Interview with Nikki Leopold
Galileo Press (2012)
Reviewed by (age 8) for Reader Views (7/12)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Niki Leopold, who is here to talk about her new children’s book “Adam’s Crayons.”
Niki Leopold is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in Poetry, and has a Ph.D. in Art History, also from Hopkins. She writes and illustrates children’s books: “Once I Was…” and “‘K’ Is for Kitten” were published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She taught for many years in the Maryland Poets-in-the-School Program. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, including “The American Scholar,” “Commonweal,” “Poetry East” and “Poetry.” Her most recent chapbook, “Small Pleasures,” won the 2012 Blue Light Contest, and should be out in September. She lives in Ruxton, Maryland with her husband and three cats.
Tyler: Welcome, Niki. I’m happy to talk to you today. I loved to color as a child, so let’s begin with talking about crayons. Why are they important in this story?
Niki: It’s good to talk with you, Tyler, and I loved to color too. There seemed to be something magical about crayons—how perfect they were, lined up new in a fresh box, and what they could do “unleashed,” so to speak. The pages I colored in my book seemed to spring into life, and I wanted to make them all that way. In the story, crayons have the power to restore life to a deserted lake.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about Adam and who he is when the story opens?
Niki: Adam enters the story looking forward to his usual visit to Loon Lake. He is a sensitive, imaginative, and practical boy—a problem-solver—all qualities that will soon be revealed.
Tyler: Adam’s grandfather is important in his life. Will you tell us a little about their relationship?
Niki: Adam and his grandfather are very close. They’ve spent parts of summers together since Adam can remember. They share a love for fishing, and all the creatures of the lake. They have a common taste for pancakes and ice cream, too. There’s another grandfather here too, in spirit: my husband’s, Aldo Leopold, an early environmentalist who infused his family with respect for nature. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to TreePeople, a nonprofit organization that encourages the planting and care of trees.
Tyler: I understand Adam and his grandfather spend time together at Loon Lake, but a mystery develops when the animals and birds there disappear. Can you tell us anything about this disappearance and how it happens?
Niki: Yes. A gifted artist comes to the lake and begins making beautiful ink drawings of the life there. He’s so good that he “captures” the animals and birds and fish in the drawings.…He draws them away. When his sketchbook is full, the lake is empty.
Tyler: How did you come up with the innovative idea of drawing and coloring to make animals appear and disappear?
Niki: There’s always been a sense of mystery, even fear, of artists’ powers. People in some cultures won’t let their portraits be painted or have their photos taken—their souls might be captured in the image. This was in the back of my mind, and I imagined that if such a disappearance happened, it would take something close but different to restore life: the innocent art of crayons used by a child who doesn’t want his grandfather to be sad.
Tyler: What ages do you think will most enjoy reading “Adam’s Crayons”?
Niki: Ages 5 to 8, with a little leeway on either side, might be most likely be drawn into the story. Sorry for the pun!
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about the illustrations and your working relationship with your illustrator?
Niki: That’s a crucial question. Years ago, I took one of Barry Nemett’s painting classes at The Maryland Institute of Art. (He’s now the Dept. Chair). I was working on illustrating a story of my own. Barry liked it and asked me to write something for him to illustrate for his son, Adam. At that time, Barry was painting wonderful groupings of animals. I sat surrounded by them in a little gallery, steeped myself and free associated. When the story was taken by Galileo Press, Barry and his daughter Lainie, an established artist in her own right, collaborated on the paintings. He did the outdoors and animals, she the interiors and people. I think their hands merge perfectly, and that their art has a warmth that mirrors Adam and his grandfather’s love. I find the paintings very moving, and feel so glad to have them for the book.
Tyler: Niki, what kind of feedback have you received so far for “Adam’s Crayons”?
Niki: The reviews I’ve seen of “Adam” have been more than positive, mentioning beautiful paintings for a moving story. My favorite, of course, was a thumbs-up from a little girl.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about your other books “Once I Was…” and “‘K’ Is for Kitten”? How are they different from “Adam’s Crayons”?
Niki: Quite a difference. “Once I Was” came from an idea I used in Poets-in-the-Schools. I encouraged the children to think about the things they couldn’t do as babies, toddlers, and what they could do now. I asked them to mix reality and metaphor: “Once I couldn’t walk, now I always run!” “Once I was the recipe, now I am the cake!” They loved the sense of getting older and more independent. “Rosie” is an ABC about an abandoned kitten who is rescued and spends an exciting first day in her new home. These concept books were fun to write; getting smooth, natural rhymes was a challenge, but I prefer the challenge of developing characters as in “Adam’s Crayons.”
Tyler: Niki, what do you most enjoy about being a writer of children’s books?
Niki: Ever since my parents read me to sleep, I’ve loved children’s books. The voices I trusted, the power of words chosen carefully, the evocative colors, the plots that resolved into calm. Writing a story is driven by trying to find that happiness again, and the hope I can pass it on.
Tyler: Thank you, Niki, for the interview today. Before we go, will you tell us where readers can purchase “Adam’s Crayons”?
Niki: I’ve enjoyed talking with you very much, Tyler. “Adam’s Crayons” is available at Amazon.com.
Tyler: Thanks again, Niki. I wish you much luck with your books and future endeavors.
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