June 02, 2015

Lynne Berry: The antics of pigs, pugs—and squids

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Berry plays favorites with her two books and gives us a peek into her life full of animals and rhyme.
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Nashville author Lynne Berry offers twice as many laughs with two new picture books. Pig and Pug is perfect for early readers, as a pair of reluctant friends confront their differences. The hero of Squid Kid the Magnificent presents a spectacular magic show, but his sister, Stella, isn’t impressed.

Two books pubbing on one day! If you had to, could you pick a favorite between the two?
Yes! My book twins! Fraternal twins, of course, not identical—but twins nevertheless—and what proper mother could pick a favorite between twins? Turns out, I am not a proper book mother at all, and I am rather partial to Pig and Pug! It’s not that I don’t love Squid Kid, I certainly do—but the inspiration for Pig and Pug came from my very own grumpy pig (Sir Francis Bacon) and my best pug pal (the Empress Evelyn Pookena), who belongs to a dear friend. In my mind, Pig and Pug are Francey and Pookie, so I can’t help but have an extra-special place in my heart for this book.

What was the process of working with these two illustrators?
I must be the luckiest writer alive, because every one of my books has had a spectacular illustrator (not to mention outstanding editors and art directors). Other authors and illustrators sometimes work more closely together—quite a few well-known collaborative teams—but I think it’s fair to say I have had little to no input on the art for my books. My participation has been limited to receiving from my editor sketches or early spreads or first full layouts, and saying, “Wow. Wow. Wow. Carry on. Please.”

But I will say this: I wrote these two stories for the illustrators into whose hands they fell—Squid Kid for Luke quite intentionally, and Pig and Pug for Gemma without an intention in the world. I met Luke once, many years ago, shortly after our first book together was published. At that meeting, Luke asked me if I had ever written any stories about squids, because he loves squids—cephalopods of all sorts, really, when it comes right down to it—and he would love to do the pictures for a story about a squid. So, I set about writing a squid story for Luke. When I wrote Pig and Pug, I’d not heard of Gemma (please forgive me, I do sometimes live under a rock), but now that I have heard of her—wow. Could ever a story have been better suited for an illustrator, than Pig and Pug for Gemma?  So, the evidence is in: I am the luckiest writer in the world. To collaborate on a pug book—a PUG book—with Gemma Correll—GEMMA CORRELL! And squids by Luke LaMarca—at risk of repeating myself: wow.

Animals always have such distinct and hilarious personalities in your picture books. How did you know that squid siblings would squabble so? Or that a pig and a pug, if they took a moment, could get over their differences?
Thank you! Most of the time, I am not at all sure what the characters in my books are likely to do until I discover they are doing it. In writing a squid story for Luke, I had several false starts—the characters were not cooperating with me AT ALL—until it dawned on me the squid I was writing about was SQUID KID the MAGNIFICENT. Well! Of course he was a ham (no cross-book pun intended). Of course he was a magician. Of course his sister would give him grief about his not-so-magic tricks. How could it be any other way? Pig and Pug, I think, are at the mercy of the destiny of their names: pigheaded and pugnacious. They just can’t escape it. But I knew they could see their way clear (as mud, anyhow) to friendship because they scrap the way brothers scrap—and no matter how brothers may scrap, no friends are friends like brothers are friends.

What would the animals on your farm think of your books?
I would love to show you, if I may! So that’s the reaction from a representative sampling of the critters—I think it’s safe to say they speak for the rest. Or, at least, for the goats and the ducks. The chickens are not all that bright, and tend to have a poor appreciation of literature in general, I find.

Have you always had such a knack for young reader rhyme and rhythm? Do you ever find yourself narrating your life in your head in this same way?
I am very much drawn to rhythm and rhyme. I can forego rhyme, at times, but rhythms draw me back again and again. I am not at all sure where this comes from; I am not a musical person, but the rhythm of language just gets right in amongst me. I should, indeed, spend more time narrating my life in rhyme! I am a worrier, so the narration of my life tends to take a gloomy turn more often that it should; narrating in the form of limericks would clear that up in a hurry, I expect.

What do you love most about writing children’s books?
I love the most getting to work with such talented and creative people. When I send a manuscript off to my editor, the story is just a smattering of words on a sheet of paper. That’s all. And yet, an editor can see a book. An art director can see a book. An artist can see a book— a book with setting and characters—sometimes characters not even mentioned in the text, sometimes entire visual subplots not even hinted at in the text. I love to see the words leap off that humble sheet of paper, get chummy with some amazing art, maybe say hey to the new fellas with whom they will never cross paths in the text—and make a BOOK.

What’s next?
I am hopeful that Pig and Pug will have the opportunity to embark on new adventures. I cannot stop thinking about these wee little imps, and would like to see what might happen at a picnic with a table full of pies, or during an afternoon at the local pool. My best guess: Hijinks might very well ensue.


Get the Books

Pig and Pug

Pig and Pug

By Lynne Berry, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781481421317
Squid Kid the Magnificent

Squid Kid the Magnificent

By Lynne Berry, illustrated by Luke LaMarca
ISBN 9781423161196

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