Interview with Tania Fisher, Author of Children’s Book, “Grandma’s Garden”
By Lori Beedsler
Briefly, what’s the book about?
To a grown up all that happens in this book is that a child takes a five minute walk in Grandma’s backyard, but you know, I wrote this for children not for grown-ups, and to the child taking that walk, they see it as a special secret adventure. It’s theirs and they own it. It’s private; dad has to stay behind inside and drink his tea and it’s just the child and grandma. The child points out the same items; the broken pot, the bucket with the worms, and loves hearing Grandma tell them where they got it or how it came to be there and hearing her tell those stories over and over again.
Is this story taken from your own personal experiences?
Kind of. Actually this story has been on my mind for over a decade, maybe longer. It stemmed from my own relationship with my paternal grandmother. She was about 60 when she immigrated from Italy to Australia and didn’t really speak any English. She was about 80 by the time I was seven, so we didn’t do much together really, except that I remember sitting outside with her staring into the garden. There was a language barrier, so we used to just sit there very quietly together. It was kind of unusual but really awesome, it was almost like meditation. I knew a few words in Italian; kind of enough to make small talk with her or ask if she wanted anything, but basically we stared at leaves and flowers together and sighed at the same time when a breeze lifted a leaf, or sometimes I realized that we were focused on the same flower stem that was bending. It was really a peaceful and kind of a simple and clear way to connect.
What prompted you to write this experience in the form of a children’s book?
I sometimes babysit my neighbor’s children, one of whom is a very smart three year old. One day her nanny asked that I take her outside so she could get her dose of “fresh air” for the day. On that particular day I think the playground was closed or something, or maybe she didn’t really want to go out, but I suggested we “walk around the neighborhood and see what’s what.” She agreed to this so we got outside her building and hand in hand walked the length of a block and back again. That is literally all we did. This may have taken 15 minutes though, not just because kids at that age walk slow, but because we had such adventures along the way. I would stop and point out the policeman, then comment on the little dog we passed, then maybe stop to see the children getting on the yellow school bus and talk about that. A little further on we’d stop at a tree and check out the flowers at its base and talk about the colors and if they smell or not, then a little further on we saw a kitten dart across our path and hide under a parked car. So on and so on; special red flowers, a tree with lights wrapped around it – but to this day, whenever she and I walk that same stretch of sidewalk, she comments to me about that little kitten and what we think it’s doing right now, and she points out where the red flowers used to be, and where the tree with the lights wrapped around it is, all the while asking me if I remember! It’s too cute!
But anyway, it occurred to me that this was that whole repetition thing that kids do – that gives them that sense of safety and security. It’s also part of why they love having you read the same book over and over again, I’ve had that experience too. Perhaps while reading I’ll make an effort to point out something in the illustration, and the next time we read that book together, the child makes sure to point out what I had pointed out previously, and then does it every single time we read that book!
The illustrations are wonderful. How did you come to collaborate with Riley Hagan?
Like all things in life, little blessings are sent our way when we need them most! I was discussing “what else I do” with a neighbor whose birds and plants I sometimes look after when she goes away and she had no idea that I was an actor and a writer and a theater reviewer and so on, and when I mentioned I was developing a children’s book, she told me that her step daughter Riley draws and then showed me some of her work that she had around the apartment. So I contacted Riley and it just couldn’t have been a better match.
She’s an amazing woman, she really understood where I was coming from with this book and my motivation and message, and although I had some rough drawings of my own to show her what I was after, she came up with some absolute gems on her own that turned out to be my most favorite illustrations in the book – the hands in the worm bucket I especially love, and the details on the flowers are just amazing too. Also Riley’s style is very sketch-artist, and I like the black and white strokes, but I insisted that when we got to the garden part of the story that there should be this burst of color. Then it was Riley who came up with the absolutely ingenious idea of adding color on each illustration that had a nature/garden related item. So the flowers for example that they bring for Grandma, you’ll see those are in color. It was really smart of her, and it ties in with what we talked about earlier, about kids pointing things out in illustrations for themselves. They totally do that when I read them this book.
I do also have to mention that the image of the child in this book is based on my very special friend, Benji Carvalho. Riley wanted an image of a child to work from so I gave her photos of Benji and actually her first drawings looked so much like him that I had to ask her to manipulate them a little because I needed the child to appear non-gender specific. I like all my books to have non-gender specific child characters so that any child can relate and not feel left out. But when I read this book to Benji he could still tell it was him in the illustrations and that was a really nice moment for both of us.
“Grandma’s Garden” written by Tania Fisher, illustrated by Riley Hagan
Suitable for ages 3 to 6.
On sale now at Westsider Books 2246 Broadway New York NY 10024, and Shakespeare & Co bookstores, or online at:
Interview by Lori Beedsler