Today we're talking with Joan Holub, author of Goddess Girls, Who Was Jim Henson?, Twinkle, Star of the Week, Groundhog Weather School, and many other popular childrens books.
FQ: You’ve written a wide variety of children’s books. Which book are you proudest of and why?
Ooh! Tough question right off the bat. I’ve written everything from board books to chapter books, but nothing older--I think I stopped maturing around age thirteen. One of my favorite books is probably my picture book, Groundhog Weather School (Putnam). It’s a humorous fictional story about Professor Groundhog, whose incorrect weather forecasts lead him to begin a school to train more forecasters to help him out. Another favorite of mine is the humorous biography Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars.
FQ: You penned the Goddess Girls series with Suzanne Williams. How were you able to work together so well?
In the beginning, we had no idea how our writing collaboration would work out, but had our fingers crossed. We got along well, and had both written chapter books, so I suggested that we try writing a series together. We each brought some series ideas to the table, and Goddess Girls turned out to be the most viable. I think we work well together because we both stick to schedules, have a similar (but not identical) sense of humor, and we’re willing to let each other edit our work.
FQ: The ‘tween audience is enjoying meeting your mythical, mystical characters Persephone, Athena, and the goddess gang. Tell us a bit about the creation of the series.
I love tweens and am so pleased they’ve embraced the series. To start, Suzanne and I wrote three chapters for the first book, Athena the Brain, along with a half-page series synopsis plus a half-page synopsis for each of the four books we proposed to write in the series. Suzanne was busy, so I wrote those original chapters and she edited them. Our agent sent the proposal out and Aladdin was interested. When they brought cover artist Glen Hanson on board, the whole series really came together! We’ve been asked to write two additional titles, for a total of six.
FQ: How long did it take you to break into the notoriously difficult world of children’s book publishing? You seem to float with ease from one publishing house to another.
It seemed like it took forever and I received many polite rejections along the way, but I was determined to learn about the business and creative sides of publishing. I didn’t give up, and I am always learning and growing. I think the most important things an aspiring author can do to move along the path to publication is to study the children’s books they love and ponder why they are successful. And to write something fresh that comes from the heart or some quirky, funny place in their hearts.
FQ: Were you one of those precocious youngsters who was always writing poetry and stories?
I didn’t write much at all outside of school. I did read voraciously, and my mom taught me to love libraries. She also read to us, which was important in nurturing my love of books.
FQ: Which children’s book authors had the most influence on your writing?
Lauren Child, Laurie Keller, Denise Cronin, Sandra Boynton, Barbara Parks, Dav Pilkey, Rosemary Wells, and my pals and occasional critique partners Lorie Ann Grover and Laura Kvasnosky, among many others.
FQ: You are an extremely versatile author. Where do you get all your ideas?
Ideas are the easy part of writing. I have a long list of them calling my name, begging to be written. The hard part is turning an idea into a book that makes sense, has a point of view, and stands out from other books. It can be really frustrating, but is incredibly rewarding when it works. I truly love my job and am happy to go to my studio every day.
FQ: One of my favorite books was Shampoodle. Is there any “real” story behind that passel of zany dogs?
Thanks, Deb! I often begin a book with a title—some word(s) that immediately spark an idea and becomes the springboard for a book. Shampoodle is one of those title-driven books. I didn’t realize that working this way was unusual until I began mentioning it to other authors. A few other books of mine that started with a title are Boo Who? A Spooky Lift-the-Flap book; the Goddess Girls series; and Knuckleheads (actual hands are the characters in this one).
FQ: What is your all time, hands down favorite book?
Another tough question! I’ll go back to one that inspired me to become an author—Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight. Actually, I originally wanted to be an illustrator, and I used to trace the drawings in this book, trying to learn how to draw.