Transcript from an interview with Pamela Duncan Edwards

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Pamela Duncan Edwards. The transcript is divided into the following sections:

Pamela Duncan Edwards

All about alliteration

"When I started to write those two books, I don't think consciously I did it as an educational tool. But I think because I'm an educator, the educational tools slipped in. I didn't intend to write them as alliteration books, but the first line came to me, 'One summer Sunday, a slug slithered' – I can't remember exactly – and I thought, "That's a great way of doing it. That's a great way of introducing children to alliteration," and using incredible vocabulary as a fun way to write and to read. And so the first two books were alliterative books."

"And I do like writing alliterative books. I have great fun writing them, because I get my thesaurus out. I have to find a word that begins with that letter that will say what I want to say. It's such good fun. And as I'm reading in my thesaurus, I'm finding other words. I'm finding words that I hadn't even thought of for years and years and years. So it's a great expansion of my vocabulary, as well as the child's vocabulary."

"I think in those books there are probably some harder words than I would normally use in a picture book, but I am a great believer in children expanding their vocabulary. But expanding their vocabulary not because a teacher stands up in front of them and teaches them that vocabulary; but because they read it in a context, so that they absorb the vocabulary. They may not know what "shantung" means. Shantung is in Some Smug Slug. But, my goodness, you know, they work it out; because it's shiny like shantung. So, shantung naturally must be a shiny material. It must be something like silk. And then, hopefully, they'll go to a dictionary and look it up and find out what shantung really is. And never again in their life, hopefully, will they forget what shantung is. I think it's a wonderful way to expand vocabulary."

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A rare collaboration

"I worked with Henry Cole for probably about 14 years, and knew him as a fabulous artist in the school. He was always very helpful and would do anything that you asked him to do. I cannot draw at all, I'm afraid. I still am at the stick figure stage of drawing, so I used to ask Henry a lot, would he illustrate something that I wanted to give to the children?"

"And, of course, he teaches science, so I knew that animals were a love of his. Animals are a love of mine. I live out in the country. I have a groundhog living underneath the deck, with three little babies. I have foxes walking across the grounds. I adore animals, so it was a natural collaboration, basically, to go with an animal/nature type of theme in most of the books."

"And I think, when I do write, that I think of Henry as being the illustrator, and I probably turn things that maybe I would normally do with human beings – I start to turn them in my mind just to doing them with animals. I think to myself, 'Henry will do a fabulous little character of that particular protagonist…'"

"The collaboration that Henry and I have is probably rare. I think most authors don't ever see, or have much contact with, their illustrator. I'm in the lucky position of being able to write a book and take it to Henry and say, "Does this inspire you with a character?" And, you know, then we're away. I think it's fabulous to be able to do that."

"And vice versa, in a way. If he comes up with a character, he will very generously show me that character before he sends it, most of the time, to the publisher. And we can both get excited about the character together. It's great."

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It's the reader's choice

"I think when you're choosing books with your children to read, I think the big word is 'choice,' and I think that you need to respect your children's choice. I think they should be the first choice. If you feel that it's not a book that you want to read, perhaps explain to them why you don't think it's a good book to read."

"But I'm a great believer in the fact that children can read most things and can absorb. And children are sensible enough to know fact from fiction, and they know that they aren't going to do many of the things that are funny. They're not going to turn their head teacher into something weird. It's not going to happen. But it doesn't mean that they're not having fun when they're reading it. And if that's encouraging them to read, let them do it, I think. If you're reading the back of a food packet, it's still reading. Encouraging them is the big thing."

"If you're reading with them, then, yes, you probably want something that you are getting enjoyment out of. But don't force books. Don't force books down their throats, because then you'll turn a potential reader into a very bored person who doesn't want to read."

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Real life characters

"Lots of people ask me if I've got a favorite book. It's a very hard question to answer, because I think the favorite book is the one, probably, that I'm working on at the moment, because I get so involved with that character."

"One of my favorite books is Livingstone Mouse. Livingstone Mouse happened because I found a mouse in my mailbox, who had nibbled my mail and made a nest out of this mail. And, in fact, I called for Henry Cole to come around, because I wasn't going to move her out of the mailbox, and my husband was at work. And he came, and we put her into the woodpile. And then we both began to laugh, because it was the teeniest – she was like this size. And we thought, 'If she has five babies, how is she going to bring up five babies in that little nest?'"

"And so the idea for Livingstone Mouse then came, because Livingstone Mouse is a mouse who grows too big to live in his mother's nest, so he has to go and find somewhere else to live. And I think, actually, that's where stories come from – they come from seeing things around me that happen and ideas start in my head like that."

I think another one is Dinorella. She's a very great favorite. And the other one probably, I think, is Honk. Because I always wanted to be a ballerina! And I had flat feet, and I got thrown out of ballet class. So, I never became a ballerina. So, I think I'm living through the 'swanerina.'

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox