Jeanne Betancourt

Jeanne Betancourt is the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults, including Pony Pals, a chapter book series that has run for more than ten years and sold more than ten million copies worldwide. She’s also received Emmy nominations and other awards for her television and movie scripts.  She lives in New York City where besides writing, she likes to paint and tap dance.  If Jeanne had wishing power, the first wish she'd make would be for everyone who reads Ava Tree to have three wishes a day, too.

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Q & A

1.   What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing? 
I remember being in first grade and copying letters of the alphabet over and over on that lined paper with solid lines and broken lines.  I wanted to do art more than write.  Still I became an English teacher, then a Film teacher.  I didn't know that I could write fiction until I had been teaching for fifteen years.  I took a graduate class  in screen writing because I was working on a curriculum in script writing for my high school classes. In the class I too, I had to write a script.  I loved doing it.  I was good at it.  I changed careers.  Now I've written over a dozen original scripts and  70 books for children and young adults.
2.   What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
I was divorced and my daughter, Nicole, was in joint custody. She spent half the week with me and half the week with her father. It was a difficult time for our family – but particularly for Nicole. I observed how she coped.  I used her situation to write a script for a graduate class I was taking in script writing.  It was called THE RAINBOW KID.  When I couldn't sell the script I adapted it into a children’s book and – luckily – sold it.  There were four more books about that girl.  Throughout my career as I writer I have written both scripts and novels.
3.   Do you use your childhood as inspiration? 
I definitely use my childhood as inspiration for the setting of my books.  I grew up in small town in Vermont.  My fondest childhood memories were of being independent – playing in a neighbor’s farm fields, walking in the woods, and riding my bike.  The characters in my books are independent and often live in a small town.  I remember my childhood very well and continually borrow situations from that time.  I also see some part of myself in all of the characters I create.   
4.   What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I read all the NANCY DREW mysteries when I was a kid.  Every book I write for children has a “mystery” in it or problem to be solved.  When I was growing up there weren't as many books for children and young adults as there are these days.  One of my big motivations as a writer is to write books I wished I had read as a child or that I would be happy to have my the children I know read. 
As an adult one of my influences has been Garrison Keillor and his radio show “Prairie Home Companion.”   His stories are well organized, funny, and touching.   All qualities I want my work to have. 
5.   What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I draw and paint.  I particularly like to paint out-of-doors.  I also like to bring my sketch pad and ink pens to live musical events and draw the musicians as they play. Other hobbies are gardening, tap dancing, and biking.  I started tap dancing when I was in first grade.  I also like to play with my young granddaughters.  We do art projects and play make believe. One day my granddaughter wanted me to put on a play with her  for company.  My part was “the wicked witch who isn't really wicked.” My costume was the hat from a bee costume, a much too small tutu over my jeans, fairy wings, and a magic wand.  I was wicked all right.  Wicked funny. 
6.   Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you? 
Mo Willems is terrific.  I especially love his Knuffle Bunny stories and the books about the Pigeon. The Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman are big favorites of mine.  I especially love Marc Simont’s artwork for that series.  I am also a big fan of Beverly Cleary.  One of the biggest compliments I had as a beginning children’s book author was when a bookstore salesperson said to me:   “I tell shoppers that if they like Beverly Cleary they will like your book.”  I also admire and enjoy Jacqueline Woodson’s work.  She has a great range and creates multi-dimensional characters.  You feel like you really know the people you meet in her books.  
7.   What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
One word?  Revise. Revise, revise.  And lastly, revise one more time.
8.   What is your favorite book and/or favorite author? 

I have a lot of favorite authors of adult fiction:  E.M. Forster, Rosina Lippi, Ursula Hegi, J. M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipal.  I feel like I’m not being fair to all of them if I just name one. Among my favorite children’s book authors are Judy Blume, Anne Martin, Madeline L'Engle, and Mary Pope Osborne.  Often I will pick an author and if I like their work will read more than one book by them.  Since I am dyslexic, I read very slowly, hearing every word in my head as I read.  I am a big fan of audio books and love to be read to.  As I am editing my own work I often read it aloud to myself.
9. Where else can we find you on the Web?
You can find me on:

by the author

Ava Tree and the Wishes Three

Jeanne Betancourt; Illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Feiwel & Friends

What would you wish for? In this timeless, heartwarming tale of a girl, her pet rabbit, and the magic of wishes, Ava Tree learns that there are limits to even...

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