Our guest: Beth Ferry is the New Jersey-based author of the picture books Stick and Stone (illustrated by David Lichtenheld; HMH, 2015) and Land Shark (illustrated by Ben Mantle; Chronicle, 2015). Her next book, Pirate’s Perfect Pet, will be illustrated by Matthew Myers and published by Candlewick Press in Fall 2016.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I have two strong memories of books I loved as a child. The first is Maurice Sendak’s The Nutshell Library. It was a tiny box with four small books inside. Of the four, I remember two distinctly: Chicken Soup with Rice and Pierre. I loved the idea of little, tiny books. They seemed perfectly made just for me. I had them memorized and would go around repeating them.
My other memory is of Miriam Young’s Miss Suzy (Editor – illustrated by Arnold Lobel). I loved the idea of this whole book: A squirrel who is chased out of her tree by meanie squirrels and finds a dollhouse in an attic where she sets up house. I loved the whole fantastical idea of it. I think it’s probably because I’ve always thought nothing would be better than living in a dollhouse.
When I was young, I adored Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. I thought she was the most wonderful character ever to be created and I wanted to be just like her. Now that I’m older (much) I would have to go with Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. I love her no-nonsense approach to life. She is straightforward, loyal and kind. I love her intelligence and artistry and how she understands the power of words. She is a “behind-the-scenes” kind of gal, which I completely relate to. I would be quite happy if I could live a life as meaningful as Charlotte A. Cavatica’s.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
It’s impossible for me to answer that. I have many favorite picture books that delight and inspire me. Here is a small sampling:
- Room on the Broom, written by Julia Donaldson / illustrated by Axel Scheffler
- Owl Babies, written by Martin Waddell / illustrated by Patrick Benson
- Library Lion, written by Michele Knudsen / illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
- Food Fight, written by Carol Diggory Shields / illustrated by Doreen Gay-Kassel
- Little Pea, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal / illustrated by Jen Corace
- A Visitor for Bear, written by Bonnie Becker / Kady MacDonald Denson
- The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee
- Most everything by Mo Willems and Sandra Boynton
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I’d have to say J.K. Rowling, because I’d just like to thank her for introducing magic to my children (and me, of course). Amy Krouse Rosenthal (left) because I think she, and everything she does, is brilliant. Tom Lichtenheld because I’ve never met him and would love to thank him in person for bringing Stick and Stone to life in a way that was beyond my expectations. Sandra Boynton because her books brought smiles and joy to my children every day! And my dad, because I wish I could share this all with him.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Re-readability. I think the best books call you back again and again. They are unforgettable, like a good friend.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Heart, I hope.
A character from Harry Potter. To be able to live in that world would be a dream come true.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I wish I had started writing earlier. I’d always wanted to write picture books, but always thought I didn’t have enough time to devote to it. I waited until my youngest child was ten before beginning to write seriously.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
You can’t make everyone happy. I’m not sure who said this to me or even when. Maybe I even read it somewhere, but it is something I find to be relevant and true and something I strive to incorporate into my life. I have learned that no matter what you do, whether it be as an employee, a volunteer, a mom or a writer, not everyone is going to like everything you do. So I try to keep those words in mind and do my best without worrying about pleasing everyone.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I try to write everyday. Whether it’s a new story of the 30th revision of a WIP, I find it important to write everyday. I usually begin my day at 7 a.m. right after my kids leave for school. I grab a coffee and my laptop and hop back into bed. My bulldog, Winston, hops right up with me and is my favorite writing partner. I revise in my head a lot, while I’m driving or walking or showering. I like to repeat the story out loud without the written words in front of me. This gives me freedom from what I’ve already written and allows me to explore new ways to say what I’m trying to say without being tied to what I’ve already done.