Gamila: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your work.
Caralyn: I was the fifth child in a family of bookworms, so reading was something I grew up doing. It became my favorite occupation, and I think now that I probably grew up to be short because I spent too much time at night hiding under the covers with a flashlight and a book. In that respect I haven't changed - still regularly lose sleep to read, and would rather read than see a movie any day. The result of that is that I have an appreciation for where words can take you.
I've been fortunate enough to be able to write picture books, and work almost exclusively with an incredible illustrator - my husband Mark. Most often when I write now, if I'm writing something that's intended for the commercial market, I'm also writing with him and his preferences in mind, because I would rather work with him than anyone!
In my personal life, I am busy with the maintenance of daily life, and feel richly blessed to be a mom.
Gamila: What made you decide to publish picture books?
Caralyn: My path into this profession was different than most authors. Mark had a successful book out and was working on another when he encouraged me to put an idea we discussed down on paper, which we took to his editor. So I came in on his coattails.
Gamila: What authors in your field do you admire? Which of their strengths so you strive to emulate in your own work?
Caralyn: In this particular field that is actually a difficult question, because my response to a book is dependent not only on the writing, but also on the art. Where it seems that I collect the books of an author, it usually means that they are also the illustrator. Let's talk books instead.
Here's what's coming to mind:
Favorite comfort reads: GOODNIGHT MOON, BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL.
Favorite authors who deal with children's emotions: Helen Lester, Kevin Henkes
Best counting book: MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE, by Bill Grossman
Most creative art (other than Mark): David Shannon
Great collaborators: Audrey and Don Wood, Steve Johnson and Lou Francher
Best potty book: Wendy Cheyette Lewison's (THE PRINCESS AND THE POTTY)
Best early readers: Syd Hoff. Nostalgic, and totally wackadoo. And the books about Otto (the robot).
Favorite rhythmic read-aloud books: CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM, BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP, THE LITTLE OLD LADY WHO WAS NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING, EACH PEACH,PEAR, PLUM
Best books I bought in 2011, both with a fabulous marriage of art and text: A CHICKEN IN THE FAMILY, THE PRINCESS AND THE PIG
Best little girl book: FANCY NANCY
Best foreign picture book artist: Poly Bernatene
Illustrators from the Uk to check out: Simon Bartram, Rob Scottom
I'd better not get started on the holiday books.
Gamila: The brevity of text in the picture book requires unique storytelling skills. What process did you take to learn this art?
Caralyn: I spent quite a bit of time in my middle school and high school years writing poetry, and as I've reflected on that, I think it has influenced my writing quite a bit. I tend to hear - internally, in my head- snatches of phrases, and they work their way into lines of a book. But working closely with an illustrator has probably done more for my technique. It's obvious, when I see how he creates and the freedom he needs, that I don’t have to describe anything when I write, unless I need an quick adjective to shed light on the personality or tendencies of a character. In fact, it's much better that I don’t.
Gamila: what is the most rewarding thing about being a picture book author? What is the most discouraging?
Caralyn: There are three things that I love about writing picture books. I love that I can do it at home, I love that I can work with Mark, and I love the people I am able to meet, including, and especially, the children.
The most discouraging thing is when something you feel is a good piece of writing is either rejected outright, or goes out of print.
Gamila: In your Mormon channel interview you expressed how you felt it was important to create safe places for kids in the picture books. I had never considered this idea before. Do you feel that there is a great lack of safe books? Or just an increase in edgy, scary, and crude books (bathroom humor, bad manners, etc.)in the market currently?
Caralyn: Fortunately, there are hundreds of wonderful picture books for children. There aren't a lot of books that I feel are inappropriate, but the few that are out there always surprise me. I always prefer a straightforward book to one which might be humorous, but which contains humor that could really only be grasped by an adult, and I never buy books where I feel like the illustrations are ugly and degrading. Illustrations should be beautiful in essence, regardless of their simplicity.
Gamila: Your educational background is in family and human development, and you sometimes address family issues on your blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on how picture books in general can be used to strengthen the family.
Caralyn: Certainly there's multiple benefits to reading picture books - and chapter books - with your children. The first significant benefit, and one that has been amply documented, is the fostering of literacy and language skills. The interesting thing to me is how research is showing that the benefits may be even stronger if dad is the reader. Children learn the language they hear, and they can learn to speak at a much higher fluency level than they can initially read. So parents should never be afraid to read challenging, longer, or more complex texts aloud. IF a child is submersed in language, then when he meets it later in written form, it will be easier for him to make the connection and understand what he is reading.
I also believe strongly that training the ear to listen is a skill that needs to be strengthened. Reading aloud, and reading books where there are few, if any, pictures allows the development of a good visual imagination, as well as a better ability to communicate verbally. Our media today is saturated with amazing and powerful visual images, but if we aren't careful, we get a diet of visual stimuli without aural development. I once read that teenagers 25 years ago has a vocabulary of some 25,000 words, and that the teens of today have a vocabulary of about 16,000 words. This is suggestive of a generation raised in media markets that are designed for mass consumption, instead of being challenged by language that might be more archaic and obscure.
Learning to listen also requires patience. A parent who reads a chapter of a book at night helps a child learn to hold still, to focus, and to wait. Would any school teacher mind having a classroom of children who could sit still and focus, because they had learned how at home?
The actual, physical picture book itself can be instructive as parents and children sample and select those things that appeal to them, and if they can articulate why, it is even better. The language of a book; the humor; the art and how it captures the environment or enhances the story; the plot; how the character handles his problems or makes them worse, are all things that can be discussed. Our local library has books set aside each year for the children to vote on for the a state book award. This year my five-year-old and I are reading our way through the long list of nominees, and discussing each book, why we like it or don't like it, and it's very instructive (at least for me).
And, of course, the actual physical act of snuggling up together strengthens familial bonds. it's comforting for both the parent and child, forming a secure, warm place that a parent and child venture to separate from the realities or dismays of life. I often have no idea what's happening in the video game my son is playing; I'm not in there watching and don't want to be, as long as I feel confident that it's appropriate material. But when I read to him, or he to me, we are sharing the experience, and for that period of time, we are in the same world, seeing and hearing the same things.
It's no surprise that Strickland GIllian's (1869-1954) poem, THE READING MOTHER, is so often quoted, although usually only the final four lines (in fact, I think I first remember hearing it in President Benson's talk, To the Mothers of the Church). But the whole poem is wonderful, so I'm posting it here:
I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.
Gamila: Before we end tell us about your most current writing project or most recent release.
Caralyn: Our next book, SNOWMEN AT WORK, will be in the stores this coming November (2012). In this installment, whose cheery, happy snowmen are hard at work in all kinds of occupations. The illustrations are absolutely fabulous, and I'm very excited and pleased.
Currently Mark is beginning sketches for a Christmas book that I wrote a few months ago. It's warm and sweet, and I am also very pleased and hopeful about this coming project.