Bradby’s critically acclaimed titles include the picture books More Than Anything Else (Richard Jackson/Orchard Books, 1995); The Longest Wait (Orchard Books, 1998); Momma, Where Are You From? (Orchard Books, 2002); Once Upon A Farm (Orchard Books/Scholastic, 2002); and a middle grade novel, Some Friend (Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2004).
Bradby–the sixth of seven children–grew up in the suburbs on the East Coast. She is a graduate of Hampton University with a degree in Sociology. Prior to her career in children’s books, Bradby was a full-time journalist who held staff postitions with The Providence-Journal, The Lexington-Herald, The Courier-Journal, and National Geographic Magazine.
On Day 11, The Brown Bookshelf talks with Ms. Marie Bradby.
BBS: Hi Marie. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf.
MB: Hello, it is an honor to be here.
BBS: You’re both a children’s book writer and a journalist. When did you first fall in love with the written word?
MB: In high school, my english teacher, Mr. Amos, gave us a creative writing exercise to write about an exciting moment. I wrote about the exhilaration I felt spinning around as a baton twirler for the marching band. He raved about the description and I thought, maybe I’ve got something here. It had happened before when I was in the second grade. My assignment was to write about something or another, which wasn’t working for me. So I wrote about two squirrels playing in the tree outside my window while I was doing my homework. My teacher displayed my story, which of course, had my little scribble drawings on it. I was a keen observer since I can remember as a toddler.
BBS: Speaking of toddlers, it was after the birth of your son that you left your career as a full-time journalist, opting for part-time, freelance assignments instead. What led you to begin writing for children?
MB: While I was pregnant, I went to a bookstore in Ithaca, NY to buy Xmas presents for my unborn son. I was dismayed that they had no books that featured children of color either as characters or in the illustrations. In my travels, I found that this unfortunately was widespread. There were paltry few. I made a decision at that time to write books for my own child, but I had no thoughts at the time of publishing them.
MB: I believe I got my first book deal in 1990, five years after the birth of my son. Over that period of time, I had been involved in self-study of children’s books, reading as many books in the children’s section of the library as I could devour with my son. I gave myself assignments as I studied the way the books were put together. Then I moved to Louisville, KY and became acquainted with well-known children’s author George Ella Lyon. She persuaded me to go to the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop in Hindman, KY where she was teaching writing for children. By the next year, I had a contract for a book called “The Longest Wait.” It was too aptly titled, however, and was my second book to be published, eight years later.
BBS: More Than Anything Else (Orchard Books, 1995) was actually your first book to be published, inspired by events in the life of a young Booker T. Washington. It received good reviews when it debuted. As a new picture book author, were you concerned about how well-received your work would be? Why or why not?
MB: I was astonished at how well it was received. The publishing date was August 1, 1995, but all the books had sold out pre-publication, and the publisher had to rush back and print more. I was so new to publishing that I had no idea how extraordinary this was. i thought only my parents and relatives would buy the book. But many people connected with it and still do. It’s been published in several languages and in many editions.
BBS: You have published four wonderful picture books for children…but my personal favorite has to be Momma, Where Are You From? (Orchard Books, 2000) because it conjures nostalgic images of my Granny and Bigmama sharing stories with me about their childhoods—which were so very different from mine. Do you have a favorite among the picture books you’ve published? If so, which one is it and why?
MB: I always say the next book is my favorite, because without a “next” book, you don’t really have a career as a book author. That being said, I adore “More Than Anything Else” because of the way it came about and what I learned about the writing process. I’d spent three years trying to write it, forcing it really. When I had completely exhausted myself, the entire story came to me one evening in about twenty minutes, as if a recording was playing in my head. I wrote it down like dictation. It was a powerful experience for me, to be able to allow and trust the muse. I had internalized the story, my subconscious processed it, and it popped back out.
But my books are like my children. I love them all.
BBS: Some Friend is your middle grade novel, a wonderful story about the meaning of friendship and, in my opinion, the importance of honoring one’s personal integrity. I found the story of Artemesia and her migrant worker family to be particularly fascinating. What inspired you to write this story in this way?
MB: I based that character on a girl that I happened to see one day when she was mercilessly being taunted verbally and physically. Mine was a middle-class neighborhood and this girl was new and poor. Her family had re-located from the deep south where they had been farm workers. I remember standing there on the edge of the circle watching her. And you are right, it is a story about honoring inner personal integrity. My inner self was saying to the bullies, ‘No, don’t do this, don’t treat a person this way.’ But I wasn’t brave enough to speak up against the other rather brash girls, though my eyes were stinging with tears and I was filled with compassion. I was about 8 or 9. I watched this girl’s reaction of terror and humiliation. I never forgot that lesson in how NOT to treat a person.
BBS: Marie, if you were to identify a common thread or theme among the stories you write, what would it be?
MB: I have tried to write stories about the most important questions that I wanted my son to think about. What is a real friend? What if you didn’t get a chance to learn to read? Where are you really from? What is it like to wait for your father to return from delivering the mail in a blizzard? Etc.
BBS: Do you have a strict, daily writing schedule…or do you write more by inspiration? Where, in what, or in whom do you find your creative muse?
MB: No strict schedule, but I write nearly daily in my journal. Sometimes I go back and pull out things to give to my characters and my settings in books that I write. But the books themselves are not scheduled. I work on a book when it comes to me, usually about one a year. I spend a lot of time working on it in my head. But getting it published is another matter. So, I have a lot of unpublished manuscripts.
The idea for a book usually bubbles up from my sub-conscious when I am drifting off to sleep. Each one has started as a line or two that I’ve heard in my head. As a writer, you have to leave space to listen for words. That means finding time to be quiet and listen for that still, small voice.
As a journalist, I usually have an assignment that I am working on every week or so, and so I write profiles, op-ed pieces, stories about family and women’s issues, etc.
BBS: What other children’s book projects do you have in the pipeline?
MB: I finished a new picture book called, “The Nest.” It’s about a boy who finds a baby bird and tirelessly raises it.
BBS: Cheeseburgers or sushi?
MB Sushi, but only vegetables, no raw fish.
BBS: Hiking or water skiing?
MB: I hike and snow ski. Water skied when I was very young.
BBS: Your son asks you the question, “Momma, where are you from?” What do you tell him?
MB: That I am from many places.
I am from a hike across Tuscany…waves of golden wheat undulating on the hills…tractors plowing new vineyards…taxi drivers yelling, “Bella!”
I am from a canoe motoring through marshes in the Amazon outside Manaus, Brazil…Jacana birds taking flight as we pass houses on stilts…giant trees and lily pads…and giggling children jumping into the lake for a swim during a downpour, while I stand unbelievably drenched but baptized by a oneness of spirit.
BBS: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Marie.
MB: Thank you for your efforts to support reading. Every person in the world should have the right to learn to read and go to school. It’s our responsibility, as global citizens, to ensure that all people have access to developing that skill…and access to books.
Books and Awards:
“MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE,” (Richard Jackson/Orchard Books, 1995) Illus. Chris Soentpiet. ALA, IRA Children’s Book Award, PBS story time Feature, Teacher’s Choice, starred review School Library Journal, Best Book of 1995 by Book Links, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times.
“THE LONGEST WAIT,” (Orchard Books, 1998) Illus. Peter Catalanotto. Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended List.
“MOMMA, WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” (Orchard Books, 2002) Illus. Chris Soentpiet. Golden Kite Honor Award, Nest Literary Classic.
“ONCE UPON A FARM,” (Orchard Books/Scholastic, 2002) Illus. Ted Rand. “Best Book of 2002” by the Los Angeles Times, Kentucky Public Librarians “Choice Award” Nominee, 2003.
“SOME FRIEND,” (Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2004) West Virginia Children’s Book Award Master List, 2006-2007
Learn more about Marie Bradby and her books at www.mariebradby.com .