredibly thoughtful ideas on both her webpage and blog posts. My favorite recent post that Nina wrote was about how she invented an art technique of faking a woodcut style. What an incredible mind- and amazing artist to show the step-by-step process: I highly recommend following her blog if you love children’s literature and would enjoy a glimpse at the creative process:
Thank you so very much Nina Laden for agreeing to this interview!
What was your favorite childhood book memory?
I have so many favorite childhood book memories, I’m not sure how to pick just one! As a little girl, I loved “Harold and the Purple Crayon” so much that I drew on my walls. It was a good thing my mother, who was an artist, was okay with that. In fact she had painted on my closet door. As I got older, I loved “Madeline and the Gypsies.” I still have my childhood copy. But maybe my favorite book memory would be after reading “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and wandering around imagining spending the night there. I still have the same feeling whenever I go to The Met.
Are there any authors or books that you liked as a child that you still read now?
There are many authors/books that have followed me through life. Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey, Edward Lear (!), James Thurber just to name a few. I still treasure my copy of D’Aulaires “Book of Greek Myths.” I have also re-read “The Phantom Tollbooth,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” recently.
Have you read any children’s literature books recently?
I’m reading all the time, switching from children’s to middle grade, YA and Adult books. I most recently finished “The One and Only Ivan,” and before that I read “Days of Blood and Starlight,” the sequel to “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.”
What was a favorite genre you read as a child? How have your tastes changed as an adult?
I think I’m still the same person I was. I am an omnivore as a reader. I will read anything and if it is good, I will devour it.
Do you still have any of your books from when you were a child?
Oh yes! I have partially answered this above. In addition to the “D’Aulaiere’s” and “Madeline,” I have two of my childhood James Thurber books: “Further Fables For Our Times,” and “The Wonderful O.” I also have my “Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear,” “The Pink Fairy Book,” A.A. Milne’s “The House At Pooh Corner” and “Now We Are Six.” I have Charlotte Zolotow’s “The Sky Was Blue,” and a wonderful (but obscure) French book “Le Poulet: A Rooster Who Laid Eggs” which was illustrated with photographs. I also have my first edition 1968 paperback of “The Beatles Yellow Submarine.”
Are you in a writers group? If so, has it helped you?
No. I’m not in a writers group. I’m a lone wolf when it comes to creating things. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. That is a nice way to network and not feel like I’m totally cut off, but I prefer to share with my agent, editor, and a few close friends if I need a sounding board.
Do you have a key writing tips for kids? Or adults?
My key writing tip is: keep a journal. Don’t tear the pages out ever. Write every little idea or spark of an idea down. You never know what will be the seed that grows that great big idea… Also read. If you want to write you need to read. And take walks. Long, slow walks. Really notice things. Exploring helps expand your mind!
Do you have a new book being released in the next year?
My next book, “Once Upon A Memory” will be released this December ‘13 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers. I’m very excited about it. This will be the first time that I am just the “author,” and not both the author and illustrator. “Once Upon A Memory” is illustrated by the incredible Renata Liwska, who lives in Calgary, Canada.
*I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THIS BOOK! VERY EXCITED TO EXPERIENCE THE COMBINATION OF NINA LADEN’S WORDS WITH FANTASTIC PICTURES BY ILLUSTRATOR RENATA LIWSKA!
How do you feel about the development and growth of the e-Book industry?
I think there is a place for all kinds of media in our ever-changing world. I like anything that makes humans read. My only problem with e-Books is the glut of material that is not properly edited. This is the same with self-publishing. If I see typos, or if the things seem off in any way, be it structure, grammar, voice, character, I will run in the opposite direction as fast as I can, back into vetted, venerable trade books.
Did you always plan on a writing career or if not…?
I have wanted to make books since I could hold a crayon and fold paper. I always wanted to make “the entire book.” I wanted to write it, illustrate it, and design it. I do love to teach and share my knowledge, but my first love is telling stories by making books.
What truly influences you as a writer?
Hah! Everything! Any little thing can trip my imagination. I am constantly examining things, asking questions, researching ideas, dreaming and scheming. I think I drive my husband crazy. I am inspired by art, nature, other books, films, food, love, fear, things that are plain and fancy. I will never be bored or run out of ideas. Characters talk in my head. I love exploring. I look for treasure, be it a beautiful rock on the beach or a perfect line in a book I am reading. I am influenced by weather, both sunny and stormy. I am influenced by music- listening to it and playing it myself. I try not to take anything for granted because it may be something that feeds my story or my soul.
If you weren’t a writer, what occupation would you be working in?
I used to say that I would be a teacher, and that is partially true. There is also a part of me that would like to be a chef. I am moved by food, too, and work hard to grow things and spend time truly cooking from scratch. I love to feed my friends.
Did any teacher or mentor specifically influence you in your career?
My mom was my biggest influence. Sadly she died before I got published. I call her my “Avant-Guardian Angel.” I loved my 4th grade English teacher, Mrs. Mildred Gilman. She let me be “me” in my writing, and she didn’t mind that I illustrated everything I turned in. I also loved my 11th grade Honors English teacher, Mrs. Tanya Sherman. In college I was very lucky to have Tobias Wolff as my English Literature professor. He had just started at Syracuse University back then.
*Do you have any favorite topping you like on your pizza? (in honor of my husband who thinks it would be cool if I collect a list of author’s favorite pizza “You can learn a lot about a person from the pizza topping they like.”) – I’d really appreciate you answering this one!!
Sigh. I miss pizza. Since my husband was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and we stopped eating wheat and gluten this has been a thorn in my side. The gluten free pizza dough just doesn’t taste as good. When I’m alone, I do sneak a piece here and there. I would say that my favorite toppings are wild mushrooms- I would prefer chanterelles, or morels or porcini… But I’m okay with shitake or plain old button mushrooms if that is all they have.
*I understand! I am allergic to tomatoes and additionally try to avoid eating too much cheese. Not a great combination for eating pizza. I haven’t found a proper soy cheese that I can mix with homemade pesto sauce here yet in Hong Kong… part of life, letting go!
Sentences to finish if you don’t mind:
The best advice I’ve received for my profession was….
“If you are afraid of making a mistake, you won’t make anything.” I got that advice from a sign on a rug cleaning facility in my neighborhood. I think it applies to everything in life.
The habit I never break for my writing practice is…
It is best to let things rest when you finish them. If you let the writing sit for a few weeks and then re-read it, you will find many things that need revising. Never send anything out to agents/editors/readers right away. Let it rest!
If someone had told me…
that a little board book that I wrote in 20 minutes because my friends were having babies (and I wanted something cool to give them) would be my best-selling book (“PEEK-A WHO?” which has sold almost a million copies now.) I would have said they were crazy.
Why do people always assume…
that you can write a picture book in a matter of hours or days. (“Peek-A Who?” was an exception.) Most of my books take months, years, sometimes decades until they are fully formed and ready to be published. “Roberto The Insect Architect” took five years until I got the story right.
Debbie, you forgot to ask me…
What is your favorite part of the process?
I used to say that when I get that idea, “that aha moment” that was my favorite part of the process, but now I think it is when I get my first advanced copy of the book- the actual book- in the mail and I know that all that work has somehow created a little magic- and there it is, in my hands. I made that!
Want to know MORE about Nina Laden? Visit her webpage: http://www.ninaladen.com/story/index.html
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