Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Interview with Author Ann Bonwill

Ann Bonwill is the author of three picture books, including Naughty Toes, which is about a spunky little girl who struggles to find her place in a classical ballet class. If you aren't familiar with the book and its characters, you might want to read my earlier post about it and then come back here for the following interview. Enjoy!

I'm so happy to have this chance to talk with you about your writing. What are some of the strategies you use to come up with fresh ideas for your books? And what was your initial inspiration for Naughty Toes?

My ideas bloom from a combination of observation and imagination. I collect ideas from everywhere, or as one little boy at a school visit put it, from the universe! Some of my books are inspired by nature, some by family and friends, and others, like Naughty Toes, by experiences in my own life. One day my editor mentioned that her childhood ballet teacher called unpointed toes "naughty toes." That phrase, along with my own memories of childhood dance classes, grew into Chloe's story.
What types of dance classes did you take as a child, and how did those experiences influence the book?

I took ballet, tap, and jazz. I stuck with ballet the longest, and really enjoyed it, though tap was lots of fun, too. Many of my dance class experiences are woven into this book. My father fixed my hair for class, just as Chloe's father does. And my ballet teacher was fond of talking about the spotlights on our hands as a way to get us to remember the proper hand positions. I wasn't a ballet natural like Belinda, but I wasn't quite as much of a disaster as Chloe either. I like to think that Chloe will come into her own in the world of tap, where her spirit can shine through in a unique and jazzy way.      

I love the name of the pianist in the book--Mr. Tiempo. It's sort of mysterious, yet somehow so appropriate for a musician. How did you choose his name? I’m hoping there’s a good story here!

Thanks! I love Mr. Tiempo's name, too. I started out thinking about the word "tempo," which is such an important facet of dance music. Then I added a little extra flare to come up with his name. Though it's not stated outright in the book, I think that Mr. Tiempo is the one who gives Chloe the tap shoes at the end. Some of my child readers agree, although others think that it might be Chloe's sister, her parents, or Madame Mina. One little girl even suggested that Chloe gave the shoes to herself -- I love that idea!

I saw that Naughty Toes has been published in the United Kingdom and the United States. Has it been published anywhere else? And out of curiosity, are the different editions all the same?

Naughty Toes has been published in the United Kingdom, the United States, Portugal, and Canada (in French). The main difference in the editions are the names. In my original story, which was first published in the United Kingdom, the main character's name was Trixie and her sister was Belinda. In the United States, their names changed to Chloe and Belinda. The Portuguese version features Beatriz and Aurora, and in French their names are Josephine and Isabella. The grown-ups names are the same, except in Portugal where they are called Madame Malvina and Sr. Wagner.  

Is it correct that all of the books you have published are picture books? If so, what is it that draws you to this particular genre?

Yes, so far I've had three picture books published in the United States, with four more on the way. I love the way that the pictures and the words combine to tell the story -- you can't have one without the other. I was so lucky to have Teresa Murfin illustrate my words in Naughty Toes. I think her artwork complements the spirit and style of the story perfectly. I have been fortunate to have similar matches in my other picture books, all of which differ in style but are brought to life through their art. Picture books are such an expressive medium. They beg to be read aloud, and they capture all of our senses. They can be read and enjoyed on so many different levels by people of all ages. And they are perfect for sharing.         

Are you working on any new picture book manuscripts right now? Any other book projects?

I have a new picture book coming out in January, I Don't Want to be a Pea!, which is about the friendship between a hippo and a bird and the compromises they make as they prepare to go to a costume party together. I also have a rhyming bedtime story on the way. I am currently working on a story about crocodiles, and I'm having fun playing with longer writing formats, including a middle grade novel.

Thanks so much for talking with us today. I can’t let you go without one more question related to dance, though. I read on your website that you still love to dance. Can you tell us a little more about the kind of dancing you do these days?

Yes, I do still love to dance! I mostly just do silly dances around the house with my son, but I also enjoy dancing with my husband. Our favorite dance is the swing. I'm still not terribly graceful, but I do have lots of enthusiasm!

To read more about Ann and her picture books, visit her website at www.annbonwill.com. And if you're curious how other picture book authors and illustrators come up with their ideas, check out Picture Book Idea Month (also known as PiBoIdMo), held each November at author Tara Lazar's blog Writing for Kids!


  1. Great interview! How interesting that the names change so much in different countries. Both books sound delightful.

  2. Hi, Catherine. I found it interesting that the names changed so much, too...even the ballet teacher and the musician. It was a really fun interview for me, too. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. You too Kerry! (we had ours a while back in Canada but enjoying all the talk of another, makes me hungry ;)


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