Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by great Canadian children’s writers! Today’s guest: Frieda Wishinsky. Take it away, Frieda!
My Writing Career and the Many Writing Roads I Travel….
A poet and illustrator once said to me, “Why don’t you stick to one kind of writing? You’re all over the place. You should write one kind of book and brand yourself.”
It’s true. I write in many genres— picture books, chapter books, series, novels, hi-lo and non-fiction. I’ve written book reviews and articles for adults. The only kids book genre I’ve never attempted (and probably never will) is young adult. I write “all over the place” while this accomplished poet sticks to one genre and one style of art. People immediately link her name with her humorous content and the distinctive look of her illustrations.
I don’t know if her approach is better or more successful but it isn’t for me.
I love variety. I love trying something new. I’m interested in a broad range of topics and themes.
I’ve always been fascinated by how historical events connect. (I have a BA in International Relations, Honours in History and a Master’s of Science in Special Education.) I read memoirs and biographies as a kid and I still do. When I was young I wanted to be a scientist and cure cancer—till I realized I didn’t like studying science or working in a lab. What I loved was reading about the lives of scientists. And now I write about them.
Even though I love writing in different genres, picture books are my favourite genre. I’ve written 13 of them. A few rhyme but most don’t. Some are for the very young like my latest, ALFIE, NO! and my first, OONGA BOONGA (both Scholastic Canada). Some are more sophisticated like THE MAN WHO MADE PARKS, The story of park builder Frederick Law Olmsted (Tundra). Many are laced with humour, even when they touch on a serious theme like bullying (YOU’RE MEAN LILY JEAN, Scholastic).
Picture books are also the most challenging genre. It’s hard to create a page-turner with vivid characters your readers care about, a fast-paced plot, and a meaningful theme in only about 500 words. You want kids and adults to want to read the book over and over. You want your book to be timeless and universal. You have to remember that someone else will be adding a huge dimension to your words through the art. You need to leave room for the art by not writing too much but just enough.
All of this goes into the delicate, demanding work of a picture book. Yet when it works, it’s so satisfying. It’s taken me years to get some picture books right. My first picture book, ONNGA BOONGA is still in print (and now it’s a board book too). That makes me happy. But, so does writing a recent non-fiction for middle grade readers (or older) called HOW TO BECOME AN ACCIDENTAL GENIUS (Orca). And just to add to the mix of variety, that book was my fourth with my wonderful writing partner, Elizabeth MacLeod.
Maybe what connects all my books is my style and my themes. I write clearly. Humour is important. My stories are fast-paced and I’m not a flowery writer. Some of my core themes are the power of friendship, how to deal with bullies, and the connections in history.
I never know what character, subject or idea will engage me next. Maybe a trip will spark a story or perhaps a walk across a bridge. When I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of my favourite places in my hometown of New York City, I read a plaque about Emily Roebling and was intrigued. Soon after I looked her up. And as soon as I did, I knew I wanted to tell her story.
HOW EMILY SAVED THE BRIDGE (Groundwood) came out this year.