Transcript from an interview with Lynne Rae Perkins

Porch stories

I’m Lynne Rae Perkins and I write and illustrate books, picture books and also longer books.

As a child, I never thought at all about being a writer. I grew up on a street that was built by one man, all the houses had the same floor plan so you could go into anybody else’s house and know exactly where things were. And everybody moved in within a couple of years of each other, so there were I think 40 kinds on my street.

Which as a child was a really great thing, there was always somebody to play with and we did kind of run wild and since it was a fairly new development, on the other side of our street there were woods and there was this big open field called the Boney Dump which is where the steel processing, it was near Pittsburgh, so where the steel processing places dumped their, it’s called boney, and it’s a byproduct of steel making.

But anyways, it was this big field, it was kind of full of cinder, and we played there a lot too. But we would be gone all day and we would come home when it was dinner time, so there was really a lot of freedom and there was a lot of, you know our parents didn’t do anything in particular to entertain us, they would just say get out of the house and then we would be on our own, making up things to do. So I think that was a really great thing.

In terms of storytelling there was a lot of sitting on porches at night, you know in warm weather of course and my mother is something of a storyteller and it was always interesting to me that I think I became aware fairly early on that you could edit a story to make it communicate what you wanted to communicate and to make your side of the story be the good side.

And I would hear stories about myself, about something that had happened to me that maybe to me seemed like a disaster but in my mother’s story I was the hero of the story so that was an interesting thing to learn about. I did read a lot. Me, mostly, there are so many books that are considered classics now that I never encountered until I was an adult. I read grocery store children’s books, you know I read Little Golden Books and Tab Book Club books.

And then bookmobile books, and we did have a library and it had a big series, I think it was a landmark series of biographies which I read all of those. And so I did read a lot and my parents were not readers, and they read the newspaper but they didn’t read books and I think they thought it was a really great thing that I was a reader and they never really censored what I read because I don’t think it dawned on them that I would, that reading could be a bad thing.

Although I did, it did start me on some ways that led me away from my childhood, neighborhood, whatever ethos or something you know which was fairly conservative and some other things. But that gave me a lot of freedom that they were just so supportive of me reading and writing for me, I mean I wrote in school but writing happened much later.

The road to children’s books

I went to Penn State as an undergrad and I started out as an architecture major and I was planning to go into urban planning. I changed my major after three days, I got terrified by my freshman architecture professor and I ran to the art department thinking I’ll just do this until I think of something else that I really want to do.

And then I had some really wonderful professors there and so I stayed on and on and on. I was a printmaking and drawing major and my work was always, always representational and friendly so, I mean I think it was friendly. So it always seemed to me that illustration was something that I might ultimately do but I was in a college art program where the fine arts and the commercial arts did not have a really friendly relationship.

So I was not encouraged in that direction since I was in the fine art part. So I had no idea how to get there so I just kept doing fine arts for some time. Let’s see, in grad school, which I also did in printmaking and which I did mostly because I didn’t know what else to do next.

You know I started thinking then again about illustrating and after I finished grad school I actually took a class at another school in illustration and really liked it but I just took the one class and I didn’t really know where to go so I worked for a while as a graphic designer. Then I had this chance occurrence, I was visiting my hometown and I was talking with somebody who grew up across the street from me.

Who when we were growing up I didn’t know her very well because she was about six years older than me, her brother was a friend of mine, he was my age. And we got to talking and she was a software writer, a children’s educational software writer. And she was working on a program called color and read in English and Spanish. It was a bilingual computer coloring book. he needed somebody to do the drawings.

So I said okay, I’ll do that and artistically the main requirement for these drawings was that all the lines formed complete closed units so that if the child clicked on this spot it wouldn’t color in the whole picture, they had to be these separate little units. But I was living in Michigan at the time and she was in Pittsburgh and we didn’t this all via the U.S. mail.

And I just really enjoyed so much getting to know her through this process, she was great to work with, that I wanted to extend our friendship. So I sent her some color copies, photocopies of some drawings I had done just to say this is who I am, this is what I like to do. And she signed me up for a conference in Pittsburgh that was a children’s book writing and illustrating conference.

And it included a portfolio review with the art director of Greenwillow Books. So she told me what you need to do is take a well-known story or fairytale, make six drawings about it so that they can see that you can take one character through many situations, have the character be recognizable, have the six drawings be different enough to be interesting but coherent enough to be a group.

And I met with Eva Weiss, who was the art director of Greenwillow Books and she looked at my portfolio, she was very encouraging, and she said your work is imminently publishable and then she said do you also write? And I found out later that this is a question she asks everybody whose portfolio she looks at but at the time I thought she had spotted some hidden talent in me that no one else ever had and I said well I have some ideas.

And she said send us your ideas and she gave me her business card and so I went home, and I had been thinking about this little story for three months and so it was somehow really easy to write down and type up, in three days I wrote it down and typed it up and I sent it off. And they wanted to buy it and they wanted me to illustrate it. So I thought well maybe this is something I can do.

I was 35 years old when that happened so I’m a late bloomer poster child.


How did I find my voice? That’s a really interesting question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I do remember at some point, my first novel was All Alone in the Universe and I set it in a lightly fictionalized version of my hometown and it seemed to me that my hometown, in the same way that I wanted to say to those kids your life is beautiful, it seemed to me that my hometown offered a lot of richness and good stories.

And I remember it, when I was working on that book, I think I read a quote from, who was it? James Thurber who, or somebody describing James Thurber and how he had this little territory that was James Thurber and then thinking about how you know, not to put myself up too high but how William Faulkner has Yoknapatawpha County or whatever.

And I thought I think that suburban Pittsburgh might be my place that I can talk about, you know partly because I, but it took me not living there to be able to do that. I really admire people who are able to stay in one place and talk about it in an objective, loving but objective way. I had to leave it for a long time before I could see a lot of things about it.

Words and pictures, back and forth

Using different forms for different parts of a book for me definitely is dictated by the story I think. But it’s also dictated by, you know, I go back and forth, most of the time I go back and forth between writing and the visual part of it.

And you know often, I have a friend who is an artist who also plays bass and he says when I’m stuck in my art, when I’m stuck in my music I draw and I think that works that way for me too. When I’m writing, ideas for visual things come to mind and when I’m working on visual things, bits of dialogue. So I always have the little side notebook where I make notes about what I’m going to do next.

I remember when I was working on Criss Cross, there’s a line where a character named Hector says the world was opening up like the civic arena. Which is a building that no longer exists, but it was a big arena in Pittsburg that had a roof that opened up in nice weather. And I had sort of for some reason I had thought Hector’s thoughts in this book would be photographs where Debbie’s would be pen and ink drawings.

And I also had a job for a while working for a model railroad company where models of buildings, so I thought I’m going to make a model of the civic arena and I just, I love making things anyway. So I cut a globe, my husband did this part for me, cut the globe in half and I made this little stadium and I used little beads for the people.

And then I put Vaseline around the outside of my camera lens and then I put you know little rocks and moss around it so it would look like it was in a landscape. y editor called while I was working on this and my husband told her what I was doing and she said what is she doing that for? And you know once you start thinking about those things you think of more and more of them and so I sent her this sort of first draft with all these various things in thinking she’s going to tell me I can’t do this.

But she didn’t and you know she didn’t even question it, she just talked about what was there and I felt like this carte blanche had been given to me, I can do anything I want as long as it has to do with the story. And so that was a really freeing moment. And I just like trying different things, like in the chapter with the haiku, the pen and ink illustrations are sort of…

I tried to refer to Japanese prints and how they’re composed. Just because it was fun to do and it was Japanese. So, I don’t even know how much of any of that registers with the reader but it’s fun for me.

I think there is more allowance for different forms, way more now. When I did All Alone in the Universe I had all these pen and ink drawings that I sent. I’ve only ever had two editors so this was with my first editor and she said I really like this but kids this age don’t want pictures in their books.

And this was in the 90’s and by the time I finished that book they were saying more pictures, more pictures. And since then it’s just been really interesting to watch like the graphic novel scene and the straight novel and how there are all these different hybrids and people combining them in different ways that I think it makes sense, it’s a lot of fun, why should it all be just one way or the other?

The improv troop

I think when I make illustrations I find things out about characters. When I first start working on an illustration, this also changes from when I’m first working on a book to when I’m at the end of the book and that changes in a really similar way in the drawing and in the writing.

At the beginning of the book I’m just trying to figure out who people are. And then I reach this point where I know who people are, and at the beginning I’m kind of cobbling them together out of little bits and pieces of things that I think I want them to be like. And this really interesting thing happens where they take on a life of their own.

I usually say it’s like having an improv troop at my disposal and I say okay, I’m going to put you and you in this situation and see what happens. And then I just get started and I kind of wait and see and visually I sort of know more then about what they look like or what kind of, a pose they might strike or body language or something.

My drawings at the beginning, it reminds me of, I was talking about something I don’t know a lot about but when they first start blocking a play in the theater and people are just reading their lines and standing here and that’s what my first drawings look like, they’re very stiff and it looks like you know three mannequins standing in a room and it takes a while for them to come alive.

I have to do those first drawings multiple times to make it feel like a real thing. But I learn about the characters while I’m doing that, which is really fun.

Writing spaces

I have two writing spaces. One is that every morning my husband brings me a thermos of coffee up in our bedroom and I struggle over to a little chair over on the other side of the room and I sit there with my notebook and my cup of coffee and that’s actually a really great thinking time for me, it’s you know my mind for some reason that’s when it works the best even though to the outside observer it wouldn’t look too effective.

But I sit there and whatever I put in front of my mind, that’s what my mind gets busy with so there’s that. That’s usually about an hour and then I dress myself and my studio is in the basement of our house. It’s in the basement but it’s a basement that’s partly above ground so I have these big picture windows and there’s a little woods outside. It’s really lovely.

And another really great feature of my basement studio is that it has in floor heating so it’s not, it’s not uncomfortable like some basements might be. It’s very cozy in the wintertime. You know I think something that would improve my studio is, and I guess I should describe it to you. It’s probably about 15 by 15 feet, it’s fairly large. I have a really big drawing table where I do most things and then a couple of other really big flat tables where I lay things out to look at them.

Also a really big important part of my studio is I have gigantic bulletin boards and as I’m working on a story I pin up the images in order so I can see how it’s going and in a way that helps me, even if it’s a novel, it helps me to get into that world. And I have a little couch that I write at sometimes and sometimes our dog sits there.

Something I would like some day to have in my studio is a very simple animation stand. Because I think it would be fun, I’ve done just a little bit of animating and I think I would like to know more about that.


In a way, rewriting is more fun than writing, I think. Because when I’m writing I don’t really know what’s going to happen or how I’m going to get somewhere. And in rewriting the basic structure is there, I’m just trying to say it better or make it cleaner or come up with a better solution to some problem. I do rewrite a lot and in fact, one of, for me one of the best ways to get started on any given day with my writing is to rewrite what I wrote the day before.

Often I will see clunky parts and I will change them as I go and it just sort of greases the wheels and once I’ve written those couple pages I’m ready to write some more. I think it’s really useful and I think it’s fun. I don’t believe that even me saying that will convince any kids.

Collecting ideas

Well, another way I like to describe it is maybe you remember the science experiment that kids sometimes do in elementary school where you make a solution and you tie a string to a pencil and you dip it in the solution and crystals form around it. For me most stories start with a couple little ideas and I’m not clear at all about how those ideas will go together.

But once you put them there, your brain starts thinking about them and ideas start to form around them. I know that it’s important I guess for kids to learn how to do outlines. But I never do outlines, I just start accumulating stuff and then after I’ve accumulated it starts to take a shape and I start taking away things that don’t need to be there and it’s not really like a straightforward outline process at all, it’s much more organic kind of thing.

But it seems to me that whatever you put in your mind, your mind starts collecting things that are related to that.

Seed by Seed

So in doing the illustrations for Seed by Seed, there were a couple of different kinds of research, I did a lot of research on that book actually. I read a biography of Johnny Appleseed that was really interesting. One thing that was really interesting is that we don’t really know what he looked like.

In this book that I read, they have, nobody had drew pictures of him. Nobody painted pictures of him, people wrote letters about him but the information in the letters is sometimes contradictory. You know one person will say his eyes were grey, one will say his eyes were brown and you know just really different descriptions. But there were some common threads.

He was strong, he was sinewy and a lot of the ideas that we have, you know that have become clichés, he didn’t actually go around with a coffee sack and a pot on his head all the time. But he did wear everybody’s cast off clothing. And there were some actually quite specific descriptions of things people saw him wearing. So that was one part of it.

And then Esme was, had her ideas about five things she wanted kids to remember, five things that seemed to her to be essential to his life. One was use what you have, share what you have, respect nature, you can reach your destination by taking small steps and I’ve left one out, which one did I leave out?

Anyway, so I was thinking I think kids would have an easier time remembering these ideas if they had something concrete to attach them to and when I said concrete I was thinking an actual, physical object. So I wanted the object to both embody the idea that it was trying to communicate and also to be something that would have existed in Johnny Appleseed’s time.

And to be something that would naturally have words on it that I could write those words on. So for example, there was a story that I read, actually it was a story in Esme’s manuscript, he would travel around and he would stay in people’s homes. And he was quite educated, he read a lot and he would leave chapters of books in people’s houses so that they could read them too.

And so share what you have, I looked up what books would have looked like at the time and I physically made a little fake book and the title of the book was share what you have and it was a book that had been separated into sections. So it was really interesting, I got to research a lot of different things and you know any time you do a book you don’t use all of what you research, you learn a lot of things that don’t go in.

So for example, one of the things I considered using is I learned with money, people would actually cut money in half and so you know a dollar if you could cut it in half it would be a half dollar. So I learned a lot of interesting things on the way.

Pictures from Our Vacation

So in Pictures from Our Vacation, it’s a combination of invented things and things that actually happened and things that our kids experienced and thoughts that I had myself. The scene where they run out the pier onto the gazebo and get stuck there in a rainstorm with a Vietnamese family was something that actually happened.

It just, I remember at the time thinking, you know they were speaking Vietnamese and we were speaking in English and I thought how funny, we were probably saying the exact same things but, but who would know? My husband has, his family has an old farmhouse in Ontario that’s been in their family for 150 years. In fact in the kitchen there’s a little door you can open and you can see the log cabin that’s still inside the house.

It was, you know, built around the log cabin. So, the year we took our kids there for maybe the first time, everything went wrong. And we were convinced, you know it did rain a lot, just all kinds of things happened. And we were convinced that they were having a terrible time and as we were pulling out the driveway of the farmhouse to come home, our daughter who was you know she was maybe seven or something.

And she said you know next time we come I want to la, la, la, la and I thought wow, she wants to come again because we were thinking they’re never going to want to come here again and it started me thinking you know about vacations I had experienced and how we, we think kids need this Disney perfect experience but I think for kids any experience is an experience and how you handle it with them makes it whether it’s an experience they enjoy or not.

You know I mean I have this vivid memory of that trip, we had gone to visit a little neighboring town and we’re stopping in shops and we were walking down a street and it started pouring again and so we all huddled inside this doorway you know the four of us inside this doorway waiting for the rain to end and there was something kind of wonderful about that.

So I thought you know, I think kids could relate to just experiencing things that are interesting not just you know, rainbows and sunshine all the time. So that was one of my impetuses for that trip, for that book.

Snow Music

I felt, so when I wrote Snow Music, that book started I took our dog for a walk on a snowy morning and he had, he was a very energetic dog and for every two steps I took down the road he was back and forth a bunch of times. So he had you know all these foot, oh and there were tire tracks that had gone down the road, two sets of tire tracks, so it wasn’t quite like a music staff because there were only four lines but still his little dog footprints going back and forth I thought oh wow, that looks like a music staff.

I started thinking how it would be fun to make a little movie with different animals moving through the snow and having music that would match, kind of like Peter and the Wolf but without that story you know, have music match their kind of movement. So I had that thought and then I let it sit for a long time.

And then I came back to it later and I just started drawing. I started drawing, I think the first thing I drew was the squirrel and I, you know I was kind of in between things, I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I actually just found it really fun to draw every hair on the squirrel, it was kind of calming to do this really detailed little squirrel drawing.

And I was at the time looking at a squirrel outside our window and I don’t know where it came from but the words oh I know, part of it was that they had, I had heard something on the radio about how squirrels don’t really remember where they left their nuts, they just you know, keep looking and I think there are different theories about that. But I was watching this squirrel jumping around and the words I think, I think I left it, I think I left it here somewhere just kind of popped into my head.

That started, that was I think a pivotal moment in that book of what the book was going to be about and I remember watching snow fall and wondering how you would describe that sound that’s almost not even a sound and I thought of, it would be a whispered sound with no, it was like peth, peth, peth was the word I came up with and I just filled a whole page with peth, peth, peth and then at the end of the book when I decided that in evening when the snow falls it would be sort of backwards but not quite.

Instead of peth, peth, peth, it would be fep, fep, fep. It would be a slightly different sound and you can tell that I live in a really small world because to me this just seemed like it’s brilliant. I felt really smart when I thought of making it be thep, thep, thep at the end of the day. But you know once you start thinking that way, things start, you start seeing things that way.

Like when the snow plow comes down the road you know you can think of the different sounds that it’s making and when you’re sitting in the car with your kids and they’re putting their finger on the window and it’s [noise], you know that’s part of the sound of that kind of day too, so.

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

So a number of years ago I read a book by Mark Salzman called The Laughing Sutra. And I think it’s a really wonderful book, I think, and I had actually read it with my book group and my son at the time was I think twelve or thirteen and I thought he would really like this book so I had him read it and then I had my friend’s son read it and they all thought it was a really good book and I was reading a review of it somewhere and it described it as a picaresque.

And I’m not even I’m sure I can pull of the exact definition at this point in time but it has something to do with having a rogue as a hero, a series of adventures with a rogue as a hero. And so I thought oh, I’d like to write a picaresque. So I started by reading Don Quixote which apparently was the first picaresque. But I was also thinking at the time, we had a very good friend who was the kind of guy that a 13-year-old boy would really like to get to know.

I mean he was sort of an adventurer, he was kind of a rogue and he really liked doing nice things for people but in his own kind of ornery way. We were building a house at the time and whenever there was a part that we couldn’t figure out how to do, my husband would call this friend of ours on the phone and he’d say I just don’t’ think it can be done and the next morning his truck would be in our driveway and he lived three and a half hours away and he would have an idea about how to solve this problem.

The only, the problem was that he had died, he had died in an accident and it made me sad that our son Frank would never get to know this friend of ours so I decided I will introduce them in this book. And that’s essentially how that book came to be. One of the hard parts was coming up with a scenario, I mean we’ve got cell phones and so many ways of connecting and averting disaster that for somebody to have an adventure you have to sort of do something drastic.

So I had to come up with a scenario where the parents were unreachable and these two characters meet and have an adventure together, so.

So when I was thinking about doing this book, I had this, I wish I had it with me, I had this plot diagram and it started out so there are, there’s the boy, Ry, and Dell and there’s his grandfather who stays home to watch the dogs. There are his parents who are on an island in the Caribbean and so I had this plot diagram where it’s just all a big tangle until they come together at the end.

There is a lot of luck in that book. And I think there’s a lot of luck in life if you, you know, choose to see it that way. I’m not really sure how to talk about it. The friend who I mentioned who was one of the inspiring forces in this book, we actually started out, I don’t talk about this that often, my husband and I started out in a little cabin on the side of a hill with no utilities.

And we lived that way for about a year, and we weren’t trying to prove anything we just were cheap and we wouldn’t, wanted to only get things when we could afford them so by and by we, you know did make a normal kind of relatively house. But our friend was visiting us once when, before any of that happened and I think he was washing his hair on our kitchen floor in a basin.

And he was saying lucky, lucky, lucky, I’m just so lucky. You know he was saying you know a lot of people in the world don’t even have this. He’s trying to convince himself that he was lucky to be washing his hair on our kitchen floor in a basin. So, you know it just depends on how you look at it.

Criss Cross

You know with Criss Cross, I know that some people see it as a quiet book or that not a lot happens. To me a whole lot happens. Especially for example, so the main character Debbie, there’s a scene in which she rescues a woman from diabetic shock, fixes the plumbing, jump starts the car, and the woman to the hospital. To me that’s a lot of action.

So I think a lot of things happen. But I also think that you know, I had a friend once who said to me you know little things happen to you and you think that they’re really big things and I think that’s okay, I’m okay with that. Little things are big things for me.

I was thinking about high school, I was a late bloomer also romantically and I didn’t really date anybody in high school. But I was thinking back and I was thinking how in adolescence you know there are people who are having lots of romantic action but then there are people who can barely say hello to someone of the opposite or same gender.

And I was thinking about how so often like maybe you look at somebody but they’re not looking at the right time and so they look away and then they look at you and you’re not looking so you just miss your moment, you know and I feel like there are all these missed opportunities and I see these gazes going like this. And there’s a movie…is it Strangers on a Train?

Where the stranger entreats the hero to commit a crime and he’s saying you commit this crime and I’ll commit that crime, criss cross. And so somehow that phrase of the “two missed things” seems to perfectly embody all those missed opportunities. I think that so often when kids have experienced a missed opportunity they don’t even know it and they think I’m doing it wrong, I’m not getting it right.

And really like if you just keep trying at some point you won’t criss cross, you’ll connect. So that’s what I was trying to say I think. One of the things I was trying to say, I was trying to say a lot of things.

I think there are moments in our lives, and that happens in the chapter for Hector that’s called sponge state. I think there are just moments in our lives where we’re ready to see things. And it could be a romantic interest or it could be a guitar or it could be a motorcycle or just whatever, when your mind is in the right state you’ll make a connection with whatever is in front of you. And I think that’s really interesting.

Winning the Newbery

Yeah, winning the Newbery, it was you know first very exciting as an event. I think as a writer, it was really affirming and it, you know you’re always doing these things and wondering does this have value to anybody and it felt like the world was saying yeah, these are, you have some good ideas. Keep going. So it gave me, I feel like it gave me confidence going forward.

Which, let’s see, that’s been about almost 10 years now so I’d say the confidence lasted. I don’t know, it started to be not quite as strong maybe, but it really did make me feel like the world was encouraging me.

Nuts to You

Let’s see, Nuts to You. This book, so I was sitting at my desk, I was actually working on Seed by Seed, the drawings for Seed by Seed and I have no idea where this phrase came from but the phrase the squirrel who cried wolf popped into my head and it just made me laugh out loud. And so I wrote it down and you know didn’t think about it very much.

But then it was sitting on this little piece of paper on my desk and I would think about it now and then and then one morning while I was doing the morning coffee thing with my notebook, I started thinking of other little phrases that could go in there like where the squirrels are, the squirrel who fell to earth you know and just different little titles that I could put in.

And it really started out as just a lark and it pretty much stayed a lark. I think I just wanted to do something that was fun for me and fun for readers and it’s you know not that hard to get into the head of a squirrel. It’s not that hard to imagine, but it was really fun and it would lead to some unexpected things for example there’s a part where I tried to imagine what it would be like for a squirrel to see a hunter in camouflage.

And it seemed to me like you would just see these floating heads moving along in the landscape. And so I had the one squirrel you know hanging onto the tree because it made him dizzy, he wasn’t sure what he was seeing but then once you figure it out it’s kind of cheesy and yeah it was really, it was really just kind of fun and then you know, so it took me a while. I was writing this little squirrel story and I didn’t sort of know what genre it was going to go into.

And then I realized there’s this whole genre of rodent adventure stories which I don’t know why there are so many of them but there really are, like there are more, there are mice stories and rat stories and way more than you know there’s maybe here and there a bear story or an elephant story but rodents are really well represented. And I don’t know why that is, I wonder if it’s because they’re really in our world.

And they look back at us and so we feel this presence and so we maybe feel we can identify with them or have empathy with them or something.

Creating characters

Well, when I started Nuts to You, my original thought was in terms of the format that the left page would tell the story in comic book format and the right page would tell the story in words and I just, I think I was thinking of reluctant readers and how that would encourage kids like, because they would be able to tell what was going on and then they could read the story and find their way through it.

And it’s not so much that I decided not to do that but it just kind of evolved into not being so rigid like left side, right side. I still did lots of drawings. But that’s where I started with it. And I also, so I was kind of interested also, I didn’t want to draw, I was thinking of it as not a picture book, I didn’t want them to be animals with outfits on.

So I was trying to think how do I differentiate one squirrel from another because they, you know to an outsider they look a lot alike. And so I was playing with the drawings and different head shapes and maybe, so it’s the one character has a mole on her cheek and she’s sort of more beautiful than the male characters.

And then I decided that one character could have an acorn beret and I cut this picture out of a field guide and it was a squirrel peeking around the corner and I painted a little acorn hat on him and I thought wow, he looks so familiar. And I looked at him, I realized he looks just like Che Guevara. So for a while I was writing this story and I was calling him Che.

And I thought I don’t really want this element in my story, this political element. But what that got me thinking about was maybe their names should sound like, sounds that squirrels actually make so I changed his name to Chai, and the character whose name is Tutsa, because that sounds like something, and if you do it the squirrel way it’s more like [noise]. So that was the fun part of the story then was coming up with squirrel names.

Perkins reads an excerpt from Nuts to You

Okay, chapter one of Nuts to You, the Squirrel Who Cried Wolf. It’s true that there was a wolf, or wolves. There may have been more than one. Maybe they were actually coyotes, who knows. They all look pretty much the same to a squirrel. Huge, shaggy, terrible yellow eyes, red slobbery mouth with big sharp pointy teeth.

And it’s true that if you’re a squirrel on the ground and a wolf or a coyote strolls into the neighborhood, running up a tree is the best plan. No one is going to argue with that. The problem was the squirrel called Jib. He kept yelling wolf just to see everyone run. He’d been doing it all day, he thought it was funny. And a little bit, it made him feel important because most of the time no one listened or paid any attention to him.

But when he shouted wolf, up the trees they all went. Except for Judd. Jib looked at him annoyed. Wolf, he shouted again, but Judd stayed put. He was busy, he had nuts to bury, winter was coming. The first frost was long gone and the air felt cooler with each passing day. Leaves were falling into crispy yellow piles on the ground.

Any day now there would be snow. Just a little at first, but then mountains of it. Wolf, wolf, wolf, Judd said irritably. Is that the only word he knows? Judd did look around to see if there was a wolf, because he was irritated, but you just never know. Sure enough, no wolf in sight. He shook his head and went back to his work, muttering and nattering.

Wolf shrieked Jib. Wolf, wolf, wolf, Judd muttered. There is no wolf. And then the foolish Jib saw something. Not a wolf, but something very real, something dangerous. In his fright, he blurted out the first word that popped into his head, the one he’d been saying all day. Wolf? Muttering and digging, Judd did not notice until the very last instant how the air above him had gone suddenly still and silent.

Oh, he said in surprise, as a set of talons tightened around him and lifted him up, up, up, past every whorl of branches, up above the treetops into the vast reaches of the sky. Cold air rushed over his face, forced his eyes to squeeze shut. Every muscle in his body tensed up. He may have peed a little bit, who wouldn’t?

All four of his paws curled and clinched, his mind raced, a light wave of fear rolled in and filled him up. And somehow even through the roaring of the fear and the rushing of the air he could hear a small voice inside him saying this is it then. Jib watched the fearsome bird swoop down, snatch his cousin Judd, and swoop back up. Hawk he said correcting himself, I should have cried hawk, so he did it now.

Hawk he cried, hawk, hawk. End of chapter one.

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go." — Dr. Seuss