Carter Higgins is an Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist and ex-school librarian turned kidlit author. She is the author of A Rambler Steals Home (HMH) and two picture books, This is Not a Valentine (with Lucy Ruth Cummins) and Everything You Need for a Treehouse (with Emily Hughes), plus the forthcoming Bikes for Sale (with Zachariah OHora). She writes about picture books and graphic design at her blog, Design of the Picture Book.
You’re the author of several picture books and a middle grade novel. Does your writing practice differ a lot when working on a novel vs. a picture book, and if so, how?
I think a picture book is more difficult to write than longer fiction—the intricacies, the structure, the precise language—but the scope is more manageable than a middle grade novel. I can think about what my picture book is about and see it from end to end with more ease. Because of that, I find it easier to dip in and out of more than one picture book at a time. I can’t do that with longer fiction. As far as sitting down and doing the work, though? That’s equally hard.
Your upcoming picture book, Bikes for Sale, was inspired by a sign on a lamppost. What other interesting places have you found inspiration?
You know, this is the first time I’m thinking of this, but I think a lot of my wordplay roots are in my musical family. There are a lot of singers and instrumentalists and music teachers and just plain talent. I never mastered an instrument or had the same singing voice as my mother and sister. But I see how my writing is musical, inspired by rhythm and cadence and tempo. This Is Not a Valentine and Everything You Need for a Treehouse were titles before they were stories because I loved the way those little lumps of words sounded. A decade of teaching and listening to the quirky way kids speak has brought endless inspiration as well. I love to tap in to those small moments and the universal childhood experience.
You recently participated in Inktober and tapped back into your visual arts background. Can you tell us a little more about that and how it informed your picture book writing? Any plans to illustrate in the future?
That was fun! Librarian-ing and motion design are so clearly connected through visual storytelling. At the time of my career crossover, before I was seriously writing for kids, I didn’t realize that was what I loved. Animating is all about timing and leading the viewer through a sequence of images in an effective way. It’s the exact same thing that makes a picture book satisfying. Though I’ve not illustrated any of my own work (yet!), having an understanding of that style of pacing in storytelling has helped immensely.
Do you write daily?
No way. I think daily, but that doesn’t always translate to words on the page.
You worked for many years as an elementary librarian. Do you have a favorite story to share?
My last library was right next to a restroom. A third grader had been relaxing in the library during recess, but then he dashed out with a book in hand. I whoa-whoa-whoa-ed him, and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to check this out. I’m just taking it to the bathroom so I can read while I poop.”
You’re an unabashed fan of The Babysitters Club Club Podcast. Which babysitter did you relate to the most as a kid?
It’s so clear to me that I am a Mary Anne—loyal, cautious, highly sensitive. But as a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Claudia? I loved Nancy Drew, liked art, and hid candy in my room. But I did not have her confidence, her wardrobe, or her oomph. Isn’t that the best thing about books? I could pretend.
Since you named the Spice Girls as the band you’d choose to be a member of, what would your Spice name be?
What did I tell you? True Mary Anne.
Thank you, Carter, for your time and for mentoring one lucky writer in 2019. All information about how to apply to Writing with the Stars is on the WWTS Contest tab. Applicants, please remember to support these mentor authors. Buy their books, review them online, and tell your local librarians how awesome they are.