Interview: Vikki VanSickle – Part 1

I’m so happy our first interview is with Vikki Vansickle! Not only because she is one of Dante’s (and mine!) favourites, but also because she is a true book lover, devoted to the book industry and raising readers. 

Vikki is the author of amazing the pictures books “If I had a Gryphon” and “Teddy Bear of the Year”, children’s novels (including “Words that Start with B”, “Summer Days, Starry Nights) and the award winner YA fiction “The Winnowing”.

She is also the Marketing Director for Young Reader’s Program at Penguin Random House Canada and you can often see her at CTV Your Morning talking about children’s books.

The interview will be posted in 2 parts as we discussed sooo many things!

BBC: How did you become a writer? Did you always know that what you wanted to be?

VV: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Up until high school I was very convinced that I would be a writer, but I was struggling to find my niche and I took a detour into theatre (where I still did a lot of writing). It wasn’t until I did my MA in Children’s Literature at UBC that I realised that my niche was writing for children and I started to take my own writing seriously. 

BBC: What makes a good children’s book?

VV: This is such a big question, but for me, I think a combination of discovery, wonder, and hope is essential to a successful children’s book. I also think voice distinguishes a children’s book from an adult book. I am wary of books that are too didactic, nostalgic, or reflective- these are very adult impulses and I prefer a children’s book to be more present or in the moment. I also like a book with a sense of humour, but humour is so subjective and I can think of lots of tender or impactful books that are not funny, nor should they be.

BBC: I know it’s a difficult question: What was your favourite book as a child? Is it the same now?

 VV: I’ve always been terrible at picking favourites! I love so many things for so many reasons, and my favourite things often depend on the mood I’m currently in. One of my earliest bookish memories was saving up to buy Catwings by Urusla Leguin from the Scholastic book club. I loved that book so much. I have since gone out and purchased a box set of the whole series. I was a huge fan of The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew books, which I devoured. I loved the work of Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who is perhaps most well known for writing The Egypt Game, and I also loved Anne of Green Gables and all of Kit Pearson’s novels, which were so visceral.

BBC: What kind of author are you (Pantser or Plotter) and what’s your process to write?

 VV: I’m more of a Pantser, although I don’t love that term because it doesn’t convey the amount of thinking and brainstorming I do before writing. It may not be ‘plotting,’ exactly, but it is prep work. I spend a lot of time thinking, dreaming, and jotting notes about a book before I start writing. Then, once I’m ready, I move to my computer and the writing comes quite quickly from that point on. I write all over the place, in no particular order, and I try to give myself permission to write whatever I like. Then, after about 80 pages, I go back, re-order my scenes, and generally I can see the shape and heart of the story. After that, it’s revising, filling in the holes, then polishing. 

Picture books are a bit different, I am much more structured and aware of the restraints of the form. I often describe the process like writing a play. Picture book writing (as in playwriting) requires you to build a foundation of a story, but leave enough space for an illustrator to come in and actualize the world. I am not an artist, but I am very visual. Usually a picture book starts as a strong visual image or a concept that I think kids would like. 

BBC:  Reading with children is better than reading to children. What advices can you give to parents, teacher and all adults to help them engage the young readers and improve the read aloud experience?

VV: Ask questions! Stoke their curiosity and sense of wonder. Consider the text a springboard for conversation. 

BBC: We from Book Bug Ca love interaction during read aloud. Instead of interruptions, we believe it’s a sing of engagement and make the story a collaborative experience, as stories can have different interpretations and be experienced in many ways. What are your thoughts on that? 

VV: I 100% agree. In my work as an author and as a children’s literature advocate in general, I am always telling parents to not feel beholden to the text. Adults who are new to reading aloud often read straight through a book, no pausing, no asking of questions, but as I said above, the text is a springboard. Try to ask a question after every page. Point things out in the illustration. Change the pronouns or the names. This makes the story personal and also keeps it fresh after multiple readings. 

BBC: How are you experiencing reading online instead of live due to the pandemic? 

VV: I think it’s a wonderful and surprising silver lining. While I miss in-person events, with opportunities for personal connection, the energy of the room and an ‘anything can happen’ vibe, I’m able to reach so many more people virtually. These are people who may not have been able to go to an event due to proximity, timing, or financial reasons or maybe they’re just shy. It also feels good to be able to offer something, even if it’s a short reading, to parents and teachers and children who are in need of content, a distraction, or a little break in their topsy-turvy pandemic schedules. 

BBC: How it was for you launching the beautiful “Teddy Bear of the Year” just before the quarantine? 

 VV: I was lucky in that I had a few weeks before the quarantine, so I was able to do a number of events. I really do love the energy and sense of occasion that events can bring. This book in particular is about a celebratory event- a teddy bears’ service awards ceremony- so it lends itself quite naturally to a teddy bear’s picnic. I really loved meeting all the children and their stuffies, finding out their names, and why they were beloved. Tundra Books made a wonderful activity kit that is essentially an all-in-one event kit. It can be scaled up or down, is available for download so any one can throw their own teddy bear picnic & service awards.

*** Part 2 of this interview will be published tomorrow along with list and complete information on all her books***

Great resources for all Vikki’s books on her webpage: https://vikkivansickle.com/resources-for-students-and-teachers/

2 thoughts on “Interview: Vikki VanSickle – Part 1

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