Monday, February 23, 2009

An interview with Children's author: Leslie Patricelli!

Anna, Children's Librarian: What inspired you to write and illustrate books?
Ms. Patricelli: I always loved to write stories and draw pictures. Writing and drawing is what I did for fun when I was a kid and I kept on doing it through high school, college and beyond. My drawings and stories would make people laugh – and I loved that. Mostly I did it to entertain myself, though. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do to as my job. I was a copywriter and I missed drawing ... then I was illustrating and I missed writing. So I came to realize that I wanted a job that was a combination of the two. I decided I wanted to either be a cartoonist or a children's book author/illustrator. I found myself browsing the children's books sections at bookstores and libraries and falling in love with children's books, so that's what I decided to aim for. I didn't know any authors or illustrators growing up, so it took me awhile to figure out the path to get there. Meeting other people who did what I wanted to do was the most important step. I took a class when I was 29 from two author/illustrators who taught me how to create a good picture book and how to get published. That's when I really started to pursue children's books. My goal was to be published by the time I was 33, like Dr. Suess – and I was close – I was 35!

Anna, Children's Librarian: Do you begin with the illustrations or the words?
Ms. Patricelli: It varies. Usually, what I come up with first is an idea in my head. I might think of an idea while I am taking a walk, doing the dishes or just spacing out! Once an idea hits me, I will think and think about it until it gets solid enough to put on paper. I sketched out my first board book, 'Yummy Yucky', as cartoons in my sketchbook – doing the drawings and words at the same time. If it's a longer story, I will more often put the story in words first and then do the pictures. This is a longer and more difficult process. Often I will describe what I imagine as a picture in the text. Later the text will be cut to allow the pictures to speak for themselves.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Why did you choose to use an infant/toddler as the main character?
Ms. Patricelli: I didn't choose the toddler ... the toddler chose me! I first started sketching the baby in an infant CPR class after my first child was born. The nurse was listing off all the frightening things that could possibly happen to your new baby and I drew pictures of a baby getting into all these different situation. I came home from class with my notes and my husband thought they were really funny. I kept on drawing this baby as we'd go through different parenting situations. The idea for 'Yummy Yucky' came from watching my son, Beck, who was one year old at the time, putting things into his mouth. I found myself always saying "YUMMY" trying to get him to eat something good, or "YUCKY" trying to keep him from eating something bad for him. My original concept for the book was to show the baby eating things that are classic hazards to toddlers, such as choking hazards, chemicals, plants, etc. I was in a critique group at the time and they convinced me to tone it down and have the baby eating less hazardous things before I submitted it. The publisher toned it down even more so now it's things like hot sauce, coffee and ear wax!

Anna, Children's Librarian: You have a new picture book coming out, Higher! Higher! What inspired you to write this story?
Ms. Patricelli: I was pushing my daughter on the swing at the park. She kept saying "Higher! Higher!" She and I started imagining her going so high that she was going all the way to outer space. The whole time I was thinking, this would be a great book! I kept it in my head, then one day when I had time I put the idea down in my sketchbook. It didn't change a whole lot from the original sketches.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Do you plan on writing more picture books as opposed to board books for younger children?
Ms. Patricelli: I have several picture books planned, as well as several more board books. I am working on a preschool series called The Patterson Puppies, and early grade book starring a monkey named Monkey Mike and I have some more books with my baby character up my sleeve, too. On the side, I am working on a chapter book about my experience of moving to a new school and meeting my best friend in the fourth grade.

Anna, Children's Librarian: Who are your favorite children’s book authors/illustrators? Why?
Ms. Patricelli: This is not my favorite question, because there are so many great ones out there, past and present, that I find it difficult to answer! I was inspired to create my board books by the board books I was reading to my son when he was a baby. I loved the simplicity of the Todd Parr books and Lucy Cousins books. I loved the painterly style and textures of "Peek-a-Who" by Nina laden, and "No David!" by David Shannon. These were all big influences on me. As a kid, I loved 'Where the Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendak. That book haunted my dreams. I loved it and feared it at the same time. The intensity of emotion stuck with me. I also loved "There's a Nightmare in My Closet', by Mercer Mayer. Last night I was reading, "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman. That is another very emotional book. A great early reader.

Anna, Children's Librarian: What do you enjoy most about your own books?
Ms. Patricelli: I love getting emails from people telling me that their kids love my books. I love reading them to a group of kids and listening to and watching them get excited. I love that they are based on my experiences with my own kids or my own memories of being a kid. Most of all, I love creating them!

Thanks again to Leslie Patricelli for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing; for other stops on the tour please check

Check out Ms. Patricelli's newest book: No No, Yes Yes.

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