In November 2010, my editor, Claire Wachtel, sent me an email that went something like this: “book about girl with aspergers just won Natl Book Award. called Mockingbird.” I immediately bought the book and read it through a haze of awe-struck tears. I became a Mockingbird proselytizer, buying multiple copies and sending them as thank-you gifts to my literary agent and my editorial team at Harper, recommending it with fervor to every sensitive reader I know. On a whim, I sent Kathryn Erskine a galley of my book and thought “there goes nothing; how many books must she receive?” Then one day many months later, a friend emailed me :”did you see that Kathryn Erskine just gave your book 5 stars on GoodReads?!” That was an amazing moment! I contacted Kathy via Good Reads and thanked her for making my day; she wrote back immediately and sent me a generous blurb, which appears inside the paperback version of The Anti-Romantic Child. Kathy has since published a very different kind of YA novel, The Absolute Value of Mike, which my 13 year old Benj devoured, chuckling and laughing uproariously and nodding as he did so. I’m honored that Kathy has agreed to answer my questions about her favorite books for people of all ages, and the music, visual art, movies, food, and places that inspire and nourish her.
But first, in the spirit of this blog’s ongoing theme of resilience, here’s one of my favorite quotations from Mockingbird:
“I don’t think I’m going to like it at all. I think it’s going to hurt. But after the hurt I think maybe something good and strong and beautiful will come out of it.”
Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird
Questions about Books:
What are some of your favorite books for
I think reading babies and toddlers to sleep with any children’s books is wonderful, but for active engagement I’d want to include GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown, BROWN BEAR by Eric Carle (and any Eric Carle books), GOODNIGHT GORILLA, and anything with color and rhythm.
young children, ages 3-6?
Dr. Seuss and anything with rhyming, engaging language. There’s a world of wonderful picture books out there. Here are just some of my recent favorites:
MOUSE WAS MAD, Linda Urban
THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND, William Kamkwamba
HALF PINT PETE THE PIRATE and PIRATE PRINCESS (and others), Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? and TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS, Audrey Vernick
JOSIAS, HOLD THE BOOK, Jenn Elvgren
DUMPLING SOUP, Jama Kim Rattigan
ME…JANE, Patrick McDonnell
JO MACDONALD HAD A GARDEN and PIRATE vs. PIRATE, Mary Quattlebaum
HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ, Tad Hills
A TIME TO PRAY, Maha Addasi
CROCODADDY and JACK OF ALL TAILS, Kim Norman
ME WITH YOU and SURFER CHICK, Kristy Dempsey
TIA ISA WANTS A CAR, Meg Medina
FLY FREE, Roseanne Thong
ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE and PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE, Moira Donohue
MARTIN DE PORRES: THE ROSE IN THE DESERT, Gary Schmidt
young readers 6-10?
They tend to love series at the early elementary age, so books like THE MAGIC TREEHOUSE (Mary Pope Osborne), THE BUDDY FILES (Dori Hillestad Butler), and CLEMENTINE (Sara Pennypacker) are great for the younger set, as well as beautiful stand alones like THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM 1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis), HOUND DOG TRUE (Linda Urban), BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE (Kate DiCamillo), LOVE THAT DOG (Sharon Creech), and SAVVY (Ingrid Law). As they get older, there’s the HARRY POTTER (J.K. Rowling) and INKHEART (Cornelia Funke) series, two of my favorite, and a whole wealth of wonderful novels … I could go on forever so I’d better stop now!
Here goes, to name just a few:
THE BOOK THIEF, Markus Zusak
BUCKING THE SARGE, Christopher Paul Curtis
CONVERTING KATE, Beckie Weinheimer
FEED, M.T. Anderson
SPUD, John van de Ruit
THE GIRL WHO COULD SILENCE THE WIND, Meg Medina
LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY, Gary D. Schmidt
RESTORING HARMONY, Joelle Anthony
PURPLE HEART, Patricia McCormick
HEART OF A SAMURAI, Margi Preus
BAMBOO PEOPLE, Mitali Perkins
MILLIONS, Frank Cottrell Boyce
LOST BOY, LOST GIRL: ESCAPING CIVIL WAR IN SUDAN, John Bul Dau
A LONG WALK TO WATER, Linda Sue Park
NOW IS THE TIME FOR RUNNING, Michael Williams
SEEDFOLKS, Paul Fleischman
Anything on the YA list and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. Some great reads include Alexander McCall Smith’s series, THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY, MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson, ROOM by Emma Donoghue, THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Jasmin Darznik, and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd.
What is the one book you think every writer should read?
It’s a toss up between Stephen King’s ON WRITING and Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. They’re both part memoir and part craft advice, and both excellent.
What is the one book you think every parent should read?
RAISING CHILDREN WHO THINK FOR THEMSELVES by Elisa Medhus, particularly today when we seem to have grown overprotective of our kids who are capable of so much more than we expect from them.
What is the one book you think every human should read?
MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor Frankl. And, of course, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. (Sorry, I couldn’t help adding that. I’m not very good at picking ONE book, am I?)
Questions about Music:
I love the Playlists section of your website, where you share the songs you listened to while working on your books. Can you tell us a little more about how music inspires you and informs your writing?
Although I don’t listen to music while I write–I need silence–I always create playlists of songs that I associate with a novel in progress. They’re songs that make me think of the characters, the time, the place, or somehow remind me of the story. Then, I listen to that playlist while I’m driving or walking so I can keep the story present in my mind. Often, I’ll come up with ideas or solutions to problems while listening to the playlist. It’s kind of fun to post them on my blog (which reminds me, I’m behind in doing that) and also to hear what songs others come up with for my novel. Sometimes book groups will send me their list of songs for the novel which I always find fascinating.
Do you play an instrument? If not, what instrument would you most like to play?
I play flute a little bit. I’m thinking of taking up the ukulele because guitar was a little difficult for me and I think the uke would be more manageable. I love the violin, though, and if there weren’t such a learning curve that my family (and I) would have to suffer through, I would probably try it.
Who is your favorite singer/songwriter and why?
It’s so hard to pick one. It depends heavily on my mood. I like the Scottish twins, The Proclaimers, anything by Miriam Makeba, Motown, classic rock, and young start up bands like La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Neon.
Who is your favorite composer and why?
Again, it’s so hard to choose just one. I love the security and predictability of Vivaldi, Boccherini and Bach, and any of the classical pieces transcribed or written by guitarists Andres Segovia, John Williams, or Julian Bream.
Questions about Other Forms of Nourishment:
I know that you are a chocoholic like me! What are your favorite kinds, forms, and brands of chocolate?
There are so many! I still enjoy my childhood favorites like Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut and Reese’s peanut butter cups, but I’ve matured to dark chocolate, particularly Ritter Sport with hazelnuts, anything Fair Trade (Divine, Dagoba, Green & Black’s) and best of all, Gearhart’s, my local chocolatier.
Who is your favorite visual artist?
My daughter. :o)
What are your some of your favorite movies?
Mostly funny, but with heart, like The Princess Bride, The Full Monty, Galaxy Quest, classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, documentaries like Lost Boys of Sudan or small indies such as The Dish, The Station Agent, and Waking Ned Devine.
What are some of your favorite places in the world?
Scotland, Italy, Guam, Maritime Canada, Boyds Mills, PA, the woods near my house, my desk when the house is quiet and I can write.
Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading. She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools, her favorite being the Hogwarts-type castle in Scotland. The faculty, of course, did not consist of wizards, although . . . how did the headmistress know that it was “the wee redhead” who led the campaign to free the mice from the biology lab? Erskine draws on her life stories to write her novels including Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Mockingbird, 2010 National Book Award winner, The Absolute Value of Mike, a Junior Library Guild selection, and the upcoming Facing Freedom (Fall 2013).