Children's Writer of the Week: Susan Juby

There was a period in my life where I wrote a weekly column for the books section of a newspaper (prompting my very young son to ask me why my picture was in the paper every week when I wasn't even famous). There were many perqs to this job - I didn't have to get dressed or leave the house very often and I had a steady supply of things to read delivered to my door - it was pretty much the job I dreamed of having as a bookish, introverted teenager - but as well as bringing the world to my door, it brought me some quite wonderful new people and one of my very favourites is Susan Juby.  
I first spoke to Susan when Alice, I Think, the first title in her wonderfully funny trilogy, was published in 2003 and the following year when Miss Smithers was published she did the Proust questionnaire with me, in character as Alice.  Susan is one of the brightest, funniest, loveliest writers I know.   

I've followed Susan's career ever since reviewing those first novels and seeing them made into a television series.  I'm a fan of her subsequent novels Getting the Girl and Another Kind of Cowboy, but was most deeply impressed by her publication of Nice Recovery, a memoir in which she details her struggles with alcoholism as a young adult.  The book is both moving and funny but beyond that it strikes me as profoundly useful and honest in a startlingly rare way.  The sort of book that James Frey would write if he had intelligence and integrity.  

Never one to follow a straight line, Susan followed that with a novel that crossed over into adult fiction, The Woefield Poultry Collective (published as Home to Woefield in the US).  And she's now gone on to explore science fiction with the upcoming Bright's Light.  Hard as she is to keep up with, I was glad to catch her long enough to do this little question and answer session.

Susan as a child
What surprised you most about your most recently published book?
My most recently published book is The Woefield Poultry Collective. I was surprised by how much fun it was to write from four alternating points of view. Tinkering with diction and other elements of voice was interesting, as was trying to surround the same incident with differing perspectives for comic effect. Whether successful or not, the work was engaging. I have also been pleased by the positive response the book has gotten from a wide range of readers of all ages.

What was the hardest thing about writing it?
In this case, I will talk about the book that's coming out this August. Bright's Light is a dystopian-sci-fi comic mashup. When I set out to write it I was naive about the work required to build an entire closed world, its history and all the attendant references and so forth. Getting the tone right was also an arduous task. I finished the book yesterday and I've been working on it for well over two years. I used to think memoir writers were the brave heroes of the literary world. Now I am convinced that those who write fantasy and sci-fi have captured that crown.

What are you working on now?
As noted, I just finished Bright's Light yesterday. Today I have started a new book that I've been researching for a little over a year. It's a crime novel for adults. God forbid I should be coherent in my efforts!

How do you feel about being called a children’s writer?
Many of the most influential writers in my life have been writers for children (or at least teens), so I feel just fine about it. 

Is there a book you most wish you'd written yourself?

Most recently, I wish I'd written The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. I also wish I wrote Charlotte's Web, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Cold Comfort Farm, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn... you get the picture. I wish I wrote your books, too, Sara. They are so delightful and I'd display them everywhere.

When (or where) do you write?
First thing in the morning and sometimes again in the afternoon, in my studio.

Susan as a teen
Who do you write for?
Myself, mostly. I write what I'd like to read.

Did you want to be a writer when you were a child?
I wanted to be a writer until I was thirteen and lost all confidence that I could achieve much of anything. It took a long time to rebuild to the point where I was ready to try writing again.

If you could live in a book, which book would it be?
The Borrowers.

What is the question you would most like to be asked?
Into which account would you like the million dollars deposited?

I have a copy of Woefield to give away to one lucky reader (Canadian addresses only, please).  Just leave a comment below to be entered to win.  Thanks to HarperCollins.  

To make this fun, why not include a story about a chicken in your comment.

You can take a peek at the book here and learn more about Susan and her books on her fantastic website here.  


Mom, tell me about when you were small too....

Very nice news to wake to on this Mother's Day morning.  When I Was Small  has won the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize (sponsored by Ampersand Inc.) at the BC Books Gala.

Congratulations to illustrator Julie Morstad, designer Robin Mitchell-Cranfield, Simply Read Books editor Kallie George and publisher Dimiter Savoff.

I must say I like the way this prize recognizes a picture book as something beyond text and illustration by not singling out the creators individually - to me a picture book is ideally a synthesis of individual talents.

I never particularly set out to write picture books but it truly has been one of the great joys of my life.  I liked what Maurice Sendak had to say about it being a transcendent experience ... it's a bit like motherhood that way.


May 12, 1812

Edward Lear was born on this day two hundred years ago. 

Browsing this KidsCan edition of The Owl and Pussycat as illustrated by St├ęphane Jorisch is a lovely way to commemorate that fact.   You can see a preview by clicking on the title above.


Happy Friday!

Congratulations to 123oleary reader Leilah Nadir whose name was drawn for a copy of Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault.
Big thanks to KidsCan for sponsoring the giveaway.


Joyous, Naughty, Boisterous Children

Re-visiting an old post about Maurice Sendak in light of his death yesterday....

There's a really excellent article by Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian. It has the enviable title of "Wild Things, I Think I Love You." (Thanks to the wildly loveable Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 for the link).

Jones makes an interesting connection in reference to the illustration style employed by Sendak:

At first sight it might seem Max, the hero, is a bad boy pure and simple. We first meet him wearing a white wolf suit, banging a nail in a wall with a hammer almost as big as he is; on the next page he's chasing a dog with a fork. But the style reveals something else. Sendak deploys deep perspectives and immaculate hand-drawn cross-hatching recognisably derived from Hogarth, whose art also happens to be full of joyous, naughty, boisterous children - children of nature in the language of the 18th century.

I had to go look for myself...and look, there's Max's great-great granddaddy banging his drum.

I'd recommend that anyone truly wild for Sendak goes out and finds a copy of a book called A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard S. Marcus (published in a 10th anniversary edition). Somewhat lifeless title but a fascinating book. Good stuff here for fans of William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, Robert McCloskey and others, but the real prize in the kinderegg for me was the inclusion of photos of the early (1955) dummy for Where The Wild Horses Are, Sendak's original conception for the book and the 1963 palm-sized dummy for Where the Wild Things Are.

Finally, there has been a lot of ink given over to what a profound influence Sendak has been on subsequent writers and illustrators of children's books.  I know that Julie Morstad, (whom I have been immensely privileged to work with over the past few years) is a great admirer of Sendak's work and it's just possible that his influence can be seen in the light anarchic touch of this little bare-bottomed, joyous boy.

I recently sent Julie the manuscript for a new story about a little girl named Sadie and she wrote back to say that was the name of Sendak's mother.   It feels like a good connection.


Sneak Peek: Cover

This is nice.  A Seth cover for a new Lemony Snicket.  I just found it on my desktop but forget how it got there so please forgive the lack of attribution.



This really is too funny.  Sidebar from Editorial Anonymous, a blog where you can find all manner of useful tips from an unnamed children's book editor.