Spice Girls & Margaret Wise Brown: A Cosmic Interview with Gaby Brabazon
Gaby! Your turn. I have a few questions up my sleeve.
Grace McKinney: When someone says “children’s books,” what do you think of?
Gaby Brabazon: "Children's books" or "picture books"?
GM: "Children's books."
GB: I initially thought of books for young readers, meaning people who are reading independently. As I think about it a little more, though, I picture Little Golden Books, or something made for children in a sort of old-fashioned way. I think picture books for children should should first and foremost be written for children -- and that they should be beautiful and meaningful. Traditionally it's been used as a dismissive detail for someone else to specify that something you do is "for children," whether it's writing, art-making, or teaching, even though this is one of the most difficult and most delicate groups of people to work with. Anyone thinks they can write for children. I'm convinced that the hardest thing in the world to write is a good picture book.
GM: Quick—what are the first five books you see on your bookshelf (for children or grown-ups)?
GB: Oh, I just organized it so I can picture it perfectly! The trilogy of Nature Anatomy, Food Anatomy, and Farm Anatomy [by Julia Rothman]—they’re brilliant and so gorgeous. A childhood favorite called Candy Witch [by Stephen Kroll, illustrated by Marylin Hafner] is out because I was thinking about lending it but… didn’t. A biography of Victoria Woodhall is still out from last year when I dressed up as her for a school event.
GM: Oh my gosh, I remember that!
GB: It isn’t very well-written, but it’s such a good story. I don’t even care if it’s all true. It's fascinating. When You Reach Me [by Rebecca Stead] is up there, too, because I want to reread it. And a Wrinkle in Time is next to it because I was just writing on the way Stead refers to and expands upon L’Engle’s work by referring to Wrinkle so much in When You Reach Me.
GM: Oooh, can't wait to see where that goes. When You Reach Me has been on my to-be-read list for far too long anyway and now you’re just pushing it higher.
GB: Yeah -- maybe a forthcoming editorial.
GM: You’re a student of the arts—basically all of them. What’s their place in your daily goings-on?
GB: I try to weave them into every day as best I can. Since I’m home a lot now, I’ve been doing Inktober (inconsistently, but it’s happening), so there’s drawing. I’m baking bread regularly, so that’s a creative way to spend time when I’m not writing. I try to keep my hands and brain busy, and not spend my whole day in front of the computer even when I have a lot to do. Baking, drawing, knitting. I try to mix it up.
GM: Bread is most definitely art.
GM: What was the soundtrack of your childhood?
GB: The musical soundtrack would be some combination of The Spice Girls, Enya, and Loreena McKennitt. My mom listened to Enya and Loreena McKennitt while she was drawing, and now I tend to do the same. My husband calls it my "chants and madrigals" but it's peaceful and inspiring and reminds me of home. Even though it's really new-agey 90's stuff. I love it. No shame.
Other than a literal soundtrack, my childhood sounds like my mom yelling my name from really far away, the sound of frogs from stagnant water, and… actually, frogs and my mom pretty much sum it up. It’s either one or the other.
GM: A word you love?
GB: I love the word “snack” because it makes me feel hopeful… hopeful and comforted, simultaneously. And also “lunch.” Lunch makes me think about tuna melts because, even though I haven’t eaten tuna in a really long time, I routinely ate those for lunch as a kid. I might be hungry right now.
I also love compound words. I like words that do a lot of work.
GM: A word you dislike?
GB: Ugh, “stinky.” It makes my toes curl. I couldn't tell you why that one, but I hate it.
GM: A book you wish you’d written?
GB: I Capture the Castle is probably both my favorite book and also the book I’d wish I’d written. I saw myself in both Cassandra and Rose when I picked it up, and on more recent readings have felt more connected with Topaz. Part of this is definitely getting older, but I can still put myself back in Cassandra's shoes if I think about it enough. The book is about wanting so desperately to be a part of a bustling, living world but being held back, whether by age or station or finances or lack of mobility. It was pretty relatable to me as a teenager.
GM: Other than books, do you collect anything?
GB: I tend to throw a lot of stuff away except for notebooks and plants. Oh, and writing implements, for sure. I was reading recently that all people (regardless of gender) are either a plant lady or a cat lady… and I’m firmly a plant lady.
GM: Well, that doesn’t bode well for me. I’m allergic to cats and plants die when I look at them.
GB: You’re a baker, though! So I’d say you’re a plant lady.
GM: Tell that to my sad, lonely sourdough starter.
GM: You’re planning the dinner party of dinner parties. You can have five guests, no family allowed. Who’s coming, and what are you eating?
GB: Dorothy Parker, obviously. She’s always my first choice. Douglas Adams. George Saunders. That’s too many authors… Emma Watson. And I want Margaret Wise Brown.
I think we would have just a sea of finger foods. Finger foods that are delicious but not necessarily fancy. A little bit of everything, and everything is really good. With really fancy cocktails because we are just decadent as hell.
GM: That sounds amazing. What a dynamic crew.
Forgive me, my last question is kind of a cop-out… Is there a question you wish I’d asked you? What is it, and what would your answer have been?
GB: I think I’d like to go back to the favorite childhood book question I asked you since I just revisited mine: Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Fur Family. I found it when I was back at my parents' house recently and flipped through it, trying to figure out what I loved so much… I think I must have been just intrigued by the everyday life of little creatures. I haven’t been able to crack what exactly it was that was so fascinating about it other than that. Maybe it was the idea of a whole miniature world? It didn't even need a plot. Tiny creatures living their tiny lives… Apparently I'm still intrigued by that because I have this chihuahua.