An Interview with
Eve Bunting
Jo Cooper
       Eve Bunting has written more than a hundred books for children. Among her honors are the Golden Kite Award of the Society of Children's Book Writers in 1976 for One More Flight and the Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People award in 1977 for Ghost of Summer. Her novel If I Asked You, Would You Stay? was a 1984 American Library Best Book for Young Adults, Face at the Edge of the World was made into an ABC After School Special in 1985, "Desperate Exit."

Jo Cooper: What percentage of your books are for young children?

Eve Bunting: I'd say more than 50 percent. Then the other 50 percent would be divided between middle grades and young adults (YA). I like to do young adult, but I prefer picture books to anything. Picture books are my favorite to do.

Are they the hardest or the easiest?

Bunting: I don't think you can say which is hardest or easiest. they're different. It's just that when I get a picture book idea, it's more joy than anything else to do.

How do you keep a small child's interest?

Bunting: They really like to read about animals. For years I wtore picture books about adults; I mean, they were about funny adults (The Big Cheese, Barney the Beard). The books did well, but I found when I was reading them aloud that the kids themselves weren't thaat interested. Gut they love it when I read about bears of mice (The Valentine Bear or The Mother's Day Mice).

Do you often read your books to children?

Bunting: I've put together a slide presentation that I give in schools. I have pictures from my picture books, and I read the text while I show the illustrations.

You once said you got some of your ideas from TV documentaries. Where else do your ideas come from?

Bunting: I clip newspapers frantically all the time. My poor husband has a time trying to read the newspaper through.

One of your works that interests me most is yuou no-word book, We Need a Bigger Zoo. Was it always planned to be pictures only?

Bunting: Well, originally I had words in it, and my editor took them out. That's how that came about. It's a concept book. The concept is that the more thinks yoyu put into a small space, the smaller the space gets. It starts with a few animals, and each page adds more and more until the last animal is a skunk. The only words are on the last page, where the title is repeated; "We need a bigger zoo."

That brings up the importance of illustrations in children's books. Have you ever wished you could illustrate your own books?

Bunting: No way. It's terrible when I look at a picture book manuscript and I think how long it's going to take an illustrator to illustrate it. It doesn't seem fair that I get half the money.

Oh, come on, it's your idea.

Bunting: Yes, but can you imagine all those animals that the artist has to draw? I am always grateful to the illustrator who takes a page and a half of my text and makes it into a beautiful book.

Have you been happier with some illustrators than with others? I noticed that in the sixteen books of yours I have from the library, there are probably fourteen different illustrators.

Bunting: I work with many different publishers, and they tend to have their own favorite illustrators. Then also, I write very different kinds of books, even among theh picture books. So one illutrator would not be suitable for alll of them. or instance, Jan Bret, who illustrated The Valentine Bears and Scary, Scary Halloween, is doing a lot of my holiday books, but I've just sold a new one called How Many Days Til America, a Thanksgiving book. It's sort of a broody, dark, emotional book about children with no homes. It's obviously not the kind of book that Jan loves to do, and the publisher will probably not ask her.

Let's discuss your writing habits for a while. Do you need a special place to work?

Bunting: No, it doesn't matter to me. I'll write anywhere. I'll write on a plane, anywhere, as long as I have a notegbook and a pencil and a pencil sharpener. that's all I need.

You don't use a computer or a typewriter?

Bunting:No, I always use a ninety-six lined bound hardback notebook. I have a different notebook for each book. I write in pencil originally on the right side of the notebook. then, on the left side I put in my second thoughts with an arrow. then I type it myself. After it's rvvises, it goes to my typist for the final draft.

Do you write when you feel like it? Or when your deadlines are coming up?

Bunting: I'll write every day at some time, or I'm very unhappy. I have a lot of things that I'm doing, but I'll fit writing in somewhere. But I can never say that I'll write from nine to twelve. I don't set a schedule, but mostly I like to write in the morning if I can.

When did you start to write?

Bunting:I started by going to a college writing class. I live just a few blocks from Pasadena City College, so I thought I ought to go take a course. I thought of sewing. I thought of painting. I thought of photography. I thought of all these things, and then it just so happened that I took the writing course.

Were the first books that you did really retold Irish flok tales, stories you'd heard from the Irish storyteller, the Shananoie, who came to your house when you were a child?

Bunting:Just one. the first one, The Two Giants.

How about The Haunting of Kildoran Abbey? Wasn't that based on true happenings during the high famine?

Bunting:My, youv'e done your homework. It's set in a historical time period, but the story is made up. I did it with research here. I lived in Northern Ireland, and we really got British history. Irish history wasn't taught to me very much in school.
     I lived in a very small town in Ireland, Maghera. I just returned from a visit, and it was very sad for me. I wanted the thatched cottages to still be there, and no running water, but, of course, it has changed. But my life there was really greaat as a child.

Were you an avid reader?

Bunting: Oh yes, We didn't get very many sunny days, and whenever it was a sunny day my mother wiold say, "Put that book down and go oiut and get some sun!"

Was there a teacher who influenced you?

Bunting: I had an English teacher in high school in Ireland who told me I could write, but I didn't believe it. I was the kind of kid who did everybody else's essays for them. I think that was one of the things that influenced me to go to a writing class. I remembered I'd like to do that.

Youv'e said that the teacher who really influenced you was Helen Hinkley Jones at Pasadena City college.

Bunting: Yes, I owe her a great deal, and I will never be able to repay her. I just hope that I pay her back a little bit by writing the kinds of books that she approves of, or that she likes.

What are you working on now?

Bunting: I'm starting a young-adult novel, but I just finished a pidcture boo, Happy Birthday Duck. And the funny thing is, yesterday I went to the County Fair, and there was a performing duck. You gave him a quarter and he played a little piano. And guess what he played? Of course --"Happy Birthday! I came right home and called my editor and told him. I am sure this is a good omen.

How many books a year do you write?

Bunting:I have been known to do eight or ten a year. Picture books don't take me long once I get the idea. A young-adult novel will probably take me three months, and then I'll probably do another picture book, and then I might do a middle-grade book. I vary it to keep my mind active.

I know you liek to write and travel; what else do you like to do?

Bunting: I don't do an awful lot not connected with writing or my writing friends. I walk every day, usually with one of my writing friends, Martha Tolles, author of the Katie books. I like to swim. I like to read. I like to see as much of my granddaughter as possible.

What do you read for fun?

Bunting:I like to read young adult novels. Of course, if I'm doing a book on a subject that requires research, then I read quite a lot in that field. Right now I'm doing a book on drunk driving, so I'm reading a lot about alcoholism.

Can you give any special advice for writers who want to write for very young children?

Bunting: You need to keep really simple. Visualize your audience. You asked earlier, Jo, how I keep young children's interest. It's hard to keep them interested in something, and you have to visualize them, and ask yourself if they're going to sit still for this or start fidgeting. Basically, for little kids you want to be simple and a little bit funny if you can. Tickle their sense of humor, which is very simple, not a complicated thing.

You have a lovely Irish sense of humor. Don't you think this helps with your books?

Bunting: Oh, I don't know. We used to have a three-year-old boy who lived next door, and he would show me his favorite books and watch my face while I read them. I could see from him some of the things little kids that age like. They just love it when the dog is smarter than the adults. they like to have the little people win out over the adults. or animals, which are just like little people. And he'd watch for me to laugh, and then he'd laugh.

Ands after one hundred and seven books, Eve Bunting, who looks a little like an Irish pixie herself, is still writing for the "little people" and making all of us laugh.

by Ralph Cooper, 12-19-07
     This article was published in the February 1987 issue of Writing.
Jo received the following note from Eve.

Dear Jo:      Your article is great. Thank you for sending it, not to mention writing it. So nice, too, to have confidence in the integrity and accuracy of the interviewer. It was a good day.
Thank you, Jo
Love, Eve

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