In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, debut author Michelle Schaub discusses Garcia & Colette Go Exploring with debut author Hannah Barnaby.
It’s summertime! What better way to capture the anticipation and excitement of summer break than with Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, released at the beginning of June. Hannah’s book traces the exploits of two energetic and adventurous friends, Garcia and Colette. Unfortunately, the pair can’t agree on whether space or sea would make a better destination, so they go their separate ways to explore. But they quickly discover that they each left the most important thing behind…and that their two favorite places have more in common than they thought.
MS: Hello Hannah! Let’s launch this interview adventure with a few warm up questions. Garcia and Colette both have very definite opinions on their favorite place to explore. If YOU could choose to explore the world of any picture book, which world would it be? Why?
It almost depends on the season, doesn’t it? Now that we’re deep in the throes of summer, I think the lush landscape of Peter Brown’s THE CURIOUS GARDEN would be the perfect place to escape and wander. I don’t have a trace of gardening ability, myself, but my husband and my mother-in-law are wonderful at it and I get to reap the benefits!
MS: Garcia and Colette each set off on their own, but they both grow lonely for company. Growing up, did you have siblings? Did you ever wish for time alone or did you crave company?
I was the oldest of three, and the only girl, so I definitely valued my time alone! It wasn’t unusual for me to spend an entire weekend hiding out in my room and reading a stack of books. But some of my fondest memories are of romping around outside with my brothers, learning to use a pogo stick and climbing the rope ladder to our treehouse. That balance of together and alone is still what works best for me. And now I have three kids of my own!
MS: I love the idea of finding a balance between together and alone time. I’ve found that pets can help you feel “together” even when you are alone. Tell me about the pet/s you had growing up.
A parade of cats, starting with Merlin and Gandalf (who were named by and inherited from family friends), and we always had them in pairs, for maximum entertainment. My first solo pet was a turtle named Harry, who didn’t last long. I might very well have loved him to death. My brother Jesse had a little gray dove gerbil named Sheila (he named everything very seriously—his teddy bear was called Michael). I always wanted something more exciting, but then I babysat for a family that had a pet monkey and I quickly realized that there’s a lot to be said for pets who are quiet…and don’t require diapers.
MS: I can imagine that taking care of a monkey would be quite a job. Speaking of jobs…Garcia blasts into space like an astronaut. Colette dives into the deep blue like an oceanographer. Besides the adventurous job of being an author, what other interesting jobs have you had?
Almost all of my jobs have had something to do with books and reading: library assistant, preschool teacher, indie bookseller. But even the exceptions were good for gathering stories. All through college, I worked at a drugstore and it was fascinating to see what combinations of items people bought. After college, I worked in a law office as a foreclosure paralegal—I sort of accidentally took the advice of a wise college professor and started right away with a job that showed me what I didn’t want to do. That spurred me on to move to Boston and get a degree in children’s literature, which led to an internship at Houghton Mifflin where I worked for six years as an editor.
MS: With all of your book-related jobs, I imagine you’ve done A LOT of reading. Can you share your favorite first line of any book, any genre?
Even though I’m writing picture books now, novels were my first love, as a reader and an editor and a writer, and I’ve always been partial to the first line of Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” The entire book is a sustained journey through another world, just as the best novels always are, and that line immediately sets the tone.
MS: Thanks for answering those warm-ups with an explorer’s spirit. Now I’d like to ask you some questions about your book. Garcia and Colette go on quite a voyage, literally and emotionally, in this book. Can you describe your own voyage in creating Garcia and Colette Go Exploring?
I first had the idea for Garcia and Colette about five years ago—I attended a dinner for prospective graduate students at the University of Virginia, where my husband works, and I sat between an astronomer and a marine biologist. As I listened to them speak about why they chose those fields of study, I started to hear parallels in their language and their characterization of outer space and the deep ocean. By the end of the dinner, I had tuned out everything else and was thinking my way through a rough draft.
At that point, though, I wasn’t an experienced picture book writer and I was still learning how to write concisely—I think the first draft of Garcia & Colette was about twice as long as the finished book (which is around 620 words). It took a few more drafts to tap into the simplicity of the story so the parallel structure could shine through. My agent, Linda Pratt, patiently waited for me to figure it out and I finally did, on a writing retreat in the summer of 2014. I sent her the new version by email and she called me about an hour later and said, “You did it.” (And then I did a little dance in the airport.)
MS: Both of your characters pack specific items, including peanut butter sandwiches, to prepare for their journeys. What tools would you suggest prospective writers pack for their own writing exploits?
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever gotten was from Tim Wynne-Jones, who told me not to fetishize anything about the writing process. Very few of us have lives that allow us to write at the exact same time every day, or only use one kind of pen, or a certain scented candle. It’s important to know what works for you but also to be flexible about how you work—I’ve drafted picture books and novel scenes by talking into my phone while driving, or writing in a notebook during my daughter’s soccer practice.
MS: Great advice! (I’ve definitely taken advantage of waiting for soccer practice as writing time myself.) For our last question, will you share what you hope kids experience, feel, or learn from reading your book?
My favorite part of reading Garcia & Colette to kids is the moment when they recognize the pattern in what Garcia and Colette are writing. There’s always one little boy or girl who can’t help but call out, “They’re saying the same things!” Those moments of decoding and discovery are absolutely what make books so totally magical . . . and why I feel so lucky to be writing them.
Well, Garcia & Colette is definitely a magical book and readers who discover it are lucky indeed. Thanks for sharing your writing adventure with us, Hannah!
Hannah Rogers Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and indie bookseller, and was the first-ever Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. Her debut young adult novel, Wonder Show, was a William C. Morris Award finalist, and her second novel, Some of the Parts, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year for 2016. Hannah makes her double picture book debut in 2017 with Bad Guy, illustrated by Mike Yamada, and Garcia and Colette Go Exploring, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. Hannah writes and teaches creative writing in Charlottesville.
Michelle Schaub is a children’s author, poet, and teacher. Her work appears in the anthologies And The Crowd Grows Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poetry and The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations. She is also the author of the Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market (Charlesbridge, 2017.) Michelle Schaub teaches middle school language arts at The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, Illinois, where she shares her love of poetry with her students. When she’s not teaching and writing, Michelle loves hiking, biking, and exploring farmers’ markets. You can see more of her work at www.michelleschaub.com.