An Author Interview
October 18, 2018
NorthSouth Books: What prompted you to write the story of The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep?
Caroline Nastro: Central Park is one of my favorite places in New York City. While walking home through Central Park on a snowy day, I thought about how nice it would be to take a break in winter, like the animals who hibernate. I wondered what New York City would look like if everyone just hibernated during the winter. How quiet and peaceful that would be.
And then I thought about a bear who wants the exact opposite. He’s tired of hibernating and taking a break in the winter. He doesn’t want to sleep! He wants to do things! He wants excitement, to go on an adventure. So that’s how the bear who couldn’t sleep ended up in the city that never sleeps!
But then the bear discovers that it’s great to be active and do lots of things, but it’s also nice to have moments of quiet and reflection, that it’s also nice to “hibernate.” So for me, the story is about finding that balance, between doing and contemplating, and that sometimes the “not doing” is just as important as the “doing.” I find that, as a writer, that’s been really helpful to remember, too, because sometimes you come up with your best ideas when you don’t “do” anything, when you just let a story sit and percolate.
NorthSouth Books: Did you want to be a writer as a child?
Caroline Nastro: I don’t know when I wanted to be a writer. I guess you could say I had a fertile imagination as a child because I always imagined things to be afraid of in the dark! I loved making things. I loved putting on plays in the summer at my grandmother’s house with my cousins. But most of all, I loved reading. I loved being transported to worlds that were entirely created by the author’s imagination, but yet felt so real. I thought it was amazing that a fictional world could feel so alive, that when something bad happens to your favorite character, you get upset too. I wanted to be able to create worlds like that, to make something out of nothing, to be part of this magical process.
In college, I studied English and French, and started directing plays, which I loved, which led to me writing plays and screenplays and directing films, which led me to writing picture books. Working with illustrators is very similar to working with actors or set designers. It’s wonderful to see the words, and the world of the story, brought to life through the illustrations. What an amazing process! I love it!
NorthSouth Books: New York City plays a special part in this book. What does New York City mean to you?
Caroline Nastro: I grew up in New York City, so for me New York City is home, and all of the places mentioned in the book have a special meaning for me. When I was young, my parents let me and my sisters and brother go to the neighborhood stores, to school, and to the park on our own, so like Bear, I also know what it feels like to be little in a big city….though unlike Bear I never had to look for a place to sleep at night!
NorthSouth Books: Do you have any fun sleep rituals? Do you have a hard time falling asleep?
Caroline Nastro: Sometimes I do have trouble falling asleep, and I long to be, like Bear, in a cave (or perhaps a tent) with the sounds of the forest lulling me to sleep, instead of in the noisy city!
But I do have a recording of jungle sounds that helps me pretend I’m in nature. It is actually quite noisy—with macaws calling, monkeys chattering, frogs croaking—but it works! It’s actually quite peaceful.
NorthSouth Books: What are some picture books or novels that inspire and delight you?
Caroline Nastro: So many! It’s hard to choose! Of course, there are the classics that I loved as a child like Make Way for Ducklings, which was actually an inspiration for The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep (though in Make Way for Ducklings, the ducks do find a place to sleep in the city, unlike our Bear!) Another favorite was The Secret Garden, which I still enjoy reading now. And there are so many wonderful contemporary picture books out there. I am especially drawn to books with quirky, heartfelt illustrations, like Journey by Aaron Becker, or Churchill’s Tale of Tails by Anca Sandu, or Oliver by Birgitta Sif, or the work of Christopher Denise, Olivier Dunrea, Sophie Blackall, Jo Empson, and NorthSouth’s own Sebastian Meschenmoser.
I really love non-fiction picture books, like The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. What a beautiful re-telling of Matisse’s childhood! Or Jen Bryant and Melissa’s Sweet’s, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, which is so imaginatively told and illustrated.
In general, I love picture books that have deeper themes that seem to resonate and reverberate beyond the story: Will I find a place to belong? A place that feels right to me? Will I have the courage to set off an adventure? Or follow a new path? These are all big questions that children (and adults) both ask and, I think, just like novels, great picture books explore some answers to these questions.
[the original interview appears on the NorthSouth Books website]