I connected with Kirby to find out more about the book and the author...
Lee: Hi Kirby! Congratulations on your Crystal Kite win.
Kirby: Thanks... I'm kind of blown away that my little book was selected, and by my colleagues! Wow.
Lee: Please tell us about your book!
Kirby: You know how we're told that we MUST be able to summarize our books in one sentence? I have yet to figure out how to do that with THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL! Though I am not a particular doll fan, when I found a photo dated 1929 of a little Montana farm girl standing next to a nearly-life-sized exquisite Japanese doll, I had to know more: how on earth did those two get together? It seemed so unlikely given the time period and generally fractious relationships between Japan and the US. After a bit of research, I learned that the school children of Japan had each contributed half a penny to create these dolls, called Friendship Dolls, and wanted to send them as a token of good will to the children of the United States. My research included an encounter with one of the dolls, which left me completely captivated and convinced I had to tell a story about them. So, this book tells the story of how one saucy Friendship doll, Miss Kanagawa, impacts the lives of four 11-year-old girls, in different parts of the country, between 1929 and 1941. May I also add that I had a secret hope in writing this book, a hope that one of then 13 unaccounted for Friendship Dolls would be found. That dream recently came true when an intrepid librarian (love those librarians!) in Minnesota went looking for the doll sent to their state and found her, in the basement of the old town library. One down, 12 more to go!
Lee: Okay, that's completely intriguing. Forget the one-sentence pitch, that rocked. And now we all want to read your book! How long have you been involved with SCBWI?
Kirby: I've been a member since the early 1990s, and have served on our Western Washington Advisory board in several capacities.
Lee: Can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?
Kirby: The honest truth is that I would not still be writing without the organization. I've certainly experienced ups and downs in this career and during two particularly down times, I attended the conference in Los Angeles. The first time I went, presenters were singing the blues about our profession, which did not help my frame of mind. Then I stumbled into a session presented by Elise Howard, at that time working for a book packager. Her first words were: "We need you!" I definitely needed that kind of encouragement! As soon as I got home from the conference, I auditioned for the packager and ended up ghost-writing two books. Can't beat a boost like that! The second time attending a conference pulled me out of a slump was shortly after Karen Cushman won the Newbery Honor for CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY. She is so confident and articulate, you can't help but believe every word she says! When spoke about finding your passion in writing, her words tattooed themselves on my writer's soul. Later when I began to write HATTIE BIG SKY, I drew confidence from Karen's assurance that following my passion --despite the fact that "everyone" says historical fiction is a tough sell-- would lead to good work. So, it is true: I would no longer be writing were it not for SCBWI.
Lee: And HATTIE BIG SKY was a 2007 Newbery Honor book! Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?
Kirby: It seems pretty bold of me to give advice but I can share three things that have worked for me. First, I read as much as I can; early in my career, I wanted to write chapter books so I even typed out two of Patricia Reilly Giff's books from her Polk Street School series to get a feel for their rhythm and pacing. Second, I tried to accept the fact that like any craft, writing has an apprenticeship attached to it. My friend, Mary Casanova, says it's about ten years. Regardless of the length, there is time to be put in if you're going to create your best possible work. And the last thing: because there are no guarantees about getting published, and because this career path can be incredibly discouraging, you need to do the things that will nurture your writer's spirit. For me, that has included taking classes in different genres, going on long walks with Winston the Wonder Dog and writing fan letters to book creators whose work I genuinely admire. Trust me, there's nothing like finding a postcard from Kate DiCamillo in your mail box to keep you going through tough times!
Lee: Great Advice. Thanks, Kirby!
I asked Jaime Temairik to tell us more about SCBWI in Western Washington and to share her personal take on Kirby's winning the Crystal Kite Members Choice Award. Here's what Jaime wrote:
SCBWI Western Washington hosts monthly meetings September through May, and the bulk of those meetings use our abundant regional treasures, our local authors and illustrators, as speakers. Besides our meetings, we have an annual conference that attracts over 400 local and national members and is full of opportunities for new and professional members alike. We have a professional retreat in the fall for advanced writers, as well as informal Kid Lit Drink Nights and regional schmoozes for our outlying members' areas. We are also thrilled to offer, in conjunction with a number of our local, independent bookstores, a twice-yearly party celebrating the publication of new books by our local members, The Inside Story.
Kirby Larson is a former Inside Story Co-Chair, and that's how I met her, taking over Kirby's SCBWI WWA Advisory Committee position a short while before the publication of her Newbery Honor-winning novel, HATTIE BIG SKY. Kirby has been an active SCBWI member and volunteer for many years, and when I took over her volunteer role, I didn't realize I would also be gaining a mentor and a friend. If you're a reader of Kirby's blog, Kirby's Lane, you'll know she talks a heck of a lot about birds. Well, I'm no ornithologist, but I know when someone's taken me under their wing, and Kirby has had me spitting feathers since 2004. Kirby has only ever provided me with encouragement, kind words, mentoring, and incredibly generous networking opportunities. I would like to pretend that's just for me, but ask anyone across the nation, and you'll hear similar stories of love, gratitude and praise.
I don't like it when Kirby's out of town, but if it's due to her touring or speaking at SCBWI conferences, I'll allow it because it means the entire children's book nation can now imagine how much we love Kirby in Western Washington. If we could hijack Seattle's mayor, we'd ask him to proclaim us a Kirby Larson Day. Unfortunately, our mayor is very mild-mannered and a hijacking might do him in (plus, he commutes on a bicycle, which is hard to jack) and Kirby wouldn't stand for such violence, so in lieu of a federally recognized Kirby Larson Day, we look forward to presenting the Crystal Kite to her at a big, regional SCBWI hoopdeedoo in 2013.
If you haven't had the good fortune to meet Kirby in person, you can get an excellent sense of her heart, humor and talent by reading her wonderful novels and picture books. SCBWI Western Washington loves you and your books, Kirby, and on behalf of the region I'd like to congratulate you on a much deserved Crystal Kite win.
SCBWI WWA Co-Regional Advisor and Kirby Larson Fan Club Member
For more about Kirby Larson, check out both her website and her "Kirby's Lane: A Place for Readers and Writers" blog.
And to learn more about SCBWI Western Washington, you can visit their website here.
My thanks to Jaime for the hysterical and heartfelt celebration of Kirby's win and for sharing about SCBWI Western Washington, and cheers to Kirby for winning the Crystal Kite Members Choice Award for her middle grade novel, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL!
Illustrate and Write On,