Sure, she’s fresh and original with every new book. She surprises me with each subsequent title.
What hasn’t surprised me is her success. I first met Kirby in the early 1990s at a Seattle writer’s meeting.
She always had time to encourage other writers. Writing wasn’t a competition to her, but a collective endeavor in which everyone could have a piece of the creative pie.
For some fledgling authors, future critical acclaim is a matter of “if.” For Kirby, “when” was the only question.
Kirby, what’s the good news about children’s literature?
There are at least two things. The first is what’s always been good: the stories. I think the tighter times in publishing have actually ratcheted up the quality (hard to envision because children’s literature has traditionally been so rich!) of the work out there. I’m an eclectic reader, reading all over the map, but rarely am as satisfied as when I read a work of children’s literature.
The second thing is that, thanks to the internet, the children’s book community has grown even tighter and more supportive. I know I owe the success of Hattie Big Sky to the bloggers who not only favorably reviewed the book online, but enthusiastically shared their views with other bloggers/readers. In addition, the internet has enabled me to become good friends with authors who live too far away to practically meet—though we’ve now met, I emailed with Barbara O’Connor in Massachusetts for years!—, and has allowed some very powerful unions to form. I’m thinking here of “Class of” groups, authors whose books all debut in a certain year and who band together to support one another, pre- and post-publication.
What I most love is that this tighter sense of community has empowered many, many book creators to reach out and give back. This ranges from creating a group to support teen literacy and social service, like ReaderGirlz; banding together to send positive messages to teens, as recently happened as part of the “It Gets Better” project; and reaching out to make a difference around the world, as do Jane Kurtz and Michele Torrey. Oh, and let’s not forget First Book and Guys Read and. . .
Wow, how can you feel bad when you think about all the good children’s book people are up to?!
From your perspective, what can make that “good” better?
First and foremost: Getting kids’ books in the hands of as many readers as possible, any way possible! For me personally, it’s mostly about the work. Many years ago, a wise friend of mine, Brenda Guiberson, pointed out that the only thing we can control is our own writing. So I work hard to honor my readers by giving my best efforts to the page. If I keep doing that, I believe I can add to the good in some small way.
Kirby Larson went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky. Her passion for historical fiction is reflected in The Fences Between Us (Scholastic, September 2010) and her newest book, The Friendship Doll (Delacorte; May 2011). She is currently at work on a sequel to Hattie Big Sky.
In 2006, Kirby began a collaboration with her good friend, Mary Nethery, which has resulted in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels) and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. They have their eyes peeled for another project to tackle together.
A Leo through and through, Kirby won’t rest until she’s shared her love of writing with as many people as possible. She’s made over 200 presentations, traveling to twenty states and as far away as Germany, Lebanon, and Qatar.
Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Winston the Wonder Dog, Kirby enjoys gardening, bird watching, traveling, or drinking lattés with friends. Learn more at www.kirbylarson.com or her blog, www.kirbyslane.blogspot.com.