Southwest Children's Literature

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Way Out in the Desert

Jennifer Ward is a very energetic speaker. I only had to ask her one or two direct questions and she could answer the rest.

This is a photograph of Jennifer Ward.

My questions were:

Where did you get your ideas?

Her friend, T.J. Marsh, and she had been talking about writing children's books while they were having lunch together when her daughter brought out the book, Over in the Meadow. They thought that it would be great to adapt it to the desert, and the first page immediately came into Jennifer's mind. Over in the Meadow is a song that was composed in the 1800šs, which the authors used to write the verses to Way Out in the Desert. She was also influenced by the book, Napping House, by Audrey Wood. In the illustrations, Audrey has the progression of morning to night, which Jennifer thought wouldbe neat to incorporate into a desert story.

What compelled you to write?

She showed me samples of her books that she made in her childhood. She always loved creating her own books. As a teacher, she shows the books that she made when she was younger to the class so that they can see that it is all right to make mistakes, and that it is how everyone starts out. She also doesn't expect students to rush through their creative writing because even for her writing has several stages--of putting the book away and coming back to it later with a fresh start.

Did you get to work with the illustrator?

No. An author does not get the privilege of picking out the illustrator, so she was anxious to find out who it would be. The illustrations are a major part of the book, that's what will make the book stand out. She was excited when she found out that it was Kenneth J. Spengler, who also illustrated, How the Jackrabbit got his Long Ears. Although he has never lived in the desert, he has become a popular illustrator of it. When she received the black and white copies of his work for the book, she thought that he had drawn the leaves on the palo verde tree too big. So she ran outside and cut a few sample of the dainty palo verde leaves and mailed them to the illustrator; however, she found out that she had worried too much and that the objects were actually the bean pods from the tree.

Will you write other books?

Yes! In the authors work submitted to the publisher, they stated that they would be willing to write verses for various places. They are now in the process of publishing the next book called Somewhere in the Ocean.

Have you ever wanted to illustrate children's books?

Yes. Her first major in college was art. She says that she needs a lot of personal time of solitude in order to paint and write. She sometimes gets up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning or works late at night. She recently bought lots of different media to use in painting and hopes to start painting soon. She says that she has always worked best under pressure. When she was in college, she says that she produced her best papers by staying up all night writing them the night before they were due.

Do you use your book in your class?

Yes. She also brings puppets for each of the animals so the children can play with them along with hearing the book.

This interview was conducted in the fall of 1999.

You can visit Jennifer Ward's Web site at:

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