I met Laurel Snyder, an author that lives locally, last year when we were on a panel together discussing books and the Web 2.0 world. She has written several books, including two books of poetry, a children’s book, and she edited an anthology of nonfiction, Half/Life: Jew-ish tales from Interfaith Homes. Her new novel for children was released yesterday.
Laurel agreed to pop by and have a virtual beer with us and talk about her new book for children.
BGB: Hey, Laurel, word on the street is that your new children’s book, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess, was released yesterday by Random House. Tell us about it.
Laurel Snyder: It’s a kind of old fashioned fairy tale, about a little milkmaid and her best friend, a prince. When the prince is forced to find a “suitable” wife, and the milkmaid determined to be too common, she runs away from home and has a series of weird adventures on top of a rainy mountain. The book has these amazingly classic illustrations by Greg Call, who did Dave Barry’s children’s book, and a lot of silly little songs in it. I want to think it’s a bit about bad government and class, in addition to being about magical forests and sniffly prairie dogs.
BGB: One of your blog posts says that Up and Down was 8 years in the making, which appears to pre-date your own children. What first attracted you to writing for children?
Laurel Snyder: Oh, my passion for kids books has always been there, and it was my big secret in grad schoool. I spent days each week in the children’s library in Iowa, avoiding the John Ashbery reading group (no offense to Ashbery himself, I’m just not a theory gal). When I was awarded a Michener-Engle Felloswhip, and had more time than I knew what to do with, I began working on this novel, though I didn’t know at the time that was what it would become. Having kids made the idea of being a children’s author more exciting, but I’ve been re-reading my Eager and Newsbit and Lewis every year since I was about 6.
BGB: In another blog post, you note a Dangerfield-esque lack of respect by writing institutions for children’s authors. With the recent uptick in respect for the Young Adult “genre” why do you think that those that write for the younger set are given this shoddy treatment?
Laurel Snyder: Oh, lordy– I could write a book about this. Part of has to do with the fact that most professions that relate to kids (teachers, pediatricians, etc) are less esteemed (and less well paid). Which is, of course, crap. But I also think that because children aren’t as discriminating as adults, or as snooty, there isn’t a money-driven need to distinguish pulp from art. Kids who love “literary” kids books also like to do Mad Libs, so we can shelve them together in the bookstore. I think this means that adults tend to see them all as defined by their lowest common denominator. It’s also true that children’s books don’t get reviewed as much as adult books, so there’s less critical approval from say, the NYTimes. But these are simplifications. It’s a really complex situation, and I hope that will change.
BGB: Why do you think celebrities suddenly seem drawn to writing children’s books?
Laurel Snyder: LOL! Everyone wants to write a picture book. Everyone! Now that I’m publishing these books, everyone I know wants to tell me about their ideas. I think it’s just that celebs can sell anything they want to write, so we actually see their (usually awful) attempts. Whereas the checker at the grocery store (who might have a great idea) can’t call her agent and just make it happen. If Madonna wanted to write a 700 page novel, she could publish that too. But a picture book is a much smaller investment of time. Though as you’ll see if you check out Miss Ciccone’s picture books, it isn’t so easy to write a good one.
BGB: As a mother of two, which children’s books are you most enjoying reading to your own kids?
Laurel Snyder: My kids are very young, so it’s all picture books. Current favorites are “Roadwork” and “When Dinosaurs Came with Everything”, though my older son just finished his first chapter book, Ruth Gannett’s classic, “My father’s Dragon”. It always makes me happy when they like a book I loved as a kid, like “Mister Dog”. I love that book!
BGB: I’ve been enjoying your home made book trailers. How did you come up with the idea?
Laurel Snyder: Ha! I just got a Mac for the first time, and I wanted to try out imovies. Cute baby footage is all I have to play with, since I’ve spent the last 3 months without a single hour of childcare. I’m glad you like them. They’re pretty silly.
BGB: What time/stage are you on at the Decatur Book Festival?
Laurel Snyder: I’m doing a fantasy panel with Adam Rex and Brandon Sanderson, Sunday at 2:30. Please come! I didn’t know I had written a fantasy until very recently, and I’m eager to see how this goes. I promise that if I can’t answer people’s questions about fantasy, I’ll do a tap dance or something!!!