2013 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

New Writer Interview

Julie Fogliano: And Then There Was Spring

Interviewed by Margot Abel, Associate Director, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Were you a big reader as a girl? What role do you think picture books play in developing literacy?
Yes, I have always loved to read. I remember sitting on the floor of the library when I was maybe five-ish. I remember looking at Where the Wild Things Are, the page where his room became the forest, and I was absolutely sucked in. I was in that room with Max. I wasn’t able to read a word yet, but that was the moment I fell in love with books. Without picture books, that wouldn’t have been possible until much later.
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What inspired you to write your first children’s book?
And Then It’s Spring came after 15 years of trying to write a children’s book. I was spending so much time thinking and worrying about writing that I was barely able to write a thing. Finally, in an effort to get me out of my rut, my friend George O’Connor (also a writer and illustrator) asked that I write him one thought a day, every day for a year. There were no rules, except that I had to write at least one line a day for 365 days. And Then It’s Spring was Thought #156.

Who are your favorite picture-book writers?
There are so many. But Ruth Krauss is certainly a huge favorite: Maurice Sendak, Alice and Martin Provensen, Charlotte Zolotow…

And Then It’s Spring explores the relationship between a boy and the natural world. Do you think there is a connection between a child’s learning to relate to nature and developing interpersonal skills?
Learning to relate to nature is about being quiet and present. It’s about looking and listening. Both of which are essential to any relationship.
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When did you first discover the work of Keats? How did he influence your book?
Though I read The Snowy Day as a child, it wasn’t until I became a parent and read it to my own children that it really struck a chord with me. This quiet book about a boy in the snow was so captivating to my son that I had to read it to him over and over. There wasn’t any excitement or action. There was no silliness. Peter didn’t fly off in a rocket or get swallowed by a whale. He was just a boy walking in the snow. As wonderful and exciting as adventure could be, The Snowy Day reminded me that sometimes the tiny, real-life, simple things could be just as interesting. This really pointed me in the direction of the kind of books I hoped to someday write.

What do you think connects the boy in your book and his garden with Ezra’s kids and their neighborhood?
What seems to connect Peter in The Snowy Day and the little boy in And Then It’s Spring is the way they are both so content just to be outside. They are alone and quietly enjoying themselves without toys or friends to play with. They are just satisfied out there in their little world.

Erin Stead’s illustrations and your text go hand-in-glove. How did you work together?
Erin and I have a very simple working relationship. I write and she illustrates and there is very little discussion in between. Well, that’s not entirely true. We have become quite close over the last few years and we speak often. But we rarely speak about the book she’s working on. Sometimes I’ll get a surprise email with a finished spread and I’ll swoon and tell her how much I love it. But really, that’s about it. She has a better understanding of what I’m trying to express than I do. She is meticulous and thoughtful and (she will kill me for saying this) so insanely talented. So I feel no need to give her any more info than the text itself. As a writer, it’s very scary to have your text interpreted and brought to life by someone else. I feel very lucky to work with someone I trust and admire and really like so very much as a person.
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How do you think winning the EJK Book Award will affect your career?
Aside from bringing attention to the book, which is always a wonderful thing, this award is exactly the type of encouragement that helps keep a new, and often doubting, writer pushing forward. I love writing children’s books, and I hope that I will always have the opportunity to do so. But insecurity is pretty crippling. Sometimes I’ll read someone else’s work and I think I should just pack it in, that I’ll never be that good. So getting recognized like this is a nice bit of validation that will help keep me writing through the rough patches.

What advice do you have for young writers?
First, I would say read. Read like crazy. All of those voices that you encounter over a lifetime of reading stay with you. Not consciously, but they’re all in there simmering. Eventually, those voices, along with your own experiences and perspective, will become a voice in itself. Second, write about the things in your world that you find fascinating or beautiful or sad or funny, even if it’s something that seems insignificant or silly. Don’t worry about what your audience might think. Don’t worry about making it interesting or important. Just write about the things that make you feel something. Chances are, if you care about what you are writing about, your readers will feel it, too.

Read more about Julie Fogliano