The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kate Banks
Who hasn't missed something "right before their eyes?" That clue to a friend's feelings, the thing you're missing and just set down - somewhere, or perhaps that opportunity that you just didn't see.
When I first saw the cover, I fell in love with How to Find an Elephant. I am honored to have the privilege to interview Kate Banks, who has won many awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for her picture book And If the Moon Could Talk.
Kate lives in Europe, with her husband and sons. She's written everything from picture books to YA novels. As a second career, she's a certified hypnotist and practicing regression therapist. In addition, she "love[s] playing the piano, doing pottery, puttering around outdoors, and cooking. I especially like making birthday cakes, but I hate cleaning up. And I love being with children. I love watching them and listening to them as much as I love writing for them."
I hope you enjoy this opportunity to learn a bit more about the writing and heart of Kate Banks.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing?)
KATE: Writing has always been one of my favorite activities, and I began experimenting with it as a child. I had a vivid imagination from an early age and, for me, words were the ideal vehicle for connecting my inner and outer worlds—through both reading and writing.
I am fairly disciplined about when I write which is usually mornings. But there is a constant dialogue that unfolds throughout the day as I’m going about my other activities, and I draw from this for much of my work. I always carry a notebook in case I want to write something down and I keep one next to my bed because it’s not unusual for me to wake around 5.00 am with the seed of an idea. Motion gets me into the flow so I often write when I’m travelling—on trains or planes, in airports, in the car. I also love the buzz of coffee bars and tea rooms so sometimes I go there to write. I guess you could call me a ‘vagabond’ writer.
Wow, I love that image! As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?
I had many favorite books as a child. I grew up in Maine and we had all of Robert McCloskey’s books. A Time of Wonder still sets my heart a beat. I love the sense of place he creates and I connect deeply with his love and respect for the natural world and those who inhabit it. Margaret Wise Brown was another “voice” that resonated with me through her whimsy and her feel for words and the way in which she used them.
What inspired you to write How to Find an Elephant?
Some work I was doing with neuroscience inspired me to write ELEPHANT. I am a therapist as a well as a writer and am fascinated by how the visual areas of the brain instruct our experiences, how perspective changes “vision”—both literal and figurative. So I was looking for a fun way to incorporate this into a story. To me, observation is fundamental to interacting with the world and feeling a part of it. And it’s something that is often overlooked in today’s busy world. I am a great advocate of “experiential” learning and ELEPHANT provided a backdrop for this kind of experience.
It is amazing to watch kids in a setting that focuses on experiential learning. I am excited to see how you incorporated it. You have written over 30 picture books, many of these as part of a series. How does How to Find an Elephant differ or compare to these other books? Do you have a favorite type of book to write?
Common themes that run through much of my work are imagination and connection to nature and the environment and ELEPHANT reflects those. The voice, which aims to be instructive but playful, is different than some of my other work and probably less intimate in some ways
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I tend to be a private person so there are many things people don’t know about me. But one of the most interesting (when people find out) seems to be that I had a near death experience in my early 40’s. That was life changing on many levels and led to my pursuing a second career in the healing arts.
Since 2006, you and Boris Kulikov have created five books together, including The Eraserheads and four Max books. As How to Find an Elephant is your sixth collaboration, did you have more contact with each other during its creation?
Yes, Boris and I knew one another through Frances Foster, our editor. And because I had a long professional and personal relationship with Frances we were able to exchange ideas as each book unfolded. Margaret Ferguson continued and encouraged that dialogue with ELEPHANT.
Having written through many “trends” what stands out the most to you about picture books? (either for the good or the bad)
I actually have never followed “trends” in the market—partly because I live abroad and it’s more difficult to keep abreast of changes. But mostly, because I strive to create works that are more “timeless’ in that they deal with themes unique to our fundamental nature as human beings.
I love that you aim to bring readers (and patients) "to the place where head meets heart, where all things are possible." What do you want readers to know about How to Find an Elephant?
I try not to have expectations for my readers. But I hope that they’ll “see” that there are many ways to look at the world and the world can look different depending on where you are.
I really like that sentiment. It is so important, and sadly lacking, in today's society. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)
My father was my greatest source of inspiration. He loved books and was an articulate and extremely well read person—yet humble and measured in his approach to ideas and the exchange of knowledge.
What is the hardest thing, for you, about writing picture books? Do you have any advice for beginning authors?
The hardest thing for me is being patient, waiting for ideas to unfold. Through the years I’ve learned that each idea has its own pace and direction that needs to be respected in order for it to develop into something wonderful. There is always the urge to ‘nudge” it along or force it in some way. But inevitably, that fails or falls short.
Sometimes giving an idea time to develop is tough. Any new project(s) you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us? Are you working on any more picture books?
I’m always working on a few projects at once. I have a couple of new ideas that I’m bouncing off of Boris. And I am working on a middle grade novel about a pair of real life twins—one of whom is handicapped.
You've piqued my interest! Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you are glad you did not know in advance?
The publishing world has changed so dramatically since I began in the 80’s. All I can say is that I am happy and grateful to have been able to experience book making the way it was done in the early years of my career and to have met people like Frances Foster who shaped not only my craft but my development as a person and human being.
What is your favorite animal? Why?
I love cats—big and small. They have a furtiveness that I find alluring and a grace that is lovely to me.
Thank you Kate for visiting with us from France and sharing with us a bit of yourself and your new book.
Be sure to check out the #PPBF review of How to Find an Elephant this Friday.
To find out more about Kate Banks, or get in touch with her: