Beth Ferry - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview
I am delighted to share this interview with Beth Ferry - the author of two gorgeous books featured by Lion & Dragonfly at the moment - Swashby and the Sea and The Nice Dream Truck. A life-long bookworm and prolific author of over a dozen picture books, we caught up with Beth at her home in New Jersey. Her answers simply ooze with creativity and joy - I smiled from beginning to end of this interview. Dive in to learn what inspires her, and her thoughts on teleportation, water lilies and lobsters… (oh my!)
Tell us about how you come up with the ideas for your books.
I seem to get most of my ideas by playing with words. Words are so cool! And there are so many of them!! You can play with their spellings and their meanings. Homonyms completely inspire me. I love how you can change a few letters on the ice cream truck and get a nice dream truck. I love how a stick can stick up for his new friend. I love how a grandfather and granddaughter can have a silly mix-up over the homophones tea and tee. I love mostly how I can be reading a book and a word will just jump out at me and I will think, oooh, this word would make a great story.
How did you come to collaborate with your illustrators on your books?
Authors and illustrators of picture books don’t usually collaborate, which seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But that seems to be standard in the industry. Most of the beautiful art in my picture books comes from no collaboration at all with the illustrators. Of course there are exceptions and I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to collaborate with one of the best in the business, Tom Lichtenheld. I’ve learned so much from working with Tom and honestly, have enjoyed every minute. He is such a professional and just an overall wonderful person.
What inspired you to become an author and/or Have you always wanted to be an author?
I have always been a reader. It’s what I did. I didn’t play sports or an instrument. I wasn’t good at art or dancing or singing. But I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. As a child, I wanted to be a full-time reader. I went on to major in English in college, and wrote a lot of essays, but it wasn’t until I rediscovered picture books when my children were young that I realized this was what I wanted to do. The picture book is the perfect bite of book. It makes you laugh and feel and hold your children close. The memory of my kids all snuggled around me in bed while we read books is one of my favorite memories.
Who has most inspired your writing life?
Honestly, it’s not a who but a what. It’s every book I have ever loved. My inspiration can truly be summed up with this sentence purportedly spoken by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
What’s been the most surprising thing about being a children’s author?
Oh, my gosh – the joy! Although publishing is a rollercoaster, with many ups and downs, the joy of writing, the joy of seeing the illustrations for the first time, the joy of reading a book I have written to children, is incomparable!
What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?
For me, there’s just one: satisfaction. There are so many kinds of children’s books – funny books, heart-warming books, inspiring books, concept books, non-fiction books, alphabet books. I could go on. But ultimately, the book needs to leave the reader satisfied. That, to me, is the most important ingredient.
What is your hometown?
I live in a town called Wall Township in New Jersey. It is right next to a town called Brick Township. It sounds like I live near a brick wall - not a very inviting locale. But in fact, I live next to a nature reserve within biking distance of the beach. The fact that I can have fish and crabs and seagulls in my life one minute and turkeys and turtles ten minutes later makes me extremely happy.
What is your favorite place to write?
In bed! I can’t think of anything better than waking up, getting a cup of coffee and then heading back to bed to write and revise. Mornings are my favorite time to write.
Do you listen to music while you are working? If so, what’s currently on your playlist?
I spend a lot of time reading my stories out loud, so I don’t listen to music while I write.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’ve been thinking about the Northern Lights lately and would really love to see them for myself.
What was your favorite picture book growing up? and/or What picture book do you never tire of reading to children?
The book that stands out most to me in my memories of childhood is The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. I remember liking the stories, but what I liked more was the size of the books. They were tiny! As a child, I liked anything that was small and this little collection of books seemed like it was made just for me. A picture book I never tire of reading is Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. It’s just perfect.
What children’s book (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?
Because it’s summer, I have to pick There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi and Laurel Molk. I just love this book and it’s perfect for a day at the beach.
It’s summertime. We have to know: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Mint mint chocolate chocolate chip chip. Yum. Yum.
Which superpower would you most like to have?
Teleportation. I would like to be able to travel anywhere in the world without the time and effort of actually getting there.
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?
I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking To Strangers and loved it. I actually can’t stop talking about it because it was so eye-opening. I usually only read fiction, but this book was compelling and a must-read for everyone interested in how humans interact and communicate.
What museum would you most like to spend the night in?
I think if I could sleep under Monet’s water lilies in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, I would be extremely happy!
If you weren’t an author, what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?
It would definitely involve animals. I would want to work with tortoises. Or raise bulldogs. Or train pufferfish!
What would you want your ten-year-old self to know?
My ten-year-old self would have just been headed to middle school. That is a big step in a kid’s life - when they leave the safety of their elementary school and head to the bigger middle school. It was the first time I realized that not everyone was like me. My elementary school was small and most kids walked to school, and it never occurred to me that there was a bigger world out there with all different kinds of people. For the first time in my life, I worried about what I wore, what I had (or didn’t have), what I looked like. So I would tell my ten-year-old self not to worry about what other people thought of me. I would tell myself that the only opinion that matters is my own – what I thought of myself and if I was making myself proud.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a story about endangered species. I’ve been thinking a lot about the environment and the damage we are doing to the earth and I’d really like to write a story that encourages kids to learn about the impact humans are having on nature and how they can make a difference.
What’s coming up that you are most excited about?
I’m pretty excited about the sequel to Stick and Stone and the accompanying graphic novels where the characters go on silly adventures and meet other characters. Stick and Stone was my first book and holds a special place in my heart and I am thrilled that readers will get to spend some more time with them.
Note from MB: In curating my first collections, I considered five of Beth’s books and particularly look forward to featuring Land Shark and Marsha is Magnetic in addition to Stick and Stone (or perhaps the sequel!) in future collections. Thank you Beth!!