Children’s Author Creates New Family Classics
Author Interview with Mary Quattlebaum, Family Reunion
By Lisa M. Hendey
I love the joy of discovering new authors and sharing them with my children, both of whom love to read as much as I do. One of my new favorites, although she’s been writing for years, is Mary Quattlebaum, author of the beautifully illustrated Family Reunion (Erdman’s, February 2004, hardcover, 32 pages) and the wonderful Jackson Jones chapter book series. A classic storyteller, Quattlebaum takes a little “poetic license” in the beautifully illustrated Family Reunion. Through the eyes of one young girl, the story of a family’s reunion at the shore unfolds in fifteen uniquely styled poems. Watercolor illustrations by Andrea Shine combine with Quattlebaum’s artful verse to make this a book your family will treasure together.
Moving away from the picture book format and into chapter books, Mary Quattlebaum has also recently released the second installment in her popular Jackson Jones series, Jackson Jones and Mission Greentop (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, August 2004, paperback, 112 pages). This celebrated children’s author has the gift of storytelling, and she’s working to encourage children to find their own voice. In conjunction with Reunions Magazine, Quattlebaum invites children to reflect on time spent at family reunions through their written or drawn reflections.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mary Quattlebaum and am pleased to share her thoughts on writing and her books.
Q: I'm pleased to be able to share the following Book Spotlight interview with Mary Quattlebaum, author of numerous books including Family Reunion and Jackson Jones and Mission Greentop. Mary, thanks for your time and for sharing your talent! Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
A: Hi, Lisa. Thanks so much for having me. I grew up with three brothers, three sisters, and many pets (dogs, cats, hamsters, chickens, ducks, horses, cows) in the country (rural Virginia) and now live in our nation's capital (Washington, DC) with my husband, daughter, guinea pig and numerous fish. I've loved writing since I was a kid and was lucky to have parents who read aloud to us. I especially remember my father reading Black Beauty and nursery rhymes before bedtime and my mother bringing us to the public library every two weeks. We'd carry all our books in a big wicker laundry basket!
Q: Family Reunion tells the story of Jodie, a ten year old taking a trip to a meet extended family at a special reunion. The book's artwork, by Andrea Shine, is incredible. Please share with our readers how this book came about.
A: Writing the poems in Family Reunion gave me a chance to re-live the joyful gatherings of my childhood and to explore what made them deeply memorable--playing with cousins, hearing grandparents' stories, eating fun food like watermelon. My daughter, nieces and nephews all enjoy today's family reunions for the very same reasons. Family Reunion is also a lot a fun to talk about when I visit schools. Kids love to share and write about their own experiences--whether they gather at the beach, Disney World, or their grandparents' home and whether they eat hamburgers, mangoes or spicy adobo. Kids also like finding the collage treasures (leaves, letters, bits of pretty paper) illustrator Andrea Shine has hidden in her beautiful watercolors. (Check www.maryquattlebaum.com for information on Reunions, a national magazine, interested in publishing kids' stories, drawings and photos about their family reunions.)
Q: Family Reunion is unique in that it features a story, told through a variety of forms of poetry. What was your goal behind using poetry, as opposed to prose, to share your message?
A: Through poetry, I hoped to capture and quickly convey a reunion's emotional high points for a child: the initial shyness of "Getting There," the fun of connecting with cousins in "Cloud Visions" and "Lightning Bugs," the pleasure of cooking and eating together in "A Feast and Talk-Fest," the sadness of leaving in "Going Back" and "Letter to Nana." Also, as a kid, I had loved (and still do!) the incredible "language package" that is poetry, the way everything--metaphor, rhythm, image, sound--is heightened, the way each word, each mark of punctuation is important. Family Reunion includes different poetic forms (sonnet, haiku, ballad, free verse, etc.) to expand young readers' awareness of poetry--and encourage their own writing.
Q: How do themes of faith and family impact upon your writing?
A: I'm often unaware of larger themes when I write a book. When I get an idea, I'm so curious about the characters that my early drafts revolve around trying to stay true to their voices and to figure out what they want to do next. The themes must sort of creep in, I guess, while I'm writing.
Q: My boys and I loved your latest children's novel Jackson Jones and Mission Greentop, for its great story and its positive themes. Do you have plans for future additions to the Jackson Jones series? Why do you think kids are so drawn to Jackson?
A: I'm so glad your boys liked Jackson! I've heard from other young readers that they liked this character for his humor and the way he'd "keep trying" even when things got rough. Some kids have also said that they enjoyed the community garden setting. As to another Jackson Jones book, I'm delighted to report that a third book will be published in the next year or so.
Q: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about your wonderful classic, The Shine Man. Tell us about this story and its moral.
A: The Shine Man was inspired by my father's stories about growing up during the Depression, a time when many Americans lacked food, warm clothing and adequate shelter. Larry, a shoeshine man, moves from town to town, trying to find work. One snowy evening he makes a little Christmas ornament--a spoolie angel--from scraps and suddenly encounters a poorly dressed, mischievous boy who teases him for the toy. When Larry finally gives it to him, the child gives him a Christmas miracle. So the book is about the power of giving--even when there isn't much to give. For me, it's been so touching to see how children interpret the ending. After one reading, a little boy sat back and said with satisfaction, "Well, now Larry is an angel."
Q: Mary, I know that you do a lot of work with encouraging children to express themselves through writing. What can parents do to motivate their children to write and to share their ideas, hopes and dreams in story or poetry form?
A: Probably one of the best motivators for kids is the example of their own parents! Families might set aside time after holidays or vacations to organize photos and write a paragraph or so about the event. It's fascinating to see how differently each family member will remember the same event! And it's so much fun to re-read those pieces as the years pass and to see how handwriting, perceptions, etc., have changed.
For more information on books by Mary Quattlebaum visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?search-type=ss&tag=catholicmomcom&keyword=Quattlebaum%20Mary&mode=books
Lisa M. Hendey, wife, mother and webmaster of http://www.CatholicMom.com and http://www.ChristianColoring.com is an avid reader and writes from Fresno, California.