Children's Writer of the Week: Kyo Maclear

The author of not one but two of my favourite picture books is Kyo Maclear. Spork (KidsCan 2010) is a wonderful story about identity told through a character who is neither a fork like his father  or a spoon like his mother and has to find his own place and use in the world. Sounds like it could be didactic and heavy-handed and the great joy is that it is anything but.  

Kyo eating chocolate
Virginia Wolf (KidsCan 2012) is that elusive and necessary beast - a children's book about depression (think Shaun Tan's The Red Tree). It is of course reductive to describe the book that way because it is also about joy and friendship and sisterhood and colour and creativity. It would also be a terrible shame to think of it as a book just for children.

Here's what the New York Times had to say:
Operating on a much deeper and darker level, “Virginia Wolf,” an ambitious story about girlish blues, sisterly differences and the healing power of art, will do wonders for Woolf-besotted former English majors. But the story, about Virginia and her sister, Vanessa, who paints a fantastical world called Bloomsberry, will work equally well for children who hardly know the difference between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Both books were illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault and with Virginia Wolf in particular the collaboration moves the work into a rare category where the synthesis of talents creates something so much larger than its parts.

Also published this year was Kyo Maclear's second novel for adults, Stray Love. You can read more about her and her work at her fiction website or her children's fiction website.  
Kyo at home

And be sure to check out her wonderful book trailers for Spork and Virginia Wolf.

What surprised you most about your most recently published book?
I am surprised and happy that it appeals to my seven-year-old son’s friends. I am also happy that adults are unabashedly buying it for themselves. (I am looking forward to the day that publishers and readers catch on and picture books are embraced and marketed as  a cultural form for people of all ages.

What was the hardest thing about writing it?
First hard thing: writing in the formidable shadow of the real Virginia Woolf—whose literary legacy both inspires and intimidates me. Second hard thing: balancing up and down, glad and gloom, trying to find a comfortable way of dealing with a potentially uncomfortable subject.

What are you working on now?
I’ve recently finished a new picture book, currently being illustrated by Matte Stephens, to be published in Spring 2013. It’s about a boy named Martin who is EXTREMELY wary of change. He meets a man named Mr. Flux who turns his staid, predictable world upside down. Matte is an amazing artist with a wonderfully witty touch and an unerring sense of modernist design. He’s a perfect match for this retro arty tale.

How do you feel about being called a children’s writer?
Proud. I love what I do. I love working with a form that seems so modest and miniature but that allows for so much expression.

Is there a book—or books—you most wish you'd written yourself?
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (It’s a little angsty, a little lofty, and a lot of fun. I still relate to Milo’s problems and the language nerd in me loves the fact that this book swarms with wordplay and puns.)
The Lover by Marguerite Duras. (As you know, when you write picture books you learn to take Strunk and White’s style rule “Omit needless words” to heart. I like the way Marguerite Duras applies this rule to adult fiction, creating great atmosphere and lingering effects with comparatively few words.)
Sculpting in Time: Tarkovsky The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. (I’m envious and in awe of artists who can talk cogently and usefully about what they do. This book is a totally original artistic testament written by a very conscious and alive human being. I would like to write such a book and be such a person.)

When (or where) do you write?
I try to write a bit every day. It always feels to me that being a writer is less existentially sturdy than other professions (for example being a dentist or an architect.) It’s just wonkier. You never know if you're a writer unless you’re actually doing it. When you stop, it vanishes. (Where: I write in my first floor study with my cat/muse Mimi for company. She literally nudges me down the stairs and into my chair.)

Who do you write for?
For my two sons and all their friends. For booky children and adults. For anyone who has ever felt a bit small in the world. For my own enjoyment.

Did you want to be a writer when you were a child?
No. I wanted to be a “drawer.” A person who engages in drawing. Not the box-shaped container that fits into a piece of furniture.

If you could live in a book, which book would it be?
Probably a Richard Scarry book. I know it’s anthropomorphism but I love how his towns teem with interspecies life (anteaters that paint, foxes that farm.) There is no narrative coherence just a bunch of busy creatures somehow, happily, getting along.

What is the question you would most like to be asked?
How about: Do you have any hidden talents?
And my answer: I can stand on my head. I can also eat a large Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar in under a minute. I’ve never tried but I’m pretty sure I could probably do both at the same time.

Great news!  KidsCan Press is going to give away one copy of Virginia Wolf to a lucky reader.  Leave a comment below telling why you love Virginia Woolf, or Virginia Wolf or just wolves.


Vergek said…
Can't wait to read it!!
Steph said…
I like Virginia Woolf and Virginia Wolf and wolves in general because they all have the letter w.
LNadir said…
Virginia Woolf was the most joyous depressed person you'd ever want to know, her sensitivity to the world made her see the intense beauty as well as darkness in it all. That made her a wonderful artist to my mind, I've read everything by her. My children need this book!
Anonymous said…
In undergrad, Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own made me work harder than I had ever done. And I liked it.
I loved 'Wolves' - another great picture book by British children's author/illustrator Emily Gravett. Check it out! I am unashamed to be an adult who absolutely loves children's books!
Sara O'Leary said…
The copy of Virginia Wolf has now been given away but watch for future giveaways (Susan Juby's Woefield Poultry Collective is up this week).
I haven't read Wolves but am going now to look for it, thanks.
Leilah Nadir said…
Virginia Wolf! I received my copy and it is as gorgeous as hoped, I highly recommend it for anyone who believes that creativity can help overcome any dark day. And I see that is has won a Governor General Award as well! Bravo!

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