Both Suzanne and Don are prolific children's book creators, and Swish!: The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters (Little, Brown, November 2020) highlights their storytelling talents.
QUESTION: It's so exciting to see the legendary Globetrotters' story come to life! In a tiny caption on one of the final pages, readers see the name Fred Buckingham. Can you talk about the place the Globetrotters have in your heart?
SUZANNE SLADE: What a keen eye you have, Kate! The book's endsheets contain fantastic Globetrotter photos, including the one you noted with the name "Fred Buckingham" in the caption. That picture was taken in 1977 when the Globetrotters came to my little hometown, Goshen, Indiana, and the infamous Curly Neal (No. 22) pulled my younger brother, Fred, from the audience to "volunteer" in a hilarious stunt. Fortunately, the local paper captured the moment, and I was able to track down the photo and get permission to include it in the book. So yes, the Globetrotters hold a very special place in the hearts of my entire family.
Q: Your nonfiction is so well-researched. How do you go about gathering material for your stories? How long do your stories take to research?
SS: As you know authors utilize many types of sources for a book. The main goal of my research is to find great primary sources. But getting access to certain primary sources can take considerable time and effort. For example, it took three years of asking (AKA politely pestering) various people at the Globetrotter organization before a helpful person in their PR department decided to supply wonderful photos for the book. Persistence has proven to be effective in other projects too, such as the many emails I sent to astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, before he finally agreed to two interviews for my book Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon. (Actually, after our conversations he agreed to write an afterword for the book.) For Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, I *patiently* waited for two years to get access to Gwendolyn Brooks' handwritten poetry journals. Then it took another year to obtain permission to include her unpublished poems "Clouds" in the book. My advice on research: Don't be afraid to ask. Be patient. And be persistent. Regarding the length of time my research takes, that varies greatly for each book. For Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, the research ironically took about 2979 days (over 8 years!)Q: Can you talk about your writing process? Do you have the story in your head as you're researching? Or does the material you uncover lead you to the story?
SS: When a book topic finds me (I never go looking for a book idea), first I do some quick initial research to see if this subject has the basic elements of a picture book: a compelling hook (something readers will find fascinating and want to know more about), a unique theme or thread to carry the story, and a satisfying ending. If the idea meets those criteria, I write up a basic story outline based on the initial research. Then I dive into deep research and begin to flesh out the story. Sometimes, as happened with Swish!, I end up uncovering a compelling event which completely changed my storyline plan. So while it's important to have an idea of the main event(s) you plan to include in a picture book, an author needs to be flexible and keep an open mind during the research process, and be willing to make changes to create the best story possible.