By Kathi Appelt
Her first picture book was Mitchell’s License (Candlewick). Mitchell Goes Bowling is her second picture book. Both are illustrated by Tony Fucile who also illustrated the Bink and Gollie books by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee.
KA: We first fell in love with Mitchell when your book, Mitchell’s License, appeared a couple of years ago. Can you tell us about Mitchell and his dad?
HD: My favorite thing about Mitchell and his dad is that Mitchell’s dad has his son’s “number.” He knows exactly what kind of kid he is dealing with—in the first book, when Mitchell doesn’t want to go to bed, his dad knows just how to get him to capitulate, by letting Mitchell drive (and Mitchell is quite pleased to be issued a driver’s license—his dignity is definitely intact!).
And in the new book, Dad knows exactly what to do with Mitchell’s knock ‘em down personality—go bowling. I think that’s what so many of us yearn for—to be understood as individuals, embraced, and met where we are.
KA: This book gives us such a close up of Mitchell, a boy who loves to knock things down. I’m especially fond of the page where he tries to knock down his dad. But what I love above all is the way that Dad channels Mitchell’s otherwise destructive impulses. And then, in a stroke of genius, you sent your characters to the bowling alley, the home of knock downs. Can you tell us about your own experience with bowling? I’m fascinated with bowling!
HD: I’ve liked the game since I was in middle school and I could hang with other seventh graders (without parents!). It was a safe place to go and we could order a whole pitcher of soda.
Now as a parent, I love it more—in part, because the lanes are just about exactly as I remember them, but more importantly because we’re all together, but we’re all doing our own thing, and that’s kind of who we are as a family too. On top of that, the crashing noise when the pins go down is incredibly satisfying, and no matter how unskilled you are (like me) you can pretty much count on a few pins going down (especially with gutter guards).
I’m also fascinated with the accessories: the shoes, the intricacy of drilling the proper holes in the ball, the tiny suitcases called “piggyback bags” that are used to carry an extra ball (for serious bowlers!), the machine that “dresses” (oils) the lane, the “ball elevator” . . . there’s no end to the cool stuff about bowling.
KA: One of the best things about this story is the very fun language. I love the “steamin’-hot-potato dance.” Is this something that you practice in your off-hours?
HD: You know, I always do a dance for a strike and I also have a Yahtzee dance. But I don’t practice in my off-hours—it has to be organic! My husband recently told me that when he was in the ROTC, based in Germany, he had a “turkey” dance (that’s three strikes in a row).
Channel John Travolta then: Point to the sky (right), point to the sky (left), 360 degree turn, and SPLIT. I’ve never had occasion to make up a “turkey” dance . . .
KA: Tony Fucile’s art feels like a perfect fit for your Mitchell stories. Did you participate at all in the art? If so, in what ways?
HD: Yeah, we loved collaborating. Quite a few of the gags came directly from Tony—his daughter Eleanor actually does “pray” when she bowls, and the “hand dryer” gag was totally his idea. His family loves bowling as much as mine, so it was pretty much a marriage made in heaven! And in the first book, where the dad is a car, we worked together to use as many car parts as we could think of.
The only one we couldn’t nail was the “trunk.” It’s not that standard for the author and illustrator to brainstorm but for us it was essential (and so much fun).
|early sketch for Mitchell Goes Bowling|
KA: This is definitely a father/son story, but I wouldn’t call it “typical.” There’s no mushiness about it, but there’s nevertheless an underlying sweetness. It feels sort of jazzy for lack of a better word. Lots of improvising going on here. And maybe that’s the way all father/son relationships are? A mixture of competitiveness and team sports. What do you think?
HD: Aw, I love “jazzy”! The inspiration for this story was something my son said when we “tied” at Monopoly, cause I felt bad for him. He said, “You winned and I winned.” And that stuck in my mind cause it was so perfect and poignant. You can both win.
KA: I love the line, “With his dad, he couldn’t lose.” When I talk about picture book texts with my students, I always encourage them to find a line that is both summary and pay-off. I don’t think it gets any better than that line. But there are plenty of other wonderful lines throughout this book. Do you have a favorite?
HD: My favorite line is an offering from my husband: “That’s just how he rolled.” For me, it’s really meaningful because if we watch and listen, we can meet our kids “where they roll,” and no two kids “roll” the same way.
KA: On a more personal note, what is your overarching goal as a picture book writer? Do you have one?
HD: I can’t say I have a goal, but I hope to continue to make stories around things I hear or see that I can’t get out of my head because they touched me in some way or demanded to become a story.
KA: Any words of advice for aspiring picture book writers/illustrators?
HD: For me, there’s one thing that has seen me through both the dark and the light—do the very best work you are capable of at the time. This doesn’t mean you won’t get better and more skilled, but no matter what any reviewer has to say, no matter how your book sells, no matter if it is even acquired by a publisher, if it is the very best work you are capable of at that time in your life, you’ll be okay. Doing the very best you can is a “no-regrets” policy. It’ll stand up to the toughest critic, who, of course, is yourself.
KA: What is Mitchell up to next?
HD: I’m not sure what Mitchell is up to next! But you can look for Marshall in next fall’s Catch That Cookie! illustrated by David Small. It centers around a gingerbread-cookie hunt, and was inspired by my own son Marshall, who once locked all the doors on our mini-van so the cookies couldn’t escape—that’s an example of something that demanded a story!
|sketch from Catch That Cookie!|
KA: Here’s a very fun downloadable Story Hour Kit.
|Learn more about Hallie!|
About Kathi Appelt
Kathi Appelt’s books have won numerous national and state awards.
Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the Pen USA Award, and was a finalist for the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award. Her most recent novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, was also a National Book Award Finalist. Kathi serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
Her cats are named Jazz, Hoss, D’jango, Peach, Mingus and Chica.
Enter to win one of two sets of Mitchell Goes Driving and Mitchell Goes Bowling (both Candlewick). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.