Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Award-Winning Author Jen Bryant Visits With Me!

Today I am welcoming the award-winning author, Jen Bryant to Mrs. Merrill's Book Break!  I'm honored that she has agreed to share some interesting facts about her reading and writing life with us.  Thanks Jen!  

Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet signing books

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is on the 2006 New York State Charlotte Book Award intermediate ballot. 
    I came to write The Right Word . . . quite by accident. I decided at the very last minute to accompany my family on a road trip across the state of Pennsylvania. I had to pack a bag very, VERY quickly, so I threw in what I thought was the novel I’d picked up at a library book sale—but once we were on the road (5-hour trip, no smart phone or laptop with me), I realized I’d packed a Thesaurus!! So—I got to know Dr. Roget’s masterpiece, really REALLY well that day!! Needless to say, I developed a new awareness and respect for this amazing reference book, and began to “poke around” in the author’s life (see my reply above) to see what possessed him to write something so ambitious and all-encompassing.The Right Word answers that question, I hope!!

    Readers should read The Right Word because . . . it’s a true story of a boy who overcame shyness, sadness, and self-doubt by making (and expanding, using, cherishing) word lists. These personal lists later became the first Thesaurus, the only book, aside from the Bible, never to have gone out of print. That’s an UN-believable tale, when you think about it—and yet . . . it’s true. 

     Watch the trailer for The Right Word . . . 

2008 Lupine Award & artwork by Melissa Sweet.for A River of Words.

   My favorite place to read . . . on the deck in my backyard, especially in the Spring, where I can hear the birds singing!

Photo by M. Wirtz

A book that has touched my heart . . . I’m going to cheat and give you Two books:
1. I recently re-read The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo. It’s on my top-ten kids’ books of all time, and I discover new levels of compassion for my fellow man (and my fellow non-human creatures) every time I read it. Life is strange, and messy, and often disappointing, but somehow at the end of this book (and in a NOT too-sentimental way), the author turns us gently back toward love and trust and hope. Given the plot and a few of the characters in this book, that is no small feat!!

2. I recently shared (out loud to a young child) Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon. I am a bird-and owl-watcher myself, and am one of those people who always feels privileged when the natural world lets me in on one of its secrets. I love this book because Yolen uses her exquisite narrative (I mean, it’s poetry, really . . .) to build suspense that leads to the crescendo of a child’s first encounter with a real Great Horned owl. The child is transformed by that experience—and it gives me hope that in our hyper-technical world, there will always be children, and adults!, who stand in awe of natural things.

    I collect my ideas and inspiration for writing  . . . like lint!! I would need a hundred lives of a hundred years each to pursue every interesting idea that’s out there. But one must CHOOSE, alas . . . so I usually poke around (i.e. do some preliminary research) in a few topics that interest me at the same time—and usually, one will peak my interest more than the others and I will just continue to “follow” that topic wherever it may lead. It’s very UN-strategic, very organic, but that’s the only way I can explain it.

    Readers should know . . . that my writing room/office is the messiest room inthe house. I don’t include this tidbit because I’m proud of it (I often wish it were not QUITE so messy), but because writers of all ages frequently as me for “steps” or for “methods” or for “strategies” to apply their own writing process. Maybe these do exist, but the organic, haphazard appearance of my work space reflects, I think, my belief that serendipity, instinct and passionate curiosity play the largest part in fueling good writing. At least for me they do.

    A project I’m currently working on . . .  is a picture book biography of the child-inventor Louis Braille, called SIX DOTS. It’s illustrated by Boris Kulikov and will be published in September by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Told from young Louis’s point of view, it’s the story of how he came to invent, at the age of only fifteen!!, the six dot alphabet that anyone who’s reading this paragraph probably passes by every day on ATM’s, in school hallways, in hotel rooms and restaurants. Sighted folks rarely think about it, but for the blind, it opened up pathways to knowledge and opportunity that had been previously inaccessible to them—and it changed their lives. You can read more here. 

    Be sure to visit Jen's website. 
    Follow her on Facebook.


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