What’s your favorite Amelia Bedelia moment? What’s her most memorable mix-up?
My favorite Amelia Bedelia moment is “dress the chicken.” No matter how many times I read that, every time I turn the page and see the chicken dressed in that goofy outfit, I still laugh.
How was the character of Amelia Bedelia conceived?
My aunt, Peggy Parish, would often take things literally—not continually, as Amelia Bedelia does, but enough times that one could understand how she could have come up with and sustained the character quite naturally. Peggy also drew inspiration from the class of third graders she taught. She would ask them to do something and a student would ask, “Do you mean for us to do what you said?” When Peggy thought back on her exact words, she realized that if one took them literally, then there could be a problem. She made a game of it in her class. That got her to thinking that there might be a story in those mix-ups.
A couple of years after Peggy passed away, I heard an intriguing tale that may offer a clue as to why she made Amelia Bedelia a housekeeper. I was visiting Peggy’s hometown of Manning, South Carolina, and I spoke with one of her cousins. They had been playmates at their grandparents’ house, where a big dinner was served every Sunday. The grandparents were named—surprise, surprise—Mr. and Mrs. Rogers.
Mrs. Rogers had both a cook and a maid. There was also a young girl whose main job was to look after the children, because she was hopeless as a housekeeper. The cousin recalled a time when the real maid got sick and this young girl had to fill in for her. Mrs. Rogers told her to “sweep around the room.” She did just what she was told: She swept the edges of the room clean, but left the center of the room untouched. All of the children laughed at her mistakes. I asked this cousin if he had ever reminded Peggy about this young girl. He said that when he had, Peggy had not said anything—she just smiled.
Many people may not know that you are the nephew of the original Amelia Bedelia creator, Peggy Parish. Was it difficult to follow in your aunt’s footsteps?
I would not dare follow in my aunt Peggy’s footsteps—she wore open-toed sandals even in the dead of winter! Seriously, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to continue the Amelia Bedelia series and provide new books for a new generation of readers.
Can you describe your relationship with your aunt?
Peggy was always an important part of our family. As a teacher with summers off, and later, as a writer, she was able to stay with us for extended periods. During a particular weeklong stay, I watched Peggy write a book. She had already written the manuscript in longhand. She spent all week editing, rewriting, and typing new cards—and this was just to get it to the point of sending it to her editor, who would no doubt make suggestions to improve it. Witnessing that process gave me a huge amount of respect for her, and for what it takes to write a children’s book. Peggy and I grew much closer when I was in college in Philadelphia, as I would visit her in New York about once a month. Peggy was always supportive of my creativity.
When Peggy returned to her home state of South Carolina to live, I continued to visit her. She took me around to meet all our relatives, as some of her aunts and uncles were still living. I even met Miss Rose, Peggy’s first-grade teacher, to whom she dedicated Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia. Looking back, I must have had writing in my blood, as I brought along a notebook and a tape recorder to capture their stories. Maybe someday I will be able to weave those stories into a bigger story.
There have been several different illustrators for Amelia Bedelia. Can you describe the relationship between author and artist?
The Amelia Bedelia books may be driven by words, but I always visualize the action and the scene as I write. I never speak with the illustrator, Lynn Sweat, before he gets my manuscript. I would not want the pictures I have in my mind to limit his imagination. Later, when I see his pencil drawings for the story, I am always surprised and delighted with how he has brought my words to life. With a talent as large as Lynn’s, I think it is best to give him the words, then get out of his way and let him do his job.
Is there anything you’d like to add about Amelia Bedelia?
Peggy visited me just after a string of celebrations that marked the 25th anniversary of Amelia Bedelia. She was delighted with all the attention her creation was receiving. A week later, Peggy passed away. In so many ways, she and Amelia Bedelia were inseparable. Peggy would have been thrilled to see Amelia Bedelia turn 50. My only regret is that she could not be here to see it for herself. It would have meant a lot to Peggy to see how Amelia Bedelia holds such a cherished spot in the hearts of generations of readers.