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What books from the past gave kids real-world problems? What's it like to get rave reviews—and occasional critical ones? I feel as though I didn't start out to write a series, but I got so interested in the characters in "Chasing Vermeer," and then I wanted to give them another challenge and another.
Excerpts: NEWSWEEK: You grew up in New York City and saw Alexander Calder's mobiles when you were very young. Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B Entertainment, is producing a movie version of "Chasing Vermeer." When is it coming out—and have you met Brad Pitt? Maybe there's a building I can save, or I can go to the museum and figure out something no one else has figured out. White's prose is just so spectacular, and Roald Dahl's. I've been writing a book every two years at the moment.Like you, many well-known kids' authors were teachers—Eoin Colfer, who wrote "Artemis Fowl," and Jon Scieszka, who wrote "The Stinky Cheese Man." You taught for 10 years, as a writing-enrichment teacher and then as a third-grade teacher. I really spent the past 25 years all day, all night, with kids. You can't write a good sentence unless you've read one. We'll see how complicated it is to research this next one!When did you stop teaching, and how has teaching helped you with your books? I taught different ages, but I became a classroom teacher for third grade. I got to have lunch with the kids in my classroom every day because there wasn't enough room in the lunchroom. Kids really aren't being given the encouragement they need to tackle ideas. In that way, I think these books are both original at this time, and they're rather old-fashioned. I'm glad I'm a plain old mom, and I've been through a great deal of down-to-earth stuff in my life. When I think back through children's literature, it's been quite a long time since kids have been given real-world problems. There are certain big chains that have boys' sections and girls' sections, and I hate that. It was such a surprise what happened with "Chasing Vermeer." I went from writing a book for my classroom to having all this—movie rights sold instantly. Do you consider your books a series since they all involve Calder Pillay (named for Alexander Calder] and Petra Andalee? They start with the idea, what's art about, and they all explore different complicated sides of the art world, and they explore friendship and relationships between kids.
There's no question in my mind that kids love to be given big ideas to tackle. How does it work with your illustrator, Brett Helquist, who also illustrated the Lemony Snicket series?