Welcome to the first of a series of blog interviews with authors of children's books!
We begin with Carolyn Wilker, whose recently published picture book, Sophie and the Giant Boy had it's virtual launch party the end of last month.
Thank you again for participating in my children’s author interview series!
Thank you, Regan, for the opportunity.
To begin with, please tell me a bit about yourself—your background in writing for children and in other genres.
I studied Early Childhood Education and worked with children in preschool and day care centres, then after being home with my children, I took on a variety of other creative jobs, including a sewing business, before starting to write and edit. Attending writer’s conferences was part of my learning, then experimenting with various genres including book reviews, inspirational writing, devotional, op-ed, and poetry. In the early days, I wrote stories for children as well.
My work has been published in a variety of places, regional to international. And now I’m writing, and doing storytelling. Also editing, after taking courses from Ryerson.
You launched your most recent picture book, Sophie and the Giant Boy, the end of April. What inspired the premise? How did this story come to be?
Due to circumstances, I launched the book in April, months after the book came off the press.
The story came, I suppose, as any story does, often by surprise. I was driving on the expressway one day and noticed vines on the tops of sound barrier walls. It looked somewhat like fingers on the top, as if someone was trying to climb that wall.
Being trained to keep pen and paper with me, I kept the idea in mind until I reached my destination. Knowing it would be awhile until I was back home, I took a few notes. When I returned home, I reread the note, sat at my computer and the story spilled out. There was no intended theme, it just evolved.
At your launch party, I believe I heard you mention that your illustrator, Bear Graves, based Sophie on a real-life young girl you know…are you able to talk a bit about that? How did you come up with the “giant” characters?
Yes, she did ask. Everyone works differently. I thought that since Sophie was about 5 and her bright and cheerful character was a lot like my 5-year-old granddaughter, Mya, that she would be the perfect model. She acted like the character and even looked like what I had in mind. I provided a couple of photos.
I didn’t have a person for the giant boy character. I only knew that he might be a few years older since he was missing a couple of front teeth, that he would be much taller and that he had red hair and freckles. Based on one of those characteristics, I decided that the boy’s name should be Lenny, what my extended family lovingly calls my husband. That’s the only borrowed feature.
As the story evolved, it just seemed natural that Lenny’s Dad should go looking for him, so that’s where the other giant came from. And Lenny’s father would have similar features.
Bear’s sketches evolved and were just what I had envisioned, only better. The theme became clear as we put the book together and I had to consider how to describe the story to others. I remembered that my childhood friend Gayleen had to contend with being small all her life, and how so much of life was a challenge for her. As well as dedicating this book to my grandchildren who often inspire me, I felt that my childhood friend should be included there too.
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Bravery despite one’s size is a strong theme in your book. What made you want to tackle this particularly? What else do you hope children and parents take away from this story?
I wrote the story to entertain, but it became clear that there are things a person can do, despite their size, to help others. Courage was part of the package that I also had to exercise as a child. Children will take from the story what they need. The book was not intended to be didactic.
What scene from the book is your favourite, and why?
It’s hard to choose just one, but I love that little Sophie could take care of a much bigger Lenny in so many ways. I love the sandwich making, and how Lenny rubs his tummy after eating the sandwich, but I always giggle when Sophie reacts to the snoring, sleeping mound under the blankets.
What was the most challenging part of writing or creating this particular picture book?
After the initial writing, I went to a storytelling night. This is oral storytelling at a place called the Story Barn in Baden, Ontario. That night I chose to tell the story I’d just written. I learned my first lesson in oral storytelling, that telling is different than reading. The story translated well for oral storytelling and I took Sophie lots of places to different audiences before she had her own book. The story evolved further in fine tuning, getting ready for publishing, but the characters and plot stayed essentially the same. All of it was a learning process and I’ve learned not to hold on too tightly to my original wording. It can always be made better.
Where do your ideas for stories generally come from?
Asking “What if?” questions and observing what’s around me. And sometimes inspiration from the fertile minds of small children around me.
How was the experience of holding a virtual/zoom launch party for your book during this pandemic?
The technology was challenging, but it’s a novel way of reaching an audience in a time we cannot be together physically or attend book fairs. Fellow author, Donna, and I had done a launch last August (2020) for our combined book. The launch was successful and welcomed, so it seemed like a good idea for the picture book too. I needed to choose a time that suited families with young children for the story reading and come up with an activity for participation.
When I invited families to unmute their mics and turn on their cameras, I saw and heard the children and their questions and their answers to my question. I loved that interaction. Harder to scroll back and forth to see all their delighted faces, but I saw most of them involved. Some of them more reserved but definitely tuned in.
Please tell me more about your other books.
My first book, Harry’s Trees, started as a family project after my Dad died in 2016. I wanted to share with my grandchildren, great nieces and great nephews about their great grandfather’s passion for trees. After the family book, the general market book came next and I had it translated into French (Les arbres de Harry) the year after. I’m grateful to my illustrator, Maja Wizor, for her work on the book and succeeding versions.
My first book, Once Upon a Sandbox is a memoir in part, a collection of stories and poems about growing up on a family farm in the 50s and 60s. Piece by Piece is part memoir, part inspirational faith-based stories. Travelling Light is a collection of light-hearted previously published poems in various magazines and poetry journals.
Also Discover Your Story; Writing Family History or Memoir, coauthored with Donna Mann, published in 2020. I have short stories and poems in anthologies Grandmothers’ Necklace, Hot Apple Cider series and Wisdom of Old Souls, as well as Good Grief People, where I am one of the six authors.
What’s next for you?
Another picture book eventually. Likely more short pieces and poetry. I occasionally submit to contests and regularly submit to Tower Poetry Society for their winter and summer issues.
Tell me an interesting fact about you—something outside of the world of writing, and something maybe not everyone knows about you.
I was a shy kid and a day dreamer. Loved being with others, but recharged with time on my own and still do. I love nature and photography that I use on Facebook and in my blog Storygal.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and tell my blog readers about your lovely story.
Thank you so much for this time, Regan. I truly appreciate it.