Monday, June 2, 2014

Students Interview Jim Averbeck

Welcome back, Jim Averbeck. Our Redwood students had such fun participating in an interview with you back in December of 2012—we’re overdue for a second one. Your book, The Market Bowl, was a hit with the kids and they’re full of questions for you.



Olivya: How long did it take you to write this book?

Jim: It took me probably 2 years all together. Even though it was very short, I wanted to make it perfect, so I re-wrote it many times. Plus I had to do all the art, which took about 9 months.

Riley: Did you use paint or crayons to make the pictures?

Jim: I used paint and also paper. I scanned everything into my computer and assembled the pieces there.

Ariel likes paints and paintbrushes and crayons and pencils and she likes to knit. She wondered if the blankets in the picture at the market were knitted.

Jim: Those things for sale at the market are called pagnes (pronounced pah-nyah). They are lengths of cloth that people in Cameroon wear either by wrapping them around their bodies or by sewing dresses and pants and other clothing from them. They have a kind of shirt they make from them called a boubou (pronounced booboo)

Maddie: Do you like writing stories?

Jim: I don’t like writing stories… I LOVE writing them.

Jacob doesn’t have any questions but he wants you to know he likes the part where Yoyo makes the yucky stew. He really loves the flies.

Jim: I liked the flies too. Poor Yoyo!  No one liked her first stew except the goats.

Zayde: Why didn’t Brother Coin wear a shirt?

Jim: It can sometimes be very hot in Cameroon. In the part of Cameroon where THE MARKET BOWL is set, there is a traditional outfit the men wear which consists of a length of colorful cloth wrapped around the waist.  It’s comfortable for them.

Skyler: Why did Yoyo make stew—why didn’t she cook brown eggs?

Jim: Mama and Yoyo did not have enough money to own chickens to lay any eggs. But the leaves for Ndolé grow wild in the rainforest, so they didn’t need to buy them.


Allisyn: How does it feel to be an author?

Jim: Scary because I never know if anyone will buy my book. Like Yoyo and Mama, I depend on what I make to give me money for food and clothes and stuff. I wish I could get a blessing on MY market bowl.

The kids would bless your bowl if they could. But since they can’t do that, they’ve promised to spread the word about your book. They’re sure it will sell well.

Diego: When you were in school, did you do a lot of writing and drawing?

Jim: I liked to draw when I was little but I started writing stories because I loved to read, and I wanted to make stories like the authors I admired.

Kiara: Could you write a castle story?

Jim: I can start one. Maybe you can finish it. Here goes:
Eliana had a secret. Inside the left bottom drawer of the desk in her bedroom she kept a tiny castle. Not a toy castle, but a real one, with a tiny king and a tiny queen, who ruled all the people who lived inside the drawer. Eliana never opened the drawer all the way. She didn’t want to scare the tiny people, to whom she was a giant. But one day she had to open the drawer because…

If you could have seen the wide-eyed looks on the kids’ faces as I read Eliana’s secret, you would have had a hard time stopping but I’m glad you did. The beginning inspired the whole class and they are working together to finish the story.

Santiago: “How did you learn to be an artist?”

Jim: By doing art. I still struggle every day. It is hard because I see a picture in my head, but I can never draw or paint it as well as I see it in my head. But every time I try to make a piece of art, I learn something and I get better. Maybe I will be a really great artist someday.

The kids think you already are a great artist.

Sean: What is Yoyo’s dog’s name?

Jim: Ebobolo.  (all the o’s are pronounced like the word “oh”)

Diego: Why does Brother Coin live in a cave?

Jim: Brother Coin is an ancient spirit. He has been around since before there were houses. He has a very elaborate and fancy cave with all the things he likes best, so he has never taken to houses, after they were invented.

Byron: Does Brother Coin have a brother?

Jim: He has a brother named Poverty and he also has a pet bull and a pet bear.

Santiago: How did you think of these ideas for the story?

Jim: Different ideas come from different places. Sometimes I dream them. Sometimes I write a word on the page and then think about things that are opposite of that word and how I might make a story out of opposite words. Sometimes I listen to things kids say and it makes me think of a good story idea.

Aubree: I like the story. Are there giraffes where Yoyo lives?

Jim: There are giraffes close to where Yoyo lives. She lives in the forest. The giraffes live on a grassy plain a long drive to the north of her.

Daniel: Do the people, where Yoyo lives, eat anything besides bitterleaf stew?

Jim: Yes- they eat lots of things. They eat some things that you and I might eat- spaghetti with tomatoes, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes. But they also eat crocodile, monkey and termites. I’ve eaten fried termites too. They are crunchy and salty like popcorn.

“Eewe!” That was the response from several of the students but others were hoping to try a few termites. We had quite a discussion about how people of other cultures might like some of the foods we eat.

Dmitri really liked the story and he said he learned a good lesson. He likes to sell his old stuff and he decided he will never again, refuse a fair price, even if it is just a quarter.

Jim: Just as long as he gets a fair price, he should do okay with that strategy.

I hadn’t intended to mention the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) during this interview but Dmitri’s comment nudged me to do so. The third Reading Standard for Literature asks second-grade students to “Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.”  I think Dmitri is on his way to meeting this one. Thank you for supplying us with an appropriate CCSS literature text, even if it wasn’t your motivation for writing it.

Jim: No problem. I am looking at my novel A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT and making a CCSS guide for it. Maybe I should make one for MARKET BOWL too.

If you did, I know of several teachers who would put it to good use. That brings me to a question of my own, now that forty-five states have adopted the standards, will that influence what you write?

Jim: Not really. I quit a lucrative job to become a writer because I wanted to tell stories that delight me. I write for myself and have just been very blessed that people will pay me a little for my stories.  I wouldn’t change that for CCSS. That said-- I will create and include more “informational text” as either auxiliary materials or as author notes in the actual book, to help teachers more easily access the research I’ve done to meet some of the standards and to give them a way to reach the fiction/nonfiction percentage mixes in one nice package. And I will create guides that give ideas for how to use the book to meet specific standards.

Wonderful! I’m sure your stories are delightful because they delight you. The CCSS guides will be useful but from my perspective, an engaging story has the most value of all.

To wrap up our interview, do you have any advice for young writers?

Jim: Just to remember that when they write something, if it isn’t the best they can do the first time, they can write it again and again until they are satisfied that it is as good as they can make it.

Great advice! I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Jim Averbeck.

Mrs. Jackson’s class art project—Market Bowls sitting over flames:



  1. This conversation about the Market Bowl and the art work project to follow are fabulous!

    1. Thank you! It was great fun for the students and I loved seeing their art work. They were excited to take part in the interview, especially since Jim Averbeck was so responsive to their questions.