Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Writing What You Know by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
I write books about talking pigs and lonely ducks, and I can assure you I am neither a pig (verbose or otherwise) nor a duck nor any other kind of animal featured in any of my books. And yet I feel very strongly that I only write about the things that I know and that almost every one of my picture books draws heavily from my own life.
Take QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY, for example, my newest book published by Abrams. In this story, poor, lonely Quackenstein looks on in envy as all the other animals in the zoo settle in with their families. So he hatches a plan to solve his problem – upon spying a sign for “orphaned eggs,” Quackenstein decides to adopt an egg to start a family of his own.
The previously cantankerous duck becomes a devoted father-to-be, even cooing to his “ducky-poo” that he will never be neglected. But when the egg finally does hatch, it is more than the eggshell that cracks – Quackenstein takes one look at his hatchling and runs off in terror.
Without giving away the whole book, suffice it to say that the hatchling eventually catches up to his father and a few choice words serve to melt Quackenstein’s heart and open his eyes to the fact that families can be different or strange but always find a way to work. Despite his fears, Quackenstein learns to be the father he wanted to be – and that his son deserves.
Turns out, I really was going to have a boy and nothing was going to change that.
I will freely admit being terrified at the prospect of having a son. After all, I knew lots and lots about how to be a good mother to girls, but knew absolutely nothing about mothering a boy. (Since then, I’ve learned that boys and girls truly are as similar as, well, ducks and platypi – they might as well be two different species.)
I honestly didn’t sit down to write a book about a parent who was both excited and terrified about having a baby. But looking back, I realize I did exactly that.
Had I written QUACKENSTEIN five years earlier, I am convinced it would have been a different story, because there were different things important in my life then. If I’d never written the book and started fresh on it now, it would definitely be a different story (and probably far scarier!).
As much as authors write what they know, the real test of a good story is whether the author has not only found his or her own truth, but also illuminated some truth for the readers. So I’ll leave you with this hope: that you can find a little Quackenstein in your own heart.
For more information on Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen visit: http://www.childrenslit.com/bookingservice/bardhanquallen-sudipta.html and http://www.sudipta.com/