ARE YOU MORE LIKE IVY OR BEAN?
ANNIE: Who can tell what he or she is like? Not me. I think of myself as soft-spoken and gentle, but whenever I mention this to other people, they laugh. They laugh and laugh. Phooey. I just went downstairs and asked all the people in my house whether I'm more like Ivy or Bean: 2 votes for Bean; 2 votes for Ivy; 2 abstentions (the guinea pigs); and the UPS guy says he doesn't know.
SOPHIE: I wish I was more like Bean, but if I'm honest, I'm Ivy through and through. Except for the headbands.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK WHEN YOU WERE SEVEN?
ANNIE: Ellen and the Gang by Frieda Friedman and Bennett Cerf's Book of Laughs.
SOPHIE: The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard and The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO KIDS WHO SAY THEY DON'T LIKE TO READ?
ANNIE: That's okay. Neither does Bean.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO KIDS WHO SAY THEY CAN'T DRAW?
SOPHIE: Rubbish. If you have hands you can draw. And if you don't have hands, that's no excuse either. People have done very interesting drawings with their feet.
IF YOU WEREN'T A WRITER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
ANNIE: Hmm. This question can be taken in two ways. If I could exchange being a writer for any other profession in the world and then magically receive the ability to go along with that profession, I'd be an opera singer. You get to wear really good costumes, and everyone fusses over whether you might get a chill. Right now, no one cares if I might get a chill.
However, if I had to stop being a writer for some reason, and I got absolutely NO new abilities, I suppose I'd have to be a fortune teller, since that's the only other thing I can do. No, wait! Maybe I could bake cakes! I make super cakes.
IF YOU WEREN'T AN ARTIST, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
SOPHIE: I would like to have a museum. It would be a museum dedicated to half-finished projects. There would be a room of half-done tapestries, and half-knitted sweaters. There would be half-finished paintings and half-built Brooklyn Bridges made from matchsticks. It would be open every seventh Thursday that fell on a half moon, and people would line up for miles. I'd serve half-baked cookies. It would be brilliant.
WHERE DO YOU GET THE IDEAS FOR YOUR BOOKS?
ANNIE: I steal them from children.
SOPHIE: I steal them from children.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN DURING SPRING AND SUMMER VACATIONS?
ANNIE: I lay on the couch and read. Sometimes, for variety, I lay in the hammock and read. One summer, the temperature was over a 100 every day for a week, and during that week, I went under the bed and read.
SOPHIE: I lived near the beach so I swam and collected shells and explored the caves and walked on the cliffs looking for birds' nests and dared myself to stare down the ravine to where the rusted old car lay at the bottom. When I wasn't at the beach I was up a tree with a book and a bush biscuit, which was an indigestible, enormous, rectangular, dry, tasteless cookie. They gave them to soldiers, and I'm pretty sure these were left over from the war. My brother and I loved them.
HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN YOU SAW THE VERY FIRST COPY OF THE VERY FIRST IVY AND BEAN BOOK?
ANNIE: When I received the first copy of Ivy and Bean, I was really excited. I just HAD to show it to someone. Right away! That very minute! But it was the middle of the day; my husband was at work, my kids were in school. I called my mom; she wasn't home. I called my sister, she wasn't home.
I went around the corner and banged on my friend Barb's door; she was gone.
So I stopped some poor guy who happened to be walking down the sidewalk and said, "Look! I wrote this!" He looked at me as if I were a big hairy bug. "I'm only telling you because nobody's home," I explained. "Right," he said. "Nobody's home. Great. Great!" And then he ran away.
SOPHIE: I only got to hold it for a second before my son snatched it from my hands and ran away to read it. But it was a good feeling.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE CAMP SONG?
ANNIE: Since I never went to camp, all the camp songs I know are hand-me-downs from my sister's camp experience, but my favorite was "Bye-Bye, Longjohns," sung to the tune of "Bye-Bye, Blackbird." This song had several riveting features (". . . I have lost my underwear, I don't care, I'll go bare . . . " and " . . . oh how I miss that little trap-door behind me. If you see it, you'll know where to find me . . . "), but the best feature was that it sent my mom completely off her nut.
SOPHIE: We don't have a culture of summer camp in Australia where I grew up, but we have no shortage of irritating, catchy songs. "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", was a perennial favorite, as was "Throw Us Me Togs, Bruce, Down by the Billabong" sung to the tune of "Click Go the Shears, Boys, Click, Click, Click!"
WHAT'S THE SILLIEST QUESTION A KID (OR A GROWNUP) HAS EVER ASKED YOU?
ANNIE: The questions kids ask me are generally quite reasonable and interesting, such as "What's your favorite color? How many pets do you have? Do you have parents too? Do you like Napa? Was your cousin's house really haunted?" (Pink, 2, yes, yes, yes)
One time a grownup asked me how I felt about meat. I said I felt pretty good.
SOPHIE: A kindergartner once asked me to marry him. That wasn't silly though, I was very flattered. A grownup recently asked me how I learned to draw so "amateurish". That was silly.
A CONVERSATION WITH ANNIE BARROWS AND 2ND AND 3RD GRADE STUDENTS
STUDENT: How long did it take you to write Ivy and Bean?
ANNIE: Which time? It didn't take me very long to write the first version of Ivy and Bean, but then I had to rewrite it about six times.
STUDENT: Six times? Why?
ANNIE: Bunch of different reasons. The first time I wrote the book, Ivy and Bean made a voodoo doll of Nancy. My editor said I absolutely COULD NOT have voodoo dolls in a kids' book.
STUDENT: What's a voodoo doll?
ANNIE: You make a little doll that looks like your enemy, you whisper the magic words, and then you stick pins in it. Then your enemy yells, "Ow, ow, ow!" My editor thought voodoo dolls were too scary for kids. Are you scared?
STUDENT: [chorus] No. Voodoo dolls sound like fun.
ANNIE: That's what I think, too. But I have to do what my editor says.
STUDENT: Why did you have to rewrite it the other times?
ANNIE: It was too short. I added all the stuff that happened in Ivy's house and Mrs. Trantz.
STUDENT: Was your room like Ivy's room when you were a kid?
ANNIE: I wasn't allowed to draw on my floor with chalk, but I did divide my room up into little sections. I had a living room, a workroom, and a bedroom. My living room had pillows to sit on and a tiny coffee table that was really a picnic basket.
STUDENT: Did you have lots of dolls like Ivy?
ANNIE: Nope. I had little animals, but not many dolls.
STUDENT: How come you gave Ivy dolls and not animals, then?
ANNIE: Ivy seemed like someone who would like dolls more than animals.
STUDENT: Are Ivy and Bean real?
ANNIE: No. I made them up. But they are like real people now—I know what they like and don't like, just the way you know what your friends think. They're fictional, but they're still my friends.
STUDENT: Did you ever know anyone like Bean or Ivy?
ANNIE: When you make up a person, it's sort of like making a cake. You use lots of different people for ingredients. So a character might have hair like this girl, a room like that one. She might be impatient like me, and love fossils like my daughter. I take little bits from lots of people, until the character is a whole cake. Then I bake it.
STUDENT: Who is Bean made up of?
ANNIE: Bean is a lot of people. She's me; she's my cousin Cary; she's my best friend when I was six and seven; she's both my daughters; she's my daughters' friend Claire; and she's a bunch of kids that I've met over the last ten years.
STUDENT: Who is Ivy?
ANNIE:: Ivy is more imaginary. I took some of myself and some of my older daughter and a smidgle of her friends, and I invented the rest.
STUDENT: What about Mrs. Trantz? Is she based on a real person?
ANNIE: When I was a kid, I lived down the street from an old mansion. The lady who owned it died, and the only person who lived there was May, the caretaker. She was very pale, with beady blue eyes. She scared me to death, even though she never said a word to me. I think all grown-ups who don't like kids are scary. Mrs. Trantz is based on her, plus a few mean teachers I had.
STUDENT: Did you like to write when you were a kid?
ANNIE: Not really. I wanted to like to write, but I was always disappointed in my stories. They weren't nearly as good as the ones I read, and I didn't see the point of writing something I didn't want to read. Also, I was such a terrible speller, I usually couldn't read what I wrote.
STUDENT: Is there really a magic spell to make people dance forever?
STUDENT: Does it really use worms?
STUDENT: Are you a witch?
STUDENT: Then how do you know about spells?
ANNIE: I have a very old spell book, just like Ivy. The invisibility spell really does require a dead frog. Two, actually.
STUDENT: Can I see your spell book?
ANNIE: No. It's a secret. And besides, it's in French.
STUDENT: Are you going to write more about Ivy and Bean?
STUDENT: What's the next book going to be about?
ANNIE: I think the next one I write is going to be about a bad babysitter. Do you think that's a good idea?
STUDENT: I think it should be about Christmas.