This week, we're talking with debut author and recent Vermont College grad Kate Hosford about her new book, BIG BOUFFANT, which comes out in March. The book tells the story of Annabelle who dares to try something different with her hair. The delightful story is filled with fun and reinforces the idea that it is okay to be yourself.
Q: Big Bouffant is so fresh - yet, it harkens back to something that was popular a long time ago - can you tell us more about the genesis of the idea. Did you come across a picture of your mom with a bouffant?
Is any element of Big Bouffant autobiographical? Have you ever worn a bouffant?
Kate: Thank you, Gayleen. I guess fashion is cyclical, so it was only a matter of time before the bouffant had its day. I have never worn a bouffant, but I did have big feathered hair in the eighties. My mother went through a stage in the sixties where she wore a bouffanti-ish wig when she went skiing. However, that was not really the inspiration for the story. Basically, my immediate family liked the sound of the word 'bouffant'. We would tell each other that we had bouffants when some family member's hair was looking particularly big. My younger son started saying 'big bouffant' and then I thought up the phrase, "All I really want is a big bouffant." Unfortunately, it took me five years to figure out that the story should be in rhyme, even though the phrase was in rhyme! I wrote many versions in prose, until someone suggested that I write the story like I was singing it. Then it came together pretty quickly.
Q: The underlying message here is that it's okay to be different and have a positive attitude about things - can you tell us if these ideas have personal importance to you?
Kate: I believe a strong sense of self is one of the most important qualities a child can have. In this story, Annabelle doesn't care when everyone else laughs at her bouffant, and when she believes that she is stylish, soon others do as well. They are really reacting to her strong character more than the hairdo itself.
Q: Will there be more stories with Annabelle?
Kate: The sequel, BIG BIRTHDAY, will come out in spring 2012 from Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing. Annabelle will get herself into even more outrageous situations in that book. Stay tuned!
Q: A lot of people mistakenly think picture books are easy because fewer words end up on the page - but it seems to me in a lot of ways they are much harder - each word counts for so much. Can you tell us a little about your process? I bet you do a lot of revising. Has your process changed as a result of Vermont College?
Kate: Yes, picture books present a unique challenge in terms of form. You usually have to make it work in a thirty-two page format. That having been said, I actually find the parameters of the picture book comforting. In novel writing, the writer has to search in a different way for the edges of her story.
I wrote the three stories I am publishing before Vermont College, but I probably worked on about twenty picture books during my time there, and they are in all different stages of revision. The nice thing about picture books is that I don't have to be emotionally invested in only one big project, which I think can be difficult.
Vermont College showed me that writing is a marathon, and one has to be in it for the long haul. We can hone our craft skills and court our creative muses, but we can't foresee the path that a particular story or novel will take. For instance, it is now obvious to me that BIG BOUFFANT should have been in rhyme all along, but it was not obvious for the first four and a half years. E.L. Doctorow says "Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
Q: I noticed your illustrator is English. Have you met her and did you have any input on the look or feel of the book?
I have not met Holly Clifton-Brown yet, but I hope to meet her at some point. My editor was nice enough to show me Holly's sketches before she started work on the final art. I had some specific comments, but the feel of the book was really up to Holly. I think she did a wonderful job creating illustrations that are filled with interesting patterning, layers, textures, and sense of joyousness. Even now, when I read the book, I notice new things that I haven't seen before. I think that is the sign of a sophisticated illustrator --someone who can seamlessly integrate all sorts of information into a visual image. Then the reader can 'unwrap' the image, like a present.
Q: You have a background as an illustrator, don't you? Do you think that helps you to visualize your text in terms of illustratable moments?
Kate: I was an illustrator, but I think I make the same mistakes that all writers make when I write picture books. Even though we all know that the picture book is a visual form, it's easy to write a story that just doesn't have enough illustratable moments.
I've written more than a few 'picture books' that weren't visual enough. Stories that are heavy in dialogue, for instance, usually do not work well, because the illustrator will simply be drawing people who are standing around talking to each other. My teachers at Vermont College really recommended story boarding for all potential picture books. It's important to see if your story has enough illustratable moments.
Q: Do you have any signings or school visits planned?
Kate: So far, I've only read the book to four classes, and they all seemed to love it. When I read to a second grade class, I heard some of the children whisper "It's in rhyme!" We talked about how stories have to have problems, otherwise they are pretty boring. The children were then able to list all the problems that Annabelle encounters in the book. One boy suggested that I write a sequel about Annabelle's brother called Mini-Mohawk. I was particularly pleased by the boys' enthusiasm. I don't see this as a book just for girls. I think it's a book for everyone. We followed up with a discussion about what makes Annabelle special, and the students then wrote about qualities that make them special.
In a fourth grade class, we talked about the book in terms of writing process. We agreed that stories are like a puzzle, and you just have to keep playing around with it until all the pieces fit. One girl talked about a metaphor that her third grade writing teacher used; 'stories are like a meal, and you can't draw the fork out too quickly, you have to give the reader time to taste the food.' We also talked about how we are influenced by the writers we read. One boy wanted to know whether I was influenced by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. (Yes, and yes!)
I also read to two different kindergarten classes. When I asked the first class if they had any questions about how a book is made, they asked: "How do they make the paper shiny?" "How do they make the binding flat? How do they make the cover hard?" Note to self: kindergartners are concrete. Next time, I will choose my words more carefully for that particular question!
The official launch date for the book is March 28th, but the BIG BOUFFANT launch party will be at Books of Wonder in New York CIty on March 4th. So far, over a hundred people have said they are coming! We are going to do crazy hair styles for everyone. It should be a lot of fun.
In March I will do some events in San Francisco and the surrounding area. I will list all of this on my website, http://www.khosford.com/.
Big Bouffant is published by Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing, and was edited by Anna Cavallo. Kate is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.
Enjoy a trailer of Big Bouffant here.