Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Frieda Wishinsky

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Frieda Wishinsky

Beloved children's author Frieda Wishinsky talks to Open Book about her cross-Canada alphabet story, Where Are You, Bear? (OwlKids), and tells us why she finds picture books more challenging to write than chapter books — even though there are far fewer words!

Open Book:

Tell us about the storyline for your book Where Are You, Bear?

Frieda Wishinsky:

Sophie loves her stuffed Bear. She takes Bear everywhere but one day before she heads off on a trip across Canada with her dad, she can't find Bear. (Bear has fallen under the bed) Sophie and her dad have to leave and Bear has been left behind.

When Bear discovers that Sophie is gone, he's determined to find her. So Bear sets off across Canada to find Sophie.

Along the way, both Bear and Sophie experience the people, animals and places that make Canada unique. They also have fun, adventures and some scary moments. And all along the journey, Bear looks for Sophie. Will he find her?

OB:

Where Are You, Bear is an "alphabet adventure." How was the experience of writing an alphabet book different than writing a children's book without this constraint?

FW:

There are many alphabet books around so I wanted to give this book a fresh twist and tone. That's why I decided to tell a story of friendship and discovery, point out Canadian geography and present the alphabet all in one book and all in a simple yet cohesive text. Of course, making it "simple" isn't that simple! There are lots of elements to juggle and I wanted the book to have a seamless flow. I also hoped the reader would want to keep turning the page to see where Sophie and Bear would head next and how (and if) they'd reunite.

OB:

The characters in this book are on a road trip across Canada. How did you decide which features of each province you would highlight?

FW:

I did a lot of reading and thinking about Canadian places — and the alphabet. I wanted to highlight aspects of the Canadian landscape that would be a little unusual but also recognizable, and of course fit into the alphabet format. For instance "C" is for chowder for Nova Scotia and "D" is for dog, the duck-tolling retriever, the official Nova Scotia dog. Sean Moore's bold and bright art added animation and even more humour to the text.

OB:

When you are writing a book that you know will be illustrated, do you have a picture in your mind of what the illustrations should look like, or are you happy to be surprised by your illustrator's interpretation?

FW:

You can't help but have pictures in your mind. I'm very visual so I know I'll always be surprised when I see the art and it will never look like the images in my head. But how could it? Luckily it's been a good surprise. I like the clean, vibrant style of Sean's art.

OB:

You have written books for children of all ages. Is there a particular age group that you love writing for the most?

FW:

I love writing in a variety of genres but the tight format and multi-levels you need to address make picture books the most challenging to write. Picture books for me are also the most satisfying to get right.

OB:

How does your writing process differ when you are writing a chapter book versus a picture book?

FW:

I generally pick up and put down a picture book text "in progress" over a longer period of time than a longer text. I need to give the picture book a "rest" so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Once I've written an outline, I tend to keep going straight through till I've finished a chapter book.

OB:

What are three of your favourite children's books? (These could be titles that have stayed with you since childhood, a new book you read last year, or anything in between!)

FW:

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is brilliant, has wonderful cadence and is a pleasure to re-read. I love the rhythm and personality of Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber is a gem of timing. Waber also knows the way kids behave and speak.

But there are so many more wonderful picture books out there. Those are three that popped into my mind right away.

OB:

What are you working on right now?

FW:

I'm writing picture books, a new concept book for Sophie and Bear, another Canadian Flyer Adventure and three non-fiction books. I'm also developing some proposals for both fiction and non-fiction. And then there are the beginnings of ideas that are buzzing around in my head at an early stage. There are stories everywhere so you never know when you'll stumble upon a great new idea and say, "Yes! I have to try that!"


Frieda Wishinsky has written many beloved and bestselling books for children. Her books have earned numerous accolades, including a nomination for the Governor General’s Award. She is the author of Where Are You, Bear?; You're Mean, Lily Jean; Each One Special and What's the Matter with Albert?, among others. Originally from New York, she now lives in Toronto. Visit her at her website, friedawishinsky.com.

For more information about Where Are You, Bear? please visit the OwlKids website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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