Do you ever long to be different, to embrace the many colors of who you are? Author Candace Amarante explores this theme of self-expression in the children’s picture book The Pheasant’s Tale or … was it its Tail?
When did you realize that you were a writer?
I realized I was a writer when all I could think about was getting my other duties and obligations out of the way, so I could write creatively. I discovered my love of writing children’s books while working on my dissertation in political science. Upon completion of a chapter, I would treat myself by writing a story. By the time I finished my thesis, I had six children’s book manuscripts under my belt, three of which have been published.
What inspired you to write a children’s picture book?
A rather amusing misunderstanding that occurred with my daughter. She was and still is a clear and articulate chatterbox. A few years ago, she came home from daycare speaking incomprehensible words. I thought something had gone awry with her verbal ability and was about to call the doctor, when my husband stopped me and suggested that I talk to our daughter more and tell her stories. I did just that, making up stories on our metro rides to and from daycare.
Shortly thereafter, my husband and I found out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our daughter’s verbal ability; she had been repeating words and phrases from a little girl in her class from Hong Kong and was actually speaking to us in Cantonese! From this serendipitous experience, the seed for storytelling was planted in me and has been growing ever since.
What are your favorite things about children’s picture books?
Imaginative stories with vivid illustrations from author/illustrators like Phoebe Gilman, Camille Garoche (Princesse Camcam), and Brian Selznick; stories with lots of lyrical descriptions like those by L.M. Montgomery and E. B. White as well as stories that touch on social subject matters and are written in an uncompromising and honest manner by authors such as Harper Lee, Virginia Hamilton, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, and Jacqueline Woodson.
Historical fiction is another one of my favorite genres in children’s books, and I’m partial to authors like Mildred D. Taylor, Paula Fox, Jack Gantos, and Avi, to name a few. I also like quirky and wacky stories from authors like Roald Dahl and David Walliams. I’m a sucker for charming and endearing stories by writers like Katherine Applegate and Rob Buyea. Another thing I truly appreciate in children’s books is originality, which I’ve found mostly in the tales of my all-time favorite children’s book author, Gianni Rodari.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of reading?
Aside from improving writing skills, I’m hardly ever bored when I read. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, so when I’m on the verge of boredom, I preempt it by reading.
Did you have a concept for the illustrations in The Pheasant’s Tale or … was it its Tail?, or did your illustrator come up with the concept on her own?
Veronika Gruntovskaya, my illustrator, came up with the concept on her own. She had me choose from two styles: one that was more artistically elaborate and detailed, and another that was more comical with vibrant colors. I opted for the latter as I felt that it would be more appealing to children.
What is the main message you are communicating with your book?
I really didn’t have a message in mind when I wrote the book. My sole intention was to tell a story that would delight children. However, if a message could be derived from The Pheasant’s Tale or … was it its Tail? it would be one that encourages cooperation, teamwork, and friends making sacrifices to help each other, along with the pursuit of self-expression.
Do you have aspirations to write another book?
Yes, I do! In fact, I have several manuscripts for which I am currently seeking publication. They include a short chapter book, a historical fiction novel, a project in the medical humanities — which consists of writing stories that incorporate the voice of children with chronic illnesses — and a picture book series for reluctant readers.
Interested in reading something by Candace Amarante? Get a copy of The Pheasant’s Tale or … was it its Tail? here!