Like poetry? Today on the blog is the clever and prolific Kate Hosford. I was first introduced to Kate at VCFA through her wonderful poetry.
Kate is represented by Tracey Adams and is here to talk about her latest picture book, Infinity and Me, a New York Times best illustrated book for 2012, published by Carolrhoda Books.
Kate also wrote Big Bouffant and Big Birthday. Thanks to a generous donor, TWO of you will win a copy of Infinity and Me. That’s right. Two! But first, let’s talk to Kate!
El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Kate: I grew up in Vermont, I love to eat octopus, I often cry when I hear children sing, and I’m fascinated by Iceland.
El Space: What inspired you to write Infinity and Me? Please tell us how you and the illustrator, Gabi Swiatkowska, came to create this book. How unusual is it for an author/illustrator team to approach a publisher as a team?
Kate: When my two sons were little, I noticed that they enjoyed talking about infinity. Usually the conversation would center on whether it was possible to write down the biggest number or find the edge of the universe. When my search for picture books on this topic proved unsuccessful, I decided to try writing one myself. I tried many different formats, including rhyme, which really didn’t work.
I finally decided to structure the story around a girl who goes on a quest to find the meaning of infinity. This format appealed to me, because it would allow children to see that there are many different ways to imagine this concept—dare I say an infinite number of ways?
Before I decided to write for children, I had worked as an illustrator. Gabi Swiatkowska and I had been in an illustrator’s group together, and had become friends. When I wrote the story, I already had Gabi in mind as the illustrator, because I knew that her ethereal style would be perfectly suited to this topic. As soon as I had a working draft, I sent it to Gabi, asking her if she would be willing to illustrate it. A few weeks later, a beautiful little dummy arrived in the mail, and I knew that we had something exciting to shop around.
Gabi’s final art
However, it took years to sell. While editors were interested in the book, many publishers felt that the topic was too abstract for young children. Knowing this, I spent a some time assembling quotations from young children about infinity, which are now on my website, but most publishers remained unconvinced.
I will always be grateful to Lerner for having faith that children could handle this subject matter. The book has been received well both by children and adults, which has been really gratifying.
I think it’s quite unusual to approach a publisher as an author/illustrator team, and in general not advisable, since editors view choosing an illustrator as an important part of their job. I think it worked in this case, because Gabi was already an established illustrator, and without the sketches, this manuscript probably would have seemed too esoteric even to editors who were open to this topic.
El Space: At VCFA, you were known for your poetry. What are the challenges to working in rhyme for a young audience?
Kate: One challenge is finding rhymes that sound so natural that the reader can simply concentrate on the content of the poem. Forced rhymes, created by inverted sentence structure or simply by choosing the wrong word, end up jumping out at all readers. In these instances, the artifice of the poem is exposed, and the reader sees the poet straining to make the rhyme work.
In the case of young readers, the choice of rhymes is further limited by vocabulary that is appropriate for the age level. I’m all for introducing new vocabulary words to children through poetry, but there can’t be so many new words that they struggle to understand the poem.
El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Kate: I will not mention mentors from Vermont College of Fine Arts, because there are so many of them. In terms of other writers: Shel Silverstein for his whimsical nature and the surprising twists that he puts in his poems, Marilyn Singer’s for her technical prowess, and her amazing invention of the reverso poem, and Dr. Seuss, who is still so fresh and modern today.
For middle grade, I am inspired by Lois Lowry’s versatility, especially when I consider that she is the author of both The Giver and The Willoughbys. I’m also inspired by Louise Fitzhugh and Judy Blume for being brave enough to write their groundbreaking books.
I’m interested in the work of E. Lockhart/Emily Jenkins for her ability to write for every age level, and for giving the world one of my all-time favorite YA novels, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. I also love the work of Carolyn Mackler and Rachel Cohn.
At the moment, I’m very interested in humorous novels, especially the Diary of Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and the Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. I think humor is so difficult to get right, and I have great admiration for those who can do it.
El Space: How do you think picture books have changed in the last ten years?
Kate: In the last decade, picture books have started to skew younger. However, there have still been plenty of successful picture books that are aimed at an older audience. This is probably most true for non-fiction, which seems to be a bourgeoning market, but it is also true for fiction.
There are picture books in traditional storybook format that have done very well, like Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. There are also cerebral picture books like those of David Weisner and Shaun Tan, which are aimed at an older audience. Whether or not one considers The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck to be picture books, the success of these books by Brian Selznick proves that older children can be entranced by sophisticated stories that incorporate a good deal of visual narrative.
El Space: What writing advice helped you turn an important corner in your writing?
Kate: I have learned to pay attention to the voices in my head. For instance, if a story comes to me in rhyme, then I should probably try it first in rhyme. This may sound obvious, but with my first picture book, Big Bouffant, I had only one couplet going through my head in the beginning: “All I really want is a big bouffant, a big bouffant, is all I really want.” But instead of writing the story in rhyme, I spent the next five years trying to write it in prose. It was only when I returned to rhyme that the story worked. Of course, my initial “voices” may not always be the ones that work, but it probably makes sense to explore them first.
El Space: What are you working on now?
Kate: I recently sold a poetry collection called Poems from a Circus Chef, and a picture book called The Perfect Cup of Tea. Both books will be coming out from Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing, in 2015. I’m really excited about Poems from a Circus Chef, because it is my first poetry collection. Presently, I am experimenting with different poetic forms so that I will have lots of different options for each poem when I start working with my editor. I’m also very excited about The Perfect Cup of Tea, because I will get to collaborate again with Gabi Swiatkowska. Other than that, I am trying to write a novel about a homeschooled Icelandic rock star.
Great talking with you, Kate!
Looking for Kate? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Gabi’s website is here. Infinity and Me is available here:
Barnes and Noble
Two of you will win Infinity and Me. Wondering how? Just comment below!
Kate’s covers from her website. Other covers from Goodreads.