Today, I have the privilege of featuring one of my advisors at VCFA—the awe-inspiring Mary Quattlebaum, noted teacher, book reviewer, and author of more books than you can shake a stick at. (And no, I’m not quite what that idiom means; probably something to do with divining rods.)
Sparks Fly High (illustrated by Leonid Gore; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The Hungry Ghost of Rue New Orleans (illustrated by Patricia Castelao; Random House)
Pirate vs. Pirate (illustrated by Alexandra Boiger; Hyperion Books)
Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond (2011) and Jo MacDonald Had a Garden (2012) (illustrated by Laura J. Bryant; Dawn Publications)
Middle Grade Fiction
Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw (Yearling/Random House)
Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Yearling/Random House)
I don’t have room to list all of Mary’s books. In her spare seconds, Mary also reviews books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and the National Wildlife Federation (online). Oh yeah, she also teaches at VCFA, has a great website, and a canary named Petey!!! Because Mary is extremely busy, I asked her a few questions about her newest picture book, Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods. which debuts September 1!!! Woot! And if that title leaves you singing “Old MacDonald,” I won’t take responsibility.
One of you will have an opportunity to get a copy of Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, which has been endorsed by Gregory Miller, the president of the American Hiking Society. More on that giveaway later.
El Space: Welcome, Mary! I feel all giggly since you used to evaluate my packets, and now I get to ask you questions. Please tell us about Jo MacDonald.
Mary: Thanks so much for featuring my new book, L. Marie! This eco-friendly riff on the popular song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” introduces children to the sights and sounds of a forest ecosystem and to the joys of hiking.
Since I know you are a fellow fan of wild birds, I have to tell you that Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods spotlights several, including a woodpecker and a Great Horned Owl.
El Space: Cool!
Mary: Dawn Publications is the publisher. Their mission is to better connect children with the natural world through books. I have loved working with them on the Jo MacDonald series. In Spring 2013, they brought out board book editions of the first two picture books in the series—Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond and Jo MacDonald Had a Garden—so now the story-song is available to very young children in a format they can enjoy. Jo MacDonald Hiked the Woods is the final book in the series.
El Space: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Mary: One of the greatest joys of writing this book, and the series in general, has been the chance to honor my dad and to revisit the landscape of my childhood. I grew up in the country in Virginia, and my dad introduced me and my six siblings and his numerous grandkids to the great outdoors. He is the model for Old MacDonald in my books and little Jo, the title character, is his grandchild.
El Space: How do you decide what you’ll write next?
Mary: Often I’ll get the glimmer of a character or story or a certain phrase or image will stay with me. And I’ll get curious, and start to mull, Where might this lead? Sometimes an idea grows, sometimes it fizzles out, and sometimes it will stay dormant for several years and then start to take root. I never know exactly how the process will evolve!
El Space: Sounds like the story of my life! Um, favorite place to hike? When you go hiking, is there one item you have to have with you that you can’t leave behind?
Mary: “Hike” may be too vigorous a verb for the place I’m about to describe. How about “amble”? Anyway, I love my daily amble with my dog, Yoshi, through the fields that form Fort Reno Park, which is the highest point of land in Washington, D.C., where I live. I love to see the seasons change here, to hear the birds, and to watch Yoshi’s joyous exploration of the grass, trees, and thickets. He’s a rescue dog and was crated for his first few years in a terrible puppy-mill environment. So when he came into my family, he didn’t know grass, trees, squirrels, or anything about the natural world. And my one “must have” for a hike? Comfortable shoes!
El Space: I’m glad you have Yoshi. What do you hope kids will take away when they read your Jo MacDonald series?
Mary: I hope kids enjoy becoming acquainted with the trees and wild creatures featured in the book, many of which they might even look for or listen to in their own backyards. It’s easy to devalue the cardinals, robins, butterflies, and bumblebees that we may see daily and to privilege the wild creatures—lions, kangaroos—of exotic locales or TV shows. With illustrator Laura Bryant’s vivid watercolors, hopefully the books model a way of experiencing and cherishing the extraordinary beauty that is part of the world around us. The back matter for educators and parents shares activities to help kids continue to learn about and engage with the natural world.
El Space: You’ve taught many aspiring writers over the years. If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Mary: I’ve certainly enjoyed working with you and your writing, L. Marie!
El Space: Awww. You’re going to get me all teary!
Mary: Gosh, everyone finds his or her own best way of working and trying to lead a creative life, so I can only offer this as a suggestion: Try to be alive to the world around you. Be curious, be open to word-play and experimentation and starting over. Ha, especially be open to starting over! Revising is the way that all writers bring those glimmers of story and character into full light.
I couldn’t be happier that you stopped by, Mary!!
Thanks to all who stopped by. You can get Mary’s book here:
One commenter today will get a $15 gift card to Amazon to get Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods. There are stipulations, however (sorry): You must be a follower of this blog or at least someone who regularly comments. Also, if you are a past winner (within the last few months), you are ineligible for this drawing. All eligibility will reset as of September. The winner will be announced on Thursday.
Great Horned Owl from guardiansofgahoole.wikia.com. Cardinal from wallpaperswala.com.