The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Pauline David-Sax
Pauline David-Sax is a playwright, children's book author, educator based in Brooklyn, NY.
She writes to satisfy her insatiable curiosity. To fill in the gaps. To reconstruct what's missing or forgotten. She looks around corners. She turns over stones. She reads between the lines. And because she’s a writer, she sometimes (often!) makes things up.
She’s written four award-winning plays performed at Mad Cow Theatre's Women's Voices Festival (2021), Centenary Stage Co.'s Women Playwright Series (2021), Women's Theatre Festival: Occupy the Stage (2020), Nora Salon & Nora Salon South (2017/2019), The Bechdel Group (2018).
Pauline's the author of Everything In Its Place, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (2022).
Her new picture book, The Time Machine: Because it's never too late to apologize, releases on October 2nd.
Welcome Pauline, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your new picture book and your writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. I got my first journal when I was nine, and I’ve kept notebooks ever since. But my first career after college was teaching. I was a classroom teacher, then a literacy specialist, and then a school administrator, before I started seriously focusing on writing in 2015.
I started out as a playwright, and I did that for several years before entering the world of kid lit. My first published book was Everything in Its Place (2022). I’m now continuing to work on all sorts of writing—more picture books, a middle grade book, and theatrical pieces, too.
My best writing time in first thing in the morning, after I’ve had breakfast and my younger daughter is at school. I try to carve out a chunk of writing time before I deal with e-mail and other tasks (though I’m not always successful!). I try to write for several hours each weekday.
How interesting to shift from playwrighting to kidlit. What do you like to do outside by yourself or with family or friends?
I live near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY and I love going for walks there! Walking is a big stress reliever for me, and I also use it to clear my head after writing for several hours. I also like to meet up with friends for a walk.
There's something so special about a walk-and-talk with friends. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for The Time Machine: Because it’s never too late to apologize?
Two writer friends and I were trying to inspire one another to write more picture book drafts. Each week one of us would email the others a prompt, and after we’d gone through three different prompts, one from each of us, we’d gather and share drafts with one another. I don’t usually like writing to prompts, but this felt different because it was from friends! One of the prompts was to write a story involving a machine. At first I felt a little stuck because I’m not super into machines. But then I thought, the one kind of machine I wish I had was a time machine! I’m often thinking to myself, oh, if only I could go back 10 minutes and get a re-do on whatever embarrassing slip-up I just made! And then I started thinking, what’s a situation where a kid would want to build a time machine? What would they want to go back in time for? That’s where the first few lines of the story came from.
I love your response to the prompt. I think everyone wishes they could pop back a re-do something. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
I grew up in the late 70s/early 80s, when there wasn’t nearly as much kid lit as there is today. One of my favorite childhood books was The Monster at the End of This Book (the book with Grover). I was a huge Sesame Street fan! And then when I was older I loved Judy Blume.
This is such a wonderful book. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about or gain from The Time Machine?
The Time Machine is about what can go wrong in a friendship. No matter how good the friend, there’s going to come a time when we say or do something that we wish we hadn’t, or that doesn’t land right, or that gets misconstrued. And the better the friendship, the scarier that can feel. My hope is that The Time Machine encourages kids to have the hard conversation instead of avoiding what happened and hoping it goes away.
And I’m also hoping in general that this book gets kids thinking about how difficult apologies are. If you’re the one who feels entitled to an apology it can be so frustrating when doesn’t come right away. And if you’re the one who knows you should apologize, but you’re having trouble getting the courage to do it, you can feel really upset with yourself. I hope the book helps encourage compassion about the whole process.
Some of the hardest things, for everyone, are exercising compassion and understanding with others and ourselves. How many revisions did The Time Machine take from the first draft to publication?
There were at least half a dozen revisions, maybe more!
What was the toughest aspect of writing or revising The Time Machine?
I think in a book like this, the toughest thing is finding the line between having a message and keeping it a story that will be engaging for kids.
I think you and Melquea succeeded in skirting that line. By the way, when you first saw Melquea Smith’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Pauline David-Sax, 2023. Image © Melquea Smith, 2023.
I was delighted to see that she drew Bailey wearing a colander as a hat when she’s gathering materials for the time machine! I also love how she captured the hurt expressions on the two girls’ faces the day after Bailey says something unkind to Nia. And I love the final spread!
That is a very poignant spread. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m working on polishing some other picture book manuscripts and I’m also in the early stages of writing what I think will become a middle grade novel. It’s a little too soon to say more, though!
Best of luck with these projects! And lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why? (anywhere in the world)
As I mentioned, I love Prospect Park here in Brooklyn! But in terms of parks that I haven’t yet been to but would love to visit, I’d choose Bryce Canyon and Mesa Verde.
Thank you, Pauline for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to get to know you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on The Time Machine: Because it's never too late to apologize,
To find out more about Pauline David-Sax, or contact her: