The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Susanna Reich
Award-winning author Susanna Reich has driven big trucks, designed flowers for the Emperor of Japan, and done graduate work in ancient Hawaiian hula—but she thinks writing for kids is more fun!
Susanna writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Susanna has received the Rip Van Winkle Award for Outstanding Contributions to Children’s Literature, the Tomás Rivera Award for José! Born to Dance, and the Orbis Pictus Honor for Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso. A former Chair of PEN America’s Children’s Book Committee, she lives in Briarcliff Manor, NY, with her husband, children’s book author Gary Golio.
Susanna’s the author of Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (2017), Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (2015), Grace and Sylvie: A Recipe for Family (2015), Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, illustrated by Amy Bates (2012), Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin (2008), Penelope Bailey Takes the Stage (2006), José! Born to Dance, illustrated by Raúl Colón (2005), and Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso (1999).
Her newest picture book Pass The Baby, releases on October 17th.
Welcome Susanna, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about Pass The Baby 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?)
Thank you for inviting me! I’m very lucky to be able to write full time, but it took many years to get there. Writing is actually my third career. In my twenties I was a professional dancer. Then I worked as a floral designer for ten years. I started writing children’s books when my daughter was little. My husband and I were studying T’ai Chi with the illustrator Ed Young, and we became friends. Ed was a big inspiration.
What a fun path to writing children's books. Okay, I have to ask, how did you end up designing flowers for the Emperor of Japan?
When I was a floral designer, one of my clients was the Rockefeller family. They were giving a dinner in honor of the Emperor.
Double wow! Sounds exciting and fun. What do you like to do outside by yourself or with family or friends?
I love to connect with nature. Gardening, swimming, walking in the woods or along a beach, and birdwatching are some of my favorite things to do.
They are all wonderful ways to clear one's head and relax. What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Pass The Baby?
I got the idea for Pass the Baby after attending a family dinner. Friends were there with their baby, and all the adults took such delight in passing the baby around the table.
Ha! I remember those days. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
I can’t pick just one! Some of my favorites: The Carrot Seed, Millions of Cats, Caps for Sale, The Story of Ferdinand, Harold and the Purple Crayon, A Hole is to Dig. I also adored Winnie the Pooh, When We Were Very Young, Pippi Longstocking, and A Wrinkle in Time.
These area all great books. Did your experience writing, revising, and/or publishing, Pass The Baby differ from your previous books? What was the toughest aspect of writing this book?
The main difference is that Pass the Baby is entirely fictional For all of my other books, I had to do a lot of research. (Even the for novels because one is historical and the other is set in Paris.) The main challenge in writing Pass the Baby was to perfect the rhythm and rhyme. I have a lot of musical training, and getting that right was really important to me. Rhyming picture books are very hard to do well, which is why so many editors don’t want to see them. Children, though, instinctively respond to rhyme.
I've heard that about rhyming. Congrats on accomplishing it. How hard is it for you to switch to fiction from nonfiction picture books? What do you find most challenging about writing picture books?
My first book was nonfiction (Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso, 1999), and now, twenty-four years later, comes my first fictional picture book. In the interim, I’ve published picture book nonfiction, middle grade and YA nonfiction, and two middle grade novels. When the idea for Pass the Baby occurred to me, the writing went relatively quickly. I guess I’ve proved that it’s never too late to try something new.
*Smiling* Is there something you want your readers to know about Pass The Baby?
Even though the main character is a baby, the book is for everyone.
When you first saw Raúl Colón’s illustrations, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Susanna Reich, 2023. Image © Raúl Colón, 2023.
I’m delighted by the humor in Raúl’s illustrations. I laughed out loud when I first saw the art. What I love best is how expressive the faces are on every page. Raúl captures so many different emotions in just 32 pages.
I love Raúl’s work and agree that the expressions are amazing. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
All I can say at the moment is that I’m working on a nonfiction book for ages 10 and up.
We'll have to keep our eyes open. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Ooh, good question! I’m a big fan of the National Parks. My favorites are the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. Can you tell I’m a beach lover? Last year we visited Joshua Tree, which was amazing and other worldly. Wherever you go, I highly recommend National Park ranger programs. Every one I’ve attended has been terrific.
I totally agree with you! Thank you, Susanna for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Pass the Baby.
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