HomeJean Marzollo, author of I SPY books

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Stephanie Oppenheim: Pick of the Day

March 2, 2009: Take a look at Jean Marzollo's website. Jean is probably best known as the author of the award winning
I SPY series. She has written so many wonderful children's books and now also illustrates many of her own works. What's fun about her website is that several of her titles are posted and have interactive features (games, read along, karaoke). Great for a cold winter day like today! My favorite - the sing alongs and games for I'm a Little Teapot. New things are posted all the time - unlike so many websites targeted to kids, this one is truly about celebrating a love of reading.

Meet the Award Winning Authors: Jean Marzollo and Susan Jeffers
by Stephanie Oppenheim

SEO: Did you always want to write/illustrate children's books? If not, what was on your list of things to do?

JM: As a child, I always loved books, and I always loved making things, especially dolls' clothes. It wasn't until I became a teacher that I thought: Hey, maybe I could write books for kids. Thirty years later, I thought: Hey, maybe I could paint my own pictures! All in all, I continue to have as much fun as I had when I made dolls' clothes and read "The Wizard of Oz." Clue: whatever you love to do as a child may be a clue to what you would like to do as a grownup. Jean Marzollo

SJ: The first thing on my list was horses, after that was drawing and painting and like Jean, hours making doll clothes. I loved playing baseball in the street till dark. My Mom was an artist and adored
everything decorative so our house was filled with beautiful fabric, ribbons and sparkly things. I read voraciously and hid in the bathroom so I was not disturbed.

SEO: How do you like to work? Does the room need to be quiet? To music? TV on? Day? Night?

SJ: If I have to think, like when putting a dummy together, I enjoy a low hum of the news. When my brain is disengaged as when I am painting, I listen to a book on tape. I used to work at night but now I work first thing before the day gets going. Things change.

JM: Quiet. Absolutely quiet. No TV, no radio, no talking. That's when I write. The only sound is the voice in my head telling me what to type on my computer keyboard. When I paint, I can listen to music. Love that!

SEO: Most kids have a hard time re-writing and editing their work. What advice can you give them about this process?

JM: I never get my stories and poems right the first time so I'm always happy to have others read my work and give me feedback. If they are mean to me, I never ask them again. But if they are helpful, I am thankful, and I will ask them again.
I don't have to follow their advice, but I truly appreciate it. I write many drafts of my stories and poems because
I want my work to be the best it can be.

SJ: I have come to realize how much better my drawings get as I do them again. So it is always worth the extra time. And it is a great pleasure, like fun. Listen to your inner voice and you will know when you must push a drawing further. Like Jean, when I get stuck I have my favorite people to go to for help. I go to painting class every week. I have a very good and funny teacher. He comes from Russia. I ask him about my paintings. Some times he says "is good." Sometimes he says "is boringk." The best thing about him is that he can help you fix it! Best advice, do a lot of it (what ever "it" is for you) and find a great teacher. Susan and her horse

SEO: When you were a child, were you an avid reader or lukewarm?

JM: Avid. My family made weekly trips to the library. We didn't have a bookstore in our town.

SJ: Beyond avid. When I was little there were very few childrens books so I read comic books and the Readers Digest. Comic Books are now called Graphic Novels.

SEO: What were some of your favorite books?

JM: The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I also loved her story "The Steam Roller" in Margaret Wise Brown's Wonderful Story Book. I read lots of Wizard of Oz books, dog books, horse books, Nancy Drew books, and, when I was older, Betty Cavana romance books. When I was very young, my mother read aloud from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses and A.A.Milne's When I Was Six. I feel that because I was lucky enough to hear poetry when I was young, I developed a good sense of rhythm and rhyme.

Susan as a childSJ: I read Jane Eyre as a Classic Comic and had a suspicion that grown ups were holding out on me....this was clearly "not for children" it was very intricate and full of emotion.

SEO: What was your favorite toy as a child?

JM: Dolls. I still have my baby doll and my Toni doll. If I look up from my keyboard, I see them on a shelf above my books.

SJ: I have a Toni doll too! My favorites though were the horse figurines that I would make stories about.

SEO: Do you ever worry about running out of good ideas?

JM: No. I have a file drawer filled with ideas, and I get new ones all the time. My father said, "Never be afraid to be different," and that stuck. I'm never afraid that someone will make fun of one of my ideas.

SJ: I had the opposite experience so I am shy about my ideas. Those feelings do not stop me though, they are just annoying. I read and take notes. I look constantly and notice what catches my eye. If I see a sight that attracts me while I am driving, I will stop and go back. I will take a picture or I will mJean Marzolloake a small sketch on anything paper- like that I can find.
I trust my little voice that says oooooh!

SEO: What's your favorite ice cream flavor?

JM: Hard yogurt chocolate chip.

SJ: Funny you should ask. Jean and I stay in Gloucester Mass in the Summer. She found a place that has MY FAVORITE, Peppermint Stick!!!. It is the only place where I have found it since I was little.


Links to Know and Bookmark:

Jean Marzollo's Site - amazing resource for kids, parents and teachers. Jean has packed her website with new on-line content that's great fun for kids to explore. The content changes every month! It's even designed to work in schools with Smart Boards...very cutting edge!

Susan Jeffer's Site - Anyone who has poured over one of Susan's books will appreciate visiting her site. I LOVE her step-by-step description of how to draw a horse. Her instructions convey not just the mechanics but the heart that informs her beautiful illustrations.

Award Winning Books. Jean and Susan both have outstanding books that have won countless awards and should not be missed. Please visit their websites to see all of their wonderful titles.

Both have books on our Platinum Book list for 2009:

I Spy A to Z, A Book of Picture Riddles

Black Beauty


(c) The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio; Reprinted with Permission

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