Brooklyn-based Marilyn Singer is one of the busiest children’s book writers, often spotted genre-hopping with ease. She’s written more than 90 books for children and young adults, including poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Last year’s Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse (Dutton)—which, in the words of The Washington Post, turned the familiar into the surprising—was met with widespread acclaim.
Its many die-hard fans will be happy to know it will be followed by a companion book of reversos, also based on fairy tales and illustrated by Josée Masse, as well as the audio edition of Mirror Mirror, which Singer will co-narrate. Singer’s latest picture book offering, Tallulah’s Tutu (Clarion), tells the story—in an engaging pas de deux with illustrator Alexandra Boiger’s warm watercolors—of one young ballerina’s school-of-hard-knocks lesson in deferred gratification, complete with the realization that ballet is more than just the tantalizing tutu.
This will be followed by two more titles in the next few years: Tallulah's Solo and Tallulah's Toe Shoes. Singer's Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom, recently released from Knopf and illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a pun-filled collection of rhyming couplets, addressing the oft-ignored romantic pairings of the wild. (Hey, whoever said Cupid targeted only those with opposable thumbs?)
I interrupted Marilyn’s creative wordplay to ask what makes her want to put pen to paper and what she plans to bring readers next.
What turns you on, creatively?
Well, obviously writing turns me on! The fact is, I’m curious about a lot of things—from how tube worms survive near hydrothermal vents to the way individual words take on shades of meaning to why a little girl chooses to take ballet class and what she learns there, besides ballet—so there’s always a lot that turns me on creatively. I think that writers in general are curious about the world around us and that our brains are wired to look at stuff and go “Ping! Must write about that!”
I’m also interested in many genres of writing and which works best for each subject I’m exploring. I don’t like to bore other people, and I don’t like to bore myself, so I’m always looking for new challenges, whether they be the challenge of doing research, which I liken to detective work, or of digging deep to create fictional characters, or of attempting to write in forms I haven’t yet explored.
What did it mean to you to see such an enthusiastic embracing of Mirror Mirror from both reviewers and children?
It has meant a whole lot. I’m so pleased and honored that people like—and get—the book. I’ve heard from teachers and librarians that they’re using it to teach such diverse things as fairy tales, poetic forms, point-of-view, grammar and math. (I’m not sure HOW they’re using it to teach the latter and I’d love to know!) Another reason that I’m so delighted is that some folks who professed to not liking or understanding poetry dig Mirror Mirror and, as a result, they’re more open to reading other poetry. It doesn’t get better than that!
What was it like to see Alexandra Boiger’s art work for Tallulah’s Tutu for the first time?
Oh, it was a thrill! She's so good with character and she managed to capture not only Tallulah, but her teacher, her mom, her little brother, everybody in the book. And her palette is gorgeous! Most of the time, authors do not get to suggest, much less approve, illustrators for our picture books. However, my fabulous editor, Jen Greene, asked if there were any artists I had in mind for Tallulah’s Tutu. I went to several bookstores, and I saw a wonderful book called While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat. I thought the art was fabulous, and I mentioned to Jen that I thought the artist, Alexandra Boiger, might be great for Tallulah. Lo and behold, Jen thought that was a good idea and Alexandra said yes.
Talk about lucky!? What’s next for you?
Besides Tallulah’s Tutu and Twosomes, I have a lot of new books coming out this year and next, including four more poetry books: A Full Moon Is Rising (Lee & Low, spring 2011), A Stick Is an Excellent Thing (Clarion, February 2012), Every Day's a Dog's Day (Dial, 2012) and The Boy Who Cried Alien (Disney-Hyperion, 2012); a rhymed picture book, What Is Your Dog Doing? (Atheneum, spring 2011); and a nonfiction book, Caterpillars (EarlyLight Books).
As for what I’m working on now, I’m writing more poetry as well as a chapter book, and I have ideas for other works as well. But, as I said, I don’t like to bore people (or myself), so it’s time to stop talking and go back to writing them!
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books. When forced to count, she thinks it's more like between 400 to 500 features of book creators over the past five years. Julie received her Master's in Information Sciences at UT, with a focus on children's librarianship. She is currently writing about the untold tales of children's literature, along with Elizabeth Bird and Peter D. Sieruta. Tentatively titled Wild Things!: The True, Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators, it will be published by Candlewick Press in 2012.
TALLULAH’S TUTU. Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn Singer. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Alexandra Boiger. Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.