September 11, 2011

Author Q &A: Swine flew

The nostalgic, county-fair event known as the pig scramble provides fodder for Topsham writer Jessica Kinney's new children's book.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

You might figure Jessica Kinney has an advantage over her fellow children's book authors, given that she has six children of her own.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Jessica Kinney

But if you're trying to find the time to write a children's book, having six children might not be that advantageous.

"I only had four when I wrote the book," said Kinney, author of "The Pig Scramble" (Islandport Press).

"The Pig Scramble" is Kinney's first book, and is the illustrated story of a young boy who wins the pig scramble at a local fair, meaning he catches the pig and gets to raise it. The book will be released Oct. 1.

Pig scrambles -- which usually include 10 or so children chasing down 10 or so pigs before a crowd of onlookers -- are a nostalgic, entertaining event at many Maine fairs this time of year. If you live on a farm, chasing down a pig from time to time is part of the job. So pig scrambles are a reminder of what farm life was, and is, like.

Kinney grew up in Milo, about 40 miles northwest of Bangor, and has taught middle school English and history. Her children range in age from less than a year to 9 and a half. She lives in Topsham. 

Q: What gave you the idea to write this book?

A: I got the idea for the story from my husband. He had won a pig at a scramble (in Bradford, near Milo), and he had told me that story years ago. I always had it in the back of my mind that it would be a great story to write. I changed it a little for the book. But he did end up raising the pig. 

Q: What is it about pig scrambles that makes them so appealing to people?

A: I can see why it's appealing to kids, to boys especially. As a young girl, I might have been scared of the chaos of it. But for a lot of kids, they get to run around, and they have a chance to win the best prize ever.

In writing this book, I was really trying to bring into focus the fact that we've kind of moved away from understanding what an agrarian way of life is like. My kids haven't grown up on a farm, and are very removed from farm life. So I was trying to show kids and adults some of those experiences. 

Q: What do you think makes a good children's book?

A: I think for a good children's book, as with any good book, you need a solid story with a clear beginning, middle and end, and to have it pretty well organized. For children's books, it's important that the story highlights details that kids would notice. It might be sounds or the way something appears to a child that an adult might not see or pay attention to.

The really good children's books, I think, are the ones with a focus on things that are important to children no matter where they are. I think self-reliance and friendship are in a lot of good kids' stories. Another thing might be a sense of mystery or magic. 

Q: What do you think the main challenges are in writing a children's book, compared to say, a book of fiction written for adults?

A: The biggest challenge is being economical with words. Children's books require an economy of prose you don't need in a novel. I think I described what a pig scramble is in two paragraphs. You need to think about your words very carefully. 

Q: With six children, when did you find time to write this book? How did you write it?

A: I only had four kids when I wrote this, so it seemed pretty easy. I love to write, and I keep a notebook with me so I can jot things down. If I read a quote I like, I write it down. The idea had been stewing for a long time, so I had it organized in my head. The physical act of writing it wasn't too tough.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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