Author & Illustrator

Donna Jo Napoli

Coming Soon!

Most Recent Book
Hunger book

Chaos and form

When I was a school kid, I never understood the point of outlines. I couldn't fathom how to outline what I hadn't yet written. An outline felt like an iron mesh weighing me down so I couldn't even get started.
I haven't changed my attitude.
So I begin a book by writing the first sentence. Then the second. And on and on. My first drafts are chaotic. Parts wander off to dead ends. Characters appear who add nothing to the story (and I mean nothing). Themes pop up and die like an unruly garden.
But I don't care, because I have a finished first draft. Hurrah! Then I can make it better, because anything can be made better.
That last statement is true -- and it can both console me and grieve me. It consoles me because my terrible first drafts are soon replaced by less terrible second drafts. It grieves me because there is no logical end. I know I could keep polishing a story forever.
But I don't want to work on one story for my whole life. I want to write a good part of the zillions of stories that flutter through my innards all the time. So I have set myself a maximum -- of 17. I like the number 17. It's nicely prime and it looks pretty and it seems that if I can't get a story decent in 17 tries, maybe it is time to wade off into another story.
Usually my editor will say, ""Stop! We are done!"" after a few drafts. But not always.
So that is my process: I start with chaos and chip away until I have a form -- or a semblance of one.
And I love my process. It's exciting. I never know what will be created until there it is, staring at me. Like offspring.



How has reading influenced your life?

I grew up poor, without travel and without books at home. But I had an unlimited number of books in the library and those books took me traveling beyond my home, beyond my town, beyond my country and my time. Books gave me the world. And that's what I hope to give my readers through my books -- another place and time, so anyone can go anywhere, no matter how poor they may be.

What advice do you have for parents and others who are trying to raise readers?

Read aloud to your children every day. Don't make reading a spare-moment thing. Make it part of potty time, of bed time, of just being-together time. Make it a ritual the family loves. It's not about putting your finger under the words and teaching reading. No no no. It's about having fun together. Asking, "What do you think that bunny feels like now?", "What would you do if you were the bunny?" and, most important, "What do you want to read next?" Reading aloud in this interactive way teaches children about the form of narrative, characterization, empathy. It gives them joy. It gives them a shared experience with you and with stories, which strengthens both those bonds.

Outside of writing/illustrating, what activities do you enjoy?

I'm a busy person, and I love being busy. I garden like a fiend. I cook. I do pottery. I dance. I do yoga. I take walks. I scrape paint off doors (for my husband to then refinish them). I scream, "Just what do you think you're doing?" to the fish in our pond (who come to the surface and look baffled -- which makes me laugh). And, of course, I have a job with a salary (which means I don't have to cry if people don't buy my books). I teach linguistics and I do tons of academic research and of advocacy work for the language rights of deaf children.

When is your favorite time to work?

I love to work whenever my husband is home and working at his desk. He's a law professor, so he's at his desk a lot. So long as he is there, I feel like I have company, even if we are both absorbed in our own work. It's a sense of support. And it also allows me to call out to him when I want to know what he thinks of a certain scene or even a certain word in a sentence. Of course, that can be annoying to him. But he stays sweet about it (for the most part). :)

chapter Books

fact filled · historical fiction · family
fish · being yourself · belonging · friendship
Fish Girl

picture Books

being yourself · animals · adventure
Take Your Time
the beach · sign language · parents · love
Hands & Hearts


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