Talking with Barbara Kerley (page 2)
Talking with Barbara Kerley
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
  What was your first published book?
 

My first book is called Songs of Papa’s Island (Houghton Mifflin). It’s about the two years my husband (another RPCV from Nepal) and I spent on Guam.
     Then came The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Scholastic Press), which is the true story of the Victorian artist who made the world’s first life-size dinosaur models. Very few people at that time — 1853 — knew what a dinosaur was, so in a sense Waterhouse introduced dinosaurs to the world.
     My most recent book is A Cool Drink of Water (National Geographic), a book I never would have written if it hadn’t been for my Peace Corps days.
 
  How did you go about getting it published?
  Persistence! I sold Songs on the third try, which I now realize was really unusual. Waterhouse, on the other hand, took 17 tries before it found a home. Water was somewhere in between.
Tell us a little about how you select a topic to write about?
I try to pay attention — that’s the best way I can describe it — to what excites, intrigues, energizes, charms me.
     For Songs, it was Guam’s natural environment. Imagine living in a little house where geckoes walk upside down across your ceiling. Imagine riding your bike after a rainstorm and seeing dozens of fat frogs hopping across the road. The jungle was full of hermit crabs and you could hear their shells clacking against the rocks as they walked. The ocean was full of these beautiful fish. I lived there two years and never stopped being awed by all that.
     For Waterhouse, it was the idea that this little-known but extraordinarily dedicated man could do something no one had ever done before. And with such style! To celebrate his achievement, he held a New Year’s Eve dinner party inside one of his Iguanodons. Is that cool or what? The whole story seems too fantastical to be true, but it is. I was also charmed by his name, Waterhouse Hawkins.
     A Cool Drink of Water was percolating for years before I wrote it. I’d wanted to find a way for American kids to get a glimpse into how people in other cultures live. But that’s as far as I’d gotten with the idea. Then one day I was looking through an issue of National Geographic magazine and saw this beautiful picture of two women walking across a field in India with brass water pots balanced on their heads.
     That picture was the catalyst for the book. Water is such a perfect metaphor — life giving, precious, and vulnerable. It’s something every kid knows and needs — and yet, look how differently water is handled around the world. It seemed like a simple but powerful way to illustrate the theme that we’re all different and yet have so much in common, at the core. The book also addresses other issues I feel strongly about: conservation and the responsibility we all have of sharing and safeguarding limited resources.
  Do you write everyday?
  I write every weekday, or at least do some kind of writing-related activity, such as work on my school visit presentations, or do research, or promotion. I think it’s really important to have a routine. Mine is to walk my daughter to school, come home, and head upstairs to my office. I try not to do household stuff (like laundry) until after I’ve picked her up in the afternoon. Otherwise, half the morning is frittered away with nothing but clean socks to show for it.
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