|Author Emily Jenkins' books include Toy Dance Party, Toys Go Out, Five Creatures, My Favorite Thing (According to Alberta) and more
Interviewer Tanya Boudreau: When you were young, did you think your toys had secret lives?
Emily Jenkins: I still basically think this about toys. I don't like to shove them in places where they can't see or breathe. Dolls tend to freak me out because they look like they're judging me harshly. When I was young, my toys had rather mundane inner lives, though. Domestic issues. A lot of sleeping and changing clothes. So in Toys Go Out, I push my imagination rather farther than I did as a girl.
As a child, you lost one of your favorite stuffed animals, Silver Squirrel. Do you own a favorite stuffed animal today?
I still have my old koala. Her name is Tuck and she has real fur on her. She sits in my office.
What was happening on the day you decided to write Toys Go Out? What was the first part of the story you wrote?
I wrote the first chapter first - thinking it was a picture book. I didn't know what kind of creature Plastic would be at all - I only knew her name and figured an illustrator would invent something. But it's not a very good picture book that takes place entirely in the dark, as more than one editor pointed out. Anne Schwartz at Random House was smart enough to see that my idea had potential as a chapter book, and she got me to write more stories about these characters
Which character did you think of first: Lumphy, Plastic or StingRay?
Lumphy. I don't know where the idea for him came from. I just knew he didn't like riding in the backpack.
There's a lot of humor in Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party. Does humor come easily to you when you write?
Yes and no. I think my brain naturally thinks of humorous situations, but I have to fine-tune the dialog over and over and over again to really make it come out funny.
Was it difficult to write the follow-up to Toys Go Out? Will there be a third Toys book?
It wasn't difficult except that all writing is difficult. Mainly, it was a pleasure. I was so happy to revisit these characters in Toy Dance Party and yes, there will be a third book!
I read in your Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview that you would have loved to have seen more illustrations in Toys Go Out, but there were only eight. Which scenes would you have liked to have seen illustrated?
I am greedy. I want to see everything illustrated. Especially when you have Paul Zelinsky doing your illustrations.
How long did it take you to write Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party?
Toys Go Out took a year - but it was the year when I had my first child, so I couldn't work very many hours each day. Often, only an hour at a time. Toy Dance Party was much faster, because I had uninterrupted stretches of time, plus I already knew the characters.
Do you have much say in who illustrates your stories?
I have conversations with my editors. Sometimes they suggest artists and I say, "no, I don't think so" - and we discuss what elements are important to bring out in a particular text. I might name an artist I particularly admire and maybe the editor will be open to checking that person's availability. But I don't get to say, "please bring me a multiple Caldecott-winning illustrator" - that would be incredibly presumptuous. Having Paul was the editor's idea and of course I leaped at the chance.
You and your father wrote a book together called The Secret Life of Billie’s Uncle Myron. How would you describe your writing style in comparison to your father's?
My father, playwright and novelist Len Jenkin, is an incredible prose stylist with a vision deeply rooted in 20th-century American landscape and history. He taught me how to structure a novel and how to avoid writing ordinary prose. Also to be unafraid of writing something bad or stupid - just write the story, you can always make it good, later. But my writing isn't really like his, I don't think. Mine is goofier, more juvenile, probably more mainstream. The Little Bit Scary People (just out this Sept) is the picture book most influenced by his sensibility. He's interested in the strange specificity of people's private lives.
I really enjoyed your picture book My Favorite Thing (According to Alberta). Were you like Alberta when you were young?
Thank you! I am like Alberta now. Meaning, I am highly specific in my likes and dislikes, and rather a bossyboots as well. As a child, I was more timid.
I find the Resources for Teachers section on your web site really helpful when preparing programs for the library - thank you for posting these discussion questions and activities. Have you visited many schools or libraries in Canada or overseas?
Oh, fantastic. I never knew if anyone looked at that page, though I enjoyed preparing it. I have never visited ANY schools or libraries outside of the USA! Most of my school visits are easy traveling distance from the New York City area.
Emily Jenkins is the author of numerous highly acclaimed books for children, including Toys Go Out, an ALA Notable Book which received three starred reviews. Her first picture book, Five Creatures, was awarded the Charlotte Zolotow Honor and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor. She and her father, playwright Len Jenkin, co-wrote the children's novel The Secret Life of Billie's Uncle Myron. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Contributing reviewer Tanya Boudreau interviewed picture book author Emily Jenkins in conjunction with her reviews of Toy Dance Party
and Toys Go Out
about her books via email for curledupkids.com.