Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Process Talk: Leda Schubert and Bonnie Christensen on The Princess of Borscht, Part 2

Uma: Here's the soup question. The spaces between adult and child perceptions form the core of this lovely story of family relationships and the creation of tradition. Can you each talk about how you approach liminal spaces in your work? Between childhood and adulthood, between fiction and truth, and now in collaboration, between text and image?

Leda: The liminal space idea is intriguing: the confusion from “A person could starve to death” is a little Amelia-Bedelia-ish, I suppose. But I have to say that I wasn’t really thinking that way at the time.

Leda Schubert
I think of a picture book as a puzzle, and I try to make all the pieces fit together, so I played around with catalysts for Ruthie to engage in soup-making. But when the reviews came out, I realized there was a lot going on that I had subliminally included. To quote Kirkus’ starred review: “ Schubert has concocted a sweet mixture of traditions that bind and give comfort, along with love in many forms; intergenerational family, friends and neighbors all act with selflessness, kindness and compassion.” And PW said this: “Ruthie’s attempt to recreate the borscht with the help of the highly opinionated women who live in Grandma’s building is really several stories at once: Ruthie’s discovery of her inner chef…; her initiation into the guild of elite home cooks; and an affirmation of membership in a loving—if also interfering and contentious—community.”

I was so very happy to see such perceptive words. It’s impossible to get away from yourself when you write, and the writer may therefore be the last to know what’s going on underneath. I’ve often told my students they might not understand what their books mean for them until someone else tells them. That’s certainly what I’ve found to be true. 

Photo credit: Don Landwehrle
As for text/image: Because Bonnie and I are friends, we had the opportunity to revise the text once she had sketches. I think we both understood elements of the book in new ways, and I was able to delete text that was no longer necessary. While Bonnie’s work is from her own heart and mind, I believe it resonates strongly with the truth of the story, and I feel fortunate indeed!

More to come: Bonnie on illustrating The Princess of Borscht.

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