Andrea Beaty Talks with Roger

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Building on the success of their picture books, Questioneers Iggy Peck, Ada Twist, and Rosie Revere (to be joined this fall by Sofia Valdez), are moving into chapter books, with Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants out this month. Author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts have, as far as I'm aware, a unique method for how they go about chronicling the adventures of their inventive quartet (thus far!); Andrea talks below about the transatlantic partnership.

Roger Sutton: What was your inspiration for Iggy Peck and the others?

Andrea Beaty: Iggy Peck was based on my son because he was that kid — whenever we would go out to restaurants, he'd take the jelly packs and make towers out of them. The pots and pans were always out of the kitchen cabinets and he'd be building cities with them.

RS: And Iggy was a picture book, right?

AB: Susan Van Metre, then at Abrams, was the acquiring editor for Iggy Peck, Architect, and she picked David Roberts to do the illustrations. She was so right! What I learned from Iggy: trust your editor. David brought us this magnificent, incredibly diverse class of kids. Since then, the process of creating these books has become me looking at his illustrations for clues about the kids' personalities.

RS: And those clues come from him, not from you?

AB: Yes. After Iggy Peck, Susan and I thought, what about all those other kids in the class? The text just says "there are seventeen smiling young faces." That beautiful, diverse class is a gift that David has given me and readers. It's such a driving force for him — he wants every kid to be seen, to feel acknowledged, to be known, to be important, to see themselves in a book. There's never any detail left to chance; everything has a purpose. So David and I are sort of co-parents in these books. He knows who these kids are but he doesn't tell me, so I see what I can learn about them from the clues he leaves. Then we get more books, and there are more clues. It's a weird, unique process.

RS: So Rosie Revere was his before she was yours?

AB: Yes.

RS: Wow. How far do you think you can go with this?

AB: My goal is to continue as long as it amuses me and keeps me interested. When I get bored, nobody wants to see that. As long as there's truth in the stories, as long as I still have stories to tell, we'll just keep going and see where it ends. Seventeen is a lot of kids.

RS: How did you choose the kids' future careers?

AB: I don't really set out to write about a particular career; I try to investigate a theme. For instance, Iggy is all about passion. Iggy could have been the most passionate plumber in the world. I made Rosie an engineer because I really wanted to see what David would do with those illustrations, because he had done such cool things with the architecture. And then Ada Twist was the girl from Iggy Peck who was standing off to the side scratching her chin, and I thought, she's full of questions. She's thinking about stuff, so she became a scientist. With Sofia Valdez — one detail David gave me was that her parents are from Mexico, and I wondered, what else do I know about her? I noticed that in Ada Twist, Scientist, Sofia was holding a jar that has nothing in it. Everybody else's jar has something inside, and there's nothing in Sofia's jar, but she's holding onto that thing for dear life. I thought, the things you hold most dearly in your life are the things you wish for other people. I realized she's the kid who wants to make things better, who has a dream, who has something important that she wants to do. She cares about her community.

RS: Her book is out in the fall, is that right?

AB: Yes, in November. It's called Sofia Valdez, Future Prez.

RS: Rosie and Ada first starred in their own picture books and now they have their own chapter books. Will this cross-pollination continue?

AB: Yes, each chapter book will be led by one of the kids, but all the kids will be in it. Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters is already out, and next will be Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants. The idea is to have a topic area — basically what that main character focuses on — but everybody jumps in. Whatever is of interest to me gets thrown in there. There's going to be a lot of history, there'll be some math. Whatever topics raise questions that can be tackled by a group of plucky young children.

RS: What drove the decision to move them from picture books to independent readers?

AB: That was an idea that Andrew Smith, the publisher at Abrams, had. My first reaction was no, I can't. And then, yeah, I really want to. It's a whole different kind of writing. It's very driven by pace — you want to keep readers turning those pages. I did not think I would be having so much fun going into that new landscape, but I'm loving it.

RS: Tell me more about the Sofia Valdez book. She's a politician?

AB: Basically she's more of a community organizer.

RS: A do-gooder, eh?

AB: She's a good-doer.

RS: Is it a picture book or a chapter book?

AB: That will be a picture book.

RS: Oh, I see — and, conceivably, later a chapter book.

AB: Yes. And Iggy will have a chapter book down the road as well. Right now I'm trying to limit the interaction within the chapter books to characters we know, but other characters pop up, because David illustrates them. We're also exploring the town, and that's really been a hoot, because what I've realized is the adults of Blue River Creek are just like Iggy and Ada and Rosie and Sofia — they were all super-passionate about something as kids, and now they're all grown up. For instance, Ada's great-aunt, Bernice, runs the Can You Dig It? shop. Archaeology, anthropology, paleontology — if you can dig it up, she wants to know about it.

RS: It seems like as you're amassing ideas for each book, you're also inadvertently amassing ideas for future books.

AB: Oh, yes, absolutely.

RS: And I've noticed, at least in the case of Ada, Rosie, and Iggy, everything is very hands-on. There are real things being created out in the real world. Are you trying to get kids outdoors?

AB: I always want kids to be outdoors. I spent my childhood outdoors. I was raised in a tiny town of three hundred people, in Southern Illinois. It's always fun to meet people in Chicagoland who think Southern Illinois starts at Comiskey Park.

RS: Keep going down Halsted...

AB: When you start seeing deer and rattlesnakes, you'll know you've gotten there. It was a time when access to cartoons was only on Saturday mornings. (Which is not to say I did not watch an enormous amount of television, because I did!)

RS: But you still got outdoors.

AB: We didn't have things to amuse us, so we had to go amuse ourselves. I was one of six kids, and the fields and the woods were our playground.

RS: Were you bookish?

AB: I was bookish, yeah. I was a big Nancy Drew fan. I could often be found in a tree or on the roof of our shed or out in the cornfield reading a book. My first novel, Secrets of the Cicada Summer, is very autobiographical in terms of place. I was that kid who would take my book and run.

Blue River Creek is a place that is sort of timeless. It looks very mid-century, kind of groovy — totally David's style — but we never specify a time period. They have telephones, but none of the kids have cellphones or anything like that. I've never asked David — we have a very hands-off approach. He studied fashion illustration, and that's why all these adults are so groovy. Their clothes are very fashionable.

RS: It's certainly, as far as I can tell, a unique partnership in chapter books. I can't think of anybody else who works this way.

AB: At this point we just kind of feed off of each other's ideas. It's super-fun.

RS: And with the picture books and the chapter books together, readers are getting a picture of an entire community, as you say. Do children read them as an ongoing narrative?

AB: They do. In the picture books, the text never points to specific connections between the children in the class, but readers pick up on them. David's illustrations, in both the picture books and the chapter books, tuck in so many details that build a sense of place and family and connection, and readers absolutely love it.

RS: Right, as you go from one to the other, you accumulate your knowledge of this group.

AB: Yes, absolutely.

RS: The stories are not sequential, right?

AB: Not really. The plots don't build on each other or anything like that. If you read one, you may see something in the background that came from another, but it wouldn't matter in which order you read them. But then if you did go back, you'd be like, oh, wait, it's that thing! I think kids will pop in and out of the chapter-book series based on where they come in through the picture books. Some kids who say, "I like Iggy best," so they'll go for the Iggy books; and then hopefully they'll think, "That was really fun" and want to read the others. And I think, too, that now kids are finding these chapter books and then discovering the picture books.

RS: And you've got tie-in project books, right?

AB: Yes, and not to be braggy, but they're so much fun! The basic idea of those is asking the question: what are the fundamental characteristics that a scientist or an architect or an engineer might have? And the answer isn't necessarily "You're good at math." It can be "You're creative." Scientists are very creative. They look at the world in a different way. They're curious. They persevere. Then you can ask kids to think about ways that they have persevered, something they have tried to do over and over, or that they failed at a hundred times.

RS: That's a big theme in Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, when she's trying to make that paint machine. This doesn't work and that doesn't work. But she keeps at it.

AB: She does, and that's reality, that perseverance.

RS: Maybe for you. Where can I buy some of it?

AB: I think that's liberating for kids, to know it's okay to fail — it's more than okay, it's just the process. "Okay, we checked that attempt off the list, let's try the next thing." That is one of the pieces of feedback I get, and it really does shine through in the books.

RS: Each failure teaches you something new about the problem you're confronting.

AB: That's where you always learn the best stuff, when you fail. When you did something perfectly the first time, yay, that's good, don't get me wrong — but failure is also a good thing.

RS: You remember the things that were harder to accomplish than the things that you did easily the first time.

AB: Absolutely. There are lots of kids who struggle — everything doesn't come easy to them. But they might have the most creative sense, the most interesting take on things. I really hope these books speak to those kids, because I don't want them to give up. I hope they will see themselves in these characters. When I do school visits the teachers might ask, "Will you have lunch with the best writers and the best readers?" I love those kids, but they're not the kids I really want to see. They're going to be fine. I want to see the Iggy Pecks. I want to see the kids who are passionate about the weird things. Those kids who might not have experienced a time in their school lives when someone said, "I want to know what you think. You're the one who's special here today." Those kids will change the world.

RS: "If you're not the best at school or the best at sports, what is there for you?" I know what I'm talking about.

AB: You've done okay. It's not until you get older that you look back and realize: everybody knows a kid like that. Or was that kid.

RS: How much of you do we see in your main characters?

AB: I think a fair amount. I do have a stack of curiosity. I always want to know stuff. As a result, I tend to know a little about a great number of things. An inch deep and a mile wide. I'm fascinated by learning. And I was a scientist, actually. I have degrees in biology and computer science. I've always been a maker as well. Growing up we were pretty poor, so if you wanted something, you had to make it. I love that there are makerspaces now, because you do learn by trying and failing and making and just being creative. I guess that in every book, if it has truth in it, something of the author comes through.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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Andrea Beaty

Roger! Thank you for taking time to chat with me. I had such fun! Andrea

Posted : Jun 19, 2019 08:48



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