Magic or No Magic: Interviewing Laurel Snyder
Author Laurel Snyder has written many books for children, both picture books and novels. They include (among others) the Charlie and Mouse books (illustrated by Emily Hughes), My Jasper June, Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Endless Fairy Tale Endings! (illustrated by Dan Santat), Hungry Jim (illustrated by Chuck Groenink), Orphan Island, and Good night, laila tov (illustrated by Jui Ishida).
As this multitalented author had quite a lot of experience in terms of writing books with magic in them, she decided to write My Jasper June (2019), which had no magic in it at all. So, which does she prefer? “I’ve thought about this a lot,” she said, “and given that my next book (The Witch of Woodland) [forthcoming mid-May of 2023 from HarperCollins] is a very magical story, I guess I have to admit that in the end, it’s hard for me not to allow magic into the worlds I create. I think that on some level, I want to believe that anything is possible. In fact, I have a graphic memoir (Fairy Hunter) coming out in a few years, with Trung Le Nguyen, that explores how I believed in magic as a kid, and searched for it. I suppose, on some level, that’s also what I’m doing when I write.”
Like any author, the revision process is just as important—if not more so—than the actual writing itself. “I revise heavily, but the process varies,” Snyder told us when we asked her how her revision process differs from picture books to middle-grade novels. “I started out as a poet, and picture books feel like poems to me. When I’m working on them, I tend to be very playful. I’ll try a variety of approaches. I might begin a book in rhyme, then change my mind and start over in prose. I might shift from first person POV to third. And these revisions will be distinct attempts, fresh starts. For instance, with Endlessly Every After, I knew I wanted to write a pick-your-path story, but the first version I tried was about a lion who ate everyone in the book, and it didn’t rhyme! My editor suggested I write that story (Hungry Jim) in a linear format instead. Then I started over on the pick-your-path with fairy tales.”
Earlier this year Endlessly Ever After was published, and Snyder has said she’s a fan of the choose-your-own-adventure format. In fact, there’s a sequel she’s been “noodling around with” in the works! “But it’s not a format that I think works for everything,” she specified. “It would be easy for a structure like [the pick-your-path format of Endlessly Ever After] to become didactic. Because the kid is in control of the story, the outcomes they reach are consequences of their choices. That makes it a wonderful way to explore cause and effect. But it would be really easy to write, say, a book that let a kid choose whether to look both ways before crossing the street, or to eat their spinach. And who wants that? It would also be easy to make the stakes too high or the book too realistic, and scare readers. In both the art and tone of the story, we wanted Endlessly Ever After to be a romp, not a lesson!”
On the topic of possible sequels, it’s clear there’s a lot to look forward to from Snyder. “I am incredibly excited about Fairy Hunter, and can’t wait to see what Trung does with the illustrations,” she said. “It feels different and vulnerable to introduce my own story (from ages 6-12) to the world, but I’m extremely proud of the work. I’m also working on a picture book with LeUyen Pham, called Shrinking Violet. Uyen is one of my absolute favorite artists, and it’s a dream come true to get to do a book with her. That story is about a girl who lives alone in a castle, and shrinks when she’s frightened. I think maybe the best part of writing picture books is the moment you see the art for the first time, and finally meet the characters you dreamed up in your head.”