Our guest: Monica Kulling is an award-winning Vancouver-born, Toronto-based author of children’s literature. She is a frequent contributor to Tundra Book’s Great Ideas series, including her latest work, Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge.
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.
A story I requested many times as a child featured two squirrels named Scoot and Skedaddle. I liked the sound of their names, and still do. And I liked their adventures riding a train. Years later, I hunted up the book (The Animals’ Train Ride by Miriam Clark Potter) and did not find the story tremendously enthralling. Interesting what sticks in a kid’s head.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
That’s a tough one. I can’t say I identify with any one character for longer than the reading of the story. I’ve lived in the hearts and heads of many, many characters, living all over the world and scattered across centuries. Well, that’s the joy of reading, isn’t it?
I admire so many authors and illustrators. I enjoy reading Cary Fagan’s (left) work. He’s always entertaining. Eve Ibbotson’s style is sublime—I loved Journey to the River Sea. I also like Polly Horvath, Cynthia Rylant, and E.B. White, to name only a few.
As for illustrators, I think the list might even be longer! I love the work of Giselle Potter (right, from This is My Dollhouse) and Sophie Blackall and Marie Lafrance. I’ve just finished reading Bear’s Winter Party, written by Deborah Hodge, and found myself enthralled by the sweet story. The joyfully child-like art of Lisa Cinar is magical.
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I’d invite Elly Mackay (left) because I’d really love to know how she creates such beauty with paper, light and colour. I wonder how she came up with the idea of treating kids’ book illustrations as miniature theatre.
I’d also invite James Marshall for sheer silliness; Cynthia Rylant and E.B. White for poignancy; and because I’ve loved every book he wrote and illustrated, William Steig.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Seeing the world from a child’s point of view, honestly and authentically.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I’m really unsure how my work comes across. One characteristic I try to incorporate is understanding and acceptance of those who don’t fit into what we label as normal.
Pippi Longstocking. I had braids as a girl and was rather rambunctious; however, my energy didn’t always meet with whole-hearted approval. If I were Pippi, I’d live in my own house and do whatever I liked! I’d have many cats, several French bulldogs, but NO monkeys.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’m trying hard these days NOT to look back because I have the habit of wishing I hadn’t written that sentence or included that word. I think if I could redo one thing, it might be not taking on so many work-for-hire projects, which I did in the early years, and instead strike out to write that second novel. I did write a first one, but learning a new form takes time and practice, and courage.
9. WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Don’t rush. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
10. TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I’m at my desk by eight and write all morning. I’ve been following a regular schedule of writing for over thirty years. (What?! Where’d the time go??) I once wrote all day, but I can no longer do that so I break up the day with research and doing inspiring things like baking or cleaning the garage. I’ve found that some writing gets done that way too.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It contains everything that I admire and adore.
I can’t think of one off-hand except one of my own, which sounds egotistical, I know. I always thought that Grant and Tillie Go Walking, a story about Grant Wood, the painter, and his imagined companion, a cow named Tillie, ought to have had more attention. Sydney Smith, illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, did an amazing job rendering the Iowa landscape and the charms of Parisian life.
MONICA KULLING: OFFICIAL WEBSITE