Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Inspired by a Real Corner Store: Ten Questions with Joanne Schwartz and Laura Beingessner

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Inspired by a Real Corner Store: Ten Questions with Joanne Schwartz and Laura Beingessner

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Our Corner Grocery Store.

JS & LB:

Joanne: Our Corner Grocery Store is about a day in the life of a small corner grocer as told through the eyes of Anna Maria, the granddaughter of the proprietors, her Nonno Domenico and Nonna Rosa. She spends every Saturday helping her grandparents at their store which is the hub of the neighbourhood. From early morning until sunset, Anna Maria watches and participates in the busy comings and goings of the day – neighbours chatting, sandwiches made, recipes shared, milk and bread deliveries and children buying treats. Through Anna Maria we experience the full rich world of this family-run store.

The book is inspired by a real corner grocery store in my neighborhood run by Domenico and Rosa Cozzi. They emigrated to Canada in 1960, took over the small variety store in 1966 and turned it into a thriving little grocery store. Domenico goes to the Ontario Food Terminal twice a week and stocks the store with fresh produce, fresh breads and Italian staples such as blocks of parmesan and fresh pizza dough. But it’s not just the food and goods offered, it’s Domenico and Rosa themselves who have imbued the store with such a warm atmosphere. For kids, it’s the first place they can venture to on their own and Domenico and Rosa know them all. Forty-three years later, and in their seventies now, Domenico and Rosa are still going strong and their wonderful store is the heart of the neighbourhood. That’s what I wanted to capture in the book.

OBT:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

JS & LB:

Joanne: Elizabeth Cleaver’s illustrations for William Toye’s retelling of the Mi’kmaq legend, How Summer Came to Canada, made a huge impression on me. Glooskap’s challenge to conquer Winter and bring Summer to the land is powerfully articulated in the fiery oranges and icy blues of Cleaver’s collage work. Brian Wildsmith’s version of The Rich Man and the Shoemaker deeply impressed my conscience. I was given a copy of Dorothy Eber’s book, Pitseolak: Pictures out of my life, and that has continued to affect me to this day. I loved The Wind in the Willows and it was one of a couple of books (the other being Charlotte’s Web) that really made me aware at a young age of writing as an art and reading as a great pleasure.

Laura: Visually, Where The Wild Things Are by Sendak made the greatest impression on me. The monsters really intrigued me. I adored them but they also scared me. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were the stories that left the deepest mark. Winnie the Pooh was a favourite, too. I loved the image of giant Gulliver pinned down by all of the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I adored Watership Down by Richard Adams. I read it repeatedly and eventually made drawings of all of the characters in the end pages of my tattered copy of the book.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JS & LB:

Joanne: Yes, specifically young children. The narrator of the story, Anna Maria, is about 6 years old. I wanted a child’s eye view of the store but at the same time I think picture books are for everyone and I hope the adults reading the book will enjoy it as much as the kids.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing or illustrating environment.

JS & LB:

Joanne: I like starting to work on something in a quiet cafe with a really strong cup of coffee at hand. And then I like to go back to my small third floor room and continue writing there.

Laura: I have a studio on the third floor of my house that has lots of natural light. I work there, sometimes listening to jazz, with a cup of herbal tea and ideally, with a chunk of uninterrupted time.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

JS & LB:

Joanne: This is my first publication, besides writing articles and reviews in my capacity as a children’s librarian.

Laura: My most recent publication is If The Shoe Fits: Voices from Cinderella by Laura Whipple, a Margaret K. McElderry imprint from Simon & Schuster in 2002. It was listed on the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JS & LB:

Joanne: I just finished Larry Loyie’s Goodbye Buffalo Bay which is the moving story of his childhood experiences in a residential school. I’m now reading the American writer Ruth White’s latest novel for children called Little Audrey. I’m also reading Clever Maids: The Secret History of The Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz, a unique look at how the Grimms gathered their tales and the untold story of the women contributors.

Laura: I’m reading books with my son Emilio right now. We’re reading Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JS & LB:

Joanne & Laura: Picture books are a wonderful way to introduce the landscape and stories of Canada. Here are the six that we choose:

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier
A Prairie Boy’s Winter by Willam Kurelek
A Big City ABC by Allan Moak
Hide and Sneak by Michael Kusugak
What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You know About Horses? by Richard Van Camp
Have You Seen Josephine by Stephan Poulin.

(We think 10 picture books would be an even nicer "Welcome to Canada" gift.)

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer or illustrator?

JS & LB:

Joanne: A very simple statement that was said to me by an editor: find the voice of the character.

Laura: Be careful not to imitate the work of artists you admire. Find your own style.

OBT:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

JS & LB:

Joanne & Laura: As this is our first project together, we’re looking forward to sharing Our Corner Grocery Store with children and hearing their responses.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JS & LB:

Joanne: I have a book coming out in the fall with Groundwood called City Alphabet. It’s an urban alphabet book that I collaborated on with writer/photographer Matt Beam.

Laura: I’m working on a book of poems called Sail Away with Me coming out with Tundra in 2010.

Joanne Schwartz

Laura Beingessner (Photo Credit: Beverley Daniels)

For more information about Joanne Schwartz’s and Laura Beingessner’s Our Corner Grocery Store, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.

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