What do I see from my perch in the high branches? It's Liz Garton Scanlon's Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper and out now from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan!
When Lulu's well, she climbs every tree in sight, especially the tallest ones, the ones with the widest branches, the one with the stickiest sap. When Lulu's sick, she's not allowed outside. She wonders if the trees are lonely without her. Maybe the birds are too. Now, nobody climbs the trees but the sun... until clever Lulu finds her own way to climb her favorite tree... indoors!
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I think that Lulu, my scrappy, dreamy protagonist in Another Way to Climb a Tree, might be the most favorite character I've ever created -- or at least the most heartfelt and familiar. Lulu is, in many ways, me, in that the two things that keep her heart beating and her head straight are the natural world and her imagination. I can relate.
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
In picture books, I adore Cynthia Rylant's sentences, Pat Zietlow Miller's plots, and Marla Frazee's characters -- both in text and art.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
"Kill your darlings." I was trained as a journalist, so I became adept at saying a lot within a limited number of column inches. Pretty words for pretty's sake became a lot less precious to me. As a picture book author, I am constantly looking to trim and tighten -- not to make a text shorter necessarily, but more perfect and more potent.
Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
Utter silence except for my dog barking at the UPS man.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
I have a piece of art from almost every picture book I've ever published. The cover of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, a pencil sketch from Happy Birthday, Bunny, my favorite spread from In the Canyon, the final page of All the World. Together, they serve as daily inspiration to me -- they set a nearly impossibly high bar that I just keep trying to live up to -- and I cannot look at them without counting my blessings.
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
Talk about counting my blessings! I knew Hadley Hooper's work through The Iridescence of Birds, a picture book biography about Matisse. It was written by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley illustrated it and I loved it! So when she agreed to do this book, I was thrilled. And she exceeded any possible expectations -- the palette, the little surprises everywhere -- birds! binoculars! -- and the very timeless little tree-climber who is Lulu herself. I love the art in this book completely.
How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?
It appears to be upping my efficiency game in a big way. It's amazing how I can buckle down when I know that the packets are coming again, and soon! Also, perhaps it could go without saying, but I am pretty much constantly awash in admiration these days -- for my students and colleagues alike. And that is both humbling and wildly inspiring.
What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?
You've never met more people who care so deeply about the same thing but who are still, somehow, wildly unique and devoted to telling their own wildly unique stories. They make the place what it is; they give it integrity.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
If you're serious about this desire -- this calling -- to write for children, this is your place. Yes, it's like hurling yourself into the deep end of a swimming pool, but there are lifeguards on duty who will help you develop your own strong and beautiful stroke.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
I wish I'd known JUST HOW SPECIAL it is. I would've tried to get here sooner.
We are so fortunate you're here now! Thanks for stopping by the Launchpad. Welcome to the forest, Another Way to Climb a Tree!
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.
Visit her online at lizgartonscanlon.com.
And stop by the Launchpad next week for Part Two of Liz Garton Scanlon's interview, when she'll discuss Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored with Audrey Vernick!