If you subscribe to the Maw Books Blog and saw not one, not two, but five book reviews of Bonny Becker’s books and have now landed yourself onto this author interview, you probably noticed that it’s Bonny Becker day!
Bonny is the author of The Christmas Crocodile (my book review), My Brother, The Robot (my book review), Holbrook: A Lizard’s Tale (my book review), Just a Minute, An Ant’s Day Off (my book review) and her newest A Visitor for Bear (my book review). A Visitor for Bear was adorable and will easily be one of my favorite picture books this year. A Visitor for Bear was also shortlisted for a Cybils award. Needless to say, I’m excited to have Bonny with us today. So let’s make her feel welcome . . .
Maw Book: Welcome Bonny! You’re newest book A Visitor for Bear is receiving a lot of attention, selling well, receiving awards, and making short lists. What are you thinking or feeling about reader reaction to A Visitor for Bear?
Bonny Becker: I’m thrilled! So many people have told me how “A Visitor for Bear” is their child’s favorite book or how their three-year-old will suddenly use a phrase from the books, exclaiming things like “Begone!” and “I am undone!” I mean, how cool is that? I have to admit, I really love the idea that this story is part of someone’s life. It’s an amazing feeling.
Maw Books: What led you to write A Visitor for Bear instead of any of the other stories you could have written?
Bonny Becker: Stories have a certain “energy”. When I first started writing, I pretty much wrote or, at least, started writing most ideas that came to me. And then down the road I’d find out that there wasn’t enough there to keep me going. But I’m much better now at knowing the stories that have “something.” And I could just feel how fun this story would be to write.
Maw Books: What’s your favorite scene that you wrote for the book? Why? And also, what is your favorite illustration as well?
Bonny Becker: I think my favorite scene is when Mouse wins Bear over as they sit having tea. It’s one of the last scenes I wrote as I struggled with how the dynamic would change between Mouse and Bear. I really like it because it ended up turning on Mouse just appreciating Bear—which is something I really believe in: that most of us thrive on simply being accepted and appreciated.
I’m not sure I can pick one favorite illustration. I love the spot illustration of Mouse peeking out from a bowl. I really like the ending illustration. All of Mouse’s reactions throughout make me smile. If I could pick one for my wall I realize I couldn’t decide on just one.
Maw Books: Authors normally don’t give any input regarding the illustrations. The illustrations for A Visitor for Bear are WONDERFUL. What was your reaction when you first saw the illustrations and what is your experience like to collaborate on picture books with an illustrator?
Bonny Becker: Kady MacDonald Denton is the illustrator and I was ecstatic when I saw her early sketches. I had no clear idea what Mouse and Bear looked like. I knew their personalities, but had no image in my head. Kady’s pictures were them! There they were on paper.
I always liken the author-illustrator relationship to that between the buyer and seller in a real estate deal. It all goes through an agent—in this case, the editor. At first it’s scary to give up any say-so in the illustrations. But, I’ve been lucky and had wonderful illustrators, including Kady, David Small, Jack E. Davis, and Nina Laden who did things I could never come up with.
I’m also really excited about the art in my new chapter book “The Magical Ms. Plum” that’s coming out this fall. The artist is Amy Portnoy. This is her first kid’s book, but she’s published some cartoons in The New Yorker and places like that. Her style is funny and warm.
Maw Books: Holbrook, A Lizard’s Tale is about an artist who feels that he has something special inside of him, a way of seeing the world, Holbrook hopes to find someone who will appreciate his artistic talent. Is there a little bit of you inside of Holbrook?
Bonny Becker: Oh, yeah. Totally. I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. It goes way back and has been a major force in my life. But I do believe that everyone has that “big thing inside” (as Holbrook thinks of it.) And it expresses itself everywhere–skateboarding, cooking, engineering, science, being a good mother, knitting, custom cars, teaching–it’s everywhere! If you look around any room everything, everything is there because of human creativity.
Maw Books: You grew up in a large family – I know how that goes, I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters myself – and you say that you have a lot of chaos in your life. Was any of that inspiration for both My Brother, the Robot and The Christmas Crocodile?
Bonny Becker: Absolutely. In fact, I worked the names of my brother and 4 sisters into “My Brother, the Robot.” I loved growing up in a big family. You have the same family size I did, but you had a nice even split of boys and girls. My family is still really close.
Maw Books: Is there a particular book or scene that you feel most proud of? And why?
Bonny Becker: That’s a tough question. I’m really proud of “A Visitor for Bear” and feel really good about the upcoming “The Magical Ms. Plum.” I think because both feel like I got it right. They’re not necessarily perfect. But I like the way each makes me feel. I hope I captured a kind of emotional experience that I really wanted to capture.
Maw Books: If you could go back to the very beginning, would you change anything about the way you write? Would you change anything in any of your books?
Bonny Becker: If I could go back, it would be nice if I knew then what I know now. In other words, I’d be more skilled and have a clearer sense of the kind of things I wanted to write. But I don’t think there’s any way I could have had a short cut to that. Having more confidence—that would have been good. I would tell my younger writing self not to worry so much. But my younger self would probably ignore me.
Maw Books: What motivates you to write for children and young readers?
Bonny Becker: Reading as a kid was some of the most meaningful reading of my life—getting totally lost in Narnia and Oz and Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane. I really want to recreate that enchantment for myself and for my readers.
Maw Books: What are some of your favorite experiences so far from book signings, school visits, interviews, and other promotional activities for your books? Are there any particular moments that stand out to you that make it all worth it?
Bonny Becker: Well, one of the funniest moments was at a reading for “A Visitor for Bear.” A boy, maybe three or four, couldn’t wait to tell me something, but his mom made him wait patiently until I’d finished. At last it was his turn. He stood up, walked right up to me and announced in the loudest possible voice, “Today, I pooped in the potty!” He was enormously satisfied with himself. No buried potty training trauma for that kid!
A really meaningful moment, was at a school visit where a girl came up and told me that her brother had read “Holbrook: A Lizard’s Tale” and had decided to become an artist. Wow! You can’t have a bigger impact than that!
Maw Books: I’m in the midst of potty training right now! Ugh. What are the challenges of being a children’s book writer? Particularly in a time, when publishers aren’t doing very well in this economic climate?
Bonny Becker: It’s hard to find that line between being a commercial success and writing meaningful stories. Kids publishing has become a business that is so much more than writing a good book. I’m sure there’s always been that element, but now it’s huge.
I can’t decide how much time and energy and resources to spend on marketing versus what I put into my writing. You can’t just write your book and then sit around waiting for the world to come to your door. And, you really have no business complaining if they don’t. But I also see marketing and promotional efforts that, at least for me, would suck up all my time and energy! So I’m struggling to find that balance. And this is true for all the writers I know.
Maw Books: Do you keep up with the blogs of the kidlitosphere? Which do you read regularly? Have you considered starting your own blog?
Bonny Becker: I check in most days. Among others, I read Fuse 8, BookMoot, Bookshelves of Doom, Chicken Spaghetti, Educating Alice, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, laurasalas, Mother Reader, Oz and Ends, Read Roger and Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast.
Starting my own blog is something I think about all the time. It’s part of that “write my books” “market my books” dilemma.
Maw Books: All right! I had all but one of those blogs in my reader! Great blogs! What were you like as a young reader? And what are you reading now?
Bonny Becker: Voracious and enthralled. I just finished Neil Gaiman’s “A Graveyard Book” which I enjoyed immensely. I’ve also started in on re-reading a lot of fantasy—from the Narnia books to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke, because I’m going to teach a class on fantasy next fall.
Maw Books: What is your favorite word?
Bonny Becker: Noooooo. That’s like asking which eyeball do I want to live without. I can’t do it.
Maw Books: And conversely, what is a word you hate?
Bonny Becker: Utilize. (“Use” works just fine!)
Maw Books: Eeww. Pus I agree with. What’s the best writing advice that you have ever received? And what’s the best writing advice that you could give?
Bonny Becker: Received: “If you’re easily discouraged, you should be.”
Given: “All you need to do, all you can do is simply the next draft.”
Maw Books: This is a question that I ask of every single author I review and that is to share with us a recipe, either one that appears in their books or a personal favorite. I later try to make the recipe and blog about it. Is there a particular recipe that you would like to share with us?
Bonny Becker: This is a cookie recipe I make every Christmas with my daughters:
Chocolate Mocha Pecan Balls
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
½ cup granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for coating the cookies
In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the granulated sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, the espresso powder, the cocoa powder and the salt. Beat mixture until it is well combined.
Add the flour. Beat the dough until it is just combined and beat in pecans. Chill the dough, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and arrange the balls about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake the cookies in batches in the middle of the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes or until they are just firm and let them cool for 5 minutes on the sheets.
Toss the warm cookies in batches in a bowl of the confectioners’ sugar to coat them well. The cookies may be made 2 months in advance and kept frozen in airtight containers. Makes about 95 cookies.
Maw Books: Delicious! I can’t wait to try them! Tell us about A Birthday for Bear and A Bedtime for Bear (I believe there is yet a third?) What do you love so much about mouse and bear to continue on with the series and when can we expect to see them in stores?
Bonny Becker: In “A Birthday for Bear” Bear is his fastidious, grumpy self on his birthday—even denying that it is his birthday. Mouse disguises himself as various deliverymen, etc. trying to get Bear to admit it’s his birthday and enjoy the day.
In “A Bedtime for Bear”, Bear has Mouse over for Bear’s first ever sleep over. But in order to sleep, Bear does need quiet, absolute quiet. To Bear’s great frustration and growing annoyance, Mouse is not as quiet as a… well, you know.
“Birthday” will be out this fall in the form of an early reader. “Bedtime” will come out in 2010 as a picture book and then will come out in an early reader format. Candlewick is interested in developing a picture book and an early reader line for these characters.
Kady is illustrating the upcoming books and is doing another incredible job.
Maw Books: Tell us about The Magical Ms. Plum? What is it about and when can we expect to find that out as well?
Bonny Becker: “The Magical Ms. Plum” is a middle-grade chapter book about a teacher with a magical classroom—more specifically a classroom with a magic supply closet. Any kid who goes in there to get something for Ms. Plum ends up finding a magical, miniature animal and has an adventure. It’s episodic—each chapter features a different child, a different animal and a different experience. Ms. Plum and her classroom are exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to happen as a kid. Magic! Magic! Magic! That’s what I wanted more than anything in the third and fourth grades.
Maw Books: What are you working on now? And what are your continued goals and aspirations for the future?
Bonny Becker: I’m working on an older age novel—say 10 to 14 year olds. And it too is about magic.
Maw Books: Wonderful! Thank you so much Bonny for being with us today! And I wish you much success. Needless to say, I can’t wait until Birthday for Bear and your other books!