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FIVE ON FRIDAY with Juanita Havill

Our guest on FIVE ON FRIDAY this week is Juanita Havill author of numerous award-winning books including, Grow: A Novel in Verse, the very popular “Jamaica” series including Jamaica’s Find which is a Reading Rainbow selection, and her most recent book, Just Like A Baby. Please welcome Juanita to FIVE ON FRIDAY.

When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer/illustrator?

When I was eight or nine and thought writing poems was easy and again later when I was a teenager and enthralled by lyric poetry, I dreamed of becoming a poet. From that dream I branched out to write a lot of prose, fiction mainly, and became a writer of picture book texts and middle grade novels. Then a few years ago I began to work on little snippets of garden poems I had been jotting down and added some new ones for my first collection of poems for children. So dreams detoured can reach their destination.

What book or writer/artist do you feel influenced you the most?

Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe, the haunted ones, who felt they were misunderstood. I’m not sure where the appeal comes from. My hauntings are minor and my work is accessible.

What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’d recommend to others?

I pull out Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook from time to time and have done so currently. The book is thought-provoking and non-judgmental with memorable examples, makes me want to write poetry all day.

If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers (or illustrators), what would it be?

Think at length before you write. When you write, try not to think at all.

Can you share with us your next project or any information about the next book you’reworking on?

I have been researching and writing a picture book Call the Horse Lucky about horse rescue for The Gryphon Press. The press was founded by Emilie Buchwald after she retired from Milkweed Publications, which she also founded. Her intent with The Gryphon Press is to publish picture books that convey empathy with animals and speak out for humane treatment of them. The problem of horse abuse and neglect is growing in our country as the economy worsens. To create a story with a hopeful ending, I visited horse rescue ranches and also horse therapy facilities in Arizona, where I live, and learned some of the heartbreaking stories about the suffering of abused and neglected horses, the “imprisonment” of Premarin/PremPro mares, and the resilience of horses that have survived near starvation. As if by coincidence I was working on an early chapter book about two girls who become involved in trying to find a horse that escaped from a ranch near their neighborhood when I contracted to do a picture book with The Gryphon Press. My research for the horse rescue book reminded me of how much I loved horses (and cats and dogs) growing up. I was one of the lucky horse-loving adolescent girls who had a horse. While my research has evoked memories and contributed to a project I’m working on right now, it may also lead me into an unexpected direction in the future and perhaps another book.

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