Interview with Crystalee Calderwood, author of Angeline Jellybean
Process and Mechanics
1. When you wrote Angeline Jellybean, was it your plan to make use of rhyme scheme, or did it just come out that way as you wrote it?
It was just the way it was supposed to be written. The way you read it now is almost exactly the way it came out of my head, with a few lines tweaks, of course. I didn’t really set out to write a picture book in rhyme, but once I realized that was happening, I went with it. I had never successfully written a picture book in rhyme before, so it was a good challenge for me.
2. What are the dangers of writing a children’s book in rhyme? Are there any rhyming children’s books that are well done that influenced you?
Dangers? Are there dangers? *laughs* Well, rhyming picture books, when well done, are extremely good for helping children develop language and memorization skills. The pitfall, of course, is that they are very hard to write well. The classic example of a flawless rhymer is Dr. Seuss, but there are many modern picture books with great rhyme schemes. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is probably one of the best out there. Ask a three-year-old to tell you the story, and they can probably do it. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom has really become an update on the “ABC Song.” It uses rhyme to teach the ABC’s and kids have so much fun with it that they don’t even realize how much they are learning.
3. How did your background as a poet help or hurt your process writing Angeline?
I don’t know that it helped or hurt me that much. I am very much a free-verse poet, and I find that 99% of the time I try to write a poem that rhymes, it comes out trite or too sing-songy. Certainly, my background in poetry did help me hear the rhythm in my head and sort of know when something didn’t fit right. But really, I have very little experience with rhyming, so that aspect took a lot of work.
4. Talk about your time serving with Beginning with Books. How do you think working with children and around children’s books affected you. Did it make you want to write children’s books more or less or no effect. What do you think the particular children you worked with would think of Angeline?
My time at Beginning with Books was the period in my life when I started to take this whole writing for children thing seriously. For the first time in my life, I was interacting with a large number of children, getting inside their worlds and learning about their passions and pet peeves. I was also reading a large number of children’s books, everything from board books and picture books to YA novels, on a daily basis. I was exposed to so many genres that it opened up a whole world for my writing. I learned what I love to read, and therefore what I should be writing. My time at BWB definitely made me want to write more children’s books.
I think all children can relate to Angeline to a certain extent. She is a picky eater, which is an issue many children go through at some point in their lives. She wants nothing but her favorite snack, again a common infliction amongst children. And again, the book has that rhyming aspect that really keeps children listening and interested. Most of the children I worked with deal with some very serious issues in their lives–violence in their homes and neighborhoods, drugs on their streets, broken families-and books like Angeline Jellybean can serve as an escape from reality for them.
5. What is the difference between “good” and “bad” children’s book writing?
Good children’s book writers know children. They go to schools and interact with them. They write about issues that are important to children. They live life so that they can write about it. Bad children’s book writers sit at a desk all day and write about things they think will entertain children. They write preachy, didactic stories because they think they know everything there is to know. They don’t realize that they can learn just as much from a child as a child can learn from them.
6. What was your working relationship with the illustrator for Angeline? How much input did you have into his process, did anything he sent you change the way you thought about Angeline?
Honestly, I didn’t need a lot of input. I looked at the first illustration of Angeline and said “That’s her.” What Stephen’s illustrations did for me was ground her in a place. I had never imagined her in this farm-like atmosphere, a little tomboy of sorts.
7. How did it feel the first time you saw Angeline illustrated?
I was totally blown away. Stephen Macquignon is such an excellent illustrator. I adored the colors and the expression on Angeline’s face. Mostly, I couldn’t believe that those fabulous illustrations were going to be in my book!
8. Do you foresee any Angeline sequels? More children’s books in general?
I don’t think Angeline has another book in her. But children’s books in general, definitely. I have several in different stages, none ready to publish yet.
9. I hear that you have also written a YA Povel-any plans on getting that published? Can you tell us about it?
Definitely! Yes, I would love to get it published. It wasn’t until I sat down with some of my mentors recently that I realized how far I need to go with it to get it ready for publication. It needs stronger secondary characters, some plot holes filled in, and a subplot or two. I have my work cut out for me!
For readers who don’t know what a povel is, it is also known as a novel in verse or a novel in poetry. Povels are novels told as a series of poems. In my case, the poems alternated between the voices and points of view of two characters. Yes, it is as challenging as it sounds.
10. How was the process different/the same in writing for young adults versus a picture book?
Writing a YA novel is much more exhausting! It took me almost a year to write my 100 page novel. Angeline came out of me in maybe an hour? Of course, neither book was perfect from the beginning. With the novel, I had to be much more organized. I had to keep track of two character’s lives, hobbies, families, struggles, boyfriends, etc. I also had multiple copies of 100 poems lying around my apartment. I had to set up a schedule for my novel. I wrote religiously every Thursday night from 6:30-9. Think about it: a picture book of less than 500 words and a novel of 100 pages. The novel has obviously taken up a much larger chunk of my life.
Getting to know you
1. Did you have a vice like jellybeans as a child? If so what was it?
Oh, I think I still have that vice! haha. Chocolate. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate. If it contains chocolate I will eat it!
2. If you could be any color jellybean, what color would you be?
Red! No, I like the red ones too much. I don’t want to be eaten. Black. Yeah, those nasty black ones. No one eats those, right?
3. Do you like the different flavored jellybeans, like jelly belly or the harry potter ones?
I am in love with Jelly Belly jellybeans! No others compare.
4. What is your food guilty pleasure?
Chocolate or cheese, definitely.
5. If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would say chocolate except I think that would make me sick. So I’m going with cheese. A nice variety of hard and soft cheeses.
6. If you were written about in the newspaper, on the front page, what would the headline say?
Why, can you get me a headline on the front page? “Local woman completes MFA, debuts first children’s book in same week.” On second thought, that’s not exciting enough.
7. If Hollywood were to make a movie of your life, what actress/actresses would you want to play you?
Julianne Moore. I’ve been told twice now that I look like her. *shrugs*
8. If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
Sara Adkins, What is with the Hard Questions? or It All Happened Because of Pittsburgh
9. Do you remember your favorite children’s book when you were a child?
I had many. I read everything I could get my hands on. But for most of my life I read nothing but the Baby-sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin.
10. Do you like to be read to aloud? Do you think different things can be gained from reading to yourself and being read to?
Yes, definitely. Listening to someone read a picture book aloud is a multi-sensory experience. Characters can really come to life when a reader adds the right inflection to his or her voice. A good storytime involves the children as much as possible, gets them thinking or moving or discussing. Of course, there is always a place and time for curling up in a chair with a good book too.
11. Any last words?
Thank you for interviewing me. I haven’t had this much fun since I volunteered at a symphony concert for kids this morning!
Don’t forget to check out the last two days of the blog tour at:
Additionally, Angeline Jellybean makes a great gift, as verified by my mom:
“I thought Crystalee’s book was cute. It covered the holidays, colors and promoted healthy eating. I’m sure the kids will like it.” – Darla Adkins