Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Bonnie Christensen

Posted on: April 7, 2014

Born in 1951 in New York, Bonnie Christensen, is an author, illustrator, and playwright. Her interests outside of writing include travel, violin, and printing history. I’ll provide some background tomorrow to her picture book, A Silk Road, and review it on Wednesday. Save the dates: April 8-9!


She began her career in children’s literature in the 1990’s. When asked by Cynsations, what she enjoys most about the creative life, Christensen described: the moment of creation, the freedom to explore, the research involved, the change brought about within a person during creation, and the fun of creation itself.

Initially, Christensen viewed success as the ability to move beyond being a one-book wonder. Then she viewed it as the ability to keep going, and to have work lined up. One can even view success as books published, awards earned, and action figures based on one’s work. Now Christensen views it as making the best possible books for herself, which will also keep make her audience happy.  

ALLISON: How did your parents or siblings influence your creative growth?

BONNIE: My mother was interested in art and music and so took advantage of every opportunity to expose my sister and me to the best art and music available. One summer she enrolled me in a museum art class which I did very poorly in because my cheap oil paints wouldn’t produce a convincing shade of purple.

ALLISON: Are you an author or illustrator first?

BONNIE: I’m first an author. I think in terms of story from the very beginning, then I take a break, transform into an illustrator and try to imagine the book visually. The illustration process takes WAY more time than the writing.

ALLISON What is your favorite medium?

BONNIE: My favorite medium that I’ve used for book illustration is original fresco for Pompeii Lost and Found. Maybe it’s the fact that the artist has a limited time to work before the painting surface (similiar to concrete) dries and no more paint will adhere.

ALLISON: What is the best medium for young people to start with?

BONNIE: I suppose watercolors which are not at all easy but teach many good lessons.

ALLISON: Did you come to publication early or late in life?

BONNIE: I didn’t start writing and illustrating for children until after I’d worked at one career in the New York theatre, moved to Vermont and had a child of my own.

ALLISON Who has been your favorite person to research? Have you met any of them in real life?

BONNIE: Woody Guthrie was both a fascinating and fun subject to research. Some of his writing is very funny and history of the time in which he lived contains endless stories of hardship and resilient human spirit. Djano Reinhardt was fascinating as well. I was fortunate to meet Woody’s daughter, Nora, at the Woody Guthrie Archive in New York.

ALLISON: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be?

BONNIE: I’d be a concert violinist. It’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring than to play a gorgeous piece of music with an a large group of fellow musicians.

ALLISON:What inspired A Single Pebble?

BONNIE: A strange connection to Smarakand which I discuss in the book along with other reason for being inspired by the topic.

ALLISON: What research was involved in writing it? Illustrating it?

BONNIE: I read numerous books both for text and illustrations as well as consulting many internet sources. I’d hoped to be able to travel to Samarkand but the trip wasn’t possible

ALLISON: How important is it to stay authentic to the culture being portrayed?

BONNIE: Extremely important which is why thorough research is so very important.

ALLISON: If you could pass one object from one trade route to another, what would it be?

BONNIE: A single jade pebble of course. I have one on my desk as a reminder.

ALLISON: Where have your own travels taken you?

BONNIE: My research travels have taken me to many areas of Italy as well as Paris. It’s rough work but someone has to do it.

ALLISON: What’s next?

BONNIE: A book VERY different from A Single Pebble–a picture book biography of Elvis Presley, at this point the title is simply ELVIS! The book chronicles his difficult childhood and teen years with the remainder of his life described in an author’s note and time line. It will be published just in time for Elvis’s 80th birthday next January!


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