It’s that time of year again! Parents and teachers are getting ready, kids are getting nervous that summer is ending. To ease the transition back, why not introduce some humorous and fun new books into your school year? As a librarian I love to find new picture books perfect for my kindergarten and first graders. I interviewed Audrey Vernick, who is not only a great picture book author, but a fellow writer friend who I grew up with back in Queens, NYC. Our shared love of reading and baseball (Yankees and Mets) probably harkens back to those simpler days in the 1970’s before cyberspace and cell phones. Audrey is a prolific writer who has four new books to be released in 2016, both fiction and non-fiction. Her newest is the hilarious “First Grade Dropout.” We had a lovely chat about books, writing and baseball.
Lisa: What were some of your favorite books/authors to read when you were in elementary school?
Audrey: I very much remember loving Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read that magical garden-discovery scene over and over. Syd Hoff’s novel, Irving and Me, is something I read repeatedly too, though I don’t know why. I think it was fascinating to be in a boy brain in that way for me when I was in fifth grade.
Lisa: How did Mrs. Falon, our PS 184 librarian, influence you?
Audrey: For me, Mrs. Falon is most memorable for coupling arts and crafts with alliteration and ambitious lyric attempts. Every year, as I remember it, we had to make a “Barney Bookworm” out of a squiggly piece of styrofoam. We may have pierced Barney in the general eye area to string a bit of yarn through his head so we could wear him around our necks. And Mrs. Falon wrote her own lyrics to “O Tannenbaum” to include Chanukah in a December holiday song, memorably rhyming remember and December. But most palpably of all, I remember that Mrs. Falon wore a very generous amount of tea rose perfume.
Lisa: Who are some of your fav picture book authors for kids today?
Audrey: SO MANY! Liz Garton Scanlon, Deborah Underwood. Bob Shea hits my funny bone. Newcomer Beth Ferry is sort of astounding with her perfect debut book, Stick and Stone hitting the NY Times Bestsellers List! I’ll always be madly in love with James Marshall’s George and Martha books. And I could spend years looking at Kadir Nelson’s illustrations and not grow bored.
Lisa: Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction, since you are a prolific author in both
Audrey: I honestly enjoy both–that’s why I write both. I wouldn’t love writing about something I don’t care about–like explorers or clouds or something. That would feel like dreaded homework. But I get to choose what I write about, one of my favorite things about what I do.
Lisa: Some of your books are so funny. (ie. Is YourBuffalo Ready for Kindergarden?,
First Grade Dropout, Edgar) Do you have an author who influenced your
Audrey: Thank you! I had to think about the answer to this one. And I’m pretty sure this is it. Mo Willems broke it all open. Or at least he’s the writer on my radar who leapt over what passed for funny in picture books to a genuinely funny place. I wouldn’t say he influenced my style, but I think he’s the one who gave me permission to be a more genuine kind of funny in my books. People who know me well say my books read just like me talking. For that influence, I guess I’d look toward my family on 23rd Avenue in Whitestone
LIsa: Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your love of baseball. You have a new book coming out next year, The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, about a female ball player and have 2 prior titles about baseball players. How did you get so interested in the sport?
Audrey: I become a stuttery mess when I’m asked this at author visits. I’ve concluded that explaining why you like something is really hard. My preference for purple over white grape juice–it tastes better–is not easy to articulate in a way that really explains it. There are a few reasons. I love baseball’s rich history. I like that it’s played without a clock. It’s a game with an enormous amount of time in it (too much for those who are not fans), and it allows a brain to sometimes get hazy and drift and find the stories within the game or reflect back on another game or just savor the moment. As someone who is not a natural high-fiver, I have hilarious memories of high fiving strangers at Yankee Stadium after some incredible moments–amazing plays in the postseason, Jeter’s 3000th hit, Josh Hamilton’s insane moonshots at the Home Run Derby come to mind).
There’s also the improbability of the game that delights me. In crafting stories, we’re supposed to write an ending that’s surprising but that ultimately seems almost inevitable. On the nights that baseball does that–wow.
To read more about Audrey’s books, take a look at her lovely new website at http://www.audreyvernick.com/