children’s author and teller of stories
Due out on the 11th of this month is a new rip-snortin’ tall tale by Texan, Cynthia Leitich Smith (published by Dutton Books and illustrated by Barry Gott). Young Holler, Mr. and Mrs. Loudly’s child, has the ability to turn teacher chalk to dust, stampede cattle, and set the hounds in the county to howling . . . with just his voice. But ya know–between me and you and the fence post–not every talent is truly appreciated . . . at first. However, quick thinking on Holler’s part when a tornado threatens saves the town and his talent finally is appreciated. In fact, the town names the local library after him: The Holler Loudly Library. HAH! What a fun picture book read this is! And the lively, colorful illustrations vividly portray all the energy of the text. A truly great match-up of writer and illustrator. Be sure to order your copy soon. (Ages 4-8.)
To top off this good bit of publishing news I’ve got an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of HOLLER LOUDLY. (See below.)
Cyn: Thank you! HOLLER LOUDLY was a book some six years in the making. It started out as contemporary realistic fiction about a loud boy who’s sad that the old theater is being torn town. He eventually makes the suggestion to move the library into that building. It had a lot of qualities I liked-the importance of children’s voices, historic preservation and libraries. But it was a little complicated, a little too much about the world of grown-ups.
Over time, it became a tall tale about a very loud boy-one whose loudness, like any unchecked superpower, becomes burdensome. Over the course of the story, he comes to appreciate quiet times, the music other folks make, but also uses his power for good
S. C.: The dedications are wonderful, as well. Were you a loud child? (Aren’t all stories just a little bit autobiographical?)
Cyn: For me, writing HOLLER LOUDLY is probably a study in wish fulfillment. I was very much concerned with being a “good” girl. There are family photos of a very young me frowning at cousins who’re making noise.
S. C.: It seems to me that Barry Gott’s colorful and energetic illustrations are perfect for this book. And I enjoyed the way the illustrator and art designer used the loud words as part of the illustrative matter rather than simply having them in the text. Did you have any say in this?
Cyn: I likewise adore Barry’s illustrations and the text design! I’m still finding little character arcs/details in the art. My main role was to coo and cheer! However, early on, I did encourage the depiction of a diverse cast, even though race/ethnicity isn’t mentioned or an issue in the text. It’s important to me that all kids can see characters who’re like themselves in that way in my books.
S. C.: That tornado is such a bully-even blowing a raspberry! Have you ever experienced one up close?
Cyn: I was largely raised in Kansas, and I had a little dog, too. I never personally sighted a tornado, but I spent many days of my childhood in the unfinished basement with the battery-operated radio turned to a.m. because a warning had been sounded in my county.
The closest I’ve come to one was at the wedding of my best friend from high school. It was held near to the University of Kansas campus where we both earned our undergraduate degrees and tore the roof off a nearby auditorium.
What I remember most was the hail-the biggest I’d seen-though none of that in any way stopped the crowd from turning out to celebrate. We Kansans are hearty folks.
S. C.: Your word choice is lovely. For example, I liked that the tornado is blown into “a thousand sweet teeny breezy breezes-not one with an ounce of sass.” I like to accumulate favorite words and jot them down in my journals. Do you collect words or make lists, etc., prior to starting a book?
Cyn: Thanks, and you would think so! That’s an exercise I’ve encouraged my MFA students to embrace in their own writing. With HOLLER, it started as not a historical-not a tall tale, not nearly as rollicking of a story-so the language punch ups came slowly over time.
I do remember writing that line, though, and it never changed from the first time I keyed it out. It just felt true. Writing is like that sometimes.
S. C.: Finally, this is a picture book. But you also write novels. How does the process of writing a picture book feel– emotionally–compared to writing a novel?
Cyn: Writing a novel feels like running a marathon on uncertain terrain, stumbling occasionally along the way. A picture book is more like a sprint, exhilarating. It uses many of the same muscles in different ways. It’s more about the burst or series of bursts than endurance.
I love both, though I feel more vulnerable in some ways about the novel. That’s partly personal. There’s so much more there, so much more of me in it. And it’s partly professional. The artist does much of the heavy lifting [in a picture book]. My illustrators are among the brightest and best.
Now.git! Mosey on over to Cynthia’s site and take a look at the trailer for HOLLER LOUDLY.
Shutta Crum writes books for children and poetry for adults. She is also a storyteller, a lecturer and a librarian. In addition to her current eleven books she has three forthcoming books. Several of her articles about teaching and writing have appeared in professional journals. In 2005, she was honored by being one of eight authors invited to the White House for the Easter Egg Roll. In 2010 she was invited to tour Department of Defense American military base schools across Japan.