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Children’s Book Week Interview: Victoria Jamieson

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This week is Children’s Book Week, and John Patrick Green, creator of the soon-to-be-released Hippopotamister, is celebrating with a round of interviews with his fellow comics creators. Here at Good Comics for Kids, he is chatting with Victoria Jamieson, author of Roller Girl (a Newbery Honor book) and the upcoming The Great Pet Escape. If you like this, check out the list of all the Children’s Book Week interviews. Take it away, John and Victoria!

AuthorPhoto_VictoriaJamieson_LoRes_400x400Hi, Victoria! Congrats on your Newbery Award win for Roller Girl!
Thank you! It still feels surreal, even though I’ve had a few months now to process the news!
Your latest graphic novel, The Great Pet Escape, is about (in case it’s not clear to anyone from the title) school pets trying to escape their classroom imprisonment. Did you grow up with pets? Do you have a favorite story about animals and/or prison escapes?

Most of my memories of pets as a kid involve them running away, so it’s not hard to find the influence for The Great Pet Escape! My older brother had a pair of hamsters named George and Martha Washington (another direct influence on the book!) who ran away. Our first grade classroom pet also ran away, and I remember kids searching each day at recess on the playground. As a kid, I really enjoyed stories about the secret adventures of animals; two favorites were The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Bunnicula.
GreatPetEscape_Jacket_des2 hiresWhat are some influences from your youth, and where do you get your inspiration for your stories today?
I definitely draw on my own experiences for my books, and I often think back to my childhood for inspiration. Besides the obvious pet influence, in writing The Great Pet Escape I was also inspired by spending time in my mom’s classrooms. She taught elementary school art, and during the summer or on weekends my brothers and I would sometimes come in with her to clean up the room or set up projects. It was a great feeling to be alone in an empty school—we could slide up and down the hallways in our socks, and generally do the things we weren’t allowed to do during regular school hours. It was great. I wanted to capture some of that fun of having free reign over a school in the book.

In addition to graphic novels you make picture books. How does your approach to the different formats vary?

Actually, I found the transition from picture books to graphic novels to be less difficult than I imagined. In both formats, I think in terms of having a dramatic arc—starting off slow, and building up problems or drama for the main character until it culminates in some sort of breaking point. I actually find graphic novels to be easier than picture books; picture books have to say so much in only 32 pages. Brevity was never my strong suit, so I like that I don’t have to limit myself so much with graphic novels! When I wrote Roller Girl, a graphic novel just felt like the natural way to tell the story. I just try to use the format that will allow me to tell a story most naturally and completely.
What’s your next project? Can readers ever expect a follow-up the first book you wrote and illustrated (in third grade, no less), Super Cow?
Did my mom make you ask this question?! I think Super Cow is still her favorite book that I’ve written.

No, no Super Cow sequel in the works, but I am working on the sequel to The Great Pet Escape. I’m finishing up the artwork now. I’m also finishing up the manuscript for my next middle grade graphic novel, and I’m very excited to start the artwork for that one.

RollerGirlCVRWith Roller Girl, you’ve become an award-winning graphic novelist right out of the gate. What advice do you have for young writers and artists who want to follow in your footsteps (or wheels)? 

When I realized I wanted to write Roller Girl as a graphic novel, I tried to educate myself about the format as much as possible. I wasn’t a big comic book reader growing up, but I did love comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes and For Better Or For Worse. I re-read those to rediscover what I loved about them. I also started off small; before starting a 240 page book, I practiced with some one-page comics about both roller derby and my middle school diary. Starting small allowed me to experiment and to practice working in a graphic novel format without the stress of thinking about doing hundreds of pages at once!
What’s currently on your nightstand?

Oh gosh, it’s a little embarrassing how many books I have on my nightstand. I have a young son, so I make at least 1-2 trips to the library per week for storytime… and rarely come home empty-handed. You may say this would be the perfect opportunity to also return books to the library, to which I would reply YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL!!!

Some of the books on my nightstand at the moment: Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt De La Pena, Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano, 10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, and also about 5 books on gardening. We recently moved into a house with a terrible yard, but apparently I much prefer reading about gardening than actually doing it.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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