Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Audrey Penn

Posted on: July 7, 2017

Audrey Penn takes her one-woman educational program, the Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals where she shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. She is also highly sought after as a conference keynote speaker by groups of teachers and other professionals who work with children.Audrey is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Kissing Hand (and other books in the Kissing Hand series). She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

ALLISON: Share a favorite (or not so favorite) childhood moment with siblings.

AUDREY: One day my older brother said that he intended to stay at the fraternity house overnight. I was then allowed to use the double beds in his room for a sleepover with my girlfriend. About midnight when my friend and I were asleep, my brother came home. He tiptoed upstairs not to disturb anyone in the family and literally dove into bed. He was midair when my girlfriend opened her eyes and let out a scream. My brother landed next to my friend who was now curled up in bed shrieking. I reached over and turned on the light and burst out laughing. In my book Chester the Brave, Chester jumps onto his brother while sleeping. The idea and illustration came from that night with my girlfriend and brother.

ALLISON: You’ve had quite the career! What was it like to dance professionally? What was it like to serve as a choreographer for the US Figure Skating Team? How did you land those careers?

AUDREY: I was very lucky and attended extremely good ballet schools that flowed over into companies. The feeling of being on my toes and responding to music and story line was absolutely joyous. Jazz dancing was a totally freeing experience. The hard work it took to dance was ninety percent of the job. While dancing, I had a teacher from Russia who taught alignment. I began seeing things in athletes that could be improved by alignment study. Somehow the experiences snowballed into a brilliant second career.

ALLISON: What inspired you to write your first book?

AUDREY: My first book, Happy Apple Told Me, came out of a fairytale I wrote as a Christmas gift for friends I had in theater. I took things from my childhood journals, and my experiences in the theater, and developed a story with a serious theme told in a fanciful way. A year later I received a call from a publisher telling me that they wanted to publish my book. I asked them “What book?” They said, “Happy Apple Told Me.” I have never found out who submitted it for publication.

ALLISON: Your favorite thing about writing is getting to work with kids. What is a discouraging part and how do you handle it?

AUDREY: Getting stuck. It’s not as much writer’s block as it is resolving some problem in the storyline. My most effective means of dealing with it to date has been to go take a shower. I am amazed at the clarity I get standing under hot water.

ALLISON: You’ve always enjoyed writing and have learned lessons along the way about what it takes to be an author. What advice would you give to teachers of writing?

AUDREY: Every teacher comes with his or her own experiences in writing and story telling. The hard part for most people is getting started. Some students can’t wait for that blank piece of paper to fill with their imagination or special interest. Other children are terrified of that blank sheet of paper. If they are having a really hard time, I have them draw a picture and then describe the picture.

It took many years to develop my writing program, The Writers Curve, for the younger children. One of the first lessons I teach is to know your ending. They wouldn’t leave their house before knowing where they were going; they wouldn’t call a friend without knowing what friend was at the opposite end of the phone. An arrow needs a target. A story needs an ending.

I want teachers to teach awareness. Tell the student to see, hear, smell, taste, touch life in order to tell about it in a story.

Teach the students to keep a journal recording the things they learn each day.

It is important to first just get the story down, then come back to it and add the details during the rewriting process. Do not interrupt the creative time for corrections in grammar, etc – it stops the process in its tracks. These corrections come LAST.

And no ‘wenting.’ He went, they went, I went. I can’t see anyone went. I can’t draw anyone wenting. Make writing visual and tactile.

And have fun.

ALLISON: Why do you like to write about raccoons?

AUDREY: I was in a park with my four-year-old son and we took a ride on a small train that took us through the forest. We were midway through the ride when the train stopped and the engineer left to get a park ranger. We all thought there was a deer lying across the tracks. I told my son to stay in the train while I got out for a better look. I was completely surprised to see it was a mother raccoon and her tiny cub. While I watched, the mother took the cub’s hand and nuzzled his tiny palm. The cub then put his palm on his cheek. The Kissing Hand is that story.

ALLISON: You have two dogs. What has been your greatest adventure with them?

AUDREY: Sadly, we lost our boxer, Charlie, last year. And our lab-mix, Koko, just had the dog equivalent of a double “knee replacement” last year. She is doing very well for an old dog. Koko never leaves my side. She is my constant shadow. She sleeps in our bed and wakes us when she’s having a dream that she’s protecting the house from those pesky deer. She runs in her sleep kicking me in the shins usually then falls blissfully back to sleep while I’m wide awake. Koko is my rock and helps me type by walking on my computer keys.

ALLISON: What book is next?

AUDREY: I am finishing up the fourth book in my YA mystery series, which began with Mystery at Blackbeard’s Cove. I should have this one, Blackbeard’s Legacy: Shared/Time, out by the 300-year anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, November 22, 2018. I am always developing several other stories at the same time, but it’s too soon to talk about anything else as yet.

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2 Responses to "Interview with Audrey Penn"

An interesting interview with a fascinating person. If I were still teaching, I’d certainly try to get her to visit me class.

Thanks! I agree. Maybe someday she’ll visit Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival and I’ll get to meet her. 🙂

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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