Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Monica Kulling

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Monica Kulling

Monica Kulling is the author of more than two dozen books of children's literature. Kulling is well known for her biographies that introduce young readers to historical figures. Her latest book is In the Bag! (Tundra Books), which tells the story of Margaret Knight, the inventor of, among other things, the paper bag.

Monica Kulling talks with Open Book about her new book, why she writes for a young audience and that so much depends upon the red wheelbarrow...

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, In the Bag!.

Monica Kulling:

In the Bag! tells the story of Margaret Knight, born in 1838, who was the inventor of a machine part that automatically folded and glued paper into square-bottomed paper bags. In Margaret’s day paper bags were envelope shaped, or people carried their goodies home in boxes or crates. At its heart, In the Bag! is the story of one woman’s loyalty to her inventing nature in a time when men did not think women could do much outside the home, let alone invent a machine.

OB:

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

MK:

Writing the poem was challenging this time. I always want the poem that begins each book to offer a different view into the narrative. For In the Bag! it took many attempts to find a suitable approach and a theme that I hope kids will enjoy. When I began to think of the fundamental significance of the paper bag, I also found myself thinking of William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The two objects struck me as similar in their simplicity. Once I made that connection, the poem came into focus, and the words came easily.

OB:

With what character (or characters) in your book do you most identify?

MK:

Oddly, I think I identify most with my fictional shopkeeper, Mr. Maxwell. He owns and operates a hardware store in a small community (in a much more simple time than ours) and gets to meet and greet everyone, including the young Margaret and, many years later, the accomplished inventor. My father owned a store and I grew up working in it, so I understand the relationship between the buyer and the seller, and the importance of community within that context. And, of course, I identify with Margaret. She is the hero, after all.

OB:

For what age group are you most drawn to writing?

MK:

I like writing for ages 6 to 8 because kids that age still have a sense of wonder and curiosity about everything in the great wide world. Their energy and enthusiasm is fresh, and I strive to infuse my prose with those qualities to grab their attention.

OB:

What recurring themes do you notice turning up in your writing?

MK:

I seem to revisit the themes of community and connection. Perhaps I idealize the past, but I feel these values were more prevalent in days gone by.

OB:

What book did you read as a child or young adult that has stayed with you into adulthood?

I was smitten with Beverly Cleary’s writing from the moment I read her first book, Henry Huggins. Her ability to convey childhood emotions while depicting the honest responses kids have to life’s trials is an ability I still admire. Cleary’s characters live on, even though she created them over 60 years ago and there’s a reason for that — her kids are authentic, no matter how much the externals have changed.

OB:

Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?

MK:

I’d have to say that most of the people who have influenced my writing life (and still do) are poets; because at one time that’s the writing life I had chosen for myself. Willliam Carlos Williams is on that list, as are Mary Oliver, William Stafford, e.e. cummings, Lorna Crozier, Jane Kenyon and a host of others. I admire their dedication to their craft and the beauty they manage to capture in every line.

OB:

What are you working on now?

MK:

I am currently working on the fifth inventor in the “Great Idea” series, Guglielmo Marconi, and his invention of the “wireless” or radio.


Monica Kulling was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. She received a BA in creative writing from the University of Victoria. Monica Kulling has published 26 fiction and nonfiction books for children, including picture books, poetry, and biographies. She is best known for introducing biography to children just learning to read and has written about Harriet Tubman, Houdini, Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart among others. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada.

For more information about In The Bag! please visit the Tundra Books website.

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

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