And now she has a brand new masterpiece out in the world: Noodle and Lou. Again told in simple, beautiful, crystal clear rhyme, it is the story of a true blue friendship of the rarest order.
Liz was kind enough to answer some questions about those unlikely friends, other book friends and real-world friends, too.
I know we’re both fans of GEORGE AND MARTHA. Can you talk a little about those two, and what it is that makes you adore them? The thing I love most about George and Martha’s relationship is the perfect balance they strike between humor and tenderness. I grew up in a very funny household and came to know (over time) teasing as a form of love. George and Martha know that, too. They blow it sometimes, or take things too far, but then they self-correct and before long the friendship is tender again.
Without that humor, honestly, I don’t think we’d buy the tenderness. I mean, really. What two hippos don’t have a run-in over pea soup every now and again?
Were Noodle and Lou always a bird and a worm? Do you remember how the idea came to you? Do you think you’re more Noodle or more Lou? Yep. They began as bird and worm. When I read their story to kids, someone always calls out “but birds EAT worms!” so there’s the pleasure and surprise that these guys get along.
One of our reviewers said, “If a bird and a worm can find common ground, there’s hope for us all!” and I just love that. They’re the ultimate odd couple.
I got the idea for Noodle & Lou from watching a worm in my garden and wondering if worms know how great they are. I bet they don’t. I mean,they’re pretty shy and slimy and unassuming. They’re probably as self-deprecating as the rest of us.
I’ve played both Noodle and Lou in my own life, and when I’m at my most Noodle-ish, it is almost always the perspective offered by a friend that snaps me out of it. Noodle & Lou is dedicated to my sister. She’s been a True Blue Lou all my life.
What books spoke to you as a child? Do any characters stand out? Who would you have liked to be your friend? The characters I loved most — and still love most — are imperfect. Kind of like George and Martha! I never really trusted (or liked) perfect characters, but Ramona Quimby? Jo March? Madeline, or Eloise? I loved them because they were sassy and impetuous and moody and sneaky and still they were admired and totally adored.
Do you have a favorite literary friendship beyond George and Martha? Oh, that’s such a good question. I love the quirky friendships in Kevin Henkes‘ books — like Chester’s Way or Sheila Rae the Brave. And I love the really dear intergenerational friendships he creates. There are some adults who aren’t half bad in his books. Oh, and the friendships in Jeanne Birdsall‘s Penderwicks books — both between the sisters and beyond! I love them for the same reasons as I love George and Martha. They are funny, imperfect and true…
Your ability to distill language is awe-inspiring. Your books are so brilliantly concise and contain so much. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen magically. Can you speak a little about your process? You are sweet to say so. I think it might just point to my inability to write anything long!! Process is so individual and mysterious, don’t you think? For me, probably the most important element of my work is reading aloud. I read my whole manuscript aloud, from the top, every time I change a single word, and as I do I hear everything else that doesn’t belong there. I truly believe that everything written should be boiled down to its essence — and not just picture books, but 1,200-page epic novels, too.
What role do friends play in your writing life? Um, they keep the men in white coats at bay? Seriously, having community in my life is like having yoga. I’m not totally centered and grounded and healthy and happy because of it, but I’m a lot less crazy than I would be without it.
My critique groups, my agent-mates, my local posse? All dearly beloved Lous….
Like you, Audrey. You’re a Lou.