just finished reading "Courtney's Creative Adventures." What an
exciting imagination Courtney Watkins has! This book puts at end
to boredom! Here's what Courtney had to say....
Courtney: Beverly, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for my book!
I am really excited about it and am delighted to be able to share my
story with your readers.
And I have to tell you, when I was a kid-- I would spend hours creating
questionnaires for me to fill out -- so I'm in heaven with this request!
Bev: What was your source of inspiration and what gave you
the idea for your book? How long did you work on it? I think there
is still a little girl inside for you to come up with all the anti-boredom
ideas you have. Tell us about your childhood.
Courtney: The idea for "Courtney's Creative Adventures"
came about through a conversation with Megan Tingley (who was to become
my future editor at Little, Brown). Having sent her a couple of
very specific ideas for kid books along with my background, she wondered
if I had a broader idea on my specialty -- creativity for kids.
Loving a mission, I told her I'd root around in my grey matter and see
what I could come up with. Hmmm? For two days, the assignment
brewed between my ears -- and then one afternoon while helping Tate,
my dog look for squirrels ... the idea hit! Kablam! "Hey, I'm
gonna spill the beans on the best secret I know!" I dashed back to my
studio and began to write, to reveal the secret. The secret to
a fun, funny and creative childhood that has served me so well as an
adult. Essentially, in both words and pictures, my autobiography...up
to age ten.
This "tell-all" story that reveals ideas for things to squish, wonder
about, play, squint at, invent, decorate, imagine, investigate, puzzle
over and dream is from my real-life adventures as a kid. Because
the story was all there in my head, it sped out and onto the paper --
words and pictures. The most frustrating part was being forced
to take breaks -- though my mind raced on ... my hand couldn't keep
up and I'd have to stop and soak my mitt in bowls of warm water.
Bev: Who had the greatest influence on your life?
Courtney: My Mom, especially -- she is a magical, exciting, interested
and interesting person. She continues to be a GREAT influence.
As kids, she showed us (my big brother, Tuc and me) how to unearth the
possibilities within everyday -- through games, questions, activities
and projects. My Mom taught me to really look; to be curious.
And if ever we'd say, "Ugh! I'm bored!" My Mom would respond--
"Oh? Then let's clean out the garage!" Talk about becoming
self-sufficient in finding an antidote for boredom!
My dad gave me the gift of words. At age four, he taught me to
give our dog commands... backwards: "Tis!" "Nwod!"
I was hooked on word play when I saw the dog comply. My dad, aka
T. D. (the daddy) would toss a few foreign language phrases my way --
and helpful ones, too like: Quanto anos tiene su gato gordo? And
this began my journey into studying foreign languages which led me to
France as an exchange student at age 15. At dinner, he would pose
interesting questions like- "How much is a bunch of nines?" or "Who
was wearing red today?"
My parents' gifts of keen sight and word play have been and still are
Bev: What kind of books did you read as a child? Who
was your favorite author?
Courtney: I loved reading as a kid! The way my mom introduced us to the
library was so exciting -- little did we know it was good for us --
this reading thing. She would exclaim, "Choose any book -- whatever
you like!" And she made a big deal about getting our library cards.
We felt extremely special to be part of the library, ooing and aweing
at the royal treasures lined up on the shelves just waiting to come
home with us!
parents both read to us when we were little and then were very attentive
audiences when we became readers ourselves. Often times throughout
grade school, we would read aloud from chapter books -- embarking on
a shared adventure even at ages 10, 11, 12. I now see how much
time was spent nurturing a love for stories which in turn broadened
our perspective and introduced us to the idea of endless possibilities.
Some of my favorite books over the course of my childhood include:
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. (One of the highest praises
from my Mom comes from this book -- when she was especially proud of
something we'd done she'd exclaim, "Oh! I feel just like
Mrs. Mallard!" and Tuc and I would beam with delight!); Corduroy
by Don Freeman; The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse; Rosie's Walk by
Pat Hutchins; Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey; Sylvester and
the Magic Pebble by William Steig; The Kingdom and the Cave by
Joan Aiken; Bridge to Terabithia By Katherine Paterson; Island of the
Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell; The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald
J. Sobol; anything by Ed Emberley -- from whose books I learned to draw.
Bev: What do you read recreationally now?
Courtney: Of the books that I'm reading with my little friends summer,
two favorites are This is My Hair by Todd Parr and Go Away Big Green
Monster by Ed Emberley.
As for me, I always have a book going -- many are recommendations from
my husband Jeff who is a voracious reader. We both really enjoyed
A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin which we read aloud one summer.
And I know I sound like I live in an herbal tea commercial -- but I
highly recommend reading aloud with your family members regardless of
age. Try it -- you'll like it! I also loved Memoirs of a
Geisha by Arthur Golden; My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok; The Passion
by Jeanette Winterson; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; The Tipping
Point by Malcolm Gladwell; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Currently, I'm in the middle of The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve
-- don't tell me what happens!
Bev: Do you have any great website recommendations for kids?
Courtney: In addition to: twbookmark.com/children/index.html
and myshelf.com --
both great resources to find a good "kid" read, a new favorite place
Bev: Tell us about "The Backyard."
Courtney: The Backyard is a creative enrichment program for children
that I developed to entertain, inspire and bolster kids with an I-can-do
confidence. As an antidote to "I'm bored!"-- New York kids learned
HOW to discover the possibilities in every day through art, play, language
and games. Now, living in Los Angeles, I miss those energetic,
brain-buzzing afternoons in the Village with my school-age friends.
However, in other formats, I'm sharing those very same ideas from my
New York program through my book and on various TV programs including
HGTV's "Smart Solutions." (See hgtv.com, key word: Courtney Watkins.)
Bev: What else are you involved with now?
Courtney: I'm excited to go out there and "show n' tell" my book -- on
TV, in bookstores, at schools -- to share creative ideas with kids,
parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers. Because this is
a book with very tangible ideas, I'll demonstrate and draw and do while
I talk. I taught school for seven years -- using all of the material
collected in my book -- so, here's the PLUS... "Courtney's Creative
Adventures" is like vitamins for a child's mind! Used as a resource
book, parents and teachers will discover new ways to foster creativity,
communication, self-esteem, independence and problem-solving. It's a
book of creative adventures designed to inspire, enthuse and bolster
the spirit and provide the skills for discovering the "Aha!" and entertainment
of the everyday.
Bev: Did you do the illustrations for "Courtney's Creative
Courtney: Yes! I wrote and illustrated the book -- the two go hand
in hand when I'm writing, helping to literally illustrate my point,
a pictorial cousin of adjectives, you could say. Similarly, when
I talk -- I speak with my hands. You want me on your Charades
team for sure!
Bev: Do you have other books planned? Where do you
plan to go from here?
Courtney: Of all the zillion projects I've been involved in, my favorite
so far has been writing this book. The process involves everything
I would choose to do even if I won the lottery! Combining words,
pictures, "Ahas!"; stories and ideas is my dream job!
I do have other ideas in mind (and in hand!) and would love to continue
in this vein of writing and illustrating. Certainly, I could write
another hundred pages of real-life creative adventures -- I was a busy
kid. Another idea I'm excited about is my fast, funny and foolproof
invention for learning a foreign language that I call See It - Say It.
With the idea of being spontaneous in creativity, I have designed a
series of 'creative adventure' kits for kids. And I'm exploring the
possibilities of a television or video series version of "Courtney's
Creative Adventures." I'm picturing an engaging how-to/check this
out/did-ja-know sort of thing.
With a degree in advertising, too- I love to look at the market place
and discover where there is a need and niche for my creative ideas.
The bottom line is, I am so grateful for the gift of an enriching, entertaining,
thought-provoking, boundless childhood that I'm determined to share
the secret with as many people as possible.
Bev: How hard is it to get a children's book published in
Courtney: Persevere! Talk up your project. Make contacts.
I sent out my first idea when I was 22 and was certain there'd be a
huge, national-headline, bidding war! Ahem, this wasn't the case.
But I persisted -- honing my craft of writing and illustrating and gaining
experience as a teacher, tutor and exposure as the "creative thinker"
on TV. I kept coming up with ideas -- and executing them -- I
feel this is the key. Make your idea real -- something tangible
to see, read, hold, walk around, share, enjoy, consider -- regardless
what your medium is. Remember the old joke, "How do I get to Carnegie
Hall?" Practice, practice, practice! And connect with people in
the field via friends and query letters. Through a group of my
students' parents who knew about and championed my ideas, my work landed
on the desk of Megan Tingley, my editor at Little, Brown.
Bev: Do you have advice for beginning children's authors?
Courtney: "Write about what you know!" Oft repeated, this is such
good advice. What better way to spin a colorful tale than from
a familiar base? Grab a few real-life moments from your memory
to bolster your story, dialogue, setting, description. Recollect the
view from your childhood bedroom window. The feel of creek mud between
your toes. The smells of the city. The funny things your
grandmother said. The butterflies from the first day of school.
You have a ton of "slices of life" on file in your head!
Bev: Do you have any other thoughts that you would like
to share with us?
Courtney: For parents who want their children to be interested in reading
-- introduce the idea in a fun and whimsical manner. Warning:
If kids get a whiff that reading is good for them -- you'll be serving
up a plate of Brussels sprouts. Blech! Opening the doors
onto new worlds, this reading thing is fun -- make it so! Exclaim,
"Choose any book at all!" Celebrate, "Your very own library card!"
Shout, "Off we go on an adventure!" as you turn the first page.
Share the stories that you loved as a kid. While reading, ask
questions like, "What would you do if you were the cat?" or "How do
you think the little sister is feeling?" or "What is your favorite thing
about this page?" Asking questions begins a dialogue -- and we
all know that talking with kids is essential! Engaging in daily
conversation from the onset provides a base of communication that can
grow throughout the teen years.
Wishing you and the kids in your life a zillion, colorful, real-life
creative adventures starting... NOW!
Bev: Courtney, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.
You have such wonderful ideas, and so much enthusiasm...it's just contagious!
I'm ready to go have an adventure...I guess I'll go see if I can find
some grandsons to explore with me!