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Author Interview: Jan Reynolds

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 8, 2009.

Welcome to the sixth stop of the blog tour for Jan Reynolds' latest non-fiction book for children, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming (Lee & Low Books, 2009)!

On Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life (from the Lee & Low Books website):

On the island of Bali in Southeast Asia, rice farming is a way of life. The people live in tune with the natural rhythms and cycles of the water and the soil. Ingrained in their community and culture, rice farming connects them to the land and one another.

Balinese farmers have planted rice using an intricate system of water sharing and crop rotation for more than a thousand years. Intertwined with their spiritual, social, and day-to-day lives, this system has made Bali a leading producer of one of the world’s most important crops. And because Balinese rice farming respects the balances of nature, it serves as a remarkable example of sustainable agriculture in an increasingly industrialized world.

With lush photographs and captivating text, Jan Reynolds explores the traditional world of rice farming on the beautiful island of Bali. Readers of all ages will come away with an enhanced awareness of how we farm, eat, and live today, and the effects these practices have on the world of tomorrow.

On Jan Reynolds (from the Lee & Low Books website):

Jan Reynolds is an award-winning author and photographer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including National Geographic, The New York Times, and Outside magazine. All seven books in her Vanishing Cultures series of photo-essays for children were recognized as Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Reynolds is also an avid skier, mountain climber, and adventurer. She holds the world record for women's high altitude skiing, was part of the first expedition to circumnavigate Mount Everest, and performed a solo crossing of the Himalayas. Reynolds lives with her husband and their two sons in Stowe, Vermont.

And now for my interview with Jan! Welcome to Into the Wardrobe, Jan. :D

What motivates you to create non-fiction books for children?

My subjects in my books, and their way of life is vanishing, so this motivates me to do my work, to show the world what these people and their lifestyle is about, because I feel we have so much to learn from them. I do these books for children, although I have 2 books out for adults, because I feel my books will have more impact on children than adults. (I have a book series out called Vanishing Cultures, also w/ Lee and Low.)

Why is the photo essay your genre of choice?

I have always been a photographer, even while setting world records climbing and skiing. I began as a journalist/photojournalist. So it is very natural for me to illustrate with photos. With my subject matter, it would be much simpler, and cheaper to draw illustrations, but when a child sees a photo in my books, it looks very real, there is no doubt that what they see is really happening. So this is important to me, that the reader knows what he is looking at is real, not made up.

What was your creative process when working on Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life? Do you follow this process for all of your books?

My creative process is to think about what I want to say, then where in the world should I go to help me to say it best. I found the rice farming in Bali to be the best example of sustainable farming, so that's where I went. Then I just hang out and shoot photos, while I live with the people in my book. I have already done some research, so I have a basic idea of what I'd like to photograph before I go, and I learn so much while I'm visiting that I shoot so much more. All the time I'm taking photos I'm sort of writing the book in my head, and when I get home, I organize the photos into story form, then, lastly, write the actual text.

Why did you write Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life? What do you want young readers to take away from it?

I wrote Cycle of Rice because I wanted to teach children about sustainability. This is a big word for a little kid. My hope was that readers would understand that cycles on earth need to be sustainable so that there will be enough resources for all of life on earth to continue to thrive.

What is your strongest or favorite memory from when you were in Bali, Indonesia to do research for Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life?

My best memory from Bali was about all the celebrations that occur almost every minute on the island!! These people celebrate and honor life at all times of day, throughout the year. They also taught me so much about honoring the natural cycles of rice, cycles of water, sharing, and then celebrating these things to honor their value.

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a survival reader when I was young. I lived on a dairy farm, and we were home most all of the time outside of school, and all summer long. So, getting books from the library on Wednesday, the only day my mom went to town to get groceries, was the highlight of my summer and school vacations. My favorite books were not made into movies yet, so they are and were very vivid in my memories, all the Pipi Longstocking books, and Harriet the Spy. I thought these girls were just the bomb. I suppose growing up and setting world records skiing and climbing, then living with an indigenous tribe on each continent, then farming with the rice farmers was just my way of exemplifying what I learned from these girrrrrrrls: anything is possible, and be creative.

What children's books are you reading now?

I have 2 boys, and the Deltora Quest series is the latest nightly ritual reading. (We've already been through all of Harry Potter, and those Peter Pan books by Ridley Scott, and Dave Barry. All definitely very guy reading).

What are you working on now?

I'm working on my next book, about a tribe of Maasai who are changing their herding patterns to save the forest around them, and changing the way they make a living in their area, while still maintaining their culture. I love books that can combine culture and environment in one.

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Message for Asian readers: Although my publisher Lee and Low has Asian roots, it has nothing to do with the fact that my first book series, Vanishing Cultures, had 2 books set in Asia. The population of Asia is half the world's population. You are BIG! And I'm impressed and so aware of Asia, and feel that most students here in the west NEED to know more about Asia. It was important to me to write about rice, in Cycle of Rice, because it's perhaps the world's most important crop. It affects half the world's population so directly, because it is largely grown in Asia, and is a food staple in Asia. I'm hoping that by using an Asian culture to explain sustainability which affects us all around the world, maybe more readers in the west will be excited to know more about Asia, after reading Cycle of Rice. I'm so inspired by ancient Asian cultures, I'd love to do more books set in Asia.

Jan, thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions! And thank you so much for Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life!

The other stops on the Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life blog tour:

April 22 - PaperTigers
April 23 - A Wrung Sponge
April 27 - Carol’s Corner
April 30 - Lori Calabrese Writes!
May 5 - Write for a Reader
May 14 - Bees Knees Reads


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