Today, we’re honored to be entertaining Suzanne Bloom, one of our lovely faculty members for Fall Philly. Suzanne is the award-winning author and illustrator of many books for little readers, including the acclaimed Splendid Friend series. Check out her web site at www.suzannebloom.com, and sign up for her workshop at Fall Philly! And then, sit back and relax for a little chat.
Lindsay: Hi Suzanne, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! Thanks so much for stopping by to chat. As we settle into our cozy booth, what are you drinking?
Suzanne: Since it’s your treat, I’m slurping down a chocolate malt, with extra chocolate and extra malt.
Lindsay: It is my treat! So why not have something to munch on, too?
Suzanne: Just some too-hot-to-eat-yet sweet potato fries. Have some. I’ll eat my broccoli tomorrow.
Lindsay: Well, while you wait for them to cool, I’ve got to tell you how much my girls and I enjoy the Goose and Bear books! My oldest says she is Bear and her little sister is Goose (she’s right!). We can’t help but wonder…..which is more like you?
Suzanne: I like to think that I am Bear, contemplative, steady, warm, but I know there’s a bit of Goose and Bear and maybe Little Fox in each of us.
Lindsay: Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to become a children’s book writer and illustrator? How did you get started?
Suzanne: My Golden Books are on my shelf. Joan Walsh Anglund illustrated this book of poetry, given to me when I was 10. These were the charter members of my library/collection.
Class artist, art college, wooden toy-making for a dozen years.
My 7th grade autobiography ended with the hope that I could write and illustrate children’s books.
I’m not sure if one decides or just takes a giant leap. I certainly had no idea what I was doing. But I wanted to be one of those artists who made something beautiful to put in the hands of children. I continue to marvel at how an arrangement of lines on paper, be they sentences or sketches, can make us laugh or cry or ponder.
Lindsay: I’m so glad you took the leap, and you’ve certainly given my children something beautiful! Thanks! I’m curious to know, what does your work space look like?
Suzanne: Oy. This mess is a place! Here are my 3 work areas in order of abandonment:
Lindsay: I love a messy desk….lots of good ideas are simmering there! What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?
Suzanne: Observe like a detective, mix like a chef and read, read, read.
Persevere. The story patrol doesn’t make house calls. I’m still learning about my own process.
Be brave. Show your work. Go to conferences. Meet authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents. Sign up for a critique.
Listen. Assess those comments and do what is best for the story.
Jump right in.
Lindsay: Such good advice. It can be hard for all of us to be brave sometimes, so thanks for the encouragement to keep going and take risks!
I know you do a lot of school visits and have some fantastic programs available. One of my favorite statements on your web site is from your workshop entitled “In the Picture: One Illustrator’s Devotion to Diversity.” As a former ESL instructor, I love how you say: “When children see themselves in the books they read, it validates their place in literature. Sharing that place with other characters whose age, ability, color, shape or culture is different provides a blueprint for the future.” Can you tell us a little bit about what has inspired you in this direction, and how you work toward inclusion in your artwork?
Suzanne: People from all over the world lived in my childhood neighborhood. Kids from all different neighborhoods went to my high school.
That’s my world. And I have the chance through illustrations to project rather than reflect a more inclusive world.
I wrestled with the whiteness of Goose and Bear but decided that texturally and temperamentally they are as different as can be.
While I am delighted to hear from a kindergarten teacher that her student was feeling “a little like the bear, today” it was a complete surprise to hear from a mom that her very small son pointed to the girl getting on the bus and said, “She’s just like me. She has to take a big step too.”
Lindsay: Precious! I think you’ve done an excellent job of creating characters that children and adults can connect with, no matter their color, texture, or situation.
Now, imagine for a moment that you open your mailbox to find a $100 bill with instructions to spend it only on something frivolous and fun. What do you buy?
Suzanne: Too small, otherwise I’d already have them and spend the $100 on a movie with my 9 year old friend who lives down the hill, a couple of snowball bushes to plant by the road, and Melissa Sweet and Jen Bryant’s new book, The Right Word.
Lindsay: You go to a flea market and buy a nifty old lamp. When you bring it home to polish it up–poof! A genie puffs out to grant you any three pieces of artwork from any museum in the world. What do you choose?
Suzanne: Is World Peace an option?
A painting by Helen Frankenthaler brought me close to tears. But I don’t have a wall big enough. I would chose illustrations and it would be darn hard to whittle the list down to three. Maybe something from Laura Rankin’s Ruthie and the Not So Teeny Tiny Lie or Judith Byron Schachner’s Yo! Vikings! or a snow scene from Holly Hobbie’s Toot & Puddle.
Lindsay: And now, for rapid-fire favorites! What’s your favorite….
Movie? His Girl Friday – the version with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s a Wonderful Life (hankie required), Dave, Men in Black,
Cookie? Chocolate chip, ginger molasses
Game? or which are my favorites to lose? Bananagrams, Sharp Shooters, Parcheesi
Type of shoe? suede wingtips
Song or band? Swingin’ on a Star. The ambient music of Patrick O’Hearn
Of your own books? I can’t say without making the others jealous…Splendid Friend…shhhhhh.
Book as a child? Mr. Dog by Garth Williams and Margaret Wise Brown
Lindsay: Could you give us a little teaser about what to expect from you at Fall Philly? We can’t wait!
Suzanne: Since the conference theme is Once Upon a Time. Happily Ever After. And Everything In Between, I’m heading for that last part: Cinderella’s Ball, Snow White tidying up the cottage. In other words the swirling excitement of finding moments to illustrate, then getting down to work and sustaining the thrill to make those illustrations shine. Authors: be reassured. Illustrators: be challenged.
Lindsay: Thanks so much for joining us, Suzanne. It’s been a delight to get to know you, and we’ll see you in November at Fall Philly!
Suzanne:Thanks for the thoughtful questions, Lindsay. I’m eager to meet everyone.