Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hilary McKay Blog Tour!! Interview and Giveaway

I am very excited today to be part of the Hilary McKay Blog Tour! Today she is stopping by for an interview focused mainly on her books Lulu and the Duck in the Park and Lulu and the Dog by the Sea. These two endearing early chapter books are a delight to read. I will be giving away copies to two lucky commentors on today's post, so make sure you stick around and put in your two cents at the end!  (Contest ends April 1, 2013. We can only ship to USA or Canadian addresses).

Also, Lulu and the Duck in the Park is up for a 2013 Kiddo Award at ReadKiddoRead! From that site:

The KIDDOS honor those books published in the last year that were the best at turning kids on to reading, the strongest at lighting the spark that takes a young reader from one book to the next and the next and the next. 

Jump on over there and place your vote for your favorites! Then come back and have a hot cuppa and sit back and enjoy the interview.

AJ: Ms. McKay (may I call you Hilary?) WELCOME!!! I have been a fan of yours for a long time. Ever since I first read Indigo Star back in 2006 and of course had to read all of the Casson series right up to Caddy's World, which I was fortunate enough to read for the Cybils award judging last winter. I know you've been interviewed tons of times and all the good questions have been asked again and again so I am going to try to reach to new territory. Sound scary? Not.
HM: Certainly you can call me Hilary if I can call you Andromeda, which is a lovely name and shows great imagination on the part of your parents. And thanks for liking the Cassons!
Yes, I have been interviewed tons of times, and no you do not sound scary.
AJ: I seem to recall that sweaters and lost sweaters in particular are involved in a lot of your books. Are you a knitter? Do you have a sweater collection or tend to lose sweaters? Maybe know some children who do? Just curious! I love to knit and have lots of sweaters, so I wonder about these things. What is your sweater/story connection?
HM: Really? Sweaters and lost sweaters? How did I miss that? My knitting fills my children with horror. They say (suspiciously) 'Who is that for?' and sidle away. It is usually scarves because I am better at straight lines. I too have lots of sweaters (bought not knitted by hand) and so does everyone else I know. They are essential in this horrible English climate. We have had no sunlight to speak of for two years straight. No sweaters have been lost during this time because nobody has the courage to take them off.

AJ: Oh. Well. Hmmm. Anyway. Your character Lulu is famous for animals.  You do such a marvelous job of writing the story from the dog's point of view. I am not even a dog person and it brings tears to my eyes when the Dog from the Sea bolts away from dog catcher trouble in Lulu and the Dog from the Sea. Do you have a lot of pets? What would be the perfect pet in your opinion?
HM: My character Lulu is indeed famous for animals. I am so sorry to hear you are not a dog person but perhaps I can convert you. Dogs are kind and merry animals and many of them (not all) leave the human race standing when it comes to civilized behaviour. True, their fur is inclined to fall off (we had a black and white collie- well we had two actually, and we used to marvel at how cleverly the dogs shed their white hairs onto our black sweaters and the black ones onto our white ones). True also, they sometimes, especially when wet, smell a little. Nothing compared to the messiness and smelliness of the human race of course.
No, I do not have a lot of pets. Hardly any at the moment. I am on the lookout for a perfect dog. I think he will be a black poodle (non-shedding and non-smelly and highly intelligent) and I think he will be called either Roly (after my beloved Roly) or Doodle the Poodle. I have not yet 1. Found him. 2. Decided. (Watch this space) Lately I have been feeling so dogless that I tell the children every time they leave the house, 'You are welcome to come home with any dog you chance upon. I will not complain.' I don't know why this hasn't happened yet, but I have great hopes that very soon it will.

AJ:  I am sure it will! My favorite word in these stories is "squished" and I notice you used it gloriously several times in funny, clever ways. Open lines in Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, describing the friendship of Lulu and Mellie: "They could visit each other easily without getting lost or squished on the road." I think that is a really lovely way to attract and draw in young readers. They will immediately connect with the situation and the sentiment. What are some of your favorite words that you recognize as being particularly connecting for early chapter book readers?
HM:You seem to read these books far more carefully than I write them. Squished is a more light hearted and liquid form of squashed, and as such a useful word. I have never ever thought of any words as connecting words in early chapter books. Never. I did not know people considered such things.
AJ: Er Maybe you caught me being overly teacherly I might think too much about textual connections, its true. Ill try to settle down and just enjoy! Just a couple more questions

I was really pleased to see the illustrations in the Lulu books, drawn by Priscilla Lamont. They are lovely and charming and perfectly compliment your story. I understand that authors often don't get much of a say in the illustrations chosen for their books. I am curious about whether you got to discuss your characters with Ms. Lamont before she drew them. I see them as Black or at least some ethnicity other than white. I am wondering if you indicated that they were Black before she drew them? Did you have that concept in your mind from the beginning or did it develop in the course of writing or the editing process? Did you have specific reasons for that choice?
HM: I KNEW we were going to get on the subject of Lulu being Black! (I see you use a capital B so I am doing the same although it is not usual here.) And her father and her mother and her Nan (a saintly woman) and her cousin.  You Americans are fascinated by the choice! Why? Why is it so surprising? Have you not noticed, for instance, that you have a Black President? The Lulu books have been out in the UK now for years and nobody has remarked on the colour of Lulu's skin.

AJ: I guess I have some background explaining to do for the race-related questions. I have been quite interested in diversity representation in children's literature for a long time. I've been a librarian and teacher of young children for many years, and I am parent to three boys aged 25 - 7. I have found that a lot of the literature published for children mainly includes central characters that are Caucasian. I believe it is important to strive for more balance in representing a variety of ethnicities and skin tones. I don't think that happens by co-incidence so I work toward it consciously. But please, continue telling us about your collaboration with Priscilla Lamont!
HM: Yes, I have a lot of input in the illustrations, from choosing the illustrator to scrutinizing each one before it goes to print. And sometimes describing specific scenes we need to help the story along. Right from the beginning I said, 'Let's make Lulu Black'. And so she was.  I did not have any particular reasons. I suppose I was aware of the fact that there are more white children than Black in early chapter books. However,  and a million times more importantly, we live in a multicultural society here in the UK (hurray) and a class all of white children would be mighty odd. Why should she not be Black? She is adorable and brave and smart and funny and kind too. I wrote stories with children who were other than white  years ago, they just were not published in the US.
Priscilla's illustrations are lovely, I agree. She drew my thoughts. It is a great partnership. They add so much to the stories- she can draw in half a page what would take me two pages to describe.

AJ: I don't see much in the text that would identify the main characters as a people of color, but I am so happy that they are! We need to see all races/ethnicities represented in wonderful stories so I am thrilled. Are there any parts in the text that you feel added to that identification? Since the story is set in England and things are a bit different there than the States perhaps I am missing some cultural information. Can you share with us what went into the writing that builds their identity as people of color?
HM: You will not see anything in the text. There is nothing in the text. What would you expect to see? There is nothing in other books that I have written to identify white characters as white. I have always tried to leave how people look to the readers' imaginations.
AJ: I see your point. In my experience many parents and teachers have expressed interest in finding more books that feature Black, Latino, Native American or Asian children, because it can be a challenge to find really high quality books with those characters. It's important for all children to see that but it doesn't always happen. When the teacher reads a book to my son's second grade class I would love to have your Lulu books right next to the Clementine and Ramona books. As wonderful as Ramona is, her world is white. I happen to think we all need to see normal, average, quirky, fun, smart, interesting kids that are of diverse ethnicities in our books. I would love to hear if you have some other books to recommend that fit that description as well as Lulu.
The reason I asked about whether you had included some indication of Lulu's family being Black in the text is that I think, actually, Black families do exhibit unique cultural aspects. If you are Black you have a cultural legacy. Not all the same, certainly, and not in any stereotypical way. Black families are certainly not all the same. But they do tend to be a little different from white families or Latino families or Chinese families... KWIM? If Lulu's family were African American (I know they are not, but if they were...) they might have relatives down South, eat Southern comfort foods, BBQ with Southern recipes, listen to RandB, Soul, Jazz, or Reggae, etc. Not that they have to. Just that they might tend to do that more than my Anglo Scotch/Irish/English family would when I was growing up.

HM: I hear what you are saying about cultural references- I would have used them if I thought they were appropriate, Reggae for instance, I am sure Lulu's father especially listens to all the time! It wouldn't mean a lot over here though- we listen to it a lot in this family too. Nothing went into the writing to build their identity as people of color. It was not necessary- it was in the illustrations.  Perhaps if they had not been illustrated I would have mentioned it. Perhaps if it had ever been a problem to Lulu? But I am writing about a happy little girl in a normal not-very-well-off but loving family. My children and my friends' children went to school with people like that. My sister teaches people like that (only 10% of her classes in her London school are what I think you would call White). There is undoubtedly still racism in this country in places; there are all sort of miserable intolerances. But in the world I live in, here in the countryside and in London, in the education I know, and the health service and the cities and shops and television, to be other than white is a normal and unremarkable part of life.
Do your sons (maybe they are too little) know the work of Malorie Blackman (guess where Malorie and I last hugged each other!' No. 10 Downing Street', I hear you cry. Yes. Quite right.) or Bali Rae (Sikh writer- brilliant- we have the same agent). Bali writes for younger children sometimes- your boys might like his books. I think he manages to squeeze a lot of football in- that would be soccer to you!

AJ: Thank you so much for the suggestions! I will be sure to look them up and find those books. And thank you for taking the time to really invest in this conversation. It is fascinating to hear your point of view.
I am glad to hear that you live in a very diverse, multiethnic community. I live near Philadelphia and we have a complex history when it comes to race. I know from experience that talking about race is not a simple thing. I know it can be uncomfortable to put it out there. I do think it's important to try to open the conversations though, and I really appreciate your willingness to go there with me in this interview!!

HM: I see your point of view entirely. Right then Andi, there are at least 3 more Lulu books to come to you after the first three.  In the last one at least, the children's grandmother is cooking- we could get in some cultural references there if the publishers agree to a few extra lines but I will need your help. American cookery is a closed book to me. If you would like to choose supper for a hot day that a grandmother would cook for her two grandchildren I will do my best to get it in. And I'll relook at the other two, but mostly they are about animals. Perhaps I could work in a bit of reggae...

AJ:  In America she might be making a pasta salad with chicken, potato salad, BBQ chicken, sliced ham, corn bread, fruit salad, iced sweet tea, lemonade, corn on the cob, a peach cobbler, or some kind of fruit/berry pie: cherry, raspberry, strawberry/rhubarb, blueberry, peach. I vote for the pie! I was going to ask where the girl's grandparents were and where their family was from historically but I didn't want to pry. ;)

HM: Thanks! Jamaica. I asked about American food because I don't really expect 7 year olds to get that they are reading about British children. The UK versions are not quite the same as the US versions, so I thought I could put it in when I did the US edit (here they got lemon cake!)

AJ:  My colleague in the library is African American and his grandmother is Jamaican. I told him about our conversation and asked him what his grandmother would cook. He said she did a lot of Southern cooking and could "tear up that Spanish rice." LOL he started daydreaming about it. He also said peach pie would be good, or something with sweet potatoes. We found a recipe on a blog - Sweet Potato Apple Casserole. I'll send it to you. He is going to take that recipe home and try it with his wife and daughter. This is so much fun for me!

HM: Thanks Andi, if the US publishers are okay with it then, I will work in some grandma cookery for US readers in Lulu's 4, 5 and  6. And some reggae- my son can advise on that though! It's a very good idea, and thank you very much for having it. That recipe looks good. We use lots of sweet potatoes, especially in curry and chili pasta sauces. You have been such a help! Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog,

AJ: Hilary this has been such a treat for me. I am delighted to be able to chat with you! I am planning to gift my son's teacher with a whole stack of your Lulu and Charlie books at the end of the year. Thanks so much for writing them! I hope the conversation will continue with readers in the comments section.
Hilary McKay's next book in the series is called Lulu and the Cat in the Bag. It will be available from Albert Whitman & Co. (print) and Open Road Media (ebook) in the fall of 2013.
 Thanks so much for joining us! Now to participate fully you ought to leave us a comment. What struck you in our conversation? I will be doing a name drawing for two lucky winners of Lola books, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Co. (Must be USA or Canadian addresses. Contest ends April 1, 2013). Please comment and give me an email address in case you win!

Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Priscilla Lamont. Published in 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company. 


Sarah P. said...

I love, love, LOVE, that Lulu isn't depicted as white! I really enjoyed that that was a conscious decision on your part. Great books. My 6yr. old daughter has read the first one and she loved it. I am so excited to keep her going with this series.

tanita✿davis said...

HURRAY for another unique brown character, whatever her background. The illustrations of Lulu are so adorable, and I have heard so much good about this series - can't wait to grab a copy and share it around. Thanks for all of your work, Hilary - some really great stuff with those Cassons. Long may you write!

Great interview, Andromeda.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant interview. Thanks to both of you. We adore the Cassons as well as the folks in Dog Friday. Lulu is appearing on Orange Marmalade Monday as part of an early chapter book group. Love the wit and charm and kindness in every Hilary McKay book.