Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Interview with Ruth Bornstein, author/illustrator of "Little Gorilla"

A childhood favorite that became a favorite to read to my own kids is Little Gorilla (1976).

The author/illustrator of that gem, Ruth Bornstein, kindly agreed to an interview to answer questions I had not seen covered elsewhere.

In what year and where were you born?

1927, Milwaukee, WI.

Which, if any, authors of children’s books were an inspiration to you growing up?

I didn’t know of or have picture books; not that I remember at all. Later I got hand-me-down books from an aunt: Pinocchio, Heidi, a Bible storybook, and a book of folk tales. I still have them.

Which of your books was the hardest to write, and why?

I was always a painter; in 1969, I suddenly began to write but never imagined I’d ever write novels. My two novels were the hardest because they both took me many years; I persevered because I had something I needed to say.

Which of your books has been the best-selling?

Little Gorilla.

What inspired
Little Gorilla?

I’ve loved gorillas ever since I first saw them as a child in the Milwaukee zoo. My three blond boys reminded me of sturdy tumbling little gorillas; the oldest, my daughter, and I watched them.

Little Gorilla, you’ve said that it took you “two years to uncover what it was that I really wanted to say.” Do you mean it took you two years to write it, or two years to figure out a hidden meaning you hadn’t perceived before?

Two years to uncover what it was I was trying to say.

What was that?

I finally realized I was trying to say that, big or small, we all need love.

Did you ever consider a sequel to
Little Gorilla? Did your publisher ask for one, and if so, what did you say?

My publisher rejected further
Little Gorilla ideas I had.


The publisher felt that the book stood on its own.

Have you done author visits in schools? If not, why? If so, are you still doing them?

I’ve done many author visits through the years. I haven’t been asked recently.

Can you share an anecdote about you and your work that you find especially touching? An interaction with a fan?

The way I began to write after thinking that painting was enough for one lifetime.

Are you friendly with any other children’s authors?

Yes. I’m friendly with many but not often in touch; Sonya Sones, Sonia Levitin, April Wayland, Ann Whitford Paul, and Robin Rector Krupp are a few I am in touch with.

Do you keep up with picture books being published these days? Any favorites?

I’m afraid I haven’t kept up.

Where do you live?

Santa Monica, CA.

If you are currently working on a book, what can you say about it?

I am now back to art and writing essays. My last book, the 2012 novel The Summer Everything Changed, took 18 years of gestation (while I was painting, writing other things) and I didn’t resent a bit of all the many revisions and editing I did on it. I feel, and I’ve been told, that it’s an important book.

Anything you’d like to add? Any questions you wish you’d get asked in an interview but haven’t yet?

I have sometimes been asked how I began to write. You can find information on my website by clicking on Ruth’s Bio, and also in my essay “Threads” in my book of essays The Sky and Me, which you can download on my website.

A collage created by an artist friend of Ruth’s 
showing her now and at age two.
P.S. I never took typing (little did I know!) so it’s easier for me to not do capitals if I don’t have to. [MTN: I gladly went through her emailed responses and capitalized where needed, even though the author of a book called Little Gorilla could get away with all lowercase!]

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