Amy Ignatow, author of The Popularity Papers and The Mighty Odds series recently spoke to 400 students at the Free Library of Philadelphia about her career as an author/illustrator. While visiting the library, Amy sat down with us in the Children's Literature Research Collection and spoke about the field of Children's Literature.
The Popularity Papers is such a successful and, well, popular series. Can you tell us a little about your outline for the series? Did you know from the beginning that your story would run for seven books? And—most importantly—will there be an eighth?
I had no idea it would run for seven books. I was hoping for maaaaaybe two so that I could impress a college enough to hire me to teach illustration. But Dan (my literary agent) urged me to write a story that could keep going, because he's a freaky book wizard who can read the future. He had me write a fairly comprehensive outline and the first 75 pages of the first Popularity Papers book, and that's what he submitted to publishers.
As far as I can see, there will be no more Popularity Papers, although who knows, maybe in ten years I'll write a book about their freshman year of college (although probably not). I love love love those characters but I feel like their story has been told and I'm happy where they ended up.
I've created a calendar reminder for November 2027 that states "Bug Amy about The Popularity Papers: The Freshman Class." I think that would be agreat idea! But I'm also dying for another book in the series. You’ve noted in the past that you chose to illustrate The Popularity Papers with materials that are easily accessible to middle schoolers – crayons, pens, markers, etc. That’s a savvy choice. Did the illustration style change from your early planning to the final product?
Good luck getting through to me in 2027; I suspect by then I'll be High Priestess of the sovereign country of East Pennsyljersia and very busy inspiring an army of mutant warriors to conquer the powerful city-state of DuPont.
There's this big leap in quality from the first book to the second; it's as if Julie suddenly became a much better artist. That was just me wanting to draw things that were a little bit more sophisticated for even a talented fifth grader. I figured that no one would mind.
But real talk—by the end of seven books with 208 fully illustrated pages in each book, I was super over sharpening colored pencils. I need a helper monkey.
I can't even begin to imagine how many pencils you went through over the run of the series. Lydia and Julie have different voices. Is it hard to narrate a story in two voices?
Nope! Although I don't believe their voices are so different; they speak like old friends, and old friends tend to have ways of communicating that are unique to their relationship. What distinguishes them from each other is their different motivations; Lydia wants to try everything and blow up her world, and Julie wants to hang out with Lydia so she goes along with her wackadoo plans.
You just released Against the Odds: An Odds Book, a follow-up to The Mighty Odds, and your quartet of unusually-powered super-tweens is evolving new powers. They’re also evolving as people and as friends. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this series?
The Popularity Papers was all about friendship; real, warm, true friendship, so I wanted to try something different and take four characters from completely different backgrounds who decidedly don't like each other yet and are forced by circumstance to depend on each other and discover the people behind the stereotypes. That's not a particularly original story, I realize, but it's been such a lovely challenge to get these characters to not only rely on each other, but respect each other and learn about themselves through getting to know one another. Plus, you know, I get to write about screaming bunnies.
Screaming bunnies make everything better. Speaking of writing, what do you do when writer’s/illustrator’s block strikes?
I kind of hate the term "writer's block" (and honestly, I've never heard of illustrator's block, because once the idea for the drawing is written down, the image is already in your head). When people say "writer's block", what they actually mean is "I'm afraid to write something down because it's going to be bad" (or, in my case, "I should be writing but I've got all this important political commentary to read so that I feel like I have some modicum of control over what's happening in my country.") When that happens, I've learned that getting down on myself about it only makes me feel worse, so I put on some music that I always play when it's writing time, and that gets me in the groove.
I will never use the "WB" term in your presence again! Would you be willing to share with us one of the songs on your writing playlist? It might help inspire future authors.
My go-to for years has been Beirut (specifically the album, The Flying Club Cup). I now have a Pavlovian response to the first strains of "A Call to Arms". There's something about the music that distracts the part of my brain that wants to goof off while not activating the part of my brain that wants to sing along and have a studio dance party.
The students at Amy's talk also received a copy of her book, The Mighty Odds, courtesy of the Margaret S. Halloran Family Programming Series. Thank you Amy for the stimulating conversation and good advice! Many thanks to the Halloran Family Programming Series for providing us with these fantastic literacy opportunities!