Our guest: Sara O’Leary is a Canadian author and playwright whose latest children’s book – This is Sadie, O’Leary’s fourth collaboration with illustrator Julie Morstad– is awesome. (Read our review here.)
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 remember thinking I could read when I was very, very small. It turned out I could only read this one book and of course I’d simply memorized it. But if I think about this then it tells me just how many times my mother must have read me that particular story. There’s a good definition of love for you.
I always wanted to be “Isabel, Isabel who didn’t care” in the Ogden Nash poem, or venturesome Arriety in The Borrowers. But if I’m honest I am more of an Eeyore (right) than anything else.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Impossible question! I can only tell you my current obsessions. I’m very enamored of Mac Barnett’s passion for children’s books. If you haven’t watched his Ted Talk yet you should do so right now. I’ll wait.
And for illustrators the list is ridiculously long: Julie Morstad is always right there at the top, but is joined now by Karen Klassen and Qin Leng with whom I have works in progress. Some of my dream illustrators (in absolutely no order whatsoever) are Sophie Blackall, Gabi Swiatkowska, Sydney Smith, Lisbeth Zwerger, Isabelle Arsenault, Rosie Winstead, Jen Corace, Christian Robinson, Komako Sakai, Lauren Castillo (left)… I could go on and on.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Oh, let me think. I’d have to say Julie Morstad because I hardly ever get to see her and I feel like we now have all these children together. And then Astrid Lindgren because who in the world of children’s books has ever been more fabulous than Astrid Lindgren? (My guests don’t have to be alive, do they?) Maurice Sendak because Julie loves him so and if he’d had the chance to meet her he would have loved her too. And then, since my guests all seem to be dead and won’t be eating much I’d ask for a bigger table and add in Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson (right) because wouldn’t Maurice be happy to see them? And how about Ursula Nordstrom and Margaret Wise Brown because, my oh my, what a wonderful conversation about picture book creation we all could have.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
What is it that makes a good book a good book? Hmm, I really wish I knew.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
You know, I think I’m just now figuring that out and I think that your very intelligent review (note: writers always praise the intelligence of reviewers who like their books!) actually gave me a bit of insight into what I do.
If you don’t mind me quoting you back to yourself (Editor – We don’t mind at all!), here’s what struck me: “The beauty of O’Leary’s writing is that she doesn’t strain to narrate in a child’s voice; she is clearly an adult commenting on what a child does, and even though we no longer, as adults, behave as children, we are better equipped to appreciate the beauty in what they do.” And keying off from that, I think that maybe the defining characteristic of my picture books is fondness. I think I write not as someone who thinks as a child does but as someone who is very fond of the way children think.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Olivia (left) from the Ian Falconer books. I love her so!
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
One thing? I have to pick one? Oh, I think I’ll just have to keep on trying to get it right next time. That old “Fail again, fail better.” (Editor’s note – Ms. O’Leary would like to clarify that this quote should be attributed to Samuel Beckett.)
I’m sure I’ve been given lots of good advice but I’m not sure I’ve ever heeded it.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Basically I avoid doing whatever I have to do until not doing it is making me more miserable than doing it will.
Here’s a photo of my desk. My mother said that everybody’s buying into this whole standing desk thing because sitting is so bad for you. But what about lying down? So now I have a lying down desk.