Larry was one of those weird children who liked to write and who had a grandfather who not only indulged Larry’s written expression, but encouraged it by corresponding with him whether he was across town or in another part of the world. Today, Larry has written more than one hundred fifty-eight books for young readers, and he’s still writing.
For what age audience do you write?
I write fiction and nonfiction for kids between the ages of pre-school to young adult. Although I’m known mostly for my nonfiction for middle-grades on up, my favorite genre is the picture book, which I think requires enormous skill, because the writer has to be so succinct while at the same time he must also pay attention to rhythm, language, page-turns, and format. Long ago, I wrote chapter books, and this is a genre I hope to return to in the next couple of years.
Henry: So true. Picture books are a distinct form of literature.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, just out, is STRIKE! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights (Calkins Creek). It’s about the Filipino grape strike in Delano, California, 1965, which paved the way for Cesar Chavez and his struggling union to come to power. Larry Itliong and the other Filipino Americans who began that strike are often ignored. Yet, without them, the story of Chavez—who actually didn’t want to involve the UFW in the Filipino action at first—may have been painted differently.
Henry: I’ve only written fiction so far, but I think it’s great you are telling tales that need to be told.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope readers will understand the significant role that Filipino Americans played in this, the most important agricultural strike in U.S. history. I would hope, too, that they come away from the book understanding that we need to be measured in our inclination to place important historical figures on pedestals. Chavez has become almost a martyr by many, yet upon closer examination we learn that he was human, flawed, and motivated in part by ego and a selfishness that eventually led to the UFW’s downfall.
Henry: Good point. A complex and imperfect figure like Dr. Martin Luther King.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
First drafts are hell, pure hell. Most of the time, I am not somebody who shows up at the computer each morning eager to get started. I’ll respond to email first. I’ll answer interview questions like this first. I’ll tidy my desk or do a load of laundry (often washing clean clothes). In other words, I procrastinate and avoid. This wasn’t always the case, but I find (for me) since most of my nonfiction books are contracted before I write them and there’s always a deadline looming that it takes some of the joy of process out of it. On the other hand, those projects—poems, picture books, and even nonfiction books—that I write on speculation are often the most enjoyable because I can tackle them at my own speed without the pressure of having to have them finished by a particular date. Once I have a first draft, though, I love revision and tweaking and refining. I love playing with words. I LOVE HAVING WRITTEN. And I still get a great sense of accomplishment when I can hold an actual book in my hands or see it on a shelf in a bookstore or library.
Henry: Nice. “I love having written” is a great expression.
Read the rest of this interview at Henry’s blog on KidLit, Science Fiction & Fantasy.