Children’s Author Creates New Family Classics
Author Interview with Mary Quattlebaum,
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
(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
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 (Jackson Jones (Hardcover)) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, August 2004,
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
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.)
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
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
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
CatholicMom.com Book Club
Additional Catholic Book Spotlights