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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Amy Leask Writer of Philosophy for Children Shares Information about Her Books,

Amy tell us about who is the person behind the books. 
I am a bit of a geek.  I read Shakespeare for fun, I think science fiction jokes are hilarious, and I wear t-shirts with clever, but obscure references on them.  Fortunately, being a geek is coming into vogue, and I am lucky enough to work in a profession where I can use my memory for trivia and my love of words, for the forces of good. 
Tell us about the genre of your work. 
My books are nonfiction, and they present philosophy to children.  They are part history, part critical thought, and part activity book.  They are designed to entertain and educate young thinkers, and to hook grown-ups as well.
Why did you choose this genre?
In my case, the subject matter led the way into nonfiction.  When people ask, “What do you do with your degree in philosophy?” I smile and point to these books.  Philosophy lends itself really well to fictional stories and poetry, but it is a pretty cool thing to study on its own too. There is a growing market for a less academic approach to philosophy, and it includes making it accessible to young people. 
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
Aside from these books, most of my published work has been geared towards adults.  I have published poetry, personal essays and articles.  I deal with many of the same ideas in my children’s books as I do in other genres, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of giving them a kid-friendly spin. 
What ages do you direct your books?
Philosophy is a subject that seems to spread itself over a range of ages.  The books are intended for children aged 7-10, but I have had parents tell me that their precocious five and 6-year-olds enjoy having it read to them.  Little kids may not be able to pronounce words like “existentialism” or “categorical imperative,” but they certainly have strong opinions about these ideas.  I have also had adults who have always wanted to know about philosophy tell me it was a fun and interesting introduction to the subject. 
Give a description of each.  Books – title, ISBN and where they can be found. Newest book?
Currently, there are two books available.  The first, Let the Thinking Begin (ISBN 978-0-9868681-0-8), is a general introduction to philosophy.  What Is All This Stuff? (ISBN 978-0-9868681-1-5) is about metaphysics, or theory of reality, and it questions of what humans and the rest of the universe are made.  Upcoming titles will deal with subjects such as knowledge and understanding, ethics, beauty and art, politics, and environmental issues.  I am also finishing a children’s book about robots, which is similarly focused and themed non-fiction.  All of these can be found at
Do your books have a teaching objective?  If so, what is it?
There is a growing movement to introduce philosophy to children, both because it is interesting, and because it is beneficial.  Philosophy encourages children to become aware of important issues, to consider a variety of perspectives, and to develop effective critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.  Philosophy is also effective in character building, and encourages open dialogue between children and adults.  What could be more empowering to a child than participating in a meaningful discussion, and being able to articulate his or her thoughts and opinions clearly?
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

I am very lucky to be dealing with a subject that boasts thousands of years of history, so there is an awful lot of juicy material from which to choose. The books feature thinkers from around the world, and from throughout history.  I have been careful to include both male and female thinkers as well, to engage little girls in what has traditionally been held to be a male-dominated field.  My narrator, Sophia, was named for the goddess of wisdom, which seemed appropriate.

How did you develop the character/s of your in each of your books (If you have more than one)?

The thinkers featured in the books present some amazing ideas, but they are also pretty colorful in their own right.  I have tried to include some of their quirks and eccentricities because it humanizes them, but also because it is just plain interesting.  Sophia, the narrator, was actually a later addition to the books.  I wanted someone familiar to walk readers through some challenging questions.  Sophia is clever, inquisitive, and has a healthy dose of attitude.  It is funny, but since the books were released, I have met all kinds of real-life “Sophias,” pigtails and all. 

Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?

Sophia narrates all of the philosophy books.  In addition to this series, I have another book about Robots that was released in July.  This romp through the world of electronics will be narrated by a robot named Phil.  He is about as adorable as a person made of metal can be.

What is your favorite thing about your books?
I have to admit that I like living vicariously through Sophia.  I was a shy, sensitive little kid, and I love that Sophia is bold and unafraid to ask questions.  I am also proud of the fact that the books are so different from anything else out there.  Reactions to them range from “I never thought to do philosophy with my child” to “Yeah, my son/daughter keeps asking these questions, and I need to know how to approach them.” 
Is your book illustrated?  If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?
I work with an amazing artist named Mark Hughes.  When Mark and I started the project, I sent him home with a manuscript, and what he came up with was exactly what I had had in my head since I first wrote the piece.  Kismet!  Mark has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, and is able to bring some very abstract ideas to life.  He manages to sneak in nods to adult readers as well.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?

The line between children’s nonfiction and fiction is, in my opinion, a little fuzzy.  I still have a narrator, I still need to use tricks with language, and I still endeavor to tell an interesting story.  I do, however, have to be a little more careful with my facts.  Because the book is intended to be educational, I also have to keep in mind what a teacher might need in order to use it in the classroom.
Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published? 
Most definitely.  It is an extremely competitive market, with a very slim profit margin.  I have no illusions about becoming the next J.K. Rowling.  In my opinion, the best way to approach the children’s market is to become educated about the realities of it (some of them are not pretty), and to be as picky with my own work as a potential publisher would be. 
Why and when did you begin writing?
I think I have been doing it since my first sloppy lessons in cursive.  In second grade, I had a poem published as part of a regional collection, and that was it for me.  I suppose I have always written for the same reason everyone else does- it is satisfying to be allowed say one’s piece in a clever way. 
What is your writing schedule?
It varies greatly.  My husband and I run a consulting and educational resource development business, and I am a parent, so writing projects happen whenever I can fit them in.  Years of teaching English taught me to make careful notes and outlines.  I generally have a good idea of where a story is going before I write it, and if all I get is an hour or two, I can still pick up where I left off.  My favorite time to write is late at night, when the house is quiet and distractions are minimal. 
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
There is a stack of projects on the corner of my desk that nags at me constantly.  I would love to tackle new and unusual subjects in children’s nonfiction, and I’m hoping to write parent/teacher guides to accompany the philosophy and robot books.  There are at least a dozen unfinished picture books floating around on my hard drive, as well as a long-suffering novel and a new short story collection.  I get my writing fix on a regular basis by writing for online magazines and blogs.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Someone once told me that the first million words a writer puts on paper are usually garbage, and I have found this advice to be strangely liberating.  I would say it is very important to acknowledge that writing is not an industry for instant success, and like any craft, it takes years of practice.  The expectation that a story will come out perfectly the first time (or the fiftieth time) is what fuels writer’s block, along with other writing-related neuroses.  So many new writers expect to jot something down, mail it to a publisher and become millionaires, and that just is not the way it works. Writing is joyful work, but it is work, nonetheless.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Do your homework and read up on the industry.  You would not hire a lawyer who had never studied law, and you would never let an uneducated surgeon operate on you.  If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you need to learn the lingo, become familiar with protocols, and set your expectations accordingly.
Also, do not be intimidated by new movements and technologies associated with writing and publishing.  More than ever before, there are opportunities to be heard, and to practice your skills.  Social media, blogs and electronic formats can be our friends.  The printed page may be in decline, but words and ideas will never go out of style.
What do you do when you are not writing? 
The business I run helps others to develop educational materials for their clients and students, so there are not very many days when I do not write or edit something.  However, I absolutely love to bake (the more difficult and complicated the recipe, the better).  During the warmer months, (I am Canadian), I like to garden a little. I am also a world-traveler, an avid reader, and a supporter of local arts. 
Anything else you would like to add?
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
  1. A leading role in my school play in grade 8.  It marked the beginning of the end of my gawky, awkward phase, and it reassured me that I was sufficiently cool to just be myself.
  2. Many, many moments while travelling in other countries.  Feeling incredibly small, but also incredibly connected has rocked me to my core and changed the way I think, the way I wrote, and the way I see the universe.
  3. It is terribly cliché, but becoming a parent has been earth-shattering (in a wonderful way).  I had no idea that so much free will could be crammed into such a small package, and that a control freak like me could be so happy to just let things unfold as they may.  
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1 comment:

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