Today's interview is a real kick for me. I grew up watching the comedy TV show In Living Color, starring the Wayans family. That show was HILARIOUS. And I am still a really big fan of the Wayans family. I don't think any other performers make me laugh as hard!
When I found out through Twitter that Kim Wayans and her husband Kevin Knotts had written a children's book series called Amy Hodgepodge, about the life of a fourth grader, I was immediately intrigued. When I found out that the main character of the series, Amy Hodges, was Japanese, Korean, African American, and Caucasian, I nearly fell off my chair. How exciting!
I've asked Kim and Kevin some questions about Amy Hodgepodge and they were very kind to answer. Below is our interview via email. I hope you all get a kick out of it too!
When did you decide to write the Amy Hodgepodge books? Where did you get the idea for the books? And is there a particular reason you made the main character, Amy Hodges, Japanese, African American, Korean, and Caucasian?
We first decided to write the Amy Hodgepodge books about 2 years ago. It took us about a year to get a book deal, and get to writing. The first book in the series, "All Mixed Up" came out last May, and four more titles have followed. We're blessed to be the Aunt and Uncle to thirty-eight nieces and nephews, many of whom are multiracial children; they were our inspiration. It was important to us that Amy's racial background reflect as much diversity as possible, so that all children could see themselves in her. That's why we chose to make her African-American, Caucasian, Japanese and Korean. The other characters in the series reflect a wide range of races and ethnicities, as well.
What was your creative process for the books? How exactly did you divide the writing?
Kevin and I have written together for many years now, starting with a stint on the ABC sitcom "My Wife and Kids." We pretty much have our writing process down to a science: After we come up with the idea for the book, we do a detailed outline, then proceed to talk out loud our story. I'm the transcriber, so I hand write everything longhand before we input it in the computer. I also enjoy acting out the story as we go...It sometimes drives my husband crazy, but that's my process; I'm a performer first!
What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing the books?
A huge source of inspiration are stories lifted from the lives of my nieces and nephews, and also from our own childhoods.
You are both also actors. How did your acting affect your writing for children and/or vice versa?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoy acting out the story as we write. That includes doing distinct character and voices for each of Amy's friends. It makes it easier to determine if what we're writing is working when I create the visual for us to see during the process.
What were the challenges and rewards from writing the Amy Hodgepodge books?
Amy has six core friends in this series. It's often a challenge to ensure each character has something to do in each storyline. Often, we give the boy characters their own b story, which makes this a little easier to achieve. The biggest reward by far, is visiting schools and libraries and hearing the overwhelmingly positive feedback from children about the Amy Hodgepodge series. Just knowing that we've provided these wonderful role-models is so uplifting.
What do you want young readers to take away from the books?
The Amy series promotes tolerance in a fun and entertaining way. We want children to celebrate diversity in themselves and in others. It's cool to be different!
What are some of your favorite experiences from signings, interviews, and other promotional activities for Amy Hodgepodge?
A lot of times at readings and signings children will identify directly with the character that looks most like them. Often kids excitedly exclaim, "I'm Amy. Amy looks like me!" or "Rusty looks just like me!" It's so important for all children to see positive images of themselves in children's literature because it helps to foster self-esteem. If you don't see yourself reflected back at you, you get the message you don't count, or you're invisible. Those are not healthy messages to send to children.
What children's books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, popularity, or awards)?
We're really not into comparing our series to other existing ones. We just hope our Amy Hodgepodge audience continues to grow, thereby allowing us to expand the property into a cartoon and perhaps a line of dolls or toys. Who knows. The sky's the limit!
If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Amy Hodgepodge to be award-winning, or for Amy Hodgepodge to be bestselling? Why?
We'd rather Amy Hodgepodge be a bestseller. Awards are great, but they are usually given by a very small committee. A bestseller would mean that more than a few choice folks decided our book series was worthy, and that the beautiful message of the series was reaching a very broad audience.
What kind of young readers were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?
We were both voracious readers. I'd get lost in dreamland reading books for hours at time. Both of us were profoundly affected by E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web." And I was a huge fan of the "Pippi Longstocking" series. I do, however, remember wishing she had a friend that looked like me. Another fav for both of us was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
What are your strongest or favorite memories from when you were Amy Hodges' age?
Kevin grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma. Some of his fondest memories are of fishing at the lake, camping in the great outdoors, and going to see the Oklahoma Sooners' football games. When I was Amy's age, I was writing my first collection of children stories, which my teacher, Mrs. Clark, would have me read to the lower grades. Around that time, I also started honing my performing skills, appearing in school plays and dance recitals whenever possible.
Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?
Yes! Thank you so much for reading Amy Hodgepodge. Please spread the word to family, friends, teachers and librarians!
Thank you so much, Kim and Kevin!