This month on Meet the Author we speak with the esteemed children’s author Trudy Ludwig. In honor of this special interview we are currently offering 20% off her books with coupon code SESLudwig.
I met Trudy Ludwig a few years ago when Self Esteem Shop served as the onsite conference bookstore at an “International Bullying Prevention” symposium. I was immediately captivated by this bestselling, nationally acclaimed author’s enthusiasm. Her passion for advocating on behalf of bullying and relational aggression shines through every page of every book she has written.
I was struck by the realism conveyed in her stories, which brings her characters to life. I found it fascinating to learn about the catalyst that inspired her to pursue writing these amazing children’s storybooks. Trudy’s books offer a refreshingly true to life ending, which sets them apart from the typical “happily ever after” in which we have grown so accustomed.
It normalizes the emotional experience of the bully and the bullied in a very relatable way. I highly recommend Trudy’s books for educators, mental health clinicians, parents, and children. Her stories serve as a springboard to illicit important conversations that deal with a multitude of issues.
1.) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you get started as a children’s book author and what events lead up to it?
I grew up on the East Coast, the youngest of five children. I was a quiet, sensitive child, and I would completely lose myself in the stories I read. I loved how books transported me into the thoughts and feelings of the characters and the challenges they had to overcome.
Before becoming a children’s author, I was an advertising/marketing copywriter. I did this for about 15 years—even though I didn’t feel passionate about my craft. Don’t get me wrong. I knew I loved to write. I just didn’t love what I was writing.
My professional life shifted about 13 years ago when my daughter, a second grader at the time, became the target of some bullying friends. It was one of those experiences that had a profound effect on both of us.
In my search for age-appropriate books to address the very real and rampant problem of social cruelty among peers, I came up empty-handed. Frustrated with this resource gap, I wrote my first book, My Secret Bully, to help empower children to make healthier friendship choices. The outpour of positive reviews and heartfelt responses from young readers, parents, educators, and bullying prevention experts and organizations gave me the impetus to continue writing more books to help kids connect with their peers in helpful, rather than hurtful, ways.
2.) The majority of your books deal with bullying. Where do you get the ideas for dealing with this topic in such a variety of ways? Have you had personal experiences that influenced the storylines, things from people who’ve crossed your path, or maybe from stories you’ve heard?
I’ve volunteered in my children’s classrooms for many years and have gotten a lot of my ideas from observing students’ social interactions with one another. I’ve also been inspired by the personal experiences kids, parents, teachers, and school counselors have shared with me.
3.) Besides children, do you also consider the teachers, parents, caregivers, etc. part of the target audience you want to reach through your books? If so, why them as well?
Absolutely! I want to empower adults in their efforts to help children navigate their social world in kinder, healthier ways. Most of my titles include discussion questions that adults can readily use to generate thoughtful discussions with young readers in a safe social setting about a particular issue or topic that my book is addressing. I also typically have an expert share with parents, caregivers, educators, and counseling professionals their expertise and helpful tips, along with additional recommended resources for them to explore the topic further.
4.) What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m just going to state the obvious, first: I love, love, love to read! I have a particular fondness for children’s and young adult literature. I also enjoy running, walking, and hiking in forests and parks. And I love to cook—which is probably why it’s a good thing that I like to run, walk, and hike!
5.) What books were childhood favorites of yours? Books you read as a teen? Have those influenced what you went on to read as an adult and perhaps even your writing?
Some of my childhood favorites were Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Road Dahl, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. My teen favorites were the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene. I had quite the collection of them! I also loved To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I do feel that the picture books I read and loved in my childhood did influence my writing and propelled me to become a children’s book author.
6.) Any particular authors or books that you love and would like to recommend to our readers?
It is hard for me to limit myself to mentioning just a few. Off the top of my head, some of my favorite kidlit and young adult books are: One by Kathryn Otoshi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, Twerp by Mark Goldblatt, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’m currently reading The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough and am savoring each page! My more recent adult fiction favorites include Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout and Euphoria by Lily Kin. My nonfiction top picks are Thrive by Arianna Huffington and Quiet by Susan Cain.
7.) Do you feel there have been changes in your writing as you’ve continued to write more books?
Yes, I’m currently altering my writing style by trying to say more with fewer words, which is no easy feat! I love the challenge of writing picture books in ways that allow my readers to find many layers of meaning and discovery in just a few pages. As librarian and author Molly Pearson so aptly states, picture books are “big ideas in small packages.”
8.) If you have one, which of the books you’ve authored is your favorite? Why? Or if you don’t have a personal favorite, which do you hear from others as their favorites?
Asking me, as an author, to tell you which of my books is my favorite is akin to asking me, as a parent, which child is my favorite. The answer to both questions is, “They’re all my favorite–for different reasons!”. With that said, I do hear from a lot of adults and children that The Invisible Boy is their favorite.
9.) Do you have any tips for teachers, mental health professionals, caregivers, etc. and children who read your books in order to get the most out of them that they can?
Adult-guided activities help instill critical thinking skills in children, getting them to understand and engage with the stories they read and with each other in constructive, pro-social ways. Role-playing scenarios, introspective essays, creative drawing/writing projects, and discussion questions are a few ways to accomplish this goal.
I encourage teachers, mental health professionals, parents, and caregivers to visit authors’ or publishers’ websites for ready-made lesson plans and activities they can use with the children in their world. Another option is to do a Google search on the Internet by entering the title of the book chosen for a class reading, for example, followed by the words “lessons” or “activities.” For example, if you type “WONDER lessons” in the Google search bar, you’ll find, “Teaching WONDER with Trudy Ludwig” (http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/choose-kind/pdf/trudy-ludwig-guide-wonder.pdf).
10.) Along with your books, how big of a role do your speaking engagements play in what you do and the messages you are trying to convey to others.
During the school year, I actually spend a majority of my time traveling and presenting at conferences and in schools to provide children, educators, and parents with practical tips, tools, and resources to help them create safer, kinder school communities. When I present to children in elementary and middle schools, I don’t want the students to just listen to me as a guest speaker. I also want them to do activities with me to help them better connect with the characters in my books, with themselves and, most importantly, with each other.
11.) Do you ever get feedback on your work making a genuine difference to individuals?
I get letters and emails from readers of all ages, sharing with me how my books resonated with them and helped them to better understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy friendships.
When I was presenting at a school in Washington, D.C., one of the parents asked me to sign her daughter’s Confessions of a Former Bully book. She apologized as she handed me the book, explaining that the reason it was so worn out, with the hardback spine bent out of shape, drink stains on the inside cover, and dog-eared pages, was that her daughter took that book with her wherever she went and read it repeatedly because it helped her when she was being bullied by some girls in her grade. That book was so used and loved by that little girl, it made my heart bubble. Other parents have shared with me that their children have slept with My Secret Bully at the foot of their beds! I’m so very grateful my stories provide comfort to my readers and empower them to connect with kids who can accept all the goodness they have to offer and give it back in kind.
12.) To wrap things up, what are your plans for the future? Do you have any new books in the works or special speaking engagements lined up? Here at Self Esteem Shop, we are certainly interested to see what you come up with next!
I just submitted a new picture book manuscript to my editor at Knopf / Penguin Random House for acquisition consideration. I’m waiting to hear back from her soon. I don’t want to jinx it, so forgive me if I don’t yet disclose what this new story is about.
With the school year now starting, I’ll be back on the road (or up in the sky), en route to schools and conferences for speaking engagements. I’m also hoping to start writing another story very soon. I am so grateful to my readers and lovely bookstores like The Self Esteem Shop for your ongoing support of my work. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you!