Monday, September 1, 2008

Michigander Monday: Nancy Shaw

Many years ago, when I was brand new to writing for children, I started chatting with another attendee at an SCBWI-Michigan event. The person I spoke with was approachable, encouraging, smart, and wryly funny. A quick glance at her nametag told me her name was Nancy, but I was astounded when I realized a bit into our conversation that the Nancy I was speaking with was none other than Nancy Shaw. Nancy Shaw! And she was talking to me! Extraordinary. After so many years of enjoying her wonderful books with my kids, to meet such a talented person in person was an amazing treat; and to also discover that she was down-to-earth and friendly was icing on the cake. To this day she remains to my mind the face of the welcoming community of children's book writers and illustrators.

It's my sincere pleasure to have one of my all-time favorite people in the world of children's books here on my blog today, Nancy Shaw.

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Nancy: When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. I grew up in Midland, reading a lot, and by the time I was in high school I realized I was hooked on words. I got a job shelving books at the Ann Arbor Public Library while I was a U-M student, which brought me back to picture books. I started trying to write them at that time, but it was almost 20 years later that I had one published. My kids liked silly books. It took persistence and noticing what my children were interested in to distill a story that people would want to read. It often takes me a long time to make things work (and it helps to have a good critique group).

One of the best things about writing picture books is what other people bring to the words. My editors have helped me shape the stories. The illustrators see them in a fresh way. With Raccoon Tune, I also heard the story anew, as the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra commissioned a concert piece. I had a simple raccoon tune going through my head when I was writing, but Joshua Penman's music was a very different way of telling the story musically. And to see and hear it performed--wow!

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your new book!

Nancy: My new book is Sheep Blast Off! The flock stumbles aboard a spacecraft from the Alfalfa Centauri star system, and accidentally set it into orbit. Somehow they also manage to perform a spacewalk. The illustrator, Margot Apple, has left an alien sheep aboard--he was in the bathroom when the rest of his crew got off--and he handles the re-entry, using the autopilot system.

Debbie: And your other books, and any books and projects on the horizon?

Nancy: Next up will be Bunnies Behaving Badly, my first non-rhyming picture book. The bunnies bicker, brag, bash block buildings, and more. They're thoughtless, and it takes a lot to embarrass them into behaving better. They're toddler surrogates.

I have numerous stories and poems I am working on, from toddler to middle-school age.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Nancy: What a thrill it is to go on the road for Michigan Reads! Raccoon Tune is the book chosen by the Library of Michigan for its one state, one book project to raise awareness of the importance, and fun, of early reading. A program guide, chock-full of activities, is at the Library's website. The Target Book Festival kicked off the Michigan Reads! season, and here's the list of libraries that will host programs:

September 11 -- Willard Public Library, Battle Creek
September 15 -- Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland--the library I grew up in
September 16 -- Flushing and Fenton branches of the Genesee District Library
September 18 -- Novi Public Library
September 25 -- St. Clair County Library, Port Huron
September 29 -- Bay Mills Community College and Indian Community Library
September 30 -- Otsego County Library, Gaylord

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Nancy: I love Benzie County, where we used to take our kids on vacation. I'm also fond of southeastern Michigan, where I live.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Nancy: May and October, for the weather and what's in bloom, or turning color. Also the festivals, like the Ann Arbor Book Festival, Detroit Festival of the Arts, and Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Nancy: Too many to list!

Debbie: What's something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Nancy: We have wonderful writers and artists--and scenery, too. We're reasonably friendly.

Debbie: Finally, for our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Nancy: I always said "Michigander" growing up, but "Michiganian" doesn't sound strange to me any more.

Debbie: Thanks, Nancy, for being this week's Michigander Monday. It's been an honor.


Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

I adore Nancy Shaw. How great to read more about her.

Lori Van Hoesen said...

great interview! I've had the exact same experience talking with Nancy at conferences. She's a gem.