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Kids' Q&A

Sara Pennypacker

Describe your latest project.
Clementine's Letter is the third in the Clementine series. When the book opens, Clementine has been in third grade just long enough to figure out the way things are done, to form a comfortable relationship with her teacher. She trusts him and he understands her. But then she learns that he may be leaving, and she's pretty upset... so upset she makes a bad decision without thinking it through — as we can all do. You probably won't be surprised to learn that Clementine gets into some other troubles at home and school as well. Most of the troubles, by the way, are real things that happened to children i know. Often I'll ask "tell me about a time you got in trouble unfairly" and it is such a pleasure to me to take these stories and put them in the book with a better, fairer ending.

In this third book we learn a little bit more about Margaret and come to understand what makes her the way she is. We also get to see Clementine's family more. I love that in each book i come to know these people better... in that way they are very real to me: each time i write about them, i grow to love and understand them more.

  1. Clementine
    $5.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    Clementine's Letter (Clementine)

    Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee

  2. The Talented Clementine (Clementine)
    $3.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

  3. Clementine (Clementine)
    $3.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Clementine (Clementine)

    Sara Pennypacker

What is your favorite family story?
Lately, the one I've been telling most is about my son. When he was small, I was a painter and there was a studio in the house. My kids were always in there, making stuff. Recently I found out that for a long time, he thought that all houses had a studio... he figured that all houses have a kitchen because people need to eat everyday; all houses have bedrooms because people need to sleep every day; and so because people need to make art every day, all houses must have studios. I love that — that he felt art was that important. I think I'm going to write a book about that.

If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
As a child, The Secret Garden definitely. I loved any book that was set in a secret world, a world only accessed by children, hidden from adults. Now though, I like to move around! I'd love to spend some time with Heidi, up in the Alps... and then maybe that island with Robinson Crusoe... or in the walls with The Borrowers...

What is your favorite literary first line?
Well, this one's easy — the first line from Charlotte's Web: "Where's Papa going with that ax?" asked Fern as she helped her mother set the table for breakfast."

Now, how could anyone not read that book after an opening like that??? We like Fern already; there's a mystery; and a big, shiny ax... gulp!

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
Most good books I read come from friends' recommendations — my friends and I are always talking about books we've read. What I love most about this is that, as I'm reading the book, I can imagine my friend reading the same passage — it becomes a shared experience.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I loved baseball... just loved it. I wanted to be a famous shortstop for the Red Sox, my favorite team. Sadly, that didn't happen, but being a writer is pretty good!

Why do you write books for kids?
Well, the question "why do you write?" is sort of like "why do you breath?" for me. I do it because it feels natural, it feels right and necessary, and I'm pretty good at it — for some reason, I know how to do it on a deep, unconscious level. Why do I do it for kids? Well, because kids are the best audience. They care about books more than adults do, and so they make me do my best... I always want to write better, or funnier, or truer things, because I know how much kids care.

If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why?
I think I would choose William Steig. First, because that would mean he'd be alive again, which would make the world a better place. Second, because every drawing he did was filled with such expression, such kindness, such humor, such love for human beings trying to live in this world. But mostly because here's what I'd do: I'd convince him to let me be in his studio while he drew the illustrations for my book. I'd promise not to bother him about them, because who would interfere if William Steig were illustrating your book???

But I'd be tricky... I'd just slip in little questions, asking what he was finding of monumental or trivial importance these days, what he was thinking about... I think the answers would be remarkable. And here's a secret I've never told anyone before: I set the Clementine books in the building William Steig lived in Boston - Clementine lives in that same building. It seemed like a good omen.

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Sara Pennypacker, author of the Clementine books, was a painter before becoming a writer and has two absolutely fabulous children who are grown now. She has written several books, including Stewart's Cape and Stewart Goes to School, both illustrated by Martin Matje, and Dumbstruck. When she was in school, she never had any problem at all paying attention. Okay, fine. That last part was about somebody else. Sara lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.


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