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.
As a child my favorite reading spot was my tree house, and I spent hours there with piles of books. I walked the mile to our town library every few days for a new supply. My favorite books were Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphin, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Where the Red Fern Grows.
People used to wonder if there was something wrong with me because I read so much! I laugh about that now. I read so much because I wanted to be a writer and I’ve never wanted to be anything else.
Harriet in Harriet the Spy. First of all (of course) she was a true writer and so she made sense of her world and the people in it (and their absurdities) by putting everything to paper. Second, she was very brave and I admire courage and bravery and the willingness to stand up for what you believe in – even when it is all very confusing.
I have so many! When I give writing workshops in classrooms I am usually asked by students who my favorite writers are, so for the last ten years I’ve been keeping a list.
I would definitely put Karen Cushman at the top because the first paragraph of The Midwife’s Apprentice is so gorgeous I could read it every day and still get goose bumps.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I would invite my four children and J.K. Rowling (left) because Harry Potter turned my adventurous young readers into reading lunatics! We had to buy several copies of each novel as it was published so that everyone could be reading at the same time. Plus, my husband needed a copy to read out loud to the younger children. Harry Potter made my children forget everything else and want to gallop breathlessly to the finish line — what a gift!
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Hope. My editor says we should not be in the business of dashing the hopes of middle grade readers, and I agree with her.
I am very interested in writing about people who have been marginalized in some way. I am drawn to strong young people who face adversity and through their own determination, press on.
In Tending to Grace, Cornelia must confront her stuttering and in The Wonder of Charlie Anne, Charlie Anne must battle her reading disability and the racism around her. In Beholding Bee, Beatrice has a birthmark or “diamond” on her face.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Jo March (left) in Little Women. I love her character – she’s blunt, opinionated, and quite hot-tempered. She hopes to do something important with her life when she grows up, and of course she chooses to do that in the very best way possible, by becoming a writer.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would have the courage to start writing fiction earlier, to believe that I really could do it.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I am an early morning writer. After my husband and children leave, I get right to work and usually write until lunch, then take a break and go for a long walk, and in the afternoon I will do some tweaking or rewriting. I write until a sentence is as perfect as I can make it and then I go on to the next sentence. For this reason, I write slowly. When I write something that I know is good, I have been known to get up and dance across the floor. What can be more fun that this?
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
The Diary of Anne Frank. When you read that book you can’t help but become a kinder and more compassionate person, even in small ways.