Our guest: Jean Pendziwol is an award-winning Northern Ontario-based author of children’s books. Her books include 1999’s No Dragons for Tea (Kids Can Press) and 2014’s Once Upon A Northern Night (Groundwood Books); also for Groundwood are 2007’s Marja’s Skis, illustrated by Jirina Marton and 2006’s The Red Sash and 2005’s Dawn Watch, each illustrated by Nicolas Debon.
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?
A.A. Milne’s beautiful work, including Winnie the Pooh, but also his poetry in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. I loved Enid Blyton’s adventure series, including the Circus of Adventure and River of Adventure when I was young, and wanted to set off in search of my own adventures, taking with me some sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. I would need a parrot too, of course. Named Kiki.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
So many wonderful amazing characters in children’s literature! I really identified with Laura Ingalls at one point. Her life fascinated me and I thought it would be the best thing ever to be a pioneer and eat corndodgers and have a Pa who played the fiddle. (What exactly is a corndodger?) And who wouldn’t want Pippi’s chest full of gold and NO PARENTS to tell her what to do?
Then there are the Pevensie children, beautifully flawed but still kings and queens of Narnia. I found the strength and independence of Karana in Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins humbling and inspiring. Anne (of the Green Gables fame) is smart and stubborn, and got into lots of trouble but had a heart of gold. Seems to be a theme: strong, smart, self-reliant girls whose flaws only made them better people?
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
I like different authors and different illustrators for different reasons. I don’t think I could pick a favourite. (Although the illustrators for my books have been absolutely FABULOUS!)
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Jo March, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley (right), Karana, and Katniss Everdeen. Can you just imagine the conversations? (Can we have corndodgers?)
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Respect. In good children’s literature, in good any literature, the author needs to respect the reader.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
My work is constantly evolving, which is a good thing, and I hope that a single characteristic doesn’t summarize what I do. Having said that, my writing is often poetic, lyrical and descriptive.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Queen Susan Pevensie. As long as I could stay in Narnia. And learn archery.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would probably continue to edit my stories forever if they didn’t put deadlines on that sort of thing. So I would have to say that I’ve learned not to look back, not to think about re-dos. At some point, a story is done and shared with the world and it becomes complete.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Writers write. So write.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Writing is for me a part-time pursuit. I often set aside time to work on projects by stealing away to a “retreat” location to get work done. A few days away from the distractions of work, home and family can go a long way to getting my thoughts down on paper. My writing can be done sitting in a deck chair looking out over Lake Superior, snuggled under a blanket in front of a woodstove in a friend’s cabin, picking away at the keys on my computer while at my dining room table, doodling on paper in bed on a Sunday morning while the rest of the house still sleeps, writing in a booth at a local café, or working through story structure while out for a walk…
I snatch time when I can, or make time when the opportunity refuses to present itself. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to spend more focused time on my work, and that has allowed me to explore larger projects with more characters and multiple plot lines. Until then, I focused mainly on picture book length stories because that was all I could hold in my brain at any given time.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen has been influential, and I do love To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Narnia Chronicles, but the books that made me fall in love with literature were the Arthurian legends by Mary Stewart.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK YOU LOVE THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
Every Christmas, we pull out our copy of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. The book is a collection of letters written by Tolkien to his children between 1920 and 1942 and are lovely, creative, beautifully illustrated collection of tender intimate moments from an incredibly talented writer. I’m not sure if the book already has a wide audience, but we’ve always been thrilled that we stumbled across it.