Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Susan Ross

Today I am pleased to interview children's book author Susan Ross.  Susan is the author of four hilarious picture books: The Great Bellybutton Cover-up, Say Please to the Honeybees, The Kit Kat Caper, and The Rose and the Lily and is currently working on Emma the Mouse Brings Joy to the House. She has a B.A. in psychology and a B.Ed. with a specialty in primary education. She was born in Toronto and now lives in London, Ontario with her husband, Nathan, and a menagerie of animals.

Good morning, Susan.  Welcome to "Be A Child Again".  Please tell us why someone should read your book, The Rose and the Lily.

SR:  Thank you, Bob.  The Rose and the Lily is a beautifully illustrated fairy tale about Rose, a stunning but vain and spoiled princess, and a homely but kind-hearted peasant girl named Lily. The story illustrates the proverbs “beauty is only skin deep” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Every child should read this book because it emphasizes that character is more important than beauty.

What inspired the general plot of the book?

SR: The story was created for an event at a strawberry festival at London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Initially the princess sent the prince on a quest for the perfect fruit (strawberries, of course). I changed the quest for our city’s children’s festival. It became a search for the perfect hairpin. 

What points were you trying to make in the book?

SR: The media, especially television, is constantly bombarding children with the message that their self-worth is dependent on their physical attributes. The Rose and the Lily challenges this assumption through humour. The story emphasizes that beauty itself is subjective and a matter of perception. As the story progresses Princess Rose becomes less and less attractive to the prince because she’s rude and selfish; Lily, on the other hand, becomes prettier and prettier because she’s kind and smart and funny.

How would you like the reader to feel after they finish reading the book? 

I want people who read the story to have a big, satisfied smile on their face and to realize that they are worthy of love and respect exactly as they are.

The book sounds very interesting.  Do you intend for it to be valuable for both boys and girls? 

Absolutely. The concept of character being more important than beauty is important for all children to grasp. I read the manuscript to hundreds of children and ensured that the humour would be enjoyed by both boys and girls. The princess is hilariously horrid. I made the horse's part in the story more prominent as well to make it more boy-friendly and added a dragon and orgre.

What age group is it best read by?

I'd say 5 to any age for girls. Ages 5-9 (grade 4) for boys.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a book called Emma the Mouse Brings Joy to the House.  It is about childhood cancer. It deals with the issue of hair loss due to chemotherapy in a whimsical and sensitive manner. A family of mice live in Sydney’s dollhouse. Emma the mouse is Sydney’s best friend and helps her through her battle with cancer. Kids and parents will laugh at the mice’s antics. (Parents may tear up in some parts.) The book is about friendship, courage, hope and, naturally, happy endings.

Almost every family has been affected by cancer in some way. Your new book will be a welcome addition to children's books. What inspired this book? 

The story was originally about a mouse that yearned for long hair just like the little girl with whom it “shared” a farmhouse. Thoughts of my childhood friend, who had a type of cancer called leukemia, somehow merged with this storyline and the two concepts began to fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. Thus Emma the Mouse Brings Joy to the House was created.

What are your thoughts regarding the value of children's books to adults?

No matter how old we get, we still want to laugh. A good children’s book will entertain an adult as much as a child. I loved many of the books I read to my daughter as much as she did. My Mother is Weird by Rachna Gilmore, for example, is hysterical. 

Are there any other subjects you would like to discuss or points you would like to make?

In a society obsessed with appearance it is important to assure children that, in the real world, character is what truly counts. 

Who or what inspired you to want to become a writer?

Many (many) years ago I was a storyteller. At one venue a woman came up to me and told me I should write my stories down for my future grandchildren (which I STILL don’t have). I dabbled in writing a bit but didn’t get serious until I saw the movie The Bucket List. Since I didn’t want to “kick the bucket” before getting my stories published, I began writing in earnest. 

Why do you prefer to write children’s books?

It’s fun! I love being a children’s author. I get to use my imagination and quirky sense of humour. I love doing crafts and am able to encourage children to love them as well by including a craft in each of my books. I get to collaborate on the illustrations with my talented illustrators. And best of all, I get to go into primary classrooms and encourage children to read and write for the fun of it by reading my stories and telling children all about the publishing process.

What were your favorite books when you were a child/teenager?

My favourite books were A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read them to my daughter and yes, I’ve read them again as an adult just for pleasure. (P.S. Although I am an atrocious speller, “favourite” is not spelled incorrectly. I am Canadian.)

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?

Yes, because (shhhh, don’t tell the kids) I AM the impolite little witch walking around on my knees demanding Kit Kats in The Kit Kat Caper. (Some people will do anything for a Kit Kat.)

Which authors have influenced you the most? 

I would say Pheobe Gilman. She had craft instructions on how to make a pig in her wonderful book The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs. I loved that idea and have made having a craft in every book my “signature.”

What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors? 

Here it is and I can’t emphasize this enough: BEFORE publishing your story read the manuscript to children, lots and lots of children (at schools, libraries, camps, etc.). Then take your story home, rewrite it according to their comments, and do it again and again until 90% of the kids love it. (You’ll never please everyone so don’t even try.) Praise from your family and friends is NOT enough of a reason to publish your book. 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you "grew up"?

I always wanted to be a teacher. As a child I would put my many stuffed animals in a circle around my blackboard and “teach” them.

What do you do in your free time?

What free time? Oh, you mean when I’m not writing, editing, collaborating with my illustrator, researching, marketing, selling… that free time. Well, I garden; I take my teeny tiny dog, Abby for a walk; I watch (too much) T.V.; and I read historical romance and thrillers, usually with Lucy the rabbit. (We’re always joined by Abby and sometimes joined by Theo and/or Moses, my cats. If I’m on the porch, odds are you will find Lucy, Abby and Theo snuggled together on my lap. Either they’re very small or I have a very big lap.) Oh, and I eat chocolate. Anybody have any…Kit Kats?

What's your favorite season/weather? 

I like spring and fall. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. (Hmmm, I sound like baby bear which is appropriate since I generally hibernate during winter.) In spring I look forward to gardening. In fall I love the leaves changing colour.

What's the best advice anyone has ever given you? 

You have nothing to lose by trying. (Just be fiscally responsible.)

Susan, thank you very much for your time.  I wish you the best of luck with your great books.  Dear readers, Susan's books are available on Amazon.  Please take a look.