Can Write: Meeting Canadian Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Books
What inspires the writers of the books your students read? How does an illustrator decide what to draw? Is it true that most authors and illustrators don’t know each other? This column features a different Canadian children’s book creator in each issue and shows you the story beyond the covers.
I met Canadian author Frieda Wishinsky when she came to stay at my booklovers’ B & B on Salt Spring Island, and I knew that kids would love to meet this creator of books like Please, Louise! and Everything But the Kitchen Sink.
“As a writer,” she told me, “I’m grateful that I can do work I love—write for kids. The books we read as children make a lasting impression on us. The books I read as a kid have stayed with me always and shaped my life and work.”
I asked her some questions to get to know her better.
Margriet: You write children’s books. What was your childhood like?
Frieda: I grew up in New York City. My parents were immigrants from Poland who came to the USA after World War II. They believed strongly in education and reading. My mom took me to the public library once a week and I took out six books, the most books you could take in a week. I savoured those books like chocolate (my favourite “food”) all week. Each book took me somewhere new in either the past, present or to an imagined future. I was an only child so books were some of my best companions.
My worst memory is dealing with a bully named Evelyn, who made my life miserable during grade three. Boy, did I learn how to deal with bullies while coping with Evelyn. I write a lot about bullies now and I’ve used those memories in my stories. In a strange way I owe a lot to Evelyn!
Margriet: You were working as a teacher when you became interested in writing. How did that happen?
Frieda: When I was teaching in London, Ontario I wrote whenever I gave my students writing assignments. I figured if I’m asking them to write, I should write too. Then I had a two-month sabbatical when my husband (then a medical student) worked for a doctor in Eugene, Oregon. I started writing my first picture book in the Eugene Library. When I received encouragement from an editor to whom I’d submitted that early work, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped writing since that day.
Margriet: Tell us about an “ordinary” day as a writer.
Frieda: No day is ordinary and that’s what I love about it. I’m the master of my own timetable, despite deadlines and presentations. I have to set my own schedule and I love that. I try to write every day and I sometimes write on the train on the way to a talk. I like deadlines because they keep me focused. And anyone who knows me knows I love to write in cafes. I take my big red bag full of stories in different stages, sip a latte and write. I also like to make time for coffee and chats with writing friends or librarians. It’s important for me to get input and share ideas with others.
Margriet: And tell us about a day in a school. What do you do with students?
Frieda: My talks vary depending on the age group and size of the audience but it’s always animated, dramatic and interactive. Since I write for such a variety of ages (from preschool to teens and both fiction and non-fiction), I have a lot of material to draw on. I use props and drama and there’s always lots of audience participation and humour.
Margriet: Do your school visits influence your writing?
Frieda: Things that have happened at schools have sneaked into my stories. I wrote my latest non-fiction because the only explorer a grade three group knew was “Dora the Explorer” so I decided to write a fun book about explorers. It’s just out from Scholastic and is called Explorers Who Made It…or Died Trying.
Margriet: Do you have any advice for adults who might, one day, like to write for children?
Frieda: Write often, get feedback, only send in your very best work and revise. Be persistent and if you write a good story, no matter how tough the market (and it is tough) someone will buy it.
Margriet: What are you reading right now?
Frieda: I always read a mix of adult and kids’ books. I read fiction and non-fiction. It’s similar to what I write—a mix of subjects. I’m enjoying an adult non-fiction by the wonderful David McCullough called The Greater Journey. It’s about Paris in the mid to late 1800s and all the artists and writers who were drawn to Paris. I’ve written about some of the people in McCullough’s books in my own work. What I love about his nonfiction is that it has a narrative flow. It’s a story—but about what really happened.
Find out more about Canadian author Frieda Wishinsky here: http://friedawishinsky.com/index.html
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 28 books for children. She conducts author presentations in schools around the country. MARGRIETRUURS.COM
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2012 issue.