FLR: Where did the concept of the Eraserheads originate?
KB: What I remember about the Eraserheads is that the idea came to me in the car on the way home from the Bologna Book Fair a few years back. It just popped into my head and I cried aloud, “The Eraserheads!” I had no notion of what I would do with it but I was sure it would eventually become a book. Often when I’m traveling I get ideas. It could be on a plane or in an airport, on a train, or cruising along in the car as a passenger. I’ve never been inspired while driving, however.
Anyway, the idea is like a seed which takes root and over a period of time, evolves. Over the years, I’ve learned to be patient and let the process unfold which is what happened with the Eraserheads. (In my early days as a writer I would spend hours, weeks, trying to force my thoughts into shape as though they were made of clay until I figured out that’s not the way it worked, not for me anyway.) With the Eraserheads once I had the characters, I began to think of erasers, drawing and mistakes. At some point I decided that I would like Boris as illustrator and the pieces began to fall into place until I had a story.
FLR: When you have a new idea for a book, do you typically select a theme or message first and develop a character and storyline around it, or do you sometimes work in the opposite direction?
KB: I’m not very methodical or systematic in the way I work, at least in the initial stages of a project. Sometimes an idea just appears in my head, like the Eraserheads. Othertimes, it’s a character, Lenny (Lenny’s Space), for example. Very often it’s simply a scrap taken from my own life, past or present. It could be something I see, or hear, or remember. My only strategy after an idea comes is to step back and see what follows. I suppose you could say that I like to get out of myself in order to observe what’s going on within. When I feel I have enough pieces, I start putting them together until I have a storyline. Then I become more organized in my thinking and attentive to detail and choice of words, the way they sound by themselves and together, and within the context of the whole. I love words and I always want to get them just right.
FLR: Your books incorporate such important messages to motivate and encourage children – to explore language and develop early literacy skills, and with Eraserheads, how mistakes are a part of the learning process. Is there a key theme or element in all your books that is most dear to you as a writer of children’s books?
KB: I think the most important thing I strive for in creating a picture book is a feeling of harmony—through words and ideas and how they are expressed. Underlying this is the notion of how we are all connected to one another and to everything in the universe. Our relationships with ourselves, others and the world around us are paramount to me.
FLR: In your childhood, who were your favorite writers and which were the books you loved to read over and over?
KB: I grew up with Robert McCloskey’s books. Time Of Wonder took place near my summer house in Maine where we had blueberry fields just like Sal (Blueberries for Sal). I loved Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon. Virginia Burton’ The Little House was a favorite as was Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel. When I was able to read by myself I devoured the Mother West Wind Stories and The Wind In The Willows.
FLR: How have your own experiences in childhood influenced the characters and stories of your picture books?
KB: I grew up in Maine surrounded by nature and wildlife. My family spent time in the woods, at the seashore, in the mountains and from a very early age I was aware of the life in all of its forms that was happening around me all of the time. This dialogue with nature has followed me through adulthood and it’s an important theme running through many of my books. That’s Papa’s Way, The Great Blue House, A Gift From The Sea all hearken back to experiences I had as a child. Still, other stories, Max’s Words, Baboon, If The Moon Could Talk, have been inspired by my own children and their adventures in the world.
FLR: What is most rewarding and, likewise, most challenging, about writing books for children vs. older age groups?
KB: The most challenging part of writing for children is to fit big ideas into a small format in a way to which they can relate. But when that’s accomplished it is most rewarding. The chance to revisit childhood, recapture its innocence, and view things as though for the first time is a rare privilege and a reminder of how amazing life is.
FLR: What is your advice for writers?
KB: I don’t really feel qualified to give practical advice to other writers. I’ve still not set up a web site or created a blog which I hear is a must. (I hope to accomplish both this year). I don’t read as much fiction as I should. I prefer science. I live in France and so don’t follow the book market as I might or should. If I had to say one thing it would be write for a living but don’t live for writing. What I mean is don’t get caught up in the dramas and traumas of being a writer, nor in plots and characters at the expense of your own existence. Live your own life, find your path, follow it, and that will give you all the material you need.
FLR: Which of your characters is your favorite?
KB: My favorite character from a YA novel would be Dillon from Dillon Dillon. I like his sensibility, introspection, and his way of looking at and interacting with the world. He is a magical character to me. My favorite character from a picture book is probably Max from Max’s Words. I like his originality, playfulness, and ability to think “outside of the box.”
FLR: Are you currently working on or planning any more juvenile or young adult novels?
KB: I usually have several projects going at any one time. I like to wake up and know that I don’t have to return to the same thing which I was doing the day or days before. I tend to get bored laboring over a single story week after week, month after month. So I jump around a lot. That enables me to distance myself from each project and go back to it again and again with a fresh eye. I’m always planning future books and I have many ideas in the cupboard. Some I put aside for months, even years. Some may never be realized but that’s okay. It’s all part of what I do.
Browse our list of Kate Banks titles.