“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”
Talking with Lauri Fortino about The Peddler's Bed
RT: Hi Lauri! Welcome to the Reading Tub. Before we talk about The Peddler's Bed, I wanted to ask you about being a reviewer. You review children’s books on Frog on a (B)log. Do you find yourself writing with a reader's eye or an author's eye?
Lauri: I try to review books as a reader, not a writer. I don’t believe in writing negative reviews. I can find something I like in just about every picture book I read, and that’s what I focus on in my reviews.
I also try to connect the book in some way to my life. For example, if the book is about a dog, I’ll add in bits about my dog. Recently, I reviewed a book about a dragon and I shared how I collected dragon figurines when I was much younger.
RT: Speaking of things from your youth ... In an interview with Vivian Kirkfield, you shared that one of your childhood treasures is a 1969 copy of Jolly Old Santa Claus. What were some of the other books you treasured growing up?
Jolly Old Santa Claus has some of the most enchanting illustrations I've ever seen! I fell in love with George Hinke's pictures as a child, and I still adore them today. Other books I enjoyed are The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown and the four tiny books in Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library, which include Pierre, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, and Chicken Soup with Rice.
RT: Maurice Sendak is probably at the top of my favorite list, as well. Among some of the "current" authors and illustrators, do you have favorites?
Lauri: It's not all inclusive, but I would put Carin Bramsen, Kevan Atteberry, David Walker, Lisa Wheeler, Rachel Bright, Susan Jeffers, Alison Edgson, Suzanne Bloom, and Laura Dronzek on that list.
RT: I'd like to go back to your "reader's eye" for a second. Once you decided to become a picture book author, did you find yourself reading children’s literature in a different way?
Lauri: Maybe not at first, but I most definitely do now. It goes along with the desire to be a better writer and it almost happens naturally (after reading hundreds of picture books). I instinctively notice and analyze word choice, repetition, sentence length, artistic style, opening lines, endings, places where the author is telling instead of showing. Basically, all of the facets of what makes a picture book.
RT: You dedicated The Peddler’s Bed to your grandmother, with the note that you inherited her “writer’s gene.” Can you tell us more about how she encouraged and inspired you to be a writer?
Lauri: My grandmother, Harriet Whipple, was a self-taught poet who was published dozens of times in magazines and newspapers. I was fortunate that she lived with us when I was growing up. I often saw her jotting down lines of poetry. Her poems were always written in flawless rhyme and were often about family, holidays, or the Erie Canal. They’re a joy to read.
She was also a pretty good artist. She typed and illustrated her own stories and then bound the pages between thick cardboard that she covered with cloth. I am the proud owner of one of those books, Harriet and the Little French Doll, which she wrote in 1944! I will cherish it forever.
I think I inherited my grandmother's aptitude for writing, but unfortunately, not her rhyming skills. Writing in prose is more my speed.
RT: I wanted to ask you about another element of The Peddler's Bed: Noises. Sound is an essential element of the story. When you share The Peddler’s Bed with young audiences do you bring along any noisemakers?
Lauri: I actually did use animal-shaped squeakers, like the kind you’d use in the bathtub. I passed them out to the kids when I read the book at my launch party. I asked the children to squeak the squeakers when they hear me say "squeak, squeak, squeak." They loved it! Plus, they got to keep the squeakers!
RT: I bet the kids had a blast! In part 2 of our interview on our Family Bookshelf blog you said that you have a notebook with more than 100 ideas in it! Are they all picture books?
Lauri: Right now, I have about 20 completed picture book manuscripts, and several others in various stages of development. I'm also working on my first children's chapter book.
Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press
Wow! Good luck with those stories. I wanted to ask you about Finley, your blog mascot. Is he one of your book characters?
Lauri: Finley is a character from an unpublished picture book story I wrote called Finley’s Fabulous Friendship. He's also the mascot for Frog on a (B)log. Finley is a friendly, playful frog with wacky fashion sense. The story was a finalist in a national contest years ago. Just last year, after reading Finley’s Fabulous Friendship, an editorial assistant at a well-known house told me I should get an agent. I think that means she liked it.
RT: Congratulations! We'll keep our fingers crossed that someday Finley will be a published frog! The Peddler's Bed has a fable-istic feel to it. Is Finley in that same genre?
Lauri:Finley’s Fabulous Friendship has a more modern feel. It’s a story that could take place today ... if frogs and chipmunks wore clothes and could talk, of course! It is similar to The Peddler’s Bed in that both stories have themes of friendship and caring.
Interestingly, I didn’t set out to write a fable when I wrote The Peddler’s Bed, and I didn’t realize it felt like one. It wasn’t until after the book was published that readers began to tell me that it reminded them of a folktale.
RT: Really?! When you said earlier that you knew how the story would end from the beginning, I figured that you had planned for the story to be a folktale.
Thank you for stopping by the Reading Tub Lauri, and thank you for introducing us to The Peddler's Bed. We look forward (with fingers crossed) that someday we'll get to meet Finley, too.
Lauri: Thank you, Terry. I love sharing the peddler's story and appreciate the opportunity.