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Monday, June 11, 2012

PASSION FOR PICTURE BOOKS, Alison Pearce Stevens, Interview


Last summer, I met Alison.  Our bonding took place in a hot, steamy, narrow fourth floor hallway.   The turn of the century, Ashland Inn served as home for a week during the last Highlight's Foundation's "famous" Chautauqua Children's Writers and Illustrators Workshop.  When we were not plotting to get another cold shower from a tiny shared bathroom in 100 degree heat with no air conditioning, we were spending time soaking up all the incredible science and non-fiction workshops we could squeeze in.

    Alison loves science and writing about it.  Her thirst for the answer to the question "Why?" is not quenchable.  Scientist turned children's writer, Alison's passion for nature and answers to questions lifts her up and out of the herd of children's non-fiction, science writers. Bright and spunky, Alison keeps up with her boys and husband while juggling her multiple writing projects.

    It is my pleasure to interview, Alison Pearce Stevens on my Passion for Picture Books blog today.

Alison, what drew you into writing picture books?

Like many people, I had kids and spent an extraordinary amount of time reading picture books. I fell in love with the way the illustrations complemented the text to create a fully-developed, well-rounded story. As my kids got older, we started reading more non-fiction, including picture books. I became a huge fan of Nicola Davies’ work, which is lyrical yet factual, and always beautifully illustrated by talented artists. (Perhaps I should say well illustrated, since the art for POOP: A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE UNMENTIONABLE isn’t exactly beautiful, but it is both apropros and highly entertaining.)

When you are writing a pb manuscript, what area of the story do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring?

Because my stories are non-fiction (science and nature), it’s a different kind of beast. The setting and character actually exist, so I don’t get to play around with those (but I love working on those aspects of my critique partners’ work). For me, it’s a matter of taking a critter and telling the story of its life (or some part of its life) in a dynamic, interesting way. It requires just as much story arc, conflict, and tension as fiction, and getting those things just right takes time and patience. But to answer your question, it’s immensely satisfying when I know I’ve finally figured them out.

Is there an area of the non fiction story that you find difficult to develop?

The story arc. For some topics I’ve tried to write about, I just haven’t been able to find a good story for the subject.

Alison, if you could choose one pb author or  author/illustrator to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want t from your time with them? 

Hmm, this is tough, because I love Nicola Davies’ gorgeous prose, and I would love to meet her, but in terms of meeting someone who can help me hone my craft, I would have to say Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, author and illustrator of the Magic School Bus series. THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS   When I read their books, I am continually impressed with how they can be broken down into a stand-alone central narrative (which always has a great story arc, complete with heightened tension at the climax), the additional narrative from the speech bubbles that can be interwoven into the central narrative (or not, depending on how much time we have to read), and the additional information that packs the margins. It’s like getting three books in one! When I write, I try to figure out how I can make my side bars and back matter build upon the central story the way Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen do. But I think it would take a series of mentor-like meetings for me to reach a point at which I could readily apply what I’d learned from them to my own work. (So if either of them happen to read this and are interested in a mentee, let me know!) ;)

Alison, do you have an all time favorite pb to read over and over again?

That's a tough question! Certainly THE LORAX had a huge influence on me, and I love reading it to my kids. I also love reading Julia Donaldson's books aloud, ROOM ON THE BROOM, MONKEY PUZZLE (which might have a different title in the U.S.), and TIDDLER are some of our favorites. Her stories flow off the tongue and are just such fun to read, and we adore Axel Scheffler's illustrations.

Alison, it has been very interesting for me to interview a non-fiction pb writer and to witness the excitement about the writing process as well as the difficulties.  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with me and my readers.

Alison Pearce Stevens is a former beekeeper and duck-wrangler who grew tired of writing scientific papers in her role as a biologist/zoologist/ecologist. She wanted to write something fun; something with lyrical prose and lots of voice, and children’s writing was a perfect fit. She writes to share the utterly fascinating things she learned as a scientist with curious minds everywhere. You can learn more about Alison and her work on her web site. 


Alison Pearce Stevens said...

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Diane! This was lots of fun. :)

Mirka Breen said...

Delighted to E-meet a fellow PB writer. Thank you for hosting Alison, Diane.

Tina Cho said...

Nice to find out about you, Alison. You have a very neat web site, and I admire all the science articles you've written. Thanks for another interview, Diane.

Alison Pearce Stevens said...

Nice to meet both of you, Mirka and Tina. Thanks so much for stopping by!

BarbaraB said...

Hi Diane.
I very much enjoyed this interview. It's great that you chose a non-fiction writer. I, too, love all kinds of picture books.

Hi Alison,
Thanks for sharing your passion for picture books.
I keep reading about people who are or have been bee keepers; there's a article about a bee keeper in this month's Sierra Magazine. It must be an omen to get me to submit my story about bees.

BarbaraB said...

Hi Diane,
I very much enjoyed your interview with Alison. Thanks for chosing a non-fiction picture book author. I, too, love all kinds of picture books.

Hi Alison,
Thanks for sharing your passion for picture books.
I keep reading about people who are or have been bee keepers; there's an article about a bee keepter in this month's Sierra Magazine. It must be an omen for me to send out my bee ms.

Evelyn said...

Sorry to be a little late to the party, but we just got back from a cruise to Alaska today. I've seen you around the internet some, Alison, and am delighted to have this chance to find out a wee bit more about you and your writing. I also enjoyed visiting your website. Sounds like you have a lot of fascinating science to share with kids. Keep up the great work! And thanks, Diane, for another interesting interview.