If you ask her, Corey Schwartz will tell you she’d rather be scuba diving. In the meantime, she spends lots of afternoons in the park with her kids, always open to new ideas for books. Corey is creating wonderfully inventive picture books and enjoying the opportunity to let her children inspire her.
Corey first realized she wanted to be a writer when she was in elementary school. Like all writers, she had a plan … and she knew she would write books like Judy Blume. It wasn’t until two decades later that her love of writing came back to her … but didn’t want to write like Judy Blume. Her muse said “picture books!”
As a mom, Corey sees wonderful opportunities to not only share a love of reading with kids, but to use those opportunities to help prepare them for life and spark their creativity. Her debut book Hop! Plop! is a story of friendship and creative problem solving. Like Mouse and Elephant (the characters in Hop! Plop!), Corey likes working with a partner. For her, collaboration is a great way to build ideas, look at things from new angles, and ultimately, create something new.
RT: First, thanks for visiting the Reading Tub®, we’re so glad you Hopped! Plopped! by. [Sorry, I couldn’t resist!] Hop! Plop!, your first picture book, made it onto the Eric Carle Museum’s list of “Picture Books of Distinction in 2006,” along with such highly acclaimed books as Flotsam (David Wiesner), Lilly’s Big Day (Kevin Henkes), and Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (Mo Willems). How have Elephant and Mouse reacted to starting on the A-List?
Corey: Mouse and Elephant were thrilled. What an honor to appear with authors of that caliber! Elephant is a huge Mo fan. His favorite is Knuffle Bunny. (Mine too!) Mouse of course loves Kevin Henkes because most of his stories feature… mice! Mouse cracks up every time we read Owen and get to the part where Owen stuffs his blanket down his pants.
RT: In a recent interview, you said that your writing partner Rebecca J. Gomez “gets me to leave my comfort zone and try new styles and genres.” What is your comfort zone? Of the new formats, which one are you most happy about discovering?
Corey: I am most comfortable writing in rhyme, or at least partial rhyme. I tend to write tight, spare text for a very young audience and to use a lot of alliteration and onomatopoeia. Also, for some reason I was convinced I could only write about animals. Becky gets me try things like writing in the present tense or in straight prose. Recently, we wrote a picture book entirely in letters that go back and forth between and a boy and his mom. That one was a lot of fun and I discovered I can write about people!
RT: The Hop! Plop! website has schoolyard and playground activities for young children built around the theme of friendship. The Favorite Friend handout, because it focuses on drawing, not words, is perfect for pre-readers. What are the themes of some of your upcoming books? Will you have activities for those, too?
Corey: A lot of my stories have a problem-solving focus. I think it’s very important for kids to learn to think out of the box. I started Hop! Plop! with that in mind. Tali and I wanted Mouse and Elephant come up with a creative way to solve their problem. But somehow in the end, it turned into more of a “friendship” story. I also think it is essential to promote tolerance, so that’s a theme I have worked into a few manuscripts. I definitely plan to create fun activities for all of my forthcoming books.
RT: In 2002, you were working at Alfy, a website for kids, where you met Tali Klein, your first writing partner and co-author of Hop! Plop! Now you’re a stay-at-home mom with six new books underway. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
Corey: When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I decided that I would be an author when I grew up. I was reading tons of Judy Blume-type books at the time and just assumed I would write for that same age group. I forgot about those plans for a while though … actually for around 25 years! In my mid-thirties, when I was starting a family, the desire suddenly came back to me. It wasn’t until then that I realized picture books are my genre.
RT: You have a Masters in Deaf Education from Gallaudet University. How did your graduate studies influence you as a writer?
Corey: One thing I heard in grad school really stuck with me: it takes 35 exposures to a word for a child to incorporate that word into his or her lexicon. I use this in parenting and my writing, too. I never limit my vocabulary. I have two preschoolers and I am amazed at what they can absorb if given the opportunity. Last week my three-year-old called his sister a miscreant! I can’t take the credit for that one. He learned it from the film Ice Age. I deliberately include words in my stories that may not be familiar to my target audience. Some critics advise me to take them out, but my response is “If kids are never exposed to these words, how will they ever learn them?”
RT: In your interview with Tara Lazar, you hinted at the frustrations of shopping manuscripts to publishers. Has having a published, Eric-Carle-recognized book helped open any doors?
Corey: You would think so! But it’s not as helpful as it would seem. It definitely helps to have a book deal under your belt if you are trying to find representation. But as for landing a second contract, it has very little impact.In fact, Linda Arms White once said at a Children’s Author’s Bootcamp, “The second contract is the hardest to get.” I didn’t believe her at the time, but I sure do now!
RT: On your blog Thing 1 and Thing 2, you talk about writing, offer some humorous stories about life, and also review books. As a children’s writer, do you think you are pickier about what makes a great children’s book or, when you find a book that doesn’t really strike you, do you empathize with your colleagues’ effort?
Corey: Hmmm, are those mutually exclusive? I certainly have a great deal of respect for all my colleagues, but yes, I am extremely picky about picture books. There are very few picture books I truly love. I must have a British sensibility because many of my favorites come from England: That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown (Cressida Cowell), The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson), and Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood (Timothy Knapman). These books are funny, clever, and irresistibly charming!
RT: Can you tell us more about where your story ideas come from? How do you know which ideas you want to share with your writing partner and which ones you want to work on yourself?
Corey: For the most part, the question is not whether or not to have a partner, who to have as a partner. I always prefer to collaborate on a project. I used to get all my ideas through brainstorming. My partner and I would just “think aloud” until we came up with an idea that resonated with both of us. More recently, I get a lot of my ideas from my kids. When my three-year-old said “I can speak a little karate,” he inspired me to write my newest work in progress, “The Three Ninja Pigs.”
RT: Do you have any reading memories from your childhood? What were your favorite books? What are the books you’re most looking forward to sharing with Josh and Jordan?
Corey: Oh, gosh. TONS. I don’t even know where to start. I read everything I could get my hands on. A few that really stand out are The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I can’t wait to read these to Jordan. I suspect my son is more of a C.S. Lewis kind of guy, so I am looking forward to reading the Chronicles of Narnia with him.
RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Corey: Yes, I would just like to say that I love hearing from my readers. If you have questions or comments about Hop! Plop! please contact me at Corey@hopplop.com. Also, you may be surprised to hear this, but Mouse and Elephant have their own email addresses too! So if your kids would like to drop them a note, they promise to write back: Mouse@hopplop.com and Elephant@hopplop.com.
Also, I would like to thank you for all the work you do at The Reading Tub. There is no greater service you can provide to the community. It breaks my heart to think that there are kids who don’t own books. I’ve been reading to my kids since the day they were born! And it is really reflected in their verbal and cognitive skills as well as in their fabulous imaginations. I hope many people will join your efforts to promote reading and literacy.