Thursday, November 6, 2008

An interview with the magnificent, Brie Spangler!

As I've mentioned several times over the past couple of months, my son Jacob absolutely loved the book Peg Leg Peke. We read it to him every day of his short, but wonderfully sweet life, and towards the end, when he learned the skill of smiling, he would always smile at silly Peke (at least when Daddy did his voices). Brie Spangler, the author of the absolutely wonderful and, for me, touching, picture book, agreed to do an interview for this blog. She is a kind and warm woman, that was honored our son loved her book as much as he did. Please enjoy!

1. Thank you so much for doing this interview Brie, I'm honored to have you on my blog! Before we get started, I would love for you to pick a place to have our "interview." We can be eating pastries in a French bakery, sharing some wine and cheese in Napa Valley, or candy canes at the North Pole. Your choice!
BS- Oh gosh, well it's already getting quite cold up here in New England so the North Pole is out and I seem to be packing on my winter padding so let's cross off the French bakery. How about a nice, sunny table in Napa? In fact, let's go right now because I see some flurries...

2. Can you share with us what led you to the world of writing and illustrating?
BS- I was more inclined to draw from the get go. By the time I got to high school, every single piece of paper I had was covered in drawings. If we had a test, I'd rush through it so I could flip it over and draw on the back. Every margin of every notebook was filled. Art History lectures at RISD were the best time to just sit back and draw, draw, draw. (But don't tell my parents!) To this day, I can't take notes or sit through a speech without doodling away.

As for writing, that came more slowly and I still wouldn't consider myself a writer. I feel like if there's a story there, it takes me a while to massage it along but the drawings help drive it home. If anything, my love of drawing gave me the impetus to move into storytelling and give all these little characters a voice.

3. How in the world did you come up with the concept for Peg Leg Peke?
BS- I'm afraid it is as advertised! I have a little pekingese and she needed an operation on her foot, it led to a long, fun month in a cast and Peg Leg Peke came soon after.
Oh, she was quite pitiful. When the book got picked up I bought her a great big peanut butter doggie-cookie.

4. Did the story or the illustrations come first in your mind?
BS- When she was clonking around the house on three legs and stump that gave me the story first and the illustrations came second.

5. How long did the book take you to complete?
BS- I came up with a rough draft of the story and submitted it to my agent in July of '06. She was so supportive in encouraging me to explore it, she saw something there and was tremendously helpful. Once I had it polished up, it didn't take all that long to find it a wonderful home at Knopf in November '06. The book was off to the presses by the summer of '07 and the first copies came out this past June 2008. And of course I remember all this stuff because it was my first book! I keep an updated Peke-A-Blog at and readers can drop by and see some of the fun stuff going on.

6. How does it feel to have your book nominated for a Cybil Award? The buzz the book will get will be enormous!
BS- It's very exciting, I can't even tell you. Thank you very much! As my first nomination, it's a big, big thrill.

7. Do you have any other titles in the works or books soon to be published that you can tell us about? Go ahead, talk them up!
BS- Thanks for the opportunity because I do have a new picture book coming out in July 2009 from Knopf called 'The Grumpy Dump Truck'. About a rather grumpy dump truck named Bertrand, who is very unpleasant to work with down at the old construction site, and his cheerful porcupine friend, Tilly. It was a real treat to do because I got to draw him as a crabby meanie among all his other happy
animal and machine co-workers. But all's well that ends well and everyone is smiling at the end.

8. What are some of your personal favorites in children's books? What about young adult titles?
BS- Oh man! So many to choose from. For starters, I'm a huge fan of Mo Willems and I'm ashamed to say I wasn't familiar with him until after I did Peke. Once I did the first draft of my story, I was directed towards 'Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus' and I loved it! I love the Pigeon stories and Knufflebunny, they are too fantastic. Also loved 'No, David' by David Shannon, he can really draw and I love his style. One of my recent favorites is Kadir Nelson's 'We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball' because I am a huge, huge, huge baseball fan and Nelson's paintings are achingly beautiful. He does stunning work.

As for young adult titles from middle grade and up, when I was a kid I read 'Skinnybones' by Barbara Park at least 592 times. It was a great baseball book that made me laugh and laugh. Can't say enough how much I enjoyed everything by Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, and also 'Hoot' by Carl Hiaasen. Right now I'm finally reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak and it's been wonderful, I'm about three-quarters of the way through.

9. Who are some of the authors you take inspiration from?
BS- The ones listed above are all world-class authors, so certainly their work has been inspirational from my childhood onwards. But I think it's fair to say that I draw from a little bit of everything, more so from music than from reading. Sometimes, and this drives my husband crazy, I pick a song and listen to it on a loop and then the ideas start to gel. That tends to help me focus because I am the woeful type who thinks every idea is a great idea and I get distracted easily.

10. Finally, if you could have any job besides being an author/illustrator, what would would you do?
BS- I'd love to be a sports reporter and follow the Boston Red Sox all season long. Then I'd never need a ticket! That or the time honored career aspiration of marine biologist because who doesn't want to play with dolphins all day.

Thanks so much for the chance to do this interview, Amanda. It was a pleasure.

If you're interested in learning more about Jacob's favorite book, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.


shelburns said...

Amanda, how wonderful to interview the author of one of your son's favorite books. I enjoyed how she draws her inspiration from music. I have always thought music was inspiring and use it with my readers and writers a lot. Thanks for sharing this with us!

KTteacher said...

What a great interview! It would be such a gift to talk to my children's favorite authors, especially those of those first favorites. Thanks for sharing this with us.