Interview with Lita Judge
Lita Judge combines her love of history, science, nature and art to write and illustrate children’s books. Her book, One Thousand Tracings, was the winner of several awards including the 2008 International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, a Jane Addams Honor Book, and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Other books include Pennies for Elephants (2009 NH Outstanding Work of Children’s Literature), Yellowstone Moran, Strange Creatures and Born to be Giants. Her next book, Red Sled, will be coming out with Simon & Schuster in Fall 2011. She lives in Peterborough, NH. For more information visit her web site at http://litajudge.com/
Interview with Lita Judge author of Strange Creatures: The Story of Walter Rothschild and his museum.
I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog
What is the last book you read?
I’m reading Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver. I love everything she writes!
What were your earliest memories of writing?
I wrote a story when I was about 4 years old about a cat, a bat, and a hat. I’m pretty sure those were the three words I could spell and I remembering being much more interested in illustrating the story than in writing it.
Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came natural?
I can’t say I was encouraged to write much. It was always a subject I found difficult and all my teachers seemed to agree with that. I struggled with writing assignments in school. But I loved stories and drawing came very naturally to me. My writing came as a result of my drawing. I would draw in a journal, then write a few words after I had the confidence of a good drawing. Or I’d illustrate a story first, then find the words to fill it in. I still find writing difficult, but worth every long hour of work that goes into it.
Are you working on a new book?
I’m always working on at least a couple of books. Right now I have a non-fiction book about dinosaurs in the works and a fiction book that is almost wordless. It is a very young, whimsical story that was inspired by my childhood of living in the woods surrounded by animals.
What inspired you to write Strange Creatures and how did you come up with each character?
I’m always attracted to stories of unlikely heroes. I admire their strength, and courage to stick to their dreams, often against great obstacles. I am often in awe of the people I write about, and sharing their stories makes me have more faith in myself, more endurance and patience to stick to the things that may be hard in life but rewarding. In the case of Walter Rothschild I also had a great desire to celebrate his life story. He accomplished remarkable things but few people knew about him. It’s always an honor to record someone’s story and make it a little less likely that it slips through history without our notice.
The characters for Strange Creatures were real people, so my job as an author and illustrator was to be as faithful to the truth as possible. It can be a daunting task. Sometimes I feel overburdened to tell their story in a way that is accurate, especially in the case of Walter Rothschild where so little is recorded about his life. For that reason I do a lot of research and try to uncover enough of the details so that I can tell the story well. In some cases I find a character in history I’d love to write a story about, but just can’t uncover the secrets of their lives. In Walter’s case, I was able to see his home, visit his museum, go behind the scenes to read his letters, look at family photos and letters, and even talk to people who knew him.
If you were to chose a character from your book, which one would it be and why?
Well I’d have to be Walter of course! He had such spirit. He didn’t let the expectations and pressures that others put on him squelch his passion and he became his own person. He also accomplished so much in his life, I could never live up to that, but I’d sure like to try. Plus, wouldn’t you love to share your life with all those fascinating animals? I know I would. I grew up in a home with a menagerie of animals because my grandparents were research biologists. They raised Golden Eagles, hawks, and owls. And my parents were wildlife photographers so we spent a lot of time huddled in the woods watching birds and grizzly bears. We rehabilitated and cared for injured and orphaned animals too. So in many ways I could relate to Walter, which is one of the reasons I was attracted to his story.
What was your favorite children’s book?
I didn’t have a lot of children’s books growing up, but the Tomten by Astrid Lindgren was my all time favorite. The copy I had as a child wasn’t even in English, I believe it was German, but I made up my own words and completely disappeared into the artwork. Much of why I wanted to become an author and illustrator was because of the hours I spent daydreaming over that book.
What is the most difficult part of writing?
Getting up the confidence! It’s a daily battle for me. But I just keep plowing away at it and I’m fueled by the passion to create so I overcome the fear. I spent much of my life avoiding that fear, first I was a geologist, then an artist. Eventually I realized the regret I’d have if I never wrote would far outweigh the fear, so I just dove in and created my first book. Now I love it so much, I keeping plunging ahead despite the fact that I doubt every story and every word. But sometimes, I think that my weakness is also my strength, because that fear fuels me with the energy to revise constantly. Revision for me is the the key to good writing.
What do you do when you’re not writing or promoting your books?
Drawing mostly. I’m an illustrator as well as author, so I spend much of my time at the easel. Creating the illustrations takes up far more time for me. And when not illustrating, I love painting watercolors of landscapes and animals. I also travel and paint on location. When I can pull myself away from my paint brushes, I enjoy making art with found objects from nature, like rocks and feathers and beaver sticks. I hike and garden and watch the animals that live in the woods that surround my home.
How do you react to a bad review and have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Fortunately I’ve been pretty lucky with reviews and I am grateful for that, but reading reviews has very little to do with my creative process, good or bad. It can really cloud the creative process, waiting for the approval of a reviewer. I am no more or less proud of a book I’ve created because of a short review written. Of course reviews serve a very necessary place in the book world, helping readers determine which books they want to select. I use reviews of other books all the time to select books. But as an author I try to limit how much I read of reviews for my own work. I’ve spent years crafting my books by the time they come out and a brief summary of it’s contents can seem unsettling and confusing.
I’ve never suffered from writers block, or artist block. Rather I would say I suffer from too many ideas crashing the gates. That doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered from periods of lack of confidence, or long spells when it seems nothing is working, but I just keep showing up for the work, and eventually it shows up for me. I think consistency is the most important ingredient in my work. Writing and drawing is much like playing an instrument. You have to practice all the time and occasionally something great falls out. And the more you practice the more often that happens.
What do you hope that readers will take away from your book?
I hope readers of Strange Creatures will appreciate and nurture their own unique characters and realize they don’t have to be like everyone else. And I hope they have faith in their own dreams and trust that by working hard and being faithful to themselves, they can make them come true.
Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with?
I love Karen Hesse, Meg Kearney, Barbara Kingsolver, Craig Childs, and Lynda Berry among so many others. I’ve been fortunate enough to dine with a few of my favorite authors and in some cases get to know them personally, an unbelievable treat, but I think reading and absorbing their work is the greatest gift. The stories we read can become great friends and companions.
What author inspires you the most and why?
That changes all the time, I think because at different times in my life a particular author’s words will speak to me the most, teach me the craft of writing, calm my greatest fears, or sooth a sorrow. Lately I’ve been reading everything Barbara Kingsolver has written because she manages to give me hope and faith during difficult times, when there seems to be a lot of sadness and confusion in the world. At other times I love Craig Childs for his celebration of the natural world. And sometimes I just want to escape into a good story for the shear entertainment.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I work pretty much every day. Mostly I have to impose the discipline of taking time off so I can step away from my work and get a fresh eye. It’s easy to think that more work means better work, and I am guilty of working around the clock much of the time, but I’ve learned that getting away from it can be just as creative and insightful as working physically on it. So for that reason I try to plan a few trips a year where I just paint on location and let dreams fly. Goals – those aren’t something I set out in a logical way. I’ve just always had big dreams to create and the work seems to satisfy and often exceed any goals I could have listed on paper. I guess my life’s goal is to always be creating and by making a living at this. I allow myself to have the time to do it!
What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?
I’m a big believer in letting the children find the books they love, and that freedom will translate into them reading more and more, gradually exposing them to a broader selection. I think the best things we can do as parents is to read ourselves, set the example that reading is how you want to use your free time. And if we have a book we’d love our children to read, then read it with them. Make it a family activity. Share the books together, discuss. I believe that will foster a growing interest in more stories.
What advice you would give to new writers?
Read every day, and write every day. Don’t be afraid to let others read your stories, and don’t be afraid to revise your work. It takes patience to craft a good story, don’t expect to get it right the first time. Every time you revise a story, you are nurturing it toward becoming something that others will love to read as much as you love writing it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I’m grateful to all my readers. They make my life possible. It was my wildest dream to become an author and illustrator and there is not a single day that I don’t feel grateful!
Thank you for this interview.
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My name is Ella Johnson. I started Mymcbooks to promote reading. As a former teacher, I know that making basic education fundamentals interesting to children can be challenging. Education can be fun, exciting and captivating for children with the right learning tools. So my goal is to “make learning interesting and fun” for the children while they learn, by introducing them to fun books with colorful and captivating illustrations.
In 2009, I start the giveaway program giving away free school supplies at random to 2 winners each year. I also started a monthly free giveaways for books and gifts.
August 2010, I extended the free school supplies from 2 to 5 winners at random on my blog and also give away 20 bags full of school supplies to familes in need at Chick-fil-A in Brandon, Florida during their family nights. And in 2012, I beat my that number and gave away a lot of school supplies to needy families. Hopefully, I can continue to do this each year.
In 2011, I started writing reviews on children’s books then giving these books away free on Mymcbooks Blog. I increase the number of books we giveaway free to help support parent. My goal is to give away as many as I can each year. This is also a great way to introduce parents to new books.
Mymcbooks blog is always looking for other ways to give kids free books. So I started Mymcbooks Birthday Library http://mymcbooksbirthdaylibrary.wordpress.com/
My goal is to giveaway at least 300 books to children each year.
Books Given in 2011: 315
Books Given in 2012: 380
Books Given in 2013: 330
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Read Interview about Ella Johnson, http://melangeofcultures.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/interview-with-ella-johnson-founder-of-memorable-children-books-gifts/ Interviewer: Nicole Weaver
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