Our latest book, Trini’s Big Leap by Alexander de Wit and Beth Kephart, with illustrations by William Sulit, concerns a talented little girl who says, “I can do that,” about everything she tries at the gym. But what happens when a new activity isn’t all that easy for her? Earlier this summer we asked the co-authors and illustrator about trying new things, overcoming obstacles and fears, giving and receiving advice, and about books they loved as a kid that have stuck with them as adults. Our interview with co-author Kephart is below.
PCB: Why is it important for kids to try new things? Why is it important for adults to try new things?
BK: We are blessed with this one life that unspools and unspools at what feels like ever-increasing speed. Every day presents a question: Will I remain within the bounds of the world I know best, or will I nudge against the boundaries and discover (and therefore become) just a little bit more? Kids and adults should try new things because we are all fluid people, and because staying put (in terms of curiosity and effort) narrows our vision of the possible.
PCB: What is something new you've recently tried? Why did you try it?
BK: I’ve tried all kinds of things that I’m not natively good at. For a while, my husband Bill and I were taking ballroom dancing lessons. He’s the Latin one, born with cha-cha in his bones. I danced because I love to dance, even if I’m not very good. We even performed for audiences, which took, I shall boast here, enormous guts. But I’ve also done pottery despite the fact that Bill is the artist in the house (I wanted to see what it was like to shape something tangible with my hands). I’ve cooked new dishes for waiting guests (despite having mini-panic attacks along the way). And, as a teacher of novels for young people and memoir, I never teach the same thing twice. I’m always experimenting, which is to say, I’m always learning something new.
PCB: What is something you were terrible at and hated the first time you tried it but now you're good at it and enjoy it? What led to #YourBigLeap?
BK: I could never really throw a pot on the wheel, which could be frustrating, except when everyone in the pottery studio was laughing with me about it. (Bill never laughed, bless him.) But I did become pretty good at glazing pots. I became good at that, I guess, because I was so interested in the alchemy of the combinations, because with each new failure, I learned something important for next time.
PCB: What's the best help you've ever gotten from a friend? What's the best help you've ever offered a friend?
BK: Bill is my best friend, and he helps me do a lot of things that I don’t know how to do. I like it when he illustrates books I write. Then I get to see my stories through his eyes. The best help I’ve ever offered a friend? Well, many of my University of Pennsylvania and Juncture Workshop students become my friends. It’s extremely gratifying to me when letters I write on their behalf help get them their Fulbright scholarships or graduate school yesses or publishing opportunities.
PCB: What books from your childhood do you still think of today? Why?
BK: I have distinct memories of books like PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go and Are You My Mother? I couldn’t get enough of them; each time I read them I felt as if I was discovering something new. The books escalate visually. They are, somehow, quite moving, despite all the fun cartoony qualities. Another book that meant a lot to me was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. That poem “The Land of Counterpane”—“When I was sick and lay a-bed,/I had two pillows at my head"—is the quiet backdrop to every childhood illness I ever had, it seems. Perhaps still is.