Author/Illustrator Judy Schachner

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If you were to ask any the students at the school where I work who Skippy-Jon Jones is, they will always be able to tell you. And if they're in a good mood, they will most likely reply, using their very best Spanish accents, “His ears are too beeg for his head. His head is too beeg for his body. He is not a Siamese cat, he is Chihuahua!”

The author behind this beloved character and many others is Mrs. Judy Schachner. I loved having the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Schachner about her career, one of her most popular book characters and where he will go in the future!

Rachel- Tell us about yourself.

Judy Schachner- Well, I have been an illustrator since 1973 when I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art. At the age of forty, I started writing and illustrating children's books. I've been doing that for twenty years now, so that makes me a senior citizen. {laughs}At sixty. I feel very lucky that I get to be a professional eight year-old.

RH- How did you first become interested in writing?

JS- Honestly, I never had a big interest in writing. But after having read so many children's books to my two daughters as they were growing up, that rhythm was in my head. When I went on an interview to New York with my portfolio of art, the editor asked me if I wrote. I told a lie and said, “Yes.” Then I had to go home and write. That's really how it began.

I was never a very good writing student in school growing up. I wasn't a good speller, I don't think I was a good reader for a large part of my life. I needed glasses and I didn't have them. So, it all came as sort of a surprise. I learned, at a very old age, that if you can tell a good story, you can write a good story.

RH- Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

JS- Actually, most of my inspiration comes from my own life, so far. You know, my first book was about my Great-Aunt Mae and her little bird, Willy, and her generosity to my family. I've written about my cats. (Not just Skippy but) I had a cat named Simon that became a pretty popular book called A Granny Man. I wrote about my daughters and their acquisition of a Viking ship. I've written about my Great-Grandmother, who was Ralph Waldo Emerson's cook and conquered Massachusetts, so there's a little history there. Everything is mixed with a little fiction, but pretty much everything is taken from my life, my pets, things around me...

RH- Since you mentioned Skippy-Jon Jones, what new adventures can fans expect from that?

JS- Well, the one I'm working on as we speak is called Circa de Olay, and he visits the circus. He becomes the base for the greatest dog act in the history of circuses, called the Tiny Trembling Tower of Power. About a million chihuahuas pile on top of his head. Whether he is successful or not of holding up that many dogs, we shall see.

I just got letters in the mail today from fans who were requesting stories: under the sea, on the soccer field... I don't know where he's gonna go after the circus. I never really know.

RH- Have you ever considered writing a novel for teens or adults?

JS- I have, actually! I think I have at least one in me. Whether I will actually do it or not, I don't know. My life is, you know, so busy keeping up with trying to get a new book out about Skippy every year, and then doing book tours and speaking engagements; it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for other projects.

Plus, I have a whole stack of children's books that are on the back burner that aren't Skippy related that I hope to do. But I often consider writing... I've started with sentences here and there, paragraphs of a novel, a young adult novel, but I don't know if I have it in me to actually finish it. We shall see.

RH- Other than the new Skippy-Jon Jones book, what other projects are you working on?

JS- Well, I have a book that I've been working on for a while called Sara Bella and the Thinking Cap, about a little girl whose brain is so crowded with ideas and thoughts that she barely can speak. The way she sort of unclogs her brain is to make a thinking cap and then draw one idea at a time on these little paper bag hats. She sets up a little stand, like a lemonade stand. (And I think she's gonna call it “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”) This way, little by little, she unloads all of this tremendous thinking that she has in her head, and is able to verbalize. Sharing ideas, of course, is the best thing you could do in life.

So, that I have in mind and, oh gosh, I have so many children's books that I wanna do. I'm always amazed when people say, “Ah! I don't know what I'm gonna write next.” But I think I have an overabundance of ideas in my head that I would love to do.

RH- Do you have a favorite book that you've written?

JS- Yeah, I do. It's not a Skippy book, actually, it's a books called Yo, Vikings. It's about when my daughters actually acquired this twenty-nine foot long Viking ship in our backyard. It took place when my daughter, Emma, was about nine years old, and her little sister was about six and a half. Emma wanted a Viking ship for her birthday, and a very strange thing happened where an add for a ship appeared in the Philadelphia newspaper. It was being sold for seven thousand dollars or best offer. Little Emma and Sarah offered their piggy-bank contents which was one hundred twenty-eight dollars in nickels, dimes and quarters. Because they were the only ones that made an offer for this hulking ship with the dragon head and a swirling tail (with a hole in it), they got the ship.

I think it's really my favorite book 'cause it's about a time in my life when my kids were little and, you know, all things were possible for them and it was the beginning of them making their dreams come true! Now they're twenty-nine and twenty-six; both of them are in careers that are dreams for them!

My oldest daughter, Emma, who wanted the Viking ship, is a paleontologist; and Sarah is a composer out in Hollywood. They're both doing the things they loved to do when they were little.

So, I think Yo, Vikings is closest to my heart.

RH- What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

JS- Well, my advice is to read! Read, read, read. I think most people who want to write are already good readers. But I do know that having become a good reader later in life, reading has taught me everything I know about writing.

[Don't] worry about making mistakes, and [don't] worry about things coming out perfectly because writing is all about rewriting. Mistakes are important and necessary. I'd say, Don't worry about perfection, just do it. Just write, write, write!

And you don't have to wait to be an old, educated person to write books; you can start when you're young. Just write what's important to you, what's in your heart, what you'd like to read! I'd just say, Just do it!

RH- Do you have a special message for your fans?

JS- Oh, a special message for my fans! I love them all! I love the fact that they love my books, that they get my sense of humor, that they keep coming back for more.

And Skippy sends his furry love to all of them, too!

RH- Well, I would like to thank you for doing this. I love kid's books! I love the Skippy-Jon Jones books. I read them to the kids at the school that I work at all the time.

JS- Well, thank you so much for doing that!

RH- They love them! The older kids actually enjoy them, too. I think that's the mark of a true author is when all ages can enjoy [their books].

JS- Well, yeah, I try to make Skippy very layered, so there are many layers for the different age groups, even including adults who enjoy reading them and get my 1960s hints at songs. Yeah, I write with that in mind. Thank you for that!





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