It's been a miss here at dulemba.com that I haven't yet shared with you the awesomeness that is Dianne de las Casas. Not only is she an amazing storyteller who does over-the-top school visits, she is also the creator of Picture Book Month (in November), teaches professional devlopment for teachers and librarians, and she has a string of professional books and picture books based on folk tales. For instance: The Cajun Cornbread Boy; Madame Poulet and Monsieur Roach; Mama's Bayou; The Gigantic Sweet Potato; There's a Dragon in the Library; The House That Witchy Built; Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate; and her latest, Dinosaur Mardi Gras. She even has three more coming out in 2013 - woosie!
If you're one of Dianne's over 10,000 subscribers to her newsletter, you already know about her many skills and books, but for those who haven't signed up yet, I recently asked Dianne some questions...
Q. I would love to hear about how you tie folklore/storytelling into your books. How do you decide which stories you want to pursue in print?
A. Folktales inspire me because they hold universal truths. They have been around this long because there is inherent wisdom in them. Children are my barometer for whether or not I will retell a folktale in book form. If I tell a story to live audiences and they respond to it time and time again, I know the story will work in print. I love creating fun and catchy refrains within a story. I usually choose stories that have a refrain that appears 3-5 times in the tale. Think "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Little Red Hen." Then I like to "remix" the story and modernize them or give them a regional twist. My take on "The Gingerbread Man" became The Cajun Cornbread Boy. My take on nursery tale, "The House That Jack Built," became The House That Witchy Built and The House That Santa Built. These stories work so well in story time, when they are read aloud. I call them "Tell-Along Tales."
Q. How long does it take you to refine a story until it's ready to go to your editor?
A. I usually hone my stories in front of live audiences so sometimes, it can take years before it morphs into a version I feel is ready for print. There are so many things to consider. Adapting a live oral tale to the static print version can be a challenge, especially in a picture book. You can sometimes lose the "storytelling" element of the tale. This is where the illustrator comes in. For me, the illustrations are just as important as the words. Ironically, words can sometimes be inadequate in a book, especially when the story was once a tale from the oral tradition. This is where I rely on the illustrator to capture the essence of the story that was, in live storytelling, usually portrayed with a character voice, a facial expression, or body movement. The subtext of the illustrations are a perfect compliment to the text.
Q. Most storytellers subtly change stories to fit their own voice, locale, etc... How do your stories adapt?
A. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana. My city and state provide me with a cadre of ideas for stories set in my locale. Sense of place is so important to a storyteller and it is important to me as a writer. I love honoring my sense of place. But I also grew up all over the world and I have an international family so I honor that too.
For instance, I could see a Japanese tale like "Momotaro, The Peach Boy" adapted into a story with Southern flair, keeping the motifs of the original story yet adding that sense of place. An old couple from Georgia want a baby but cannot have one. One day, the old woman sees a peach floating down the creek. She brings it home. When she gives the peach to her husband, it splits open. A little girl with frizzy hair and dotty freckles appears... LOL
Q. What's it like when you see the illustrations for one of your books for the first time?
A. I LOVE seeing the illustrations for the first time. It's like Christmas for me. Imagine going to sleep with words in your head and waking up with pictures depicting the words, in your lap. This is what it's like. It's like magic. I'm very fortunate in that I am friends with my illustrators and they graciously allow me sneak peeks of the art. It's always a thrill! I envy people like you, Katie Davis, and Joyce Wan, who have the double gift of being able to write AND illustrate. What a blessing!
Q. Tell us about the new app, Rockin' Three Billy Goats!
A. It is soooooo COOL! Seeing the app go live in the Apple App store was like my birthday, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Christmas wrapped up with a big giant bow. It took about a year to develop. It's called "Rockin Three Billy Goats" and it is an iOS app available for $2.99. It features my signature "Tell Along" storytelling with music, sound effects, a catchy refrain, a rapping troll, and interactive characters. You can touch the goats, the troll, the sun, the clouds, and even a secret pink bunny. I love making Little Billy Goat do flips. I feel like a kid playing with a new toy. I've been playing with it on my iPhone and iPad every day. LOL The terrific art was done by Stefan Jolet and the app was developed by Moglue. It was definitely a team effort and I am sooooo proud of it. I feel so "grown-up" as an author, having an "app!" LOL
Q. And tell us about your amazing school visits!
A. Thank you so much for saying they are amazing. I am passionate about literacy, storytelling, and books. I love visiting a school and interacting with the students. I have a ton of fun rocking the stage. I sing, clap, dance, rap and get the kids to join in. I bring them on stage and we have a blast. I have been doing school visits since 1996 and it's always thrilling for me to visit a school. Every audience and their reactions are different. I always go home inspired and feeling like I made a little difference in the world. How can you not feel that way when they applaud, smile, and hug you after?!! Their enthusiasm is contagious and I feel blessed that they allow me to share that time with them.
Thank you very much, Elizabeth, for having me as a guest. You are a great hostess!
Thanks for stopping by Dianne! And y'all check back as we get towards November. I'll have Dianne back to talk about Picture Book Month!