Laura McGee Kvasnosky recalls, “Since I was a little kid, I’ve thought of myself as a writer.” She started out as a journalist, first by sharpening pencils for her newspaper columnist father. Then in high school, she moved onto the “Campus Letter,” a column published in her father’s newspaper. “Campus Letter” was written first by Kvasnosky’s two older sisters, then Kvasnosky, and then her younger sister and brother. Kvasnosky remembers sitting with her father every Wednesday night while he edited her work. “It was not often pleasant, but it was how I learned to write.” As a 30-something adult, Kvasnosky left journalism because she always felt she could “make a better story unhampered by facts.”
She vividly remembers her first sale. April Fools Day 1992. An editor at Dutton offered to buy the text of What Shall I Dream? (Dutton, 1996), but not Kvasnosky’s pictures. She now quips, “It was disappointing that [the editor] didn’t buy my illustrations, but I would have sold a child to publish a book!” What Shall I Dream? was quickly followed by the sale of two board books that Kvasnosky wrote and illustrated: One, Two, Three, Play With Me!(Dutton, 1994) and Pink, Red, Blue, What are You? (Dutton, 1994).
Kvasnosky’s story ideas come from the world around her. She describes herself as a “pack rat of heightened experiences and overheard conversations.” According to Kvasnosky, “something in me recognizes that this [idea] belongs in a story. I write that kind of stuff down. The ideas get acquainted in my notebook and somehow know they belong to the same piece.”
While Kvasnosky was researching puffins for There Once Was a Puffin (Dutton, 1995), she happened across a 1942 issue of National Geographic containing articles on puffins and flying squirrels. Even though flying squirrels weren’t her main focus, the idea stayed with her. In Kvasnosky’s first novel, One Lucky Summer (Dutton, 2002), an injured flying squirrel helps bring two enemies together.
Kvasnosky describes Zelda and Ivy (Candlewick, 1998) as a “gift book. I sat down and their it was, almost exactly as it was published!” Zelda is the bossy controlling sister, and Ivy, the eager-to-please little sister. Their rivalries and loving moments are taken directly from Kvasnosky’s childhood. Kvasnosky even dedicates the book to her siblings: “To my sisters Susan, Nan, and Kate, and my brother, Tim with love from the favorite.”
Although Zelda and Ivy began as composites of the people in Kvasnosky’s life, they take on a life of their own in Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Next Door (Candlewick, 1999) andZelda and Ivy One Christmas (Candlewick, 2000). “Sometimes I hear something and I know that’s exactly what one of them would say.”
Izzy and Frank, an upcoming book, is based on Kvasnosky and her husband who are polar opposites. The story focuses on a camping trip for which Frank plans ahead and packs for every eventuality. In contrast, Izzy grabs her backpack and trail mix, wanting to be spontaneous and free. “I’m using those dynamics that amuse me in my relationship with my husband, but at the same time I have to make sure it’s interesting to children.”
Kvasnosky lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and their arthritic ten year old Springer Spaniel. Prior to finding her niche as a writer and illustrator, Kvasnosky manufactured over 10,000 clay Christmas ornaments in her kitchen and worked as a graphic designer for 15 years. Her favorite career, however, was being a mom to her two now-adult children. “Nothing is as hard or as satisfying.”
Now, Kvasnosky works at making books 40 hours a week. “Writing for children demands the best I can bring to it—the elements of inspiration and craft, plus the persistence to rewrite and hone it to the best literature it can be.” Kvasnosky believes that creating a book is about trying to connect with other people. But creating is only half the equation. “The reader brings the other half. I really appreciate each person who takes the time to read my work and think about what I’ve said.”