Page McBrier is the author of 46 picture and chapter books for young readers. Behind the Book has had an ongoing, successful relationship with Page and Beatrice’s Goat. Based on a true story, the award-winning New York Times bestseller is about a girl who receives a goat from Heifer International and when it gives birth she gives the baby goat to another family. The program focuses on helping young readers understand the importance of “paying it forward.”
Page’s recent projects include Abracadabra Tut, a time travel adventure novel for middle school kids and One Cow and Counting, the latest title in her series for Heifer International.
Page is also a teaching artist for the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. She leads workshops and residences throughout the state and beyond that focus on art and writing. She is clearly passionate about encouraging all kinds of aspiring writers and artists.
Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?
Page: I was contacted by Myra Hernandez. Behind the Book sounded like a great program; hands-on, engaging and lots of fun. This was about three or four years ago.
BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading/writing?
Page: One great thing about BTB is the small audiences. It’s nice to spend time in a one-on- one
personal setting. The students also have a familiarity with your books, and after the author talk we complete a fun activity together. I love interacting with the kids. It’s especially fun when it’s more intimate like this. You really feel a connection.
BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?
Page: I was always a reader as a kid. I love to share how my sister and I used to get up and go read in the closet after our mother put us to bed. We were avid readers. We went to the library all the time. The local librarian used to tell my mother that our family checked out the highest number of books every year. Kids tend to develop an ear for language when they read that much. Good readers become good writers.
BtB: What advice would you give to our young students as they work their way to a
Page: The first time you write something you’ve really just begun. The true writing emerges as you revise. For me, this is the fun part. Read what you wrote out loud—get a general sense of the language – does it flow? Does it make sense? Was anything left out? Did you repeat any words too often? Did you make interesting word choices? I’ll read and re-read until it sounds just right.
BtB: What’s a fun fact about yourself? Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?
Page: Growing up, my parents took in a lot of kids (foster, adopted and older kids). All of us
were close to the same age, so we often hung out together. We built a tree fort in the backyard. For a while we had a donkey as a pet and we roamed around a nearby park quite a bit. Two of my siblings didn’t speak English when they first arrived, another used a wheelchair so I was exposed to many different kinds of people and cultures at a young age. My parents were unconventional. It was a little wild. We weren’t always supervised—we’d have adventures and go to the woods for the day.
I have a worm-composting bin—I use it for author talks for The Chicken and the Worm. Twice a year I harvest my “red wiggler” worms and end up with a bucket full of worm castings to use as fertilizer in my garden (it doesn’t smell!). It looks like dirt. Kids can’t believe it when I show it to them and tell them it’s worm poop!
BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?
Page: This is a hard question. I always put heart and effort into all of my books. Some books, such as Beatrice’s Goat, have had a larger impact on a greater audience which has led to more opportunities to travel and promote my books. Thanks to the success of Beatrice’s Goat, I also wrote and researched another five books for Heifer International, which took me all over the world.
BtB: What authors inspire you and why?
Page: Many authors inspire me. This past winter I read some of the Newbery Winners: The Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; loved The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; love Neil Gaiman; Read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I grew up reading E.B. White (ex. Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web), Beverly Cleary, and Sharon Creech. I appreciate both content and language from these authors.
BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do have always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?
Page: A lot of times research drives the twists in the road (the plot). I do a lot of research before I write. I love it (a little too much)—I’m kind of nerdy…always reading, asking questions, pursuing ideas. I do much more research than I’ll ever need because that gives me lots of choices as I start my story.
BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?
Page: I have general ideas when first delving into a story. Sometimes I plot it out a little bit. I try to write three-six pages a day and then the next morning I edit those pages and once I do that editing I march on from there. It’s methodical. With rough drafts I just keep rewriting.
I’m in a picture book/middle grade writers group so I have a lot of eyes reading my drafts. Each week we read certain pages from manuscripts and then meet and discuss comments.
BtB: Anything new in the works?
Page: I’m always working on something. I’ll often spend up to a year on a project—always revising and improving what I’ve written. Or I’ll find something “in the drawer” that I set aside for one reason or another and then tackle it again. Most recently I wrote a picture book with my son, who’s hilarious. We had such a blast. I don’t know if we will keep working on it or write others. With each new generation of writers, picture books have evolved in interesting ways, so my son’s take on the story added another level of humor that I found totally refreshing.
I also just sold a story to an educational-publishing house that will come out next year.
Tips About Writing Process:
I’d say I am “treat motivated.” To keep myself on track, I set a daily writing goal and then promise myself a reward when I’m done (to go for a bike ride or take a walk, cook something, check out what’s on sale at TJ Maxx, read a book). Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, this works for me. Most writers learn to set goals for themselves—it’s important to be disciplined.
Also sometimes I get bogged down and no matter what I write comes out sounding clunky and dull. When that happens, I find that reading a short story or novel with a well-written voice often helps me rediscover my own writer’s voice.