Interview with Jane Whittingham

Jane Whittingham is a librarian from Burnaby, British Columbia, and earned her Masters of Library and Information Sciences at UBC with an emphasis on children’s librarianship and literature. Much like the adventurous main character in her first picture book, Wild One, Jane loves to explore. And every time she jet-sets across the globe, Jane takes pictures of all the cats who cross her pat.

Jane will be featured in three events during Word Vancouver.  She will read on The Quay Stage at 12:10 PM, the CUPE Stage at 2:00 PM and she will participate in a panel on getting published in the Peter Kaye Room at 11:00 AM.  Before you head down to the Central Branch of the library, to meet her in person, here’s an interview with Jane by librarian, Mary Duffy.

Do you have any tips for parents and caregives for suggestions and techniques for reading with their own little “Wild One”?

I passionately encourage caregivers to read WITH their children, rather than TO them – reading should always be a team activity. If you want to raise readers, let your children pick the books you read together – kids are much more likely to be excited about reading when they can choose books that interest them! Then, make reading an interactive experience – get talking! Start with a book’s cover – what do you think the book is going to be about based on the title and the artwork? Ask children to describe the illustrations on each page, and talk about what they think might be happening. Work on making inferences and predictions based on the text and the illustrations – what’s going to happen next in the story? Talk about feelings – how do you think a character might be feeling in a given scene, and how does that make you feel as a reader? There’s so much going on in every picture book, and the opportunities for conversation are endless!

Kids thrive on repetition, so don’t worry if your little ones want to read the same books over and over again! Just be sure to make each reading a positive,shared, interactive experience. And sometimes, if you have a wiggly wild one, that might mean only reading for a few months at a time before taking a break – that’s ok! With reading, it’s all about quality experiences over quantity.

Jane, your new book a Good Day for Ducks will be released on September 21. Can you tell me how living in “Rain City” inspired this book?

A Good Day for Ducks was directly inspired by a winter I spent visiting local preschools as an outreach children’s librarian. The weather was invariably terrible, with Vancouver’s usual blend of rain, wind and overall gloom. But the kids at the preschools I visited didn’t seem to mind a bit! They simply bundled up in their rainsuits and pulled on their gumboots and went out into the rain, splashing in the puddles and playing in the mud. There’s a Norwegian expression that goes “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes” , and it’s true – put on a good raincoat, some sturdy gumboots (preferably brightly colored) and get outside, whatever the weather! Theres always fun to be had if you are willing to get a little messy and go in with a positive attitude.

Your first book, Wild One came out in 2017 and was also illustrated by Noel Tuazon. Have you met the illustrator? How does this collaboration work?

The process of making a picture book is fascinating because it really is all about trust. My talented editor Ann and I perfected the text, after which my work on the project was largely done! I actually had very little input into the illustrations, which is fairly standard. Illustrators are talented professionals who work best when they aren’t being hovered over by micromanaging authors! I was given a chance to look over the artwork before it was finalised in case anything really didn’t mesh with the story, but other than that, it was all in Noel’s capable hands! I can see how it could be pretty stressful for an author to give up creative control of their baby, but that’s why it’s so important to work with a publisher you respect and trust.

Both these books are essentially poems with Wild One having one line per page / picture. This is a winning formula for library storytimes and bedtime reading. Did you plan it this way?

I absolutely wrote Wild One with storytimes in mind. I do a lot of storytimes, and my toddler and preschool audiences tend to get pretty wiggly, so I started thinking about a story that would get them actively involved and hopefully harness some of that energy in a positive way! Wild One was designed to be a bit of a guessing game – kids guess what kind of animal they think the little girl is pretending to be on each page. Once each animal is revealed, kids can then act it out! So, Wild One gets kids thinking, predicting, participating and getting their wiggles out – it’s definitely a librarian-approved combination!

Your third book Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up which comes out in 2019 is a departure from your first two each featuring a poem that celebrates a spirited little girl. What was the inspiration for this one?

Queenie Quail was inspired by a conversation I had with my late father a few years ago. My dad loved watching the quail families that bobbed and scurried around his home on Vancouver Island, and he mentioned how comical and cute quails were and how perfect they would be as picture book stars. So of course my writer gears started turning, and Queenie Quail came to life! Sadly my dad never got to read the story he helped inspire, but I know he would’ve loved it.

You became a children’s librarian just a few years ago around the same time you started publishing. How has been a librarian informed and inspired your writing?

One of the best things about being a childrens librarian is all the amazing picture books I get to read every day! Not only that, I get to share picture books with audiences every week, which really helps give me a feel for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to read-alouds. I also have an increased awareness of the importance of literacy-supporting elements like rhythm, rhyme and repetition. It’s really important to me as a librarian that my books are designed with early literacy in mind. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many great children’s book authors have been librarians, teachers or ECE workers!

You will be reading on the children’s stage from 12-1 with 3 other writers for the 3-7 year old age range but you will also be speaking on a CWILL panel on how to get published from 11-12am. Any preview tips for getting published?

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Honestly that’s the best advice I can give any writer. I have been rejected more times than I care to count, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get demoralizing at times, but if you don’t put yourself there you cant get published!! Also, find and join a community of writers, whether in person or virtually – no one understands how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to put yourself out there quite like fellow writers, who can be a great source of support and encouragement!

Who are a few of your favourite children’s authors?

Oh boy, how long do we have? I’ll stick to some of my favourite storytimes books, just to keep this list manageable. These are books that I can always count on to win over an audience – Bark George by Jules Feiffer, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell , Jane Cabrera’s singable picture books, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter, Pete the Cat (I love my White Shoes and Four Groovy Buttons ONLY), and pretty much anything by Jan Thomas.

Inspiring words.