Margaret Cardillo on Her New Children's Book
What inspired you to become a children’s book author?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school. I found letters I wrote in middle school to the New Yorker and Best American Essays asking them to publish my stories. They were rejection letters (shocker!) and I remember the stories were usually about love and almost always involved a middle school locker. Love notes, break up notes, notes left in the wrong locker…intrigue! However, I knew I wanted to be a children’s book author after graduating college and then going to work for a children’s publishing house. I fell in LOVE with children’s books. The stories, the illustrations, the collaboration! When I do school and bookshop visits, the absolute best part is reading to children, seeing their responses, answering their questions, and hearing what inspires them. That inspires me. When a child tells you that your book is the reason they love reading or writing…there’s no greater feeling!
What role did books and reading play in your childhood? What were some of your favorite books as a child?
I come from a long line of readers. My grandmother would always ask me “What are you reading?” right after “What did you eat?” My parents are big readers. The walls in my childhood home (and current home) are lined with books. I would read late into the night, and my dad would come in to tell me to turn off the light and go to bed. I decided to read by candlelight because I thought it was more subtle, but that didn’t go over so well!
I grew up reading anything by Eric Carle, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, E.B. White, Beverly Cleary, Dr. Seuss, Roal Dahl…classics. We had a great pop-up book on Leonardo DaVinci that my brothers and I read until it fell apart.
After writing about Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, what inspired you to turn your attention to dogs at work?
Inspiration is the key word there. Audrey and Jackie inspired me, and so do dogs! We’ve never not had a dog and they are equal to—if not above—the humans in our family. The one time I didn’t live with a dog was when I graduated college and was living in Hoboken and working in Manhattan. I couldn’t have a dog in my apartment so I would hang out at the dog park for hours. Finally, I researched how I could spend time with a dog without owning it and I came across Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans and first responders. They rely on volunteers to take the dogs on the weekends to socialize them in the outside world. I quickly jumped at the opportunity to volunteer, and they were by far some of my most favorite weekends. One day I was telling a friend about their training and she said, “those dogs are at work!” The idea just stuck. DOGS AT WORK was born.
Can you tell us more about the process of working with Zachariah Ohora? Do you write a draft of the story before the illustrations or do you work in tandem once you have an idea?
I feel incredibly lucky to share a book with Zachariah. His work is iconic. It’s beautiful and funny and thoughtful all at once. Some authors and illustrators work in tandem, but the process for me has been to work on the manuscript, revision after revision, until it’s finalized. Then, my editor, who pairs the manuscript with Zachariah, sends him the draft and he goes to work. I love this process because it’s one of the most exciting parts about children’s book publishing: to see how the illustrator interprets the manuscript. Zachariah not only made the story look incredible, but he also tells a story of his own through illustrations. And I love his story!
Finally, do you have any advice for parents hoping to instill a love of reading in their children?
I absolutely love this question. Thank you for asking it. I am not an expert in this field at all, and I have so much love and admiration for librarians, teachers and reading specialists. My kids are at ages where they’re just discovering the world of reading and it’s absolutely exhilarating to watch them enter this phase. Obviously reading to them every night or as many nights (or days) as possible is key. I also think that one of the best things you can do is show them—show them how you read and they’re more likely to copy that behavior. I also make a really big deal out of going to our local bookshop Books & Books. It’s a big treat and we always leave with a book, which they love. Finally, I think being pretty relaxed about what they read can be a good thing. Reading the back of a cereal box, the Sunday comics, or a sports magazine…as long as they’re reading. Of course, none of this is necessary in order to raise a reader. I collect examples of talented, accomplished people that have succeeded in spite of. So, if your child isn’t that into reading right now, it doesn’t mean that one day they won’t find something that sparks a love for books.