A Big Year for Susan Hood: Interview and Sneak Peeks

Author Susan Hood drops by my blog today for an interview and much great news to share! My questions are in bold; Susan’s answers are in blue. Enjoy!

Hello, Susan, thanks for joining me today to talk about your 2016 books and more. 2016 is a big year for you! You’ve already had Leaps and Bounce published, and I understand that we still can look forward to Ada’s Violin, Mission: Back to School, and The Fix-It Man.

Hi, Dylan! Thanks for having me and yes, it’s a busy year ahead!

Tell us a little bit about Leaps and Bounce.

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Leaps and Bounce is my second collaboration with the amazingly talented and prolific Matthew Cordell. We published Rooting for You in 2014, about a seed who is afraid to grow; afraid to leave his cozy home in the ground. Leaps and Bounce is a companion book all about frog metamorphosis and celebrating the changes that come with growth.

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Both books sprouted from my own experiences. First of all, my husband and I have a big vegetable garden and weeding gives you a lot of time to dig deep.

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Attack of the butternut squash (and BTW, our garden has never again looked this neat!)

In my professional life, I was a little like that cozy seed in Rooting for You. I had a long-time job I loved as a children’s magazine editor.  I was in charge of children’s content and I got to work with the likes of Ian Falconer, Jack Prelutsky, Chris Raschka, Jon Scieszka, Maurice Sendak, Lane Smith, Rosemary Wells, Jane Yolen & Heidi Stemple, Dan Yaccarino, and so many other children’s book authors who did original stories for us. Dream job, right?

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Then in 2009, the whole magazine division was laid-off. The only upside was good severance pay. I had always wanted to try writing picture books, so I told myself it was now or never.

No doubt about it: it was scary! But with a little encouragement from my SCBWI writers’ group, I signed on with a wonderful agent and published three picture books in 2012. Now I can’t imagine ever going back. That feeling led to Leaps and Bounce (informed by raising tadpoles with my two daughters). It’s a nod to taking a leap and enjoying the surprising changes along the way.

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Tell us a little bit more about Ada’s Violin.

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  Ada’s Violin is my first nonfiction picture book, coming from Simon and Schuster on May 3. It’s the true story of children living on a landfill in Paraguay who formed the Recycled Orchestra, playing instruments made from recycled trash. You may have seen them profiled on 60 Minutes or in the trailer for the Landfill Harmonic documentary movie that went viral on social media.

It all started when a man named Favio Chávez came to the landfill as an environmental engineer. He couldn’t bear to see the children playing in the trash and polluted water, so he decided to offer music lessons. He had five instruments to share, but 10 kids showed up. And there was a bigger problem. It wasn’t safe to be seen with an expensive instrument in a town where a violin is worth more than a house. Chávez hit upon the genius idea to create musical instruments from the trash: flutes from drain pipes, cellos from oil drums, and violins from baking sheets. He taught the kids to play Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, AND a few other things—discipline, dedication to an art, respect for themselves and for each other. In the stinking, sweltering slum they called home, he gave them something to be proud of.

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Photo courtesy of www.landfillharmonicmovie.com.

Today, the orchestra is touring the world; they recently played for the Pope! Funds earned from their concerts go back to their town of Cateura, where they are building new homes and lifting up the entire community.

I interviewed Conductor Favio Chávez for the book as well as the orchestra’s first violinist, young Ada Ríos. The illustrations in the book are gorgeous mixed-media collages by gifted artist Sally Wern Comport; they perfectly mirror the recycled instruments and the world of the landfill.

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A Spanish edition comes out simultaneously on May 3.

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Tell us a little bit more about Mission: Back to School.

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This book is a sequel to Mission: New Baby, illustrated in watercolor by the marvelous Mary Lundquist. I just love her little kids and all the funny details she adds to each scene. Both books are written as top-secret guidebooks or instruction manuals for “special ops agents” tackling new “missions,” such as welcoming a new sibling or starting a new year at school.

With New Baby, I wanted to take the spotlight off the new arrival and shine it on the older sibs. I wanted big brothers and sisters to see how smart they are, how much they can teach the “new recruit.” That thought had been floating around in my head for years, but the “special agent” angle came to me after seeing a spy exhibit at the Discovery Museum in New York.

When my editor asked for a sequel, I wrote Mission: Back to School, with “top-secret info” designed to make kids feel smart and self-confident at school because they know what to expect.  

b2s.jpgWork in progress by Mary Lundquist

I had a lot of fun fooling around with spy lingo, like “decoding,” “going undercover,” and meeting the chief “intelligence officer.”

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Tell us a little bit more about The Fix-It Man.

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The Fix-It Man is about Joshua James, a little boy with a yellow hard-hat, a duct tape belt, and a tool box, who loves to tackle problems head- on.

“When things conk out or crash or crack, 
he tinkers till they’re back on track.”

He can repair a toy car wreck or glue the petals back on the flowers, but it takes his little sister’s help to invent and reinvent a Rube Goldberg machine to rid the house of stinky diapers.

This book was a new experience for me because it was a true collaboration with the inventive, funny, and super dedicated Arree Chung, of Ninja fame. With the blessing of our editor and art director, Arree and I had many long-distance phone calls and emails back and forth as we brainstormed the Rube Goldberg contraptions that fill the book’s pages.

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Endpapers are blueprints for the Rube Goldberg contraptions that appear in the book

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We invented and reinvented together and went back and forth, rewriting and reillustrating as we developed better and better ideas. In the end, we have a book we are both very proud of!

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Do any of your books have a special meaning/story behind them you would like to share?

All of my books have a little piece of my heart in them. Writing Ada’s Violin was especially daunting at first. I’d never written a nonfiction picture book. I don’t speak Spanish; Ada Ríos and Favio Chávez don’t speak English. I wasn’t even sure they had access to a phone or a computer. But I was dying to tell their story in their own words, rather than a story based on news reports. With luck and the help of many others including my extremely patient editor, I found the orchestra’s contact information, hired a translator, and waited for a window when the musicians weren’t in Holland or Japan or Columbia on tour. Disaster struck in the middle of our interviews; the river that runs through their town of Cateura flooded, displacing hundreds of families. Ada’s family was safe, but she and Favio obviously had many more pressing concerns, helping their friends. The magnitude of their problems and the heart, courage, and resourcefulness they use to face them was truly humbling. Getting to know these people—Ada, her parents, Favio—changed me forever and made me take a hard look at all we take for granted. I feel so much gratitude to them for that!

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

How about three things?

I was the youngest child in my hometown with a library card.

I’ve had lunch with Big Bird. And his wife.

I’ve sailed the ocean blue from Tortola to Bermuda and back to CT in a 38’ sailboat. Three days out, we lost the engine, navigation, and lights. Somehow we managed to find Bermuda sailing by the stars and a hand-held sextant!

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I can’t imagine not writing for kids. So if I couldn’t write books, I’d be trying to write kids’ poetry, magazine articles, songs, plays, apps, TV shows, or films.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

Double Take is a new rhyming picture book illustrated by Jay Fleck, coming from Candlewick in spring 2017. My editor calls it a “topsy-turvy fun house” about opposites. It starts simply and then veers off into relative words, perspective, and point of view, with a dollop of yin and yang for good measure. And it stars the most adorable elephant ever!

In fall 2017, I will publish my very first middle grade novel called Lifeboat 12 with Simon and Schuster. It’s based on a little-known true WWII story that follows six young boys (ages 9 – 13), who survived a major naval disaster in September 1940.

I discovered the story in the childhood letters of my British mother-in-law who was evacuated to Canada during the Blitz (thankfully on a different ship).

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All the people, dates, and events in the book are factual, but I decided to fictionalize the story to tell it from a survivor’s point of view. (My sailing experience allows me to imagine drifting alone on the ocean all too clearly!)

 I also traveled to London last summer to do research in the National Archives, the British Library, and the National Maritime Museum. There I spent time reading formerly top-secret government files and tracking down survivors to interview. So Mission: Middle Grade Novel is underway!

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I wish I could draw, but I can’t! I do like to fool around with cut paper and collage though.

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Thank you, Susan, for joining me today!

And thank you, Dylan, for everything you do to connect kids and books!

Visit Susan at http://www.susanhoodbooks.com 

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