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Q and A with Charlotte Agell

03/21/2019

 Q and A: Charlotte Agell first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2019

Charlotte Agell is the author and illustrator of fourteen books for children and young adults. Originally from Sweden, Agell also grew up in Canada and Hong Kong. A longtime public school teacher and the mother of two grown children, Charlotte loves living near the coast of Maine. Her board book, Mud, Sand, and Snow, will be published by Islandport Press in April. 

 You work both as an illustrator and an author. Which comes first, the art or the words? 

For me, it depends on the book. There’s often something—a line or a picture—that sets me off on the journey that is a particular book. 

When did you realize you wanted to make books for children, and what was the main reason behind that?

I learned English (along with my mother) by borrowing so many books every week at the public library in the Town of Mount Royal, Quebec. We were immigrants from Sweden. It was a good thing that I had a little sister, so we could stack our literary loot in her pram as we walked home (no infants were harmed!). Whether I was reading Swedish books or English books or even French books, I always felt that I wanted to write and draw my own. And I did. 

You also work with young people. What advice do you give to kids who want to create works of literary art? 

READ READ READ READ READ. Let yourself play with words. Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. Don’t be afraid to let things percolate over time. Don’t give up. Just keep writing. 

In Maine, we have four very distinct seasons. Which one is your favorite, and why? Do you think readers of Mud, Sand, and Snow will be able to tell? 

Readers will not be able to tell because my favorite is always the season we are in! It’s magic how the Earth tilts and how we travel someplace entirely new, without ever leaving our backyards. That’s why I love living at northern latitudes. 

Where do your ideas come from? 

This is sometimes clear to me—a phrase I keep turning over in my head, or a visual— something I sketch. But sometimes, it’s far more mysterious. I remember meeting a young family as I was sketching their daughters at an art fair. They read my young adult novel, Welcome Home or Someplace Like It. The father later wrote to say it was uncanny how many parallels there were to his family. I had never met him before. It was as if I had been eavesdropping on the lives of these people, whom I never met until the book was done. Life can be stranger than fiction!