Book Look: Any Which Wall and Laurel Snyder

Any Which WallTrying to get back in the swing of things with my author and illustrator interviews…. Man, you get behind in one thing and it’s impossible to catch up in everything else. How are you doing with the flu where you are? Our poor little school is swimming in germs right now. 1/3 of the fifth graders are out sick…including my Mr. E. :-(

But! I won’t let that detract from telling you about a great book: Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder! This middle grade novels (for ~grades 3-7) is a fun little fantasy romp. There are cozy mysteries; can a fantasy be cozy? ‘Cause if it can, Any Which Wall is.

Recently, Laurel agreed to answer some questions for me….

Tell us about your book.

This book, Any Which Wall, is a story of four kids who disover a magical wishing wall in the middle of a cornfield, and take it to all sorts of wonderful places. Like Camelot, and Coney Island.

How did you get the idea for Any Which Wall?

I wrote the book as a tribute to some of my favorite books, the books of Edward Eager.   Setting it in Iowa was an obvious choice, both because I love it there, and because placing the story in Iowa was a little like placing it in the past.  Kids in Iowa have a little more freedom than they do here, in Atlanta, where I live.  It seemed more possible that kids in Iowa could actually go on magical adventures without their parents noticing.

Where would you wish to go if you had a wishing wall? Why?

This sounds really boring, but I’d probably go to Baltimore, New York, Iowa, and Chattanooga. Over and over again.  Because my kids are little, and because I have family and friends in those places, I find I mostly just want to go revisit the palces I already know and love.  That’s not to say I don’t also want to go to Istanbul.  I do! But right now, this year of my life, my mother’s dinner table, or my best friends apartment in Manhattan, are the places I most want to be.

How long does it take you to write a book? Where do you like to write? What time of day? (Or anything else you want to add about your process.)

Oh, it can be very different with each book. Until a few years ago, I mostly wrote poetry.  Poetry is something I can do around the edges of my life.  So I would scribble late at night, or during a train ride.  Now, with these middle grade novels, I find I work best in 4-5 hour blocks of time, with silence.  Oddly, my best writing gets done in bed. I don’t know why that is.  Maybe because its the only place where I don’t–as a mom– fell like I should be doing something else.  I do write in coffee shops sometimes, when my kids are at home, but its not ideal. In my dream world, I’d have a little writing cabin, with a single bed in it, and a desk, and a bookshelf, and no internet.

What were you like as a kid?

I was a reader. I really believed in magic (and still do). I was a daydreamer. But I was also a chatterbox, and very impatient.  My parents often had to use a pot of “bottom-glue” to keep me in my chair through dinner.

Did you like school?

I loved it!  My school was kind of a rough place, and there were never enough books or chairs, but I had some great teachers, and I really liked learning.

So…readers want to know….what’s the grossest or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a kid?

Heh.  There’s a story I love to tell, about how, as a bedwetter, I was terrified  of slumber parties.  One year, by best friend had a slumber party, and I went, and because I was her best friend, I got to sleep on the pullout sofa with her, while the others slept on the floor in sleeping bags. Well, in the middle of the night I woke up soaking wet.  !!!  I didn’t know what to do, but there was no way to kep it a secret, so I woke up my friend and told her I’d wet the bed. She looked at me for a minute, and then she said, “I did too!”  I was baffled by this, but she insisted that SHE had wet the bed, and woke up her mom, and asked to ahve the sheets changed.  She took the blame for it, and since she was the birthday girl, and awesome and fun, nobody teased her.  Not coincidentally, she’s still my best friend.

If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what would you be? Why?

Well, in my other life I’m a mom, and that’s the most important job there is, as well as the most fun.  But if I weren’t an author, I’d probably be an English teacher of some kind.  I can’t get very far away from books and kids.

What’s one thing you’d love to learn to do?

Keep my mouth shut!  I’m a terrible interrupter.  I’d also like to learn to fly.  But I think you probably mean in a “taking a class” kind of way.  In which case, I’d love to be a carpenter.  I wish I could build things. I’d like to build a little house.

And the coolest place you’ve ever been?

Israel.  It’s a magical, ancient, amazing place. I love Jerusalem, but I also love a little place called Tzfat. I have some very special memories from there.

We loved your book! Is there a similar book from a different author that’d you’d recommend for kids who liked yours?

Well, the place to start is Edward Eager– with Half Magic and Magic by the Lake, and Seven Day Magic.  And Eager’s model/ideal was Edith Nesbit, who wrote Five Children and It (which I just wrote an introduction for a new edition of, actually).  They’re both amazing writers, but older.  For kids who liked Any Which Wall, and want something new, I might suggest Ellen Potter’s Olivia Kidney books.  They’re different from mine, but I think Ellen and I share a silly sense of humor. I love her writing.

What’s next?

Penny Dreadful!  I just turned in my new novel, about a girl who moves from a big mansion in The City to a small town in the mountains of Tennessee.  I also have a picture book coming out next year: Baxter, the pig who wanted to be kosher.

What do you wish we’d asked, but didn’t?

Nothing! These were wonderful questions!  Thanks so much…

The setting for Laurel’s next book, Penny Dreadful, as drawn by Laurel.  It’s a map of where the action takes place…an old house/estate called the Whipporwillows. She used this as she wrote to help keep track of her story.

Finally, for you author card lovers who just want the facts:

Laurel Snyder