If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a SIGNED copy of FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK coming out in April, make sure to comment on this blog post and for extra entries, retweet the following tweet: https://twitter.com/KaitlynLeann17/status/1095291780772155401?s=09
Here’s a bit about Vivian:
Vivian in her world
Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found
Vivian, thank you so much for stopping by the MathIsEverywhere blog today. Ready to dive in?
Totally ready, Kaitlyn. Thank you so much for having me here!
I adore your first book Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking (Positive Parental Participation). What was the first (or your favorite) recipe or art project that you created to match up with a picture book?
Show Me How!
That’s easy! One of my all-time favorite picture books, probably out of print at this point, is Gift Bear for the King by Carl Memling, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. It’s a charming story of a little bear who belongs to an old lady and an old man, but, when the King’s messenger announces that it is the King’s birthday, they decide to give the bear as a gift. There is a wonderful refrain, a tale of obstacles to overcome, and a happy ending. The book was published in 1966 and I started teaching kindergarten in 1967…it was one of the first books I purchased for my class library. And when my own children were born, I read it to them. The craft activity is ultra-easy…make a king or queen for a day crown using a sheet of construction paper, pair of scissors, stapler or glue, and crayons/markers for the child to decorate. And because the story is all about a journey, the cooking activity was to prepare homemade trail mix from healthful ingredients.
You are one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met, do you attribute this quality to a specific person or event in your life? If so, who?
People used to ask me what I was ‘on’ because I was smiling and upbeat all of the time. I’d tell them I was high on life. But seriously, I can’t even take credit for being sweet or kind or helpful (thank you very much – it’s always lovely to hear that other people think well of you) because it is part of my nature…part of my DNA. My older sister used to call me Pollyanna because the character in that book faced life with positivity and saw something to be glad about in every situation. And I think she was right on the money…I am just like that. Which, honestly, is probably annoying if you have to be with someone like that for 24 hours a day.
Vivian and her sister in 1950!
My mother was a very kind woman. And my grandmother, who we lived with from the time I was ten, was incredible–ever generous with her time and always ready to listen, EVEN to a young child.
Your husband was an author too, was he the one who inspired you to write your own books?
Stuart was very supportive of my writing and it was he who encouraged me to write the parenting book after I had retired and our kids were grown with children of their own. But my inspiration to become a picture book author came from the kid lit community itself. Although I’d always had a love affair with picture books, it wasn’t until I saw those writers dreaming of becoming published picture book authors that I realized I wanted that, too!
In 2019, you have THREE picture books coming out, CONGRATS! They are all very unique, from lyrical counting to hearty adventure to inspiring nonfiction. Is there a secret to being so varied in your writing?
I have to give thanks to several factors. First, as I mentioned, I’ve loved picture books…actually, all books, since I was old enough to turn pages. As a child, I loved nonfiction…would actually read the Encyclopedia Britannica – you are probably too young to remember when many families owned a set of those books. I also adored folk tales and fairy tales. And I wrote little poems when I was a kid. So, being exposed to lots of different genres probably is one factor. The second influence, more on the number of stories I’ve written as opposed to how varied they are, has been the 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. The stars were in alignment when I decided to start writing picture books in 2012 because that was the year that Julie Hedlund decided to start her challenge. I was determined to participate fully – and I have written twelve manuscript in twelve months every year so far…although many of the manuscripts never went past the VERY rough draft stage.
Your math oriented picture book, FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK comes out in April of this year. The title is so intriguing, can you tell us how it was chosen?
Four Otters Toboggan
Titles are a funny thing. We stress out about them, right? And brainstorm and make lists of dozens of possibilities. I came up with VISITORS TO DEEP POOL…my critique buddies loved it. And my agent never had a problem with it. But when the editor at Pomegranate bought it, he asked for a different title! He felt it sounded a bit like a science fiction novel! And maybe he was right. Mirka Hokkanen, the illustrator, and I made lists and lists of possibilities. We felt An Animal Counting Book needed to be part of the title…and the editor agreed…and I think it was when Mirka drew what became the cover that the Four Otters Toboggan was added by the editor.
Why do you think the counting component was so important for this book?
Originally, the book did not have a counting component. It was just a lyrical piece about endangered animals that came to visit this pristine mountain river where the character of the water changed as quickly as a child’s moods. But several years ago, I won a critique from Mira Reisberg, founder of the Children’s Book Academy. She felt the story needed another layer and she suggested making it a counting book might work. It was an easy fix…and I think the counting aspect gives the story a bit of page -turning drama. It will be fun for kids to count the animals on each page…plus, Mirka has hidden animals on several of the pages and in the back of the book, she has icons and we invite kids to go back to the beginning of the book and search for them on each page.
What’s your goal for FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN? How do you hope it changes the world?
It might be odd to hope that a simple counting book will change the world…but yes, I hope that this story encourages young people to cherish the planet, practice conservation, embrace environment protection, and help preserve animal habitats. There is a fine balance in nature, but modern civilization often forgets that protecting the environment for wildlife will benefit all of us. That’s why we included a rich STEM back matter with fun facts about the animals and serious information about conservation.
Where is the most interesting place you have written or gotten inspiration to write?
The inspiration for OTTERS came while I was taking a break from fly-fishing with my husband in a remote wilderness area in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Sitting still on a boulder in the middle of a quiet pool at the edge of a rippling stream (I was wearing chest-high waders so I was nice and dry), I watched the water…dragonflies danced, fish leaped, otters paddled by, and overhead, Peregrine falcons circled. It was so beautiful, like poetry in real life, and I wanted to capture it with my words.
I’m so excited to participate in your #50PreciousWords contest this year, can you explain what it is and where you got your inspiration?
The #50PreciousWords Writing Contest was born on a whim. I’d just read an article about Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and how his editor challenged him to write a story for kids with only 50 words. Green Eggs with Ham has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words. And I thought, what a great writing exercise that would be…to try to write a story…but with ONLY 50 words…50 words total. So, I put up the challenge in a blog post on March 2, which is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. And I assumed that maybe a few of my good writer friends would take pity on me and send in a story. Five days later, there were 120 stories on my blog and over 2000 comments. WOW! The winner of the first year–she signed with her dream agent as a direct result of the contest and she now has a bunch of books debuting THIS YEAR…and one of them is the story that won the contest. I couldn’t be happier and I’ll be getting to hug her in person this spring when I am travelling abroad.
I’ve always been a fan of writing challenges because I think they encourage writers to get their work out there and interact with the kid-lit community. This is such a difficult business with so much rejection and disappointment. It’s really important to stay connected with others who are in the same boat because they can understand what you are going through. And every year the contest grows…in 2018 we had 298 amazing stories! This year, I’ll be in Auckland during the contest, but that won’t stop me – I can’t wait to read everyone’s precious words. And I’ll have the wonderful assistance of Maria Marshall, Julie Abery, and Diane Tulloch.
Finally, if you got the chance to spend an afternoon with your favorite author, would you rather: go outside and fly a kite or sit by the fire and have tea?
Although I’ve enjoyed many kite-flying experiences, I have to say that hands down, I’d be sitting by the fire and having tea with my favorite author and any of you and any of your readers, Kaitlyn. Hopefully, there will be some delicious pastry that contains chocolate or raspberry.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com
Oh, yes! At my tea parties, chocolate is always on the list!
Thank you so much for sharing, for writing such beautiful, educational books, and for being so helpful to writers, especially new writers like me!
Kaitlyn, it has been my pleasure to spend this time with you. I love sharing my experiences and whatever expertise I may have. If I can help even one person to follow their dream and built it into a reality,…to paraphrase the great Robert Frost: that will make all the difference.
Here’s Vivian’s other picture books. Pippa comes out TODAY! and Sweet Dreams in May!
If you want to be entered into the drawing, comment and retweet! (If you want to share on Facebook, simply add to your comment with the link to your facebook post for another chance to win).