A Conversation with Andrew Larsen, WOTS Toronto
The Word On The Street is coming up, and we're partnering with WOTS Toronto to bring you author interviews, contests, and lots of snaps on the day!
When: Sunday, September 23, 2012—11:00 a.m.
Where: Queens Park Circle , Toronto, ON M5R 2E8
As part of 49th Shelf's #Fest2Fest, Julie Wilson is speaking with authors across the country (and abroad) who are appearing at literary festivals to promote their latest books. And I've been lucky enough to get in on a bit of the action!
Andrew Larsen will appear at Word on the Street Toronto 2012 at the Children's Reading Tent at 11:50 AM - 12:10 PM
KC: When a recent newspaper article noted the absence of dads from children’s books, I immediately thought of your latest book Bye Bye Butterflies (illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli), which begins with a small boy and his father walking through their neighbourhood. Was evoking the father/son relationship a deliberate choice on your part? Are there other exceptions, any other great dads in picture books that you’d like to point to?
AL: I think I read the same article. I immediately thought of the dad in Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny. It seems dads are increasingly present in picture books in the same way that we are increasingly present in the lives of our children. It’s a slow cultural shift taking place for a variety of reasons. Bye Bye Buttterflies grew out of my son’s experience at nursery school. Our walks through the neighbourhood are an important part of our lives. They lead to some of our best conversations and some of our coolest adventures.
KC: Bye Bye Butterflies is a parent’s story as much as it’s written to appeal to a child’s point of view. No mom or dad will read this book without recognizing that “a little happy and a little sad all at once” feeling of releasing something you love into the big, wild world. Were you aware of this extra layer of meaning when you wrote the book? Was the story ever just about Charlie and his butterflies?
AL: In its earliest form, Bye Bye Butterflies was written as a gift for the teachers at my son’s nursery school. Charlie’s teachers played a big role his young life. When he started nursery school he was a baby. By the time he left nursery school he was a boy. That feeling, “a little happy and a little sad all at once”, describes the way we all felt as Charlie graduated from nursery school and said ‘bye bye’ to his teachers. In a very real sense, Bye Bye Butterflies is a grownup story but it’s presented in a way that is accessible to children.
KC: Bye Bye Butterflies is your third picture book, after Bella and the Bunny and The Imaginary Garden (which was shortlisted for many awards in 2010 and 2011). You’ve also written the middle-grade novel The Luck of Jude. What would you say are the connections between your works? What do they reveal about your preoccupations as a writer?
AL: What an interesting question. The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that each of my books is anchored by either a parent or a grandparent. I guess I’m preoccupied by the way in which parents and grandparents can be active and engaged parts of a child’s life. Curiously, as my kids are getting older and finding their independence, there is less and less of a parental presence in my writing. I’m working on a number of projects right now in which there are no parents at all.
My stories grow out of my experience as a twenty-first century urban father observing the world of my kids. I try to be honest and to write in a way that appeals to both children and adults. I hope my readers, young and old, can recognize a little of themselves in my stories.
KC: I know that many aspects of your books have their origins in autobiography. What kind of fudging is required on your part to turn truth into a successful story?
AL: I think of a picture book as a puzzle that, in order to be successful, has to fit together perfectly. I sometimes have to bend some of the pieces of the puzzle so that the story fits together. There’s that kind of fudging. There’s also the kind of fudging that results in the creation of character by combining the various qualities of several different real life individuals. I also have to be sure not to embarrass my kids. That wouldn’t be good.
KC: What authors have inspired the way you write for children? And who are your favourite adult authors?
AL: When I started writing for children I tried to write in the style of Alan Ahlberg (The Jolly Postman) or Cynthia Rylant (the Poppleton series). In trying figure out how to write like them I ended up discovering how to write like me.
I’m afraid I don’t read many ‘adult’ books. However, I read The New Yorker from cover to cover every week. Each issue has a wide range of authors writing in a wide range of styles. I’m always happy to find something by Adam Gopnik or David Sedaris.
KC: What have you learned about your own books from doing readings and presentations for young people?
AL: I’ve learned that the same text reads differently if you’re sitting alone at the computer than it does when you’re reading it aloud in front of an audience. I have learned that it’s essential for a text to have a certain degree of musicality in order for it to be ‘performed’. I’ve also learned that after a book gets published it gains a life of its own. For instance, The Imaginary Garden has gone on to inspire some wonderful art. I’ve gone to schools for presentations and seen glorious murals, based on the book, painted on their walls. Things like that fill me with wonder and make me proud of how my books have fared in the world.
KC: Do you have a favourite literary festival memory to share, as either a presenter or audience member?
AL: As a presenter, my favourite memory is of a literacy festival that took place on a winter evening at a school outside of Toronto. A potluck dinner had been served and I was getting ready to present. There were about a hundred parents and children in a gym when the power went out. It was pitch black. We considered cancelling the presentation but decided to persevere. I presented by a combination of candlelight and flashlight. The kids loved it! So did I. It was magical.
As an audience member, I remember the first time I attended Word On The Street in Toronto. I went with my daughter to see Marie-Louise Gay. We were thrilled to see the ‘real-life’ author of some of our favourite books. I dreamed that some day I might get to present one of my own books. And now here we are…
About Bye Bye Butterflies: One day on a walk with his dad Charlie sees some boys and girls on the rooftop of the school saying goodbye as they release butterflies up into the sky. Charlie is amazed by all the butterflies flying around and wishes he could do something like that too. And when Charlie starts school next year he becomes a “butterfly scientist” as well and helps his teacher and classmates care for some teeny tiny caterpillars as they grow into butterflies and are released by Charlie and his class. “Bye, Bye, Butterflies!”
About Andrew Larsen: Andrew Larsen was born in Montreal but now makes his home in Toronto with his wife and two children. He has written several children’s books, including The Imaginary Garden which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award as well as the OLA Blue Spruce Award. Bye, Bye, Butterflies! began life as an end-of-year gift to the teachers at his son’s nursery school. Not unlike a butterfly, it went through many stages until it finally hatched as a beautiful book illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli.
More about Word On the Street: Toronto
As always, WOTS will celebrate readers and literacy by hosting authors and speakers in a variety of venues.
The Nothing But The Truth Tent features authors talking about literary non-fiction. The Great Books Marquee features the buzz spring and fall titles. The Penguin Pavilion showcases some of their upcoming and favourite releases, as does Random House at the Remarkable Reads Tent. And there's always a huge crowd for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage and the Toronto Book Awards Tent where you'll hear newly-nominated authors read from their works.
The Humber School Of Writers hosts a day of writing working shops at the Scribendi.com Workshop Marquee.
Young adults will enjoy This is Not The Shakespeare Stage, a new venue featuring sessions with Canadian young adult authors and artists, while KidStreet is back, as always, along with the Children’s Activity Tent featuring activities, crafts, entertainment, and appearances from some of your favourite children's authors and illustrators! Same goes for the Children’s Reading Tent and the TVOKids Stage! Family fun!
Finally, be sure to stop by The Toronto Start Tent and Open Book's Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent, which celebrates Canadian fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.