Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Interview with Anna McQuinn

I had the pleasure of interviewing, Anna McQuinn about her book series, Lola at the Library, Lola Loves Stories, and the newest addition, Lola Reads to Leo. After hearing these delightful tales published by Charlesbridge, my students were excited to have the opportunity to participate in the interview.  We loved reading Anna’s answers and hope you will too.

You’ve done it again. You’ve given children another adorable Lola book to love. Were you anything like Lola as a child?

You know, I didn’t think I was until Yolanda at Charlesbridge wrote some cover copy about me and she made the link – I did LOVE books and reading just like Lola. We didn’t have many books, certainly not picture books (I think I can remember about 3 or 4 and some little Ladybird books), but once I was able to read, I don’t think I ever stopped! I drove my mom crazy as I’d read the back of the cereal package while eating my breakfast etc etc.

I also loved playing at being characters out of stories I read – I guess that’s what gave me the idea for Lola Loves Stories. My fun always involved long discussions about who would be what, what their name would be etc etc

Will Lola have any new adventures in the future?

Lola is busy researching gardens in the library because her mommy has given her a corner of their patch of the local community garden. She’s reading about gardens, and writing lists, and creating little wild areas. It’s going to be great!
I’m sure my students will love that one! We have a garden at our school and the children get to tend it while learning about gardening, counting, measuring and generally taking care of our environment. 

What were some of your favorite books when you were young?
I was really stuck on Enid Blyton. I loved all the boarding school stories and when I stayed in my granny’s house, I used to choose clothes which were only one colour and pretend it was my uniform and that I was in a boarding school also. My other favourites were her Adventure stories and the Famous Five books. My world changed when I read Flight of the Doves which was the first book I ever read set in Ireland and suddenly I saw ‘me’ in the book. 
I almost forgot you are from the UK until I read your answer above. I’m from the US and it’s fun to see the different spellings we use for some words. 

What is the most interesting thing about you that you’ve never been asked?

 Most people assume that ‘booky’ people are cerebral and that that’s the opposite of sporty. So I’m rarely asked about sports. In fact I was very sporty – mostly informally – but I started athletics competitively when I was about 14 and ran on the Irish Cross Country team in the European FISEC Games when I was 15. I also played basketball (though not very well because I’m only 5’3”) but I watch a lot on TV and go to games to support my local professional team, Guildford Heat. No one has ever asked me who my favourite NBA player is!
I’ll save that question for our next interview so we can get to my students. They were excited when they heard I’d be interviewing you so I invited them to ask questions of their own.
From my older students:
How long have you been writing for children?

I’ve been editing children’s books for over 20 years. The writing grew gradually out of that – rather than something I sat down and did one day. I’ve been writing as my main thing for about 10 years now.
When did you first decide to become a writer?

 It kind of crept up on me, actually! In my editorial job I would come up with an idea for a book or a series and end up writing some text to show my colleagues how the series would work. Then sometimes, we kept those texts. So in the beginning, the writing was very much doing a job. In more recent years I’ve got to a stage where I start with the writing and the story. It’s funny, but because it happened so gradually, I’m still a bit embarrassed to call myself a writer!
What kind of education do you recommend if you want to become a writer?

I was really lucky to have a broad education – in Ireland you don’t really specialize until you go to University, so I studied English (which IS essential) French, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Irish and Art right through High School. This is an especially good grounding for Children’s publishing since you have a broad range of knowledge and interests.

I think anything which helps make you a good researcher (I think studying history in university helped me a LOT) will support writing.
I also think you need to be interested in the world around you and what makes people tick, so I read lots of (light) psychology books and related fiction (I LOVE E.R Frank) and general politics and interesting social studies. I think finding a good general magazine which has interesting articles which make you think are wonderful for prompting new ideas. Interesting bloggers do the same (here’s one of my favourites, Laurie Penny:

Kindergarten students giving their version of a "Thumbs up"!

From the kindergarten crew:
Zayd wanted you to know he makes books – he cuts and folds and staples. He asked, “How do you make your books?”

I also cut and fold – but I glue instead of staple. This is how I make a test book to make sure everything fits together. When I’m happy, I send it off to the printers and they do all the cutting and folding for me. This happens when I make the Lola books (which have to be perfect because they’re for sale) but I still make stuck together books for myself and my friends and to test out new ideas.
Marie asked, “How did you make up the stories?
Usually I see something or someone and they give me the starting idea. Then I add more bits and pieces later. Once I wrote a whole story in my head on a bus just because I heard someone say something funny. All the authors I see in interviews seem to have lovely pencils and notebooks with them all the time. But even though I like to buy nice notebooks, I kind of spare them… and I can NEVER find one when I have an idea so I sometimes write ideas on the back of my bus ticket or a receipt from my purse, or I have to rush home and write the idea down before I forget it!
Ashland thought Lola would make a good president but she wondered, “How did you figure out Lola’s name?”

I think Ashland is very wise and if Lola were president, the world would be a better place. You know, I think Lola’s name came with the idea for the story. I know I sat down at my computer one day and just wrote “Lola Loves Tuesdays.” I am very interested in names (I like my name very much but it’s a bummer that it’s the same backwards – that’s quite boring). Do you know that in Holland, the word for library is Bieb, so in Holland Lola is called Bibi!
What a great name! Bodie didn’t have any questions but after hearing, Lola Loves Stories he said, “I wish my dad could take me to the library every day so I could check out lots and lots of books.” 

I hope Bodie can get to the library with his dad. He could check out lots of books, enough for a whole week, and then he wouldn’t need to go every day.
Joden said he loved, Lola Loves Stories, but he had one question, “Why didn’t you put a cat in the story?” 

That’s an excellent question. I think because I put a tiger, I thought that was a sort of big cat – but I’ll certainly consider putting a cat in the next story.
Thank you, Anna McQuinn for taking the time to answer our questions and for telling your stories. We look forward to reading more in the future.
They were great questions, thanks for sending them. They made me think – which is always a good sign.


  1. Great interview, Jeanette. I love that you let your students ask questions. I also enjoyed Anna's answer to your own question about "the most interesting thing about you that you’ve never been asked." Thanks for sharing your link at the Interview Wednesday roundup.