Let’s start with your latest picture book, The Princess of Borscht (Bonnie Christensen, Illus.; Roaring Brook, 2011). Congratulations on all the terrific reviews (and they are terrific!!) I love the idea of food as cure-all (especially borscht) and as a centerpiece for the character interactions. Are you a cook? Do you think food holds “magic” properties? Please tell readers something about how this book came together for you.
Thanks, Janet! To answer this question, I have to order my few remaining brain cells back almost ten years and visit some ancient computer files. Most of you know that picture books can take a very long time, but this one took even longer. The short version: I started it in 2003 when my husband said offhandedly (I think) that someone should write a book about borscht. So I did. It went through many, many, many, many drafts. Many. Even some VCFA faculty had things to say about it (“Start over.” “No one in his right mind wants to read a book about borscht.” “What the heck is borscht?” Etc.)
Am I a cook? No. I hate to cook. I could live on bread, cheese, and salads, but I somehow suspect that is not an entirely healthful diet. So I do cook some things. About four. And I don’t eat anything that has/had four legs. (Once I thought chicken had four legs so I didn’t eat it for years. Maybe I am kidding.)
Does food have magic properties? Yes. It does. Somebody should bring me some; that’s what I think. Chocolate especially has magic properties. Especially dark chocolate with hazelnuts.
How much time do we have? I’ll rein myself in. The current dog members are Pippa and Pogo. Both are mutts, but they are also so-called designer dogs, Goldendoodles. We did not pay goldendoodle prices for either one, and they’re both Vermont natives. Pogo is the sweetest person on the planet; he is pure love. Pippa—well, she’s a case. She’s the most independent dog I’ve ever had, and I’ve had several. It’s not that she dislikes us; she just has many things to do that don’t involve us.
As for Peanut, they both believe that more dogs are always a good thing. I’m sure they’d love to have another dog (Bob, husband dear, are you listening?)
You have six published picture books to your credit, including the multi-award winner Ballet of the Elephants (Robert Andrew Parker, Illus.; Roaring Brook, 2006.) Have you thought about writing something longer? What draws you to the picture book format? And...will the picture book format survive its current turmoil?
As for the picture book, I’d like to believe it will survive, because I love picture books with all my heart and soul. I cannot imagine a world without Horton, Ferdinand, Madeline, Max, --- in fact, maybe one of the reasons picture books are in crisis is because characters as memorable as those aren’t being created as often.
You were a librarian for years and served on awards committees. How have these experiences colored your work?
|Leda, hiding behind Pogo and snuggling with Pippa|
For much longer periods of time I was on two of Vermont’s children’s choice awards committees: the Red Clover Award and the Dorothy Canfield Award. During those years, I read hundreds and hundreds of children’s/YA books every year. What an incredible privilege—and what an education. So much of what is published disappoints; so much of what is good doesn’t get “buzz” and disappears.
Most of my committee experience was before blogs gained the power they have now. I believe that blogging is changing the whole world of children’s books in ways that are both good and bad. I worry.
I’m eternally grateful to have had you as one of my advisors while I was a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. What is the best thing about teaching? Can you share any fun stories about VCFA (trick question)?
Funny or fun stories about VCFA? Everything that happens there is fun, right? Guessing what’s for lunch, meeting all your friends in the communal bathrooms, waiting for the water to heat up, looking for caffeine---but you probably mean something more. I laugh more during residency than I do the whole rest of the year. And I suspect the students have even more fun than the faculty. (We have a ton!)
Please tell us about the forthcoming Monsieur Marceau (Gerard DuBois, Illus., Roaring Brook, 2012).
Right after M. Marceau died, my agent, Steven Chudney, suggested I might think about writing a picture book biography. I rarely take suggestions from someone else (though this long blog post points to two such instances, hmmm), but this one resonated, particularly when I became immersed in research and learned about Marceau’s actions during WWII, which I had known nothing about. The more I learned of Marceau’s life, the more convinced I was to tell the story. Oddly enough, I studied mime in my senior in college with Jan Kessler, and a student of Marceau’s, Rob Mermin, lives close by.
Neal Porter accepted the manuscript in 2008; it will be published next fall (2012). I’ve recently seen the proofs, and I was completely overwhelmed by the gorgeous art Gerard DuBois has created. He’s French and lives in Montreal. Wait until you see it!
Want to share a favorite borscht recipe?
It’s on the back of THE PRINCESS OF BORSCHT! Simple as could be. There are more complex recipes as well. They’re all good. Beets are good.
What’s the best way for readers to find out more about you and your work?
I do have a website which I maintain myself through the Authors Guild. It’s nothing fancy, but I update it frequently. www.ledaschubert.com
Janet, thanks so much for interviewing me. It’s almost as good as sitting in Noble Lounge at VCFA and talking with you.
Likewise. Almost. Sigh.
Likewise. Almost. Sigh.