|Kathy DeZarn Beynette in her studio|
To celebrate the release of this much-anticipated book, we sat down with Beynette to pick her brain about her favorite children’s books, sources of creative inspiration, and one very special pair of shoes.
When you were young, what did you like to read? What were some of your favorite books?
I have always been a HUGE, HUGE fan of Pippi Longstocking. She got away with saying the kind of things I wouldn’t dare to say out loud. Pippi is a superhero for little girls whose most valuable asset is an active imagination that sometimes gets carried away.
I also loved The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, because it is full of tragedy and children left to fend for themselves, with a happy ending. I probably read all of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Our family was definitely a Dr. Seuss family. The Cat in the Hat was a lot of fun for kids who dreamed of being left at home alone. I think marinating in Seussian-rhyme explains a lot about the way I write!
Now that I think about it, all of these books are about children left to their own devices! Maybe a desire to be in charge of myself made them attractive to me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer. When I was a little girl, I wore special shoes. They were special because I had a little trouble walking straight and the shoes would help fix my feet. There was one problem. I thought they were UGLY shoes! I hated them. The day we bought them I cried on the way home from the shoe store. I went straight to my room and wrote an angry poem about the shoe store and its employees who had sold us the ugly shoes. Without telling anyone, I sent the poem to the store so they would learn exactly what I thought about them. A few days later, my parents got a phone call from a lawyer who very seriously told them that they could be in trouble if my poem was ever made public. I was only ten years old. I learned that I could get a big response by writing about my feelings.
|Kathy Beynette in the 5th grade,|
"when I really became a writer."
These childhood experiences showed me the power—and fun—of writing. I was hooked.
When did you decide you also wanted to be an artist?
Quite early there was a desire to illustrate what I wrote, but my brother Joe was such a talented artist that I must have felt too intimidated to try as a young person. I was a dabbler for a long time: calligraphy, fiber arts, watercolor, you name it. It took a long time for me to feel confident as an artist, but when I finally put my work out there and it was well received, there was no stopping me. I cannot stress enough how much an artist can thrive with a bit of encouragement. Last week, I bought a painting at a county fair. The artist is six years old. I think that a few ribbons and sales—in addition to talent—might just help this child on his artistic path, or at least a self-confident journey.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Oh, inspiration is EVERYWHERE. An active imagination is a blessing and a curse—it never turns off. My own private movie is always playing in my head. My pets, my family, politics, and the plight of animals all inspire me. Just tell me a topic is forbidden—like religion—and it moves to the top of my to-do list! Times of greatest happiness, sadness, loneliness, anger, love are all petri dishes where pictures and stories can grow.
Particular artists who inspire me are Klimt, Basquiat, Dubuffet, Klee, Lisbeth Zwerger, Sendak, Hundertwasser, Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, Beatrix Potter. As far as writers go, the list is pretty long and includes Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, Astrid Lindgren and E. B. White who wrote, in Charlotte’s Web, what I believe is the most beautiful line in literature: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
In When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly, your cat Willie makes an appearance to teach us something very important:
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I have ever received has come in the form of encouragement from people who have supported me and my work, especially early on. Whether they said it explicitly or not, I heard, “Keep going. It’s going to be worth it. We think you are special. Don’t give up.” Keep going and don’t give up.
What do you want people to know about this book?
I love this book because it is about my favorite subject—animals. I love to live with them, draw them, and tell stories about them. But though these poems are ostensibly about animals, they are really about people. The rhymes teach children about manners and feelings without lecturing; they encourage children to be compassionate toward animals (even human animals) who may not know socially acceptable behaviors. In each illustration, one of the animals has a human face—a clue that we are all creatures who need to respect each other and behave as well as we can. When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly was written and illustrated with real respect for the children who will read it or hear it, and I hope they will feel the respect.
Interview by Stephanie King, associate publisher/media relations
Images © Kathy DeZarn Beynette
Perhaps best known for her whimsical paintings inspired partly by children’s art, Kathy DeZarn Beynette is also an accomplished writer of fiction and poetry. Her storytelling talent lends a richly narrative quality to her artwork, inviting us to see the world through her characters’ eyes. Kathy’s creatures follow her wherever she goes, but the painting happens in a studio in Alexandria, Virginia. Beynette’s publications with Pomegranate include notecards, puzzles, calendars, and more. Keep in touch with Kathy on Facebook.
When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly (PomegranateKids, September 2012) can be found at www.pomegranate.com and your favorite independent bookstore.