Evanston author makes Halloween even scarier by adding veggies | Interview

Written and illustrated by Christina Robertson, Curse of the Broccoli Florets tells the tale of a little boy cursed by his personified broccoli to love vegetables, which presents quite a problem for the sweet tooth when Halloween roles around. He suddenly prefers Brussels sprouts and carrots to Kit-Kats and Snickers. With a cornucopia of veggie puns to keep the kiddos giggling—assuming they know what jicama is—the self-published book encourages kids to never “turnip” their noses to their vegetables. We spoke with Robertson, who is not a vegetarian but an admitted broccoli lover, to learn more about Curse and her journey through self-publishing.
What inspired you to write this story?
My daughter attends a school where there is a real push for parental involvement, and it was a Halloween event and I was supposed to read something to the fifth grade. I went to the library and looked through all the gory stories, and I thought, “I’m going to write something unexpected and have it sound scary, at least initially, and then have it just be funny and ridiculous.” And it worked really well; the kids loved it. It sort of launched me in this odyssey of self-publishing.

What was the process of self-publishing like?
It was an education for me. I was lucky because I worked with Inkwater Press—they’re based in Portland, Oregon—and they are a group of young people and had a lot of energy and great ideas. I had no idea what I was doing, so they kind of held my hand through the whole thing. It was not as easy as I thought it would be, but I learned a lot. I thank them for it.

What was the hardest part?
I think the hardest part for me, being a very visual person and being an artist, it was hard sometimes to get my vision across online. It’s not my language naturally. I think I’m much more of a face-to-face kind of person. Otherwise, I was always amazed and astonished by what I got back and how good it looked.

Starting off, was it scary to self-publish?
Yeah, but I knew it was. I knew it was going to be a shot in the dark for me. I just had to decide to take the leap and say, “Whatever happens, happens.” And I was very lucky that my husband was really up for this exploration and probably cared a lot less about the ultimate financial gain or notoriety that would come of it. He was just happy to see me trying to create in this new avenue that I had never traveled before.

Why children’s books?
I love children’s books. I love engaging children’s imaginations, and I love illustrated stories. Unfortunately, I think there seems to be a push these days for kids to leap from picture books to chapter books about dystopias and terrible nightmarish worlds. I just love the idea of kids staying in the realm of happy possibilities—probably longer than many people think they should. And I think a lot of adults also love to read what they like with kids, and many stories I wrote with that idea in mind.

How do kids respond to the book?
My daughter and her friends were very supportive of all my efforts to get the book published. For me, kids are the best gauges. I’m the most nervous about reading to them, and I’m the most satisfied when I get that kind of response.

You’re also working on a new, young adult novel. Can you give us a preview?
It’s about a girl and her best friend, a boy, who are entering high school and dealing with some big issues—hers being an unconventional family and his being his sexual orientation. It all comes together when they volunteer at a social service agency over the summer and are exposed to some very unusual people. It touches on a lot of real issues that kids are faced with everyday, like race, mental illness, and sexuality. They enter high school with a lot of new questions but also some understanding.

Curse of the Broccoli Florets is available for $11 at barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, The Book Stall (811 Elm St, Winnetka; 847-446-8880, thebookstall.com), and Maya Papaya & Tony Macarony (1901 Central St, Evanston; 847- 866-6292, maya-tony.com).