Pamela Harris - Author/Illustrator

Pamela Harris

Pamela Harris loves to read children's stories. There were stories she knew by heart because she'd read them so often to her daughters. She liked to make up stories for them, too. So she was happy when Kids Can Press asked her to do a children's book.

Pam wanted her book to be fun to read out loud, with rhythm and rhyme leading through a variety of friendly faces, all illustrating opposites. She wrote the words first and then went out looking for people to photograph. That meant Hot Cold Shy Bold led her to meet new friends. Pam hopes the book will lead children to other fun --- making faces, drawing faces, making up stories, singing silly rhymes, or whatever they can imagine.

Pam is mainly known as a documentary photographer, using pictures and words to introduce people and places. Before Hot Cold Shy Bold, her pictures were mostly in black and white. Those projects also involved getting to know people --- farm workers, Inuit in the far north, nannies, Newfoundland fishermen, the women's movement across Canada --- and getting closer to her own extended family. Lots of this work was published or exhibited, and some of it is in the National Archives, where everyone can use it.

Pam didn't study photography --- she majored in English Literature and taught herself photography later, while teaching at a high school with a tiny darkroom. Now she uses a digital camera and doesn't spend time in the dark at all.

Pam has two daughters. You can find them in Hot Cold Shy Bold sitting on either side of a pumpkin. Her mom and dad are in the book, too; you'll know them by their lovely white hair. Pam still lives in Toronto with her husband, Randy, who isn't in the book but who makes very funny faces sometimes. Their daughters are grown up, so now Pam has to read stories to herself.

Birthplace?
Erie, Pennsylvania.

Birthday?
June 10th.

Where do you live now?
Toronto, Ontario.

When did you start writing?
In high school. I started photographing after university.

You both write and illustrate your books. How does that work?
For Hot, Cold, Shy, Bold, the two stages were complete opposites. The writing was in my head, solitary, independent. I just made it up. For the photographs, I had to follow a script (my script, but set). I had to go into the world, find likely situations, watch for moments to match the different faces I needed, catch elusive moments, introduce myself to strangers, get permissions. So the photographs took much longer. The fun was that I had reason to go places I'd have otherwise missed and to make some new acquaintances. Photographing is a wonderful excuse to be a fly on the wall in all sorts of interesting situations.

What is your favorite book?
Whatever I'm reading now. Some books that I've read many times: Goodnight Moon; anything by Beatrix Potter; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Ozma of Oz; The Hobbit; Lord of the Rings; Pride and Prejudice; Room with a View; To the Lighthouse; Middlemarch; Walden; stories by Frank O'Conner; poetry by Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Wilfred Owens, Rilke, etc., etc. These days I'm reading books on the environment. I'll read anything by Rohinton Mistry. I read whatever my daughters recommend. Whatever I get my hands on. I read cereal boxes. I guess reading is my hobby.

Do you have any pets?
I had a much-loved cat, named Kitty, for 15 years. Gerbils (which followed) were not a success --- hard to get them out of the walls once they get in. Now we have no pets, just boring allergies.

What are your hobbies?
My favorite pastime is swimming, preferably in a lake. More of an avocation than a hobby. I plan to be a seal in my next life.

What was your training or schooling?
I got a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and took some writing classes at university. Later I had to unlearn the ability to do-it-the-way-the-teacher-wants. I'm self-taught as a photographer. Picked a lot of brains. Learned by doing.

How did you get involved with children's books?
Ricky Englander, who was then the vice-president of Kids Can Press, asked me to propose a concept book for Kids Can Press using photographs.

Do you have any tips for young creators?
Have fun. Dig into yourself. Forget self-conscious words like “create.” Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. Ignore fashion.

What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
Getting into my kid-brain. Making something that may tickle some other kid-brain.

Where do you work?
In a small room at the back of our house on the second floor, looking west. Great view of a tree. Also when swimming --- the rhythm is good for the brain. And when walking in the woods. Good time for starting stories, or carrying them on.

How do you research or create your stories?
I let words and rhythms come along, and I follow them. Or an idea starts a process, and I follow it. Hot, Cold, Shy, Bold began with the idea of contrasting faces, but it was the rhythms and rhymes that moved it along. The words came first. Then I went hunting for the faces.

Where do you get your ideas?
From watching the world go by, from imagining, from remembering, from letting words go through my head.

What's your greatest childhood memory?
Wow, what a big question. As with books and animals, not just one ... A great memory is of camping with my parents in the Rocky Mountains, starting when I was ten. The first year we had only a pup-tent, and I had to sleep in the middle. It was very crowded. Later we got an army-surplus jungle hammock, and I slept in that --- very exciting and smelling of creosote. I still love camping, especially canoe-camping in the back woods. Most of my happiest childhood memories take place in the outdoors.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress. Or a forest ranger.

Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
In Hot, Cold ... the old face is my mother; the bearded face is my father; the round face pumpkin sits between my two daughters. I loved getting my family into that book.

Hot, Cold, Shy, Bold

1999 - CCBC Choices, Cooperative Children's Book Center, Winner

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