In each installment of "Three Questions With," we get to know a different writer, musician, or illustrator by asking three questions about their work, process, and interests. Today we're chatting with Betsy Rosenthal, author of PJ Our Way selection, Looking For Me.
What inspires you?
It would be easier to list what doesn't inspire me to write. Most everything inspires me to write, and particularly to write poetry. I've always been a keen observer of people, objects, sights, sounds, and smells. My family is a fountain of inspiration, which has led me to write about them in personal essays for magazines and newspapers.
And, of course, my book Looking For Me...in this great big family, is entirely based on my mom's childhood and the antics of her many brothers and sisters (who are my aunts and uncles). Even ideas for a couple of my picture books came from my youngest son's life.
It seems that ever since I learned to put words on a page, I've been on the path to becoming a writer. However, I took a long detour and attended law school and practiced law for a while. My favorite part of practicing law was the research and writing, and so, after having children, I left the law work behind and returned to my first love--writing.
What kind of research went in to writing your book Looking for Me?
As far back as I can remember I've been hearing stories from my mother's childhood. At every family gathering-my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins would get together and start telling their stories. And they would get so into it that before too long they'd all be laughing so hard they'd start crying.
As a child I loved hearing the stories even though they kept telling the same ones over and over again. When I became a writer, I knew that one day I would want to put down these stories on paper. In writing Looking For Me, I spent many hours mining my mom's memories for details and I also interviewed my aunts and uncles, the old-fashioned way--with a tape recorder.
I came to discover that, although each family member remembered the same stories, each had his or her own distinct version of the events and outcomes and details to share.
One reviewer described the book as genuine history tempered with poetic license. I think that's an apt description. I did a lot of research in order to stay true to the time period--the late 1920s when the family and everyone around them was affected by the Great Depression--and the place in which the story is set--Baltimore. I made at least one trip to Baltimore with my mom and had her show me the row house in which she grew up, the site of her father's restaurant, and the location of other places mentioned in the book. I snapped many photos to aid in my later descriptions of these places. I also checked out books from the library that contained pictures of furniture, appliances, etc. of the late 1920s. And, of course, I scoured old photo albums of my mom's, so I could accurately describe her siblings in the book.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
It'll come as no surprise that one of my favorite pastimes is reading. In my view, to be a good writer one has to be a good reader. In particular, I love to read novels set in a place that I'm planning to visit in my travels, which is another favorite activity of mine. I'm a big fan of traveling, both internationally and domestically. To give you an idea of how frequently I travel, I'll share that I've been to Israel nine times so far and am most likely going back next year. Up until last year, our trips have mainly included two of our children. Since they are grown now and lead busy lives, my husband and I have started traveling with friends. Over the last five years, we've had adventures in Greece, Spain, Israel, Japan, and most recently the national parks of our own amazing country. I also do a lot of walking, usually with my dogs, socialize with friends, cook, attend concerts, and play badminton (I'm not too bad!). Oh, and I'm a big movie-goer.
Betsy Rosenthal is the author of six children’s books. Her middle grade novel in verse, Looking For Me, has garnered numerous honors and awards. It was designated a Junior Library Guild Selection 2012, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers 2013, listed by Tablet Magazine under Best Children’s Books of 2012, was selected as a PJ Our Way book, and won the Children’s Literature Council’s Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry. Her picture books include My House Is Singing, It’s Not Worth Making a Tzimmes Over!, Which Shoes Would You Choose?, the award-winning, An Ambush of Tigers,a wild gathering of collective nouns, and the recently released Porcupine’s Picnic, Who Eats What? Rosenthal was a lawyer before leaving that career behind to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. Her youngest child is a junior in college and her two college graduate children finally moved out, so, in a moment of temporary insanity, she went and adopted a puppy. Learn more at BetsyRosenthal.com.
PJ Our Way lets tweens pick their own free Jewish chapter books and graphic novels each month. Sign your 9-11 year old up at pjourway.org.
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July 19, 2017