After writing more than 90 books for teenagers, which have sold over 15 million copies, Caroline B. Cooney is starting a new career: picture book author. I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug! (Zonderkidz) was released on December 27, 2016, in both hardcover and as a board book. Cooney’s first work for a younger audience is a collection of rhymes about all the different types of hugs one can give and receive.
The book is on the other side of the spectrum from Cooney’s most popular title, The Face on the Milk Carton (Random House, 1990), which alone has sold over 3,000,000 copies. That book told of a girl who suspects that she was kidnapped from her real parents.
School Library Journal caught up with Cooney to find out all about her new venture.
You are so well known as a young adult author, so why a picture book at this stage of your career?
For the joy of it. The hug idea was such fun. Why do we have “bear” hugs? Why not dog hugs and horse hugs? The rhymes just came to me, and they were such a pleasure to fuss with. I wrote several more stanzas than appear in the actual book. My theory was that online, we’d offer extra hugs to the readers. I don’t know if I’ll get to do that or not!
Did you test out the book with young readers?
My youngest grandchildren are seven and 10 now, and still think that Grandma is a goddess, so I read it to them when they were spending the night, and they properly said, “Oh, Grandma, it’s perfect!”
Do you have a favorite spread (by illustrator Tim Warnes)?
I love everything he did. Like any good illustrator, he has his own little subplot and motif, so all parts of the page are pleasing.
Many readers of your YA books are now parents with children of their own. What advice would you give them to help their kids grow up to be readers?
The parents have to be reading themselves. I puzzle over digital books, because it’s hard to sit together and share a digital story on a phone, say, due to reflections and small size. It’s also hard to tell if somebody’s reading on a device or playing a game, so it’s less of a reading example. I think it helps to have lots of physical books around and make lots of library or bookstore trips. The grandsons I mentioned still like read-alouds. My daughter just read Marcia Wells’s Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (HMH, 2014) to her boys (she reads a chapter a night). It was a great hit. I’ve heard often from librarians that they jump-start reluctant readers, even middle school kids, by reading the first chapter aloud to launch them into the story.
In the more than 30 years that you have been writing YA, what do you see as a major change in the genre?
It’s gotten so dark. Well, “dark” is the official word. I’d say dreary, lacking in good adults and fine parents, lacking in noble deeds and sacrifice for others, although often very exciting.
Is there another picture book in your future?
I’ve written two more! I haven’t submitted them yet. They need to mellow in my mind so I can rewrite and add and reposition. Picture books turned out to be such fun because of the illustrations. You want to be sure that every line is meant for illustration. That’s not an issue in YA, (so this is) an all-new challenge.
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