A True New England Author
Wolff Returning to Young Readers Festival
By Anna Wempe
As I spoke with Ashley Wolff on the phone, she looked out her window at the Vermont countryside covered in a deep blanket of snow. Her neighbor shoveled snow in a t-shirt and people shuffled cars to accommodate the snow plow. I’m quite sure that she sat in front of a fire and sipped hot chocolate and completed the image of New England author on a winter day, but I may be taking creative license.
In that idyllic setting, she shared her experience as one of the star authors at the inaugural Young Readers South Dakota Festival of Books in 2014. The South Dakota Humanities Council has confirmed that Wolff will appear for the event again in 2015, so I took an opportunity to speak with her about her 2014 experience and preview her appearance in Deadwood this fall.
Wolff enjoyed participating in the inaugural event and is excited to return.
First Event ‘Really Successful’
“I thought it was really successful. I am used to being a part of young readers’ festivals and the like,” she said. “So I was kind of pleasantly surprised to see all the adult writers there.” She noted not only the success of the first festival, but also what differentiated it from similar events. “I did notice that all the artists were in the Young Readers. Authors/illustrators were only for kids, and that makes the Festival of Young Readers kind of unique.”
Five different illustrators or author/illustrators offered demonstrations and presentations at the Young Readers’ Festival. Wolff offered a theory about the origins of most author/illustrators, speculating that most begin as illustrators then cross to authorship, as she did, rather than vice-versa. This led to her story of beginning as an author/illustrator. “I was an art student from Vermont and I moved to San Francisco. I brought my portfolio to New York…and met with an editor. I showed him a picture based on my childhood. It was a little girl in a red coat and hat kneeling in the snow. Birds were around her and birdseed. The editor asked me who that little girl was, and I said, probably me, because a lot of early work for artists can be autobiographical. He said that he wanted to know more about the little girl, about her story. So I wrote my first book, Year of Birds.”
With the critical acclaim and success of that first book, Ashley Wolff’s career soared. She is now an award-winning author/illustrator of more than 60 children’s books, including Baby Bear Sees Blue and the beloved Miss Bindergarten series. She grew up in Middlebury, Vermont, where she still spends part of every year, though she also spends time in San Francisco. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and did graphic design for newspapers before becoming a full-time author/illustrator. She also paints indoor and outdoor murals throughout the Bay area and teaches in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing & Illustrating program at Hollins University. For 30 years, one of her favorite pastimes has been traveling to schools all over the country, speaking to children about writing, drawing and using their imaginations to help them find their own paths to the future.
Through her career, she gets to visit schools and conferences and book festivals all over the United States and even further.
“I love traveling. That’s probably the bottom line,” she said. “If you invite me somewhere, I will go. I love to see new places and meet new people. I was thrilled to be invited here because it’s all new. I love the novelty.” Having never been to South Dakota, she reported: “I was really impressed by the beauty of Sioux Falls. It was a very magical place, a very hip town.” The Festival itself definitely made an impression as well. “I really, really, really had fun with the other authors. I’m still in touch with a few of them…I thought it was extremely well-organized and went very smoothly. A very high-level, very large event.”
Look for Ashley Wolff’s newest book, Miss Bindergarten and the Very Wet Day, enjoy her illustrations in In the Canyon by Liz Garton Scanlon, and see her in Deadwood at the 2015 Young Readers Festival of Books!