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Writing with Laughter

EB-Shelb-News-photo-copyInterview // Lin Stone

Elizabeth Bluemle has several things to sing about, and one in particular calls for a little tap dance in the rain. The author of multiple children’s books and co-owner of Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Bluemle’s most recent book, “Tap Tap Boom Boom,” received a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Award, which is given annually to an author for outstanding writing in children’s picture books. “Tap Tap Boom Boom” also landed on the American Library Association’s list of Notable Children’s books, the New York Public Library’s 100 Best Children’s Books, and was an editor’s choice and reviewed in the New York Times. And if that wasn’t enough accolade to make Bluemle burst into song and dance, the Wall Street Journal named the Flying Pig Bookstore one of seven bookstores around the country that help serve as anchors for their towns.

“Tap Tap Boom Boom” is Bluemle’s fourth book for children, and in this case, one she didn’t set out to write. In fact, the inspiration for Tap Tap was a derailment of her original plan to spend a week in New York City writing a novel. “My trip into the city was briefly waylaid when I was caught in a thunderstorm and huddled on a subway station landing with my two suitcases and lots of other people waiting out the storm. But while standing there, I was struck by so many wonderful random moments that passed between complete strangers: I saw a well-dressed woman hand off her umbrella to a rumpled passing student – without a word exchanged; I saw a great, big, orange-vested workman holding up a tiny yellow umbrella – one that might have been his four-year-old daughter’s. I witnessed a real sense of a city’s expression of community and togetherness between strangers. In Tap Tap, everything I wrote, I actually saw. Instead of writing a novel, I ended up writing the wonderful story of that storm.”

What is the best part of writing for children?

“My favorite part of being a children’s book author is sharing my own love of language, reading, and creativity. Little ones [and I] love playful, nonsense language and rhythmic, dancey-jazzy books. In Tap Tap I had fun letting my word structure follow the rhythm of the rainstorm as it patters, builds, crescendos, falls, and peters out.

“My goal in writing for children is to make kids bubble up and feel great about themselves and love life. I also love to write about the expression of individuality within a community; I think both of my last two books reflect that.

“In ‘How do you Wokka Wokka’ that theme came about in response to my two-year-old nephew after he repeatedly asked us, ‘How do you wokka-wokka?’ We didn’t know what he meant. Finally, his tall, flamingo-like mother made a funny flapping arm motion that cracked him up. We all made up our own wokka-wokkas. The way you dance or the way you move, the way you wokka-wokka, is unique, but it’s shared within the picture of your whole community.”
What is the main ingredient in creating standout, fun-to-read children’s books?

“I think the best children’s books have a direct connection to the child within. When I was growing up my parents were pretty playful; we bonded through laughter. My mother was a good comedic actress. My father was a lawyer, a hobby magician and conjurer, punster, and a big kid. My parents had many funny friends and dinner parties were filled with the roar of adult laughter. I remember getting ready for those parties with my mother and laughing until I cried. My father was a very quick wit, loved silly puns, and was always scanning the room for a joke. He was also into mentalism and was good at sleight of hand: quarters fell from elbows and ears.
“My parents weren’t always angelic or easy, but they were always ready to laugh at any time – a big saving grace in life. I think staying connected to the child within is important in connecting with children and children’s book writing. Some writers forget how to access that and want so badly to teach a lesson that the magic and joy of reading and good literature are gone. I hope I always stay connected to the child within that bubbles up with laughter and with life.”