Every year since 1982, elementary school students in Atlanta and Fulton County vote for their favorite living author, one who is willing to accept the honor and visit them in Atlanta.
They’ve got fabulous taste: Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli and Laura Numeroff. Last year, their choice for the Milner Award was David Shannon, author and illustrator of the “No, David!” series. (Here’s a full list of Milner Award winners.)
And for 2009, it’s Margie Palatini, a writer from New Jersey who got into children’s books thinking she’d be an illustrator, but quickly fell in love with words. Since then, she has published picture books like “Lousy Stinkin’ Rotton Grapes”,”Piggie Pie!” and “Zak’s Lunch,” and novels like “Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone.” She spoke to school groups today, and will give a presentation at the Ocee Library in Johns Creek on Saturday.
She usually tells the story behind the story in one of her books. She’s got 40 to choose from, but was leaning toward “Gone With the Wand” for tomorrow’s presentation. I thas nothing to do with “Gone With the Wind,” but gives a nod to local history.
Here’s what else she had to say:
How did you start writing children’s books?
I really started as an artist, as a designer, not in children’s books. As a kid, I loved making books, I loved reading books, and one of the seniors did a senior thesis as a children’s book, and it got published. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I was not an illustrator, but I thought ‘Well, if I join this workshop, I’ll be able to meet writer sand I can draw pictures for what they’re writing.’ I was so clueless. When I got in there, I had to write. What I discovered was that I really liked this. I had never really done this before.
When I look back on it, I was always writing as a child. When I pretend played, there was a story arc. We couldn’t just play house. I had elaborate stories and characters. I think I was always doing this, I just wasn’t doing this on paper. It was a eureka moment.
And you kept going?
“I wasn’t very successful. One of the first things I ever wrote was “Piggie Pie!” I sent it to agents and they thought it was not funny. Nobody wanted to publish it. One editor said to me, ‘You should really not write picture books.’ So I wrote a chapter book and I thought I was a novelist. I had three or four novels done, I got married, I moved from one house to another. My child was very young, 3 or so. I found the box with this “Piggie Pie!” manuscript, no pictures. I read it and he got into such a giggle fit. I thought ‘Whoa, this is funny.’ Seeing how much he like dit, it gave me the courage to go out and try again. It was the big hit that started us off. Jamie [her son, now age 21] says ‘You owe me your career.’”
When you meet kids, what do they want to know from you?
“Kids are always intrigued by where you get ideas from. Unfortunately, kids today, with such structured lives, they don’t have down time where they play, where they are imagining, pretending, creating characters. They ask ‘How did you think this up?’ Creativity is not step by step, it’s linear, it’s all over the map. Ideas fascinate them. I think they’re hungry for that, for that time to imagine, to let loose, to play to be kids, to have that safety net of exploring and experimenting without having to be judged. Creativity is a magical process, but you do need a foundation of pretend and play.”
So what do you tell them? Where do they ideas come from?
“I have to wait for the inspirational moment. You don’t know what triggers a memory. It’s like a connect the dot game, one thing sets it off. It doesn’t come to you all in one big piece. You might not even recognize it as an idea for inspiration. Pretty soon, it does take some sort of form. Then you see it and it gets exciting. The picture gets bigger and bigger and more defined.”
What books did you read as a kid?
“I just adored ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I read that all the time. It was a pink cover, has wonderful drawings, etchings. I also loved ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ My favorite picture book was and still is, really, ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ That is the theme, that perseverance, that, ‘Yes, you can.’”
Want to go? Margie Palatini discusses her children’s books. 11 a.m. Nov. 14. Free. The Ocee Library, 5090 Abbotts Bridge Road, Johns Creek. 404-730-1865, www.afpls.org.
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