Valerie Wyatt - Author
Valerie Wyatt is an award-winning author more than 14 nonfiction books, many of them about science. She also writes on historical topics and, from time to time, picture books. Asked if she has a favorite book, she says it's always the one she's just finished.
“I never imagined when I was growing up that I would be a writer,” she says. “But I was a big reader. In fact, to this day, if I don't have something to read, I start to feel panicky. I consider myself a book-aholic, which probably explains why I began writing them.”
She began her career at OWL magazine in 1978. It was her job to answer readers' questions. Kids would write in and ask, “Do fish sleep?” or “Why can't you sneeze with your eyes open?” To track down the answers, she would interview scientists and write up the answers in ways kids could understand. From there she branched out into books.
She loves writing for children because it's not just about the words. “You have to think about the photographs and illustrations as well and make sure they fit together,” she says. “It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.”
She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her husband and dog, MacPherson, whose favorite food is cucumbers.
Where do you live?
Victoria, British Columbia.
When did you start writing?
When I was in my 20s. I worked for a children's magazine called OWL. I wrote about animals, airplanes, solar power, zoos, food, termites --- you name it. Boy, did I learn a lot.
You worked as an editor also, didn't you? How does editing books differ from writing them?
Good question. When you're writing, you're trying your best to make the information interesting. But sometimes you get so involved, you can't tell if what you've written is great or garbage. An editor is like a fresh pair of eyes. He or she can point out the problem areas and sometimes help come up with solutions.
What is your favorite book? Why?
When I was 12 years old, I read a book about a marine biologist named Eugenie Clark, who swam with sharks. It was fabulous! Once, while scuba diving, she helped a mother shark give birth to a baby shark. When she reached into the mother's body to pull out the baby, it bit her! Her adventures thrilled me, and for a long time, I wanted to be a marine biologist like her. I guess that's why I write and edit children's books. I know the power they can have.
Do you have any pets?
I have a dog named MacPherson. It's a big name for a small dog. He's a shih tzu-poodle mix and has very long poodle legs holding up a shih tzu body. We say he's a shih tzu on stilts.
What was your training or schooling?
I received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Manitoba and a Master's degree in English Literature from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
How did you get involved with children's books?
While I was working at OWL magazine, I was asked to write a book. There's a big difference between writing a few hundred words for a magazine and a whole book. It was a scary proposition. But the topic was inventions, and I soon got caught up in the weird and wacky world of inventors. My enthusiasm for the topic just sort of carried me along. My first book, Inventions: An Amazing Investigation, was published in 1987. Around the same time, I started editing children's books, helping authors develop their ideas and get them down on paper.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
I got hooked on children's books because they are like a puzzle. You've got the words and you've got the pictures, and the challenge is to get them to work together. You have to learn to think visually. I like the challenge of going beyond the words.
How do you research or create your stories?
Research is one of my favorite parts of writing, but I'm a sloppy researcher. I just go on the internet and throw out search terms. One bit of info seems to lead to another, and sometimes it's hard to know when to stop. I also talk to specialists and go to the library. I love finding out new stuff.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Be curious. Have fun.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
My biggest secret is that I also write under another name. I won't reveal what it is. I'll just say that I have one book so far written by the “other” me, and it's published by Kids Can Press.
Can you tell us any of the stories behind some of your books?
Boy Meets Dog, which is a book about word ladders, came about because I read about Lewis Carroll making up word ladders for two young girls. (Yes, he's the Alice in Wonderland guy.) You start with a word, for instance “toy,” and you change one letter to make another word --- “boy.” And I thought: What if you lived in a world where words were constantly changing everything around you? Then I created that topsy-turvy world, and illustrator Dave Whamond brought it to life.