Our guest: Donna Gephart is a Philadelphia-born author of middle grade fiction who currently resides in South Florida with her family. Her debut novel, As If Being 12 3/4 isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President (Yearling, 2010), won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor. Her latest, Death By Toilet Paper, was published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers in August 2014, and in paperback in July 2015.
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.
I made my mom read me a little book called Mr. Grabbit Rabbit about a million times. (That is a conservative estimate.) It was the story of a greedy rabbit who learned to share. The book cost $.19. As an adult, I bought the book on Ebay because I loved it so much. And I paid ten bucks for it!
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web because she was a good friend, a wise web-weaver and understood the power of a couple well-placed words.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Too many to name. A few favorites: Sharon Creech, Linda Urban, Cynthia Lord, Gennifer Choldenko, Rodman Philbrick, Jerry Spinelli, Katherine Patterson, Jo Knowles, Sherman Alexie (left), Gary D. Schmidt, etc. I could go on and on and on.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I’d invite the people from my in-person critique group because they’re smart and funny and fill me up with inspiration and light every time we’re together. I’d also invite the late Walter Dean Meyers because he was a gentle giant who did so much for young people and young people’s literature. And I miss him still.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
The same quality that’s important in all literature – writing (and re-writing) with clarity, truth, passion and compassion.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Humor and heart. I’ve won awards for humor and I’ve also been told that my books have made people cry buckets. That’s a lot like life – the funny and sad mixed together in some kind of unexpected soup.
I’d like to be a wump (left) from Bill Pete’s classic The Wump World.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would have become a children’s librarian when I got out of college because it would have informed my writing and I’d probably have learned so much more about children’s literature more quickly.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Breathe. Seriously, to slow down and live in the moment. We have to jump off the hamster wheel in our minds sometimes. Yoga and meditation help. We need white space in our lives (quiet and rest) just like we need white space on the page to make sense of the words.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Lily and Dunkin is my newest book. It’s the dual narration of Lily, a big-hearted, word-loving transgender tween and Dunkin, a too-tall boy who’s trying desperately to fit in at a new school while his bipolar disorder slowly spirals into psychosis. Lily and Dunkin comes out from Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House June 2016.