5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Interviews with Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Last week I finished the amazing Maybe A Fox. Reading it was an emotional roller coaster. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to interview Kathi and Alison about their gorgeous book.

5,4,3,2,1 Interview

My words will appear win black, Kathi’s in red, and Alison’s in green.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about MAYBE A FOX?

Maybe, but then I’d be giving it away. (1)

Kathi and I became friends the instant we met each other –you know how that happens, sometimes in life?—and the very first week we knew each other, we vowed someday to write a book together. We didn’t know anything about our book when we began to write it, so we made two rules: 1) it would be about two sisters who were somehow separated, and 2) it would have a fox in it. Writing “Maybe a Fox” was very different from writing most of my books. I have a particular voice, as a writer, and so does Kathi, and we had to figure out how to create a whole new voice that didn’t belong to either of us, but to the book itself. Thank goodness we had each other, because when things got hard –and boy did they, this book took many years of rewriting before it was any good—we had each other to rely on. (5)

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2. What is your favorite thing about writing for kids?

 For one, kids love a good joke. For another, they also see the world in new ways, which allows me to imagine the world as a totally fresh place. I love that. (3)

My whole childhood was pretty much spent with my nose in a book –my sisters called me The Bookworm—so when I’m working on a children’s book, it feels like a return to some of my most wonder-filled days. Reading a book back then made me feel as if the inside me were living in another world at the same time as the outside me was going to school and doing her chores. Wait a minute, what am I saying? Reading a book STILL makes me feel that way. (4)

3. What’s the hardest thing about writing for kids?

The hardest thing is writing prose that is exciting enough to keep their attention. The next hardest thing is making sure that the story is good enough for them. (2)

The hardest thing about writing for kids is that I feel a tremendous responsibility to and respect for children, and I want to make sure I never, ever underestimate what kids are going through and thinking about. (1)

4. If you could spend one day inside a book, which book would you pick?  

Is this a trick question? Because I love so many books it’s hard to choose. My favorite book of all time is Black Beauty, but I’m not sure I want to go that far back in time. Wait, I know, yes—it would be Millions of Cats because I love cats, and I might take one home with me. (4)

I would spend it inside “Heidi,” climbing up the mountain to visit her Swiss grandfather. Heidi was a lonely girl, and in retrospect, I was lonely too, and I used to read that book over and over. Partly because I felt less lonely when I read it, partly because I love to hike up mountains just like Heidi did, and partly because the illustrations in my family’s copy were so utterly beautiful. (3)

5. What advice do you have for the young creators in my classroom?

a. Learn the names of the plants in your neighborhood including the trees, the wildflowers, the weeds and the shrubs.

b. Take lots of time to daydream.

c. Write about the things that matter to you, including the things that scare you.

d. Read everything you can get your paws on—books, magazines, cereal boxes, road signs, etc..

e. Turn off the TV and leave it off. (5)

My best advice for writing and for life: Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart. When you really, really care about what you’re doing, and you put your whole heart into it, you are making the world a better place. (2)

Follow the tour!
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Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her picture books include Oh My Baby, Little One, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath, which was also a Newbery Honor Book. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn  more, visit Kathi’s website at kathiappelt.com.
Alison McGhee is the New York Times bestselling author of Someday, as well as Firefly Hollow, Little Boy, So Many Days,Bye-Bye Crib, Always, A Very Brave Witch, and the Bink and Gollie books. Her other children’s books include All Rivers Flow to the Sea, Countdown to Kindergarten, and Snap. Alison is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize–nominated adult novel Shadowbaby, which was also a Today show book club selection. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and you can visit her at AlisonMcGhee.com.
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