The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Allan Wolf
Allan Wolf is the two-time winner of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award, as well as Bankstreet College’s prestigious Claudia Lewis Award for Poetry, Allan Wolf is the author of picture books, poetry, and young adult novels. Booklist has named his historical verse novel, The Watch That Ends the Night, one of “The 50 Best Young Adult Books of All Time.” Wolf’s books for young people showcase his love of research, history, science, and poetry.
Also a skilled and seasoned performer of 30 years, Allan Wolf’s dynamic author talks and poetry presentations for all ages are meaningful, educational, and unforgettable. Florida Reading Quarterly calls Wolf “the gold standard of performing poetry.” Wolf believes in the healing powers of poetry recitation and has committed to memory nearly a thousand poems. Wolf has an MA in English from Virginia Tech where he also taught. He moved to North Carolina to become artistic and educational director of the touring group Poetry Alive!. Wolf is considered the Godfather of the Poetry Slam in the Southeast, hosting the National Poetry Slam in 1994, forming the National Championship Team in 1995, and founding the Southern Fried Poetry Slam (now in its 27th year).
Allan’s the author of 13 books, including YA novels The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party (2020) and Who Killed Christopher Goodman? (2019) and picture books Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from a School Garden, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (2022), No Buddy Like a Book illustrated by Brianne Farley (2021), The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space and Back Again illustrated by Anna Raff (2019), and a poem in the anthology Construction People by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Ellen Shi (2020).
Allan’s newest picture book, The Blanket Where Violet Sits, releases tomorrow.
Welcome Allan, tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book and/or poem to write?)
I started writing and performing for kids in 1988 when I was 25 years old. You can do the math. When and where I actually write depends on what else is happening in my life (raising children, illness, presentation gigs, new episodes of Umbrella Academy, etc.). Poetry and picture books, I can tackle anywhere. Novels I often have to leave my house for days at a time.
Oh those pesky novels. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Every comic book ever written. Doctor Doolittle. EB White’s Charlotte’s Web. Anything by Roald Dahl. But most of all The BFG. Remember Pardon Me You’re Stepping on My Eyeball by Paul Zindel? I loved novels that depicted young people doing something (usually dangerous) all on their own.
What was your inspiration for The Blanket Where Violet Sits?
I set out to show how a tiny person could be at the “center” of the known universe. And the cumulative House that Jack Built format seemed perfectly suited to telescope outward. I added a lyrical element by giving it a softer rhyming sound that is reminiscent of Good Night Moon. That lyrical rhyming component gives it a soporific bedtime-story feel.
It really did soften it into a lullaby. How long did it take The Blanket Where Violet Sits to go from idea to publication?
Short answer: Four years.
Interesting answer: Violet was actually a poem that I wrote for my book of poems about the solar system and outer space, The Day the Universe Exploded My Head which came out in 2019. It was edited out of that collection, but someone at a Candlewick Press marketing meeting suggested that it would make a great stand-alone picture book. The illustration contract initially went to someone else. I was so inspired by those early drawings that I wrote two more Violet books, anticipating a series. But that first illustrator pulled out of the project, so we were forced, literally, to go back to the drawing board. That’s when the amazing Lauren Tobia came aboard, and the rest is history.
I love what Lauren's done with the illustrations. If you could meet anyone real or literary who would that be? Why?
John Keats, because I want him to know what an impact his poetry has had on me an many others.
Is there something you want your readers to know about, or take away from, The Blanket Where Violet Sits?
I want readers to know that, when we are loved and love others in return, we become the center of the known universe.
That's a wonderful message. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing children’s books?
The initial generative stage, going from imagination to blank page.
Is fiction easier or harder for you than poetry?
Writing fiction is approximately 100,000 times more difficult for me than writing poetry and picture books.
Maybe you need to write your fiction as verse novels? How about writing The Blanket Where Violet Sits in particular?
Actually, Violet was relatively easy and relaxed. In part because of the prescriptive cumulative structure. And in part because of the repetition and rhyme. Also, because I was in the midst of writing poems for the Exploded Head collection, I was already in the zone, mentally.
Poetry and it's constraints (if they don''t drive you crazy) can be helpful in codifying an idea. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Lauren Tobia’s illustrations?
I was taken aback at how authentically Lauren Tobia was able to depict and showcase the love that Violet’s parents have for her.
That's one of the best things about this book! What is your favorite spread?
Text © Allan Wolf, 2022. Image © Lauren Tobia, 2022.
There is a double page spread in which Violet sits in the bottom left corner, cuddled by her parents, as they look into a telescope drawing the viewers’ eyes upward to the upper right corner where the moon is shown in the telescope’s outer lens. It’s wonderful.
I love the snuggle and way the moonlight plays across their faces and the rest of the spread. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’ve got a few really exciting projects in the works. My latest collection of poems is Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from a School Garden, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (3/2022). My latest historical novel about the Donner Party, The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep, will be coming out in paperback in October.
Works in progress include a graphic novel, illustrated by Jose Pimienta, in layout stages about the Lake Peigneur oil drilling disaster of 1980 that I’m over the moon about. I’ve got a picture book in the illustration phase, titled How to Tantrum Like a Champion, which will outline how to properly have a melt-down in ten easy steps. Of course, the trick is that by the tenth step the reader has somehow actually calmed down. And another poetry collection is on the way, The Gift of a Broken Teacup: Poems of Mindfulness and Meditation. A few other things, but they are top secret.
These all sound interesting, congrats. It'll be fun to keep an eye out for them. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
As someone who has lived my whole life in the Appalachian Mountains, I have to say my favorite forest is where I live in Asheville, NC, at the confluence of the North Carolina Blue Ridge and the Tennessee Smokies.
National Park you’d most like to see?
Yellowstone. I did a good bit of research on Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho while writing my Lewis & Clark novel, New Found Land. But I’ve never been there except in my imagination. So, I hope to remedy that.
Thank you, Allan, for sharing with us a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of The Blanket Where Violet Sits.
To find out more about Allan Wolf, or to contact him: