Today, I’m excited to feature an interview with one of my long-time kid lit pals, author Robin Newman! As many of us do in the kid lit industry, I met Robin virtually, when she became one of Frog on a Blog’s very first followers, and she has remained one ever since. She’s watched this humble space change (through at least four WordPress themes) and grow over the years, and she’s been so kind to share my posts.
Robin’s fourth book NO PEACOCKS! was recently released. And it’s the perfect time to learn more about the book, about Robin, and about the beautiful peafowl who inspired her.
Q. I know that you were once a practicing attorney. When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you really wanted to do? And what do you like best about writing children’s books?
R.N. I had gone from being a miserable Workers’ Compensation attorney to editing energy and environmental treatises and journals. Both jobs helped me realize that I enjoyed writing. Around the time when I was a legal editor, I started writing short stories. My twin sister worked at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and they sponsored one of the short story writing contests at Symphony Space. I entered and lost. Year after year. Rinse and repeat. But I was writing. After my son was born in 2006, my husband suggested I take a writing class—my first writing class. I signed up for a children’s fiction writing class and as soon as I walked in, I knew I had found my people.
I’ve always loved the creative aspects of writing. And a big part of that creativity, especially when you write for children, is trying to figure out how my writing will get young readers excited about reading and writing. (This includes my own son who is one tough customer to please.)
Q. You’ve based No Peacocks! on three real peacocks that live on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. How did these feathered celebrities inspire your story?
R.N. From the moment I saw the peacocks, I knew I wanted to write about them. Every day at school drop off and pick up, I would watch them—as did my dogs, Madeleine and Cupcake, who were just as excited to see them as I was. (I wish I could say it was reciprocal for the peacocks, but they HATE dogs.)
Peacocks are obviously beautiful, but they are also wonderfully quirky, stubborn, and mischievous. They are extremely protective of their food, not to mention, they’re omnivorous foodies.
So, even though I knew I wanted to write about the peacocks, I still needed a story. One day while I was attending a meeting for the school’s book fair, one of the administrators interrupted the meeting to ask—“Did anyone leave a stroller on the porch with a sandwich? Because one of the peacocks just ate it.”—And at that glorious ah-ha moment, I knew I had my story.
Q. I’m really, really curious—are the real Phil, Jim, and Harry friendly, and can the kids who attend The Cathedral School interact with the birds?
R.N. The peacocks are extremely sociable. Either Jim or Harry loves to hang out on the school’s porch right in front of the door at pick up time making it impossible for the kids to get out unless he’s shooed away.
The peacocks also enjoy hanging out with the kids in the schoolyard. I’ve seen them on top of the jungle gym. They also will investigate the piles of book bags in the hope of finding a snack or two. All that said, they do keep their distance from the kids. They’re definitely not pets.
Q. This is your second book illustrated by Chris Ewald, yet the books are by different publishers. How did this come about and were you able to collaborate with him on No Peacocks!?
R.N. Chris and I are both represented by the amazing Liza Fleissig at the Liza Royce Agency. When I was asked if I had any thoughts on an illustrator for No Peacocks!, I suggested Chris.
When Chris came up to New York for the Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep launch party, he met me one day at school pickup to see the birds and to get a feel for the grounds and the neighborhood. In terms of collaboration, I have made some suggestions to Chris but ultimately it’s up to Chris to decide whether he wants to use those suggestions or not.
Q. Tell us a bit about your writing life. Do you have a routine or a favorite place to write? Where do you usually find inspiration?
R.N. Everything revolves around my son’s schedule. As soon as he’s off to school, I head to my tiny office to write. Later in the day, when I hear the door open and slam shut, followed by the thud of a book bag hitting the floor, and my son’s version of “Hi Mom! I love you.” Translation: “Mom, I’m hungry. Where’s the ice cream?,” I know it’s time for me to put away my work.
Like most writers, I get inspired by books, newspaper articles, kids (especially my son!), teachers, librarians, school, cartoons, childhood memories, siblings, dogs, food, etc. In a nutshell, I get inspired by just about everything. Not until I sit down and write a draft and bring it to my critique groups, do I realize if those “ideas” are worth pursuing or not.
Q. What are your favorite childhood picture books?
R.N. Madeleine, Babar, and Pierre in The Nutshell library were some of my all-time favorite childhood books.
Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?
R.N. Picture books (and in this category I also include board books) are a child’s entrée to reading. They help children learn about social relationships, develop language skills, understand their environment, and expose them to real and imaginary worlds that are far from their own reality. They help children better understand their feelings, conquer their fears, inspire creativity, encourage social responsibility, and hopefully help them on the path to becoming lifelong readers.
Q. Where can fans connect with you online?
R.N. Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share? What’s next for Robin Newman?
R.N. I am constantly writing and revising my journey as an author. I’ve been working on the third book in my Wilcox & Griswold mystery series, and on a number of picture books. Stay tuned.
Thank you, Robin! We will definitely be watching eagerly for your next book!
About Robin Newman
Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs and peacocks. She is the author of the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery Series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and The Case of the Poached Egg, as well the picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, who are extremely fond of Phil, Jim, and Harry.