Who Has This Tail? Written by Laura Hulbert. Illustrated by Erik Brooks. Published in 2012 by Henry Holt.
Who Has This Tail? Written by Laura Hulbert. Illustrated by Erik Brooks. Published in 2012 by Henry Holt.
Mrs. Kondrick’s from 4th graders at Ripley Central School in Ripley, NY shared these questions with Rick Walton, author of the NYSRA Charlotte Award nominated I Need My Own Country, and Mr. Walton graciously responded.
1. What inspired you to write I Need My Own Country?
When I was a kid I used to build cities in my sandbox, in my yard, in my mind. I live now in a large, interesting yard. There are lots of trees, hills, grassy areas. It’s almost like it is its own little country. So I started thinking. If my yard were a country, who would live here? What would the rules be like? What would the culture be like? What would happen here? And I had so much fun imagining my own country, based on my yard, that I thought, maybe I should write a book for kids about how to create your own country. I mentioned the idea to an editor friend of mine, who liked the idea, but suggested that it be a picture book and that it tell a story. I liked her idea, so I started working on it. I soon realized that the book was going to be about more than just how to have fun making your own country. It was also going to be a basic primer on how governments work, a book on imagination, and a book on getting along with other people, especially members of your family. As I thought about the book I decided it would be interesting if the words were simple instructions on creating your own country, but that the human story was told in the illustrations. So I thought, what steps would I take if I were creating my own country? And how could each of those steps be mirrored in the human story that was told in the illustrations? I came up with a general plot for the illustrations, and Wes added a lot of good ideas to it, and the book was born.
Pictures of Rick Walton’s Country
2. Why did you choose to use pets and stuffed animals instead of people (lots of brothers and sisters)?
One reason I like to create my own worlds in my mind is so that I can make them how I want. I especially like doing this when times are tough and I want to escape. Sometimes we all feel like we want to escape. Usually this is when we feel like we don’t have much control over our real lives. The girl in the story is upset with her family, upset that nobody believes her, that she got into trouble. She feels like she doesn’t have control. So she decides to build a world where she does have control. That’s why she has pets and stuffed animals as her citizens. She knows she can control them (most of the time). Brothers and sisters are harder to control.
3. How many books have you written? What are some of your favorites?
I have had about 100 books published. I have lots of favorites, but some of them are Bertie Was a Watchdog, Mr. President Goes to School, Frankenstein: a Monstrous Parody, and Once There Was a Bull… frog.
4. Did you always want to be a writer? What else have you done?
I have always loved to imagine and to create things, but I didn’t start thinking about becoming a writer until I was a teenager. Besides writing I have taught school, designed educational software, and cooked in a restaurant. I also like to travel, play the guitar, and learn about pretty much anything and everything. The world is an amazing, fun place. There is always something to do and to learn.
5. How did your friends, parents and/or teachers help you to grow up to be a writer?
My parents were teachers. Books and education were very important to them. They read to us all the time, and let me read whenever I wanted. And I read a lot. They took me to the library often. And if I wanted to buy a book, they would let me. They never said no when I wanted a book.
When I was in high school, Miss Nelson, my English teacher, told me that a story I had written for her class would make a good kids book. That put the idea of becoming a writer into my head.
I have also had a lot of creative friends. When I was with them our imaginations went wild. And when I began thinking seriously about becoming a fulltime writer I began to meet lots of other people who liked to write. Many of them became my friends and we help and support each other.
Rick Walton, May 2013
Mrs. Kondrick’s students in Ripley, NY asked Wes Hargis, illustrator of the Charlotte Award nominated I Need My Own Country, questions about his process and career.
1. What do you use to color your illustrations?
I use watercolor and colored pencil along with regular pencil to sharpen up lines and outline certain spots. I’m not too picky about my tools but I do spend a bit more to get nice cotton watercolor paper. After the painting is close to done I scan it in and throw it up on my imac and then tighten up the page in the computer.
2. What inspired you to become an illustrator? Did you always want to be an illustrator? What else have you done?
I grew up loving to read comic books and it was natural for me to try and make my own. I would put my own company logo on them and even try and draw a bar codes. Drawing comics was a good way for me to start because I was just having fun and writing my own stories. It wasn’t too long before I started noticing small things I could do to make my pictures look better.
I didn’t always want to be an illustrator. I was clueless about what I would do when I grew up. I really didn’t picture myself being an artist. I loved to draw and I drew all the time, but I didn’t know any professional artists and there were lots of people in my school who could draw much better than me.
I’ve had many jobs during and after college that were great life experiences. I was a security guard in a freezing cold museum. I was fired as a waiter from a french restaurant for being too tall. I took care of 25 black german shepherds and kept them cool and fed (really awesome job) I enjoyed landscaping, but my pasty hide wasn’t made to be out long in the Arizona sun. The first “artist” job I had was drawing simple editorial cartoons for a local newspaper. For years I had been sending out stuff to newspapers and publishing houses without any real hope of getting a reply. One day I got a call back from an editor who said he’d like to see some more stuff. Later on I landed a job as a syndicated comic strip cartoonist. It was then that I had to learn seriously how to manage time and hit deadlines.
3. How many books have you illustrated? What are some of your favorites?
I’ve Illustrated four books so far. This might sound like weaseling out of the question, but I don’t really have a favorite. I like to pick up each one now and then and in all of them I see things I like and spots where I think I could have done better. I Need my Own Country let me have fun with a cast of characters that really grew on me as the book progressed.
4. How long does it take you to illustrate a book like I Need my Own Country?
From super scratchy sketches to polished paintings takes around five months but some take longer because I get help from editors that can see problems I can’t. Many times I’m too “close” to the work to see problems that pop up. Editors are vital in this business and they do a lot more than most people know to help point lost illustrators in the right direction.
5. What was something challenging about illustrating I Need My Own Country? How did you overcome that challenge?
Rick’s text was just so perfect and I felt a lot of pressure to bring that to life. The text lent itself to having a cast of characters play the citizenry as “My Roomania” was established in the girl’s room. I think one of the challenging things was the multitude of characters that I had to repaint in each scene. Each cast member had to steadily define who they were and be consistent. All this with no dialogue. It was stressful (as deadlines always are) but also fun and rewarding.
I think the greatest thing I’ve learned as an artist in overcoming challenges like that one, is to simply be patient with yourself. Know you probably won’t get it right the first or even the second time. Just keep whittling away at it. Everybody messes up, but if you can picture what you want your drawings to look like, and you are patient, they will start appearing more and more like the drawings in your head. It just takes time.
Thanks everyone! Great questions!
Ms. Edelman’s students at Bethlehem Middle School recommend you read Chomp by Carl Hiassen. Thanks for sharing!
NY Students asked author Caroline Starr Rose about her NYSRA Charlotte Award nominated book May B: A Novel.
May, a sixth grader from Lowville Middle School in Lowville, NY asks,
How long did it take to write May B.?
I started researching for the book the summer of 2007 and had my first draft finished by 2009. But really, the book had been in the works most of my life (unbeknownst to me!). Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books as a girl and Hatchet as a college student, watching the survival movie, Castaway, even seeing a gravestone with the name Betterly on it while driving my son to school one day — all those things were gathering in my subconscious before I started a lick of research.
Where did you get the ideas for the settings in the story?
I knew I wanted May in a sod house and in a part of the country that experienced weather extremes. Western Kansas met both those requirements.
What or who inspired you to write May B.?
The books and movie mentioned earlier certainly inspired me, as did my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo. The most exciting parts of that book take place in a small prison cell. I was curious how an author could tell a story with such limitations (that’s also what drew me to the movie, Castaway: how in the world do you tell a story with really only one character who is alone most of the time?).
As a Laura Ingalls fan and former teacher, I was curious about the character Willie Olson. Willie was a troublemaker in school. He always ended up in the corner, wearing a dunce cap. I wondered if something more was going on. Maybe he was a “problem” because he found school difficult. That led me to explore how a child with a learning disability would make her way in a setting where she was largely misunderstood.
How long have you been an author?
I officially became an author January 10, 2012, on May B.’s book birthday. But really, I’ve been writing since 1998. It took lots of practice — four novels and six picture books –to sell May (which was novel #4).
Who or what inspired you to become a writer? Have you wanted to be an author all of your life?
I’ve always loved to read. When I decided to become a teacher, I felt like I’d discovered a too-good-to-be-true job: I could talk about books and get paid for it! Add to my love of books a love for kids and a love of words, and writing is the perfect job for me.
PS — I love your name!
Eliana, a 7th grader from Iroquois Middle School in Niskayuna, NY, asks:
How did you get the idea to make this a novel in verse or was it your idea from the very beginning to do it like that?
It wasn’t my plan to write in verse at all! In fact, I’d only read two verse novels before attempting to write May B. — not what experts advise aspiring authors to do. As I began drafting the story, I was frustrated with what I was writing. My ideas were really far from the words on the page. I returned to my research and noticed patterns in the way frontier women spoke to one another:
I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. Trying to mirror their style, I discovered May’s voice and the most honest way to tell her story. The solution was verse.
Have you ever read Island of The Blue Dolphins? I noticed some similarities between that book and May B. For example, a girl trapped in a place and trying to survive when everyone else has abandoned her happens in both books and far from only those two. How did you get the idea of doing a survival story in the past?
It’s funny you mention Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was one of my editor’s favorite books when she was a girl. When she told me my book was something she would have loved as child, I knew we would work well together. She was wonderful at helping me focus on the survival aspect of things, including details she was sure kids would want to know (how much food May had, for example). As for telling a survival story in the past, I knew I wanted to tell a pioneer story with a strong character like Laura Ingalls, but I also was interested in telling a survival story, like Hatchet and Blue Dolphins. So much of what I read while researching included every day survival situations (prairie fires, roaming wolves, for example), the blending of the two ideas felt natural.
Because of the time period there is a lot of information that people might not know about. For example, I was put in the embarrassing position of having to ask my mom what a “buffalo chip” was. How did you do the research for the information on this time period? I see you visited museums and talked to experts. How did that help?
Sorry about your embarrassing moment. Buffalo chips aren’t snacks, that’s for sure! Most of my research came from books. I have to confess I’ve never been to western Kansas and had to rely on connections I found over the Internet (a reader and museum director) to verify what I’d created was accurate. I even watched a 30-second loop of the short-grass prairie on YouTube! It was important for me to be familiar with small details like plant and animal life, if it was possible for grasshoppers to survive a Kansas frost, or how high short-grass grows (up to twelve inches). So much of what I learned didn’t directly make it into the book but helped shape the story and May’s world.
Caroline Starr Rose, May 2013