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Five questions for Vera Brosgol

vera-brosgol-credit-jeremy-spakeVera Brosgol’s 2011 YA debut was Anya’s Ghost (Roaring Brook/First Second, 12–16 years), a graphic novel about a quirky friendship — between a girl and a ghost. Her first picture book, Leave Me Alone! (Roaring Brook, 5–8 years), has a similarly wry and witty tone and highlights a point of view not always seen in picture books: that of an old woman, and a grouchy one at that.

1. You’ve done work in graphic novels, comics, animation, and now a picture book. What have you learned from each that has helped with the others?

VB: Animation taught me to draw quickly and clearly and to communicate a character’s feelings through his or her body language and facial expressions. I love drawing what the character is feeling, in my comics, with no dialogue.

Comics taught me how to write, and also patience and confidence. You work for so long on a graphic novel that it’s easy to question your ideas or to burn out on drawing. But you plug away at it and trust in the story you want to tell. It’s a marathon, but the finished product is really satisfying.

Picture books are the hardest of them all. I use all my drawing and writing skills, combined with lots of things I need way more practice in. In animation and comics, the viewer breezes past the drawings. But with picture books, each page is going to be stared at and touched and read over and over. Maybe even chewed on a little. Everything needs to be thoughtful and economical, thirty-two little masterpieces. Editing becomes very important, and I’m trying to work some of that type of thoughtfulness back around into my comics.

2. The story follows its own logical twists and turns. When did you know it would go into space?

VB: I was facedown during a massage, half awake, and thinking about the story when all of a sudden I knew. I saw the spread! She had to climb from the mountain onto the moon! I nearly jumped off the table. Everything else slotted into place from there. I’ve tried getting massages to figure out story problems since, but it hasn’t worked out quite that well. But my neck feels better.

brosgol_leave me alone3. Grownups don’t often yell at children in contemporary picture books. Why was this old woman an exception?

VB: Leave Me Alone! is a little unusual in having an adult protagonist. Can kids relate to someone much, much older than they are? I think sometimes older people wind up being a little childlike, though. They’ve done their time, now they get to do what they want. That’s how I thought of this old lady — kind of a giant kid, with some stuff she wants to do and not much patience for anyone getting in her way! (Though if you look carefully she never actually yells at her grandchildren — just at their parents.)

4. Your bio says you’re a knitter. Does knitting help you come up with ideas or does it let you zone out?

VB: I’m one of those people with restless hands. I need to be doodling, or biting my nails, or making socks. Knitting is repetitive, rewarding, and calms me down like a warm bath. But it takes up juuuust enough brainspace that I can’t come up with ideas. Which is too bad, because I love multitasking.

5. Where do you like to go when you need some peace and quiet?

VB: I’m fortunate enough to get to make books for a living, so I spend my entire workday alone in my studio quietly doing my favorite thing in the world. When I need a break from that, it’s usually because I’m desperate to see other human beings again!

From the September 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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