Interview: Children’s Author Carolyn Crimi

Carolyn Crimi’s books include OUTSIDE, INSIDE, illustrated by Lynnea Asplind Riley (Simon & Schuster, 1995) and DON’T NEED FRIENDS, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Doubleday, 1999) as well as a nonfiction book for middle graders, KIDDING AROUND CHICAGO (Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000). This interview was conducted via email in December 1999.

Your first book, OUTSIDE, INSIDE, is a poetic look at Molly on a rainy day. Your second, DON’T NEED FRIENDS, features an endearingly cantankerous Rat and Dog and their begrudging journey to friendship. You have enormous range, encompassing humor and lyrical poetry. Can you talk about your writing style? How has it grown? In what new directions are you trying to push yourself?

Carolyn CrimiI’d have to say that DON’T NEED FRIENDS is closer to what I feel is my “true” style. I love writing humorous stories the most, I suppose because I find them easier to write.

Right now I’m working towards my MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College. It’s a great opportunity for me to work on genres I’ve never explored before, like board books and other super short picture books for the very young. I think people who can write meaningful stories that are under 100 words are truly gifted. I can’t seem to go below 700 words, for some strange reason.

In the two years I’ve been doing this program my writing friends have all said that they’ve noticed a huge improvement in my writing style. I think I pay more attention to language and structure now.Outside, Inside by Carolyn Crimi I know that I’m much more aware of the choices I’m making as I write.

Linnea Asplind Riley illustrated OUTSIDE, INSIDE. How did her vision of the story coincide with the one in your mind as the author? Here’s a funny little tidbit that I like to tell kids when I do school visits. I do not mention frogs ONCE in the text, and yet they are all over this book! I think Linnea must like drawing frogs. Also, she has this pet bird in most of the illustrations who is not mentioned anywhere in the text. I love both of those additions, and I know kids do, too.

Lynn Munsinger illustrated DON’T NEED FRIENDS. How did her vision of the story coincide with the one in your mind as the author?

Lynn Munsinger does wonderful things with her character’s facial expressions. Although I had not expected Rat to look quite so doleful, I’m glad she chose to draw him that way. In my mind he was much feistier. A friend of mine pointed out to me that if he was depicted as a scrappy, nasty guy in every illustration readers might not like him. I think this book will always be my favorite, partly because I love the illustrations so much.

Can you tell us about your work for middle grade readers?

I’ve actually had a few things published for middle grade readers. My non-fiction book about Chicago, KIDDING AROUND CHICAGO, landed me a spot on the Sunday morning news. That was possibly the scariest thing I have ever had to do for one of my books. My other two middle grade books were written for the R.L.Stine series, GHOSTS OF FEAR STREET. I love scary books and had a great time writing them.

Right now I’m working on a chapter book.

Many authors speak of a personal relationship with their characters. Is there any behind-the-scenes gossip or insights about Molly or Dog and Rat that you’d like to share?

I wrote OUTSIDE, INSIDE because I’ve always loved rainy days. I was a quiet, introverted kid. I stayed inside and read all day, much to my mother’s dismay. She was constantly telling me to go outside and play. Rainy days were my sanctuary. I could stay inside without being pushed out the door. I still love rainy days for this reason. You don’t feel compelled to rush outside and DO things. Molly obviously feels the same way that I do.

As far as DON’T NEED FRIENDS goes, everyone who has read it says it sounds just like me. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Am I like a grumpy rat? I must be, according to my friends.

Animals are emphasized in both of your books—in OUTSIDE, INSIDE as pets and in DON’T NEED FRIENDS as principle characters. Do you have a particularly strong affinity for animals?

Don't Need Friends By Carolyn CrimiI LOVE animals. In fact, if I weren’t married to such a sensible man, I’d have a zoo in my backyard. I can’t seem to hide this love I have for animals, it comes out in whatever I’m writing. But I think the real reason I use animal characters so often is because they give me a lot more freedom as a writer. They can say and do things that ordinary kids cannot. A great example of this is in Jackie French Koller’s book ONE MONKEY TOO MANY. She has monkeys canoeing down waterfalls, falling off their bikes, and driving golf carts into ditches. It’s hysterical. You just can’t have kids doing that in picture books.

What sorts of books did you enjoy as a girl? What are some of your favorite books today?

My all-time favorite book is WINNIE-THE-POOH. The original, of course, not the Disney version (please don’t get me started on that subject). I suppose you could say that WINNIE-THE-POOH is the reason why I became a children’s book author. I love it and continue to read it to this day. I knew way back when I was six that if I could make children laugh at my words the way A.A. Milne did, I’d be the happiest person on earth. Some other childhood favorites are the OZ books and the ELOISE books.

My taste in children’s literature hasn’t changed much. I still love fantasy and humor. I love all of Dick King-Smith’s books. I wept at the end of the last MENNYMS book because I knew it was the last one in the series. I also love all books by Barbara Parks, Margie Palatini and Jon Scieszka.

What inspired you to write for children?

The children’s books themselves inspired me to write for children. I spent so many hours reading books. I remember desperately wishing that I could crawl inside them. I guess writing children’s books is a way for me to do just that.

Sometimes adults ask me why I write for children. So I ask them what their favorite book was as a child. They go on and on about some obscure book that I’ve never heard of, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and always with great emotion. Then I say “THAT’S why I write for kids.” Kid’s books get inside your bloodstream.

What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?

Oh gosh, this is such boring advice, but of course it is WRITE. I wrote and illustrated little handmade books when I was a kid and gave them as gifts. I also wrote in a diary. And I read all the time.

I don’t think you have to write lots and lots pages every day, but it does help to start out writing for maybe just ten minutes a day. That doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up to 70 minutes a week. Make time for writing and you will be rewarded with some great stories at the end of the year.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming books?

Tessa's Tip-Tapping Toes by Carolyn CrimiI’m so happy you asked! I have a picture book coming out in a few years called TESSA’S TIP TAPPING TOES. It’s about a mouse who loves to dance and a cat who loves to sing. It is especially meaningful to me because I love to sing (although I do it badly) and I LOVE to dance. I have been known to dance down grocery store aisles.