Q: Many teachers do Writers Workshop with their students and ask students to pre-plan their writing. What did you do to plan WHEELS before you started writing?
AJP: A lot of brainstorming! I’m a history lover, so my first instinct was to write a book about the evolution of wheels, which some have called Man’s greatest invention. But I also knew I wanted to write for a young age group, and I wanted the book to be upbeat and fun. The more research I did about the history of wheels, the more I realized it was going to be difficult to roll all those things into one. I began to brainstorm lists and lists of wheel-related things: types of wheels, what sound they make, what purpose they serve, what would life be like without them, etc. I really tried to let my brain go wild; I tried not to censor any ideas, knowing I could go back later and filter out the less promising ones. When I was done, I knew I wanted to celebrate the many types of wheels young readers see every day—and in the process, help readers see wheels in a fun, new way.
Q: Describe how you wrote WHEELS. How long did it take you to write the first draft?
AJP: Using the lists I had brainstormed, I began to play with sounds and phrases, turning them around in my mind and moving them around on paper. I didn’t intend for the book to rhyme, but in hindsight, perhaps it was inevitable. A few unrelated rhymes popped up in my wordplay, and after that I couldn’t go back—the sound and rhythm of those phrases seemed to mimic the rhythm and movement of the vehicles I was describing. From there it became a sort of puzzle, to see how I could say the things I wanted to say within a compelling rhyme scheme. I also tried to think visually about what images might appear on each page or spread.
Q: After you wrote the first draft, how did you revise the manuscript?
AJP: The first draft had 2-3 times as many words as the final draft, and as a result it lollygagged instead of clipping along. I pruned, shorted, and, most importantly, focused on the verbs. I replaced the weak verbs with stronger ones, and was especially drawn to those with onomatopoeia, and those with plenty of visual opportunities for the illustrator. Indeed, Giles Laroche’s amazing paper relief artwork brings so much depth and interest to the book—it’s the star of the show!
Q: Tell us about other books that you have written that readers of WHEELS might enjoy.
AJP: One is VALENTINE FRIENDS, which has a short, rhyming text that focuses on alliteration. Teachers might also find MEET OUR FLAG, OLD GLORY helpful in the classroom. OLD GLORY celebrates our flag with a young, accessible text and images, and includes informational backmatter about the flag for teachers and parents.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the teachers and students about yourself or your writing?
AJP: When I visit schools, the students love to see copies of my lists and brainstorming notes (some of which are written on napkins and scraps of paper), and the many drafts of my manuscripts. I like to tell the students that even though I’m a professional and writing is my job, I still need to work hard to get a story just right. Writing is rewriting!