“Read and write and draw and practice. Create a space of your own where you feel safe enough to create, and try to visit that place each day.” I’m sharing Elisa Kleven’s wise words with my kids and all my writing club kiddos too. All kids (and adults) need a “safe place” and for those of us that enjoy writing and/or drawing (or any creative outlet), finding that safe place to create gives us a sense of belonging and builds our confidence. I’ve enjoyed interviewing many authors, and I’m especially biased towards Elisa Kleven as her warmth, humility and creativity invite me to connect more deeply with her work. You will find the same in her responses . . .
What experiences, people, and/or books were influential in your life, leading you to write your own children’s books?
My mother and grandmother were both artists and their creativity had a huge influence on my own. My mother created etchings and prints, often using found or cast‑off objects which she would form into new works of art. From her I learned to value the beauty and mystery of what otherwise might be overlooked, everyday objects, and the magic of recycling and reworking materials. My grandmother made sculptures from clay. I loved to watch her turn inert clay into beautiful characters, both human and animal.
As a child, I also spent hours making up stories about the dolls and characters I’d make from clay, paper, and anything else that appealed to me (walnut shells, dried apples, etc.) Giving these characters stories and settings was great preparation for my work as a picture book creator.
In addition to art, my childhood was full of books. My favorites were Andersen’s Fairy Tales, The “Little House” Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories, Leo Politi’s picture books, ELOISE by Kay Thompson, THE SNOWY DAY, by Ezra Jack Keats, THE SECRET GARDEN, by Francis Hodgson Burnett, and many others!
When did you begin writing children’s book manuscripts?
In my early twenties, while working as an elementary school teacher.
What was the first book you got published?
My first book was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1988.
How many books have you written that are published?
I am working on my 35th picture book (half of those are my own stories, and half I illustrated for other authors.)
Which of your books is your favorite and why?
I put a lot of love and energy into each of my book projects . However , I do like some more than others. I think that THE PAPER PRINCESS is the most satisfying story I’ve written, as it touches on many themes from my own life ‑‑ losing one’s creator/mother early in life, going off into the world and “completing” oneself, and making new friends in unexpected ways. And I think I am very much like my crocodile character Ernst, who is a younger child (I had four older siblings) , an artist and a dreamer. Ernst loves to wonder “what‑if”, and as a storyteller, I do, too.
What was the inspiration for your main character of your favorite book?
The inspiration for ERNST, my childlike crocodile, came to me after seeing a real crocodile with big brown eyes and a crooked, crocodile smile. I liked the mixture of sadness and happiness that the croc’s zigzag smile contained, and the look of wonder in its deep eyes. Of course, the croc may or may not actually have been happy or sad or full of wonder, but I read these qualities into the intriguing creature.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Inside, outside, and upside down. I’ve been inspired by my own dreams, quotes from Shakespeare, my own childhood memories, feelings and events my two children experienced, photos of Glasswing butterflies, the sight of rain puddles, and more!
How long did it take you to write, edit, and publish your first book?
I worked on the story on and off for several years before having the courage to send it off into the world.
What advice can you share with children reading your books?
Read as much as you can. Use your imagination ‑‑ create your own worlds in your drawing and in play. Don’t feel like you have to abandon your love of make believe as you grow up ‑‑ I never did, and it has become my career. However, if you want to be an artist or an author you must practice and be disciplined about it; try to draw or write something each day, whether or not you’re in the mood.
What advice can you give to those of us who are working to write and publish children’s books?
Believe in your own vision. Try not to get discouraged by rejection. Read and write and draw and practice. Attend conferences but try not to get overwhelmed by the glut of information out there. Create a space of your own where you feel safe enough to create, and try to visit that place each day.
What are three hobbies/interests you have besides writing?
I love animals, being in nature, and music
Please leave us with a quote from one of your books:
“Because the real sun likes to hide, I’ll make my own small sun inside.”
This quote is from my book SUN BREAD, and comes from the mouth of the main character, who is a baker (and a dog.) Because the real sun refuses to come out, the baker creates a warm golden sun from bread dough ‑‑ which in turn warms up the whole winter‑weary town and even lures the real sun out from its hiding place behind the clouds. It reflects my feeling about making pictures and stories: the world can be cold, but by being creative I can warm myself up and make my own weather, as it were. If I’m lucky, my books reach readers, and nourish, warm, and inspire them as well.
Connect with Elisa Kleven on Facebook and on her website: www.elisakleven.com
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Free lesson plans including correlating questions, crafts, & activities to great kids’ books: