Creator of the Guinea PIG: Pet Shop Private Eye comic series and the Fluff in Brooklyn series, writer and artist Colleen AF Veneble will be on the Graphic Novel Author Panel on Wednesday, May 2, at the IRA Annual Convention in Chicago. (The "AF" stands for Ann Felicity, her two middle names, and she explains on her website that there is a long story about why she has two middle names and why there's no punctuation between them.) In this interview with Reading Today, she shares how books helped her as a hyper kid and how she's influencing kids' reading habits today.
Reading Today: What got you interested in writing books for children and young adults?
Colleen AF Venable: To say I was a hyper kid is a huge understatement. I was always in trouble at school, made to sit at THAT DESK—you know, the one right by the teacher, the one just far away from the other students so my hyperness would be quarantined. But a few teachers figured me out and one of them was smart enough to start to give me books to quiet me down, including a copy of The Westing Game. I read it first when I was ten and have re-read it every year since: hysterical, an amazing ensemble cast with a shin-kicking heroine whose own hyperness helps her solve the mystery. The writing is so crisp that even the finest editor would have trouble finding single word to take out. And that ending, OH THAT ENDING, gets me every time! That was the same year I decided to become a writer. I wanted to write something that made me feel the way The Westing Game did. I wrote my first "novel" then, a mystery about a talking killer whale, a sleepover club, and a time traveling Sherlock Holmes who asked me to be his new assistant. It was eight handwritten pages and I was so proud of it that I even sent it to a publisher. I'm convinced its horribleness must have made it to some editorial assistant's bulletin board. After that, I wrote constantly. It was fourth grade, and my friends all still wanted to be ballerinas but if you asked me I already knew I wanted to write funny books for kids when I grew up.
RT: What do consider your best book to date and why?
CAFV: As voted by kids at classes I've visited, #3 The Ferret's a Foot from my Guinea PIG: Pet Shop Private Eye series. It's when the characters finally come into their own, and even with all the silly running gags, it's a great stand-alone. The mystery involves word play, someone changing the signs on the animals tanks during the night—Chinchillas become Gorillas and Snakes become Shakes. It's the sort of book that would have cracked me up in elementary school, and based on the letters I've been getting kids today aren't all that different.
RT: What can attendees at IRA Chicago expect to hear from you?
CAFV: How to inspire all those other hyper little kids that are always in trouble and ways of using graphic novels in the classroom to inspire kids to read more, write more, and look at books a new way.
Visit www.colleenaf.com for details about her books, art, projects, and printable PDFs to make or color Hamisher and Sasspants comics! For more information about the 2012 IRA Annual Convention in Chicago from April 29 to May 2, visit www.iraconvention.org.
Colleen AF Venable Will Be There…Will You?