Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times best-selling and award-winning author of numerous books for children and young adults, including picture books, novels, works of historical fiction and nonfiction. Her novels include “With the Might of Angels” and “Bird in a Box.” Her picture book “Duke Ellington” won a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. She often collaborates with her husband, Brian Pinkney. Together they have recently published “Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America” (Disney Hyperion Books).
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2008 National Book Festival
What was your inspiration for your newest book – Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation?
Boycott Blues is the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1951 and 1952, as told from the point of view of a feisty hound dog named Dog Tired. It’s the kind of book I love to write – non- fiction with an unexpected spin. And the story is so much more than a tale about the boycotts. Boycott Blues is part poem, part history, part rhapsody – with a whole lot of doggy dialogue thrown in for fun. Readers learn about a very important moment in America’s history, and also about blues music, which is a vital part of the African American experience.
One of the inspirations for the book was a recent strike by the New York City Transit authority, when all New Yorkers had to walk to work. As many of us complained, I couldn’t help but think of so many brave people who chose to walk to work during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and how they endured even when the going got tough.
Boycott Blues underscores the strength it takes to be committed to a cause you believe in - even when you may want to quit standing up for yourself. Even when the chips are down. Even when every weary muscle and bone in your body wants to give up. Although the Montgomery Bus Boycotts happened many years ago, young readers can still learn from those people who, in the face of some great odds, said to the world, “We will.”
You and your husband Brian Pinkney have collaborated on several books. What is that process like?
As the old song says, “It takes two, baby!” We love working together, but it can have its challenges. Most authors and illustrators don’t collaborate. They don’t sit together and talk through the manuscript over a cup of tea, or go out to dinner so they can review sketches. Some authors and illustrators never even meet each other until long after their book is published. But we have the unique pleasure of being married, so we share most things – the same box of cereal, the same tube of toothpaste, the same TV, and the same kids! So, we’ve learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t when it comes to collaborating. On our earlier books, we talked about our ideas all the time, at any moment of the day or night. One of us would be brushing our teeth, and the other would blurt out what they thought of the direction for the new book. This got us into some sticky conversations, mostly because we have such different temperaments.
We’ve resolved this by establishing a time when we talk about our books together. Every Saturday we have a meeting from eleven in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon. During this meeting is when we really collaborate. It’s when we brainstorm ideas, read through manuscripts, review sketches, and plan next steps in a book’s creation. At two o’clock, when the meeting is over – it’s over. Period. Time’s up. If either one of us wants to “talk shop,” it’s gotta wait until the next Saturday. This may seem very strict, but it really works. Now we have some good laughs and lots of fun when we work together. And neither one of us is snoring!
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
The biggest writing challenge I face is finding the time to do it. With two kids, work as a book editor, keeping gas in the car, managing homework, school activities, getting to the gym, calling the plumber, making dinner, filling lunch boxes, going to the dentist every six months – it can be very tricky carving out time to make a good book!
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
If you want to become a published author, write every single day. Learn your craft. Work at it. Take it seriously. And read everything you can get your hands on.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
Write about things that make you happy – your puppy, your friends, your favorite spot in the house.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.
- Go Dog, Go! by PD Easton
- Ruby and the Booker Boys - Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes
- Pemba’s Song by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin
How do you decide on themes for your books?
It’s a cliché, but true – those closest to you often provide the greatest inspiration. So, my family is my best motivator and helps me come up with ideas by offering suggestions. My younger sister, Lynne, is a tri-athlete, and who completed the Iron Man sports competition twice. Lynne also helped me train for the New York Marathon when I ran it for the first time. Whenever I start to complain about anything being too hard, I think, Lynne swam two miles, biked one-hundred and twelve, then ran twenty six miles – all on the same day!
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
As an author of non-fiction, research is key to my work. I can be quite fanatical about accuracy because I owe it to readers to make sure my books are as factually correct as possible. I love researching in the library, but I’m also a fan of primary source material such as interviews with key people who experienced the things I write about.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Let it begin with you. Show your kids that you love reading, and they will follow.