Author Barbara Park: "Ma! There's nothing to do Here!"

January 30, 2008 10:33:12 AM PST
Author Barbara Park is best known as the creator of the Junie B. Jones series, but she delves into new literary territory with the publication of her latest book, MA! THERE'S NOTHING TO DO HERE! A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting (Random House Books for Young Readers / $15.99)Parks wrote a poem that is transformed into an adorable picture book through drawings by Viviana Garofoli. It's an ideal story for expectant mothers, siblings and all young children who love a catchy read. Park's book explores the life of a baby in utero, who cannot wait to escape the confines of the womb and enter the spacious world.

"There's nothing to see here! Not one scrawny tree here! No puppies. No toys. No girls?zero boys," Park writes. "Not a sandbox or swings. Or those monkey bar things. Not a park or a zoo. MA! There's nothing to do!"

When Park first saw her grandson's sonogram, it made her wonder what he was up to all day long. Nothing she thought. There was nothing at all to do in there. This idea rattled around in her head as she was thinking of something special to give to her daughter-in-law for her baby shower. All at once, this poem burst onto the page, she says. MA! THERE'S NOTHING TO DO HERE! will ring true with all expectant mothers who feel every kick, hiccup, and turn and wonder just what exactly their own little baby might be up to.

Meet Barbara Park
Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Anderson's Bookshop
123 W. Jefferson
Naperville
(630) 355-2665

Thursday at 7 p.m.
Borders Books & Music
1 North LaGrange Rd
LaGrange
(708) 579-9660
A Conversation with Barbara Park

Q. When you first saw your grandchild on the ultrasound image, what was your reaction? Were you in the doctor's office with your daughter-in-law?

A. I was in the doctor's office with both my son and daughter-in-law when I saw the ultrasound image of Cal on the screen. Although I had never had an ultrasound myself, I knew what the image would look like. But then suddenly there he was on the screen. "In real life person!" as Junie B. might put it. It was incredible.

Q. How much did you continue to think about the baby after seeing the sonogram? How did this develop into the idea for the book?

A. On the way out of the doctor's office, I remember thinking, Okay, so now we're all going our separate ways. But the baby is still in there, just kicking around . . . doing absolutely nothing. A few months later?when I was getting ready for Renee's baby shower?that thought came rushing back to me and I wrote this poem.

Q. The text from the book was originally a poem that you gave to your daughter-in-law at her baby shower. What was her reaction?

A. Well, it made her a little "teary." But in a happy way, I think.

Q. Was this something that you had thought about (what babies do in utero) when you were pregnant with your own children?

A. Oh my, no. My own pregnancies were all about me, me, me. My aches, my pains, my swollen feet, and my body that looked like the Michelin Man.

Q. Did you know that the poem would ultimately become a picture book?

A. I never gave it a single thought. I just printed out the poem, framed it, and gave it to Renee for a shower gift. Then, a week or so later, I was telling my friend and editor Shana Corey about the baby shower. And I read her the poem. After I finished, she said, "Okay. That is a picture book."

Q: How has the process of writing a picture book differed from writing the Junie B. Jones series and your middle-grade novels?

A. For me, this particular poem was absolutely the most organic writing experience I've ever had. I wrote Renee's version in just a day or two. But even when Shana asked me to add more to the original poem so we'd have enough of a story for a picture book, it still came amazingly easy.

The middle-grade novels?especially Mick Harte Was Here and The Graduation of Jake Moon?took well over a year. They're not that long page-wise. But they both dealt with very sensitive issues, so I took it very slow and made sure I didn't rush either of those stories in any way. The Junie B. Jones books take a few months. But that's because, after so many books in the series, I do a lot of rewriting to ensure that I'm not being repetitive.

Q. Will we see another picture book from you down the road?

A. I'm not sure. It might be fun to stay with this baby and get his perspective on the night he was born. We haven't really seen that experience from a baby's point of view, have we?

Right now, I'm in "wait-and-see-if-it-comes-to-me" mode.

More About Barbara Park

"There are those who believe that the value of a children's book can be measured only in terms of the moral lessons it tries to impose or the perfect role models it offers. Personally, I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two.
In fact, I happen to think that's huge."
?Barbara Park

I think it's time that I set the record straight. Ever since I began writing my Junie B. Jones series, people have been assuming that the character is based on me when I was a little girl. The fact is, though, that Junie B. and I have very little in common. For one thing, Junie B. gets sent to the principal's office when she's only in kindergarten, while I didn't get sent until I was well into first grade.

It's also clear from the series that Junie B. has a hard time controlling her behavior in the classroom. When I was a student, I was never a behavioral problem. Blurting out amusing comments whenever they occurred to me was simply my way of trying to make the day a happier one for my classmates.

I grew up in the small town of Mount Holly, New Jersey. Unlike many authors I've met, I wasn't much of a reader (or writer) when I was little. Instead, I arrived at the writing profession through an alternate route. My senior year of high school, I was voted "Wittiest." So several years later, I decided to try my hand at writing humor to see if I could be witty enough to make some money.

The first children's novel I ever wrote was a story called Operation: Dump the Chump. I knew right away that this was the job for me. By writing humor for kids, I could pretend to be a grown-up and still blurt out funny stuff for the whole class to hear.

Since then I've been lucky enough to have published lots more books. These include a picture book called Psssst! It's Me . . . the Bogeyman, as well as my newest book Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here!; an ever-growing array of Junie B. Jones books; and a number of middle-grade novels, including The Graduation of Jake Moon. Of all the novels I've written, my favorite is Mick Harte Was Here. The story is a sad one, so the challenge was to find ways in which to introduce enough humor to make it balanced and readable. Although I don't normally consider myself a "message writer," I hope with all my heart that this story will help readers understand the critical difference that wearing a bike helmet can make in their lives.

Like all the characters I create, I tried to bless Mick and Phoebe Harte with all the silly, wonderful, and exasperating imperfections that make us human. Occasionally, I'll receive a letter from an adult scolding me for creating characters that make mistakes. But until I meet a perfect person, I will happily continue to write about the richly flawed, wonderfully imperfect kind that I know (and love) so well.


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