I’m delighted to share the talents of Judi Fors with The Children’s Book Review. Judi is a beloved former teacher and author of a terrifically sweet and funny picture book entitled Twitch. The title character has inspired quite a following in northern California and even as far as Wisconsin as you’ll read in our interview. Judi brings such joy and humor to her storytelling. It’s been a pleasure getting to know her and also learning more about Twitch.
Nicki Richesin: I loved your book Twitch about a city mouse who decides to move to the country and builds his home in a live oak tree in a preschool playground. Did you have any idea when you first wrote your book that it would start this sort of phenomenon with children writing letters to Twitch and looking for him?
Judi Fors: It has become so much more than I expected. What’s fun about Twitch’s story is that he came to life before the book. It all started when I attached a small door and mailbox to the side of a tree at the preschool where I worked. I hoped it would touch the children’s imaginations and grow from there. I was hoping the children would become active in corresponding with whatever lived in the house – as it turned out it Twitch lived there! This discovery would lead to my first self-published book and Twitch’s amazing relationship with the kids. Seeing children respond to it the way they have brings me so much joy.
JF: Yes. One of my pleasures of teaching was connecting to the wonders of early childhood, the magic and fun. Who doesn’t remember the joys of believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? I was beginning to see that the majority of the play on our playground was based on children’s television shows and video games. I wanted to put some imagination into our students’ playtime and through it create teaching moments. I read an article in the newspaper that summer about a gentleman from the Midwest who left notes in a park for the children to find. That was the beginning. I asked a friend to create a door and a mailbox in a tree in the playground. I wanted the children to decide who would live there. I left a tiny letter with a greeting from the new resident. The kids had many guesses but one child decided it was either a squirrel, a rabbit or a mouse. The next day he left a nut, a carrot and a piece of cheese in front of the door – which ever item disappeared would determine the resident’s identity. Don’t tell the kids, but I took away the cheese. The tiny return letter was signed, “Twitch.” And so it began.
NR: Which books do you recommend reading to young children to spark their imaginations?
JF: I’ve always loved children’s literature. The classic Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh are wonderful. They are a must.
I love Helen Cooper’s Trilogy of picture books; Pumpkin Soup, A Pipkin of Pepper and Delicious. They are the stories about a cat, a squirrel and a duck and their adventures making soup. The illustrations are fun.
Scarlett Bean by Karen Wallace is another favorite. It’s the story of a little girl with magic fingers who can make anything grow, even a house made of vegetables.
Audrey Woods’s books, The Napping House, King Bidgoods in the Bathtub and The Big Red Strawberry, the Hungry Bear and the little Mouse, are wonderful.
A book for older children that I love is The Quilt Makers Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau. The illustrations are outstanding. It is the fable of a greedy king and a quiltmaker who gives her quilts to the poor.
I believe every young child should be read; Make Way for Ducklings, Corduroy, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and Where the Wild Things Are – there are so many. Read to children, read, read, read.
NR: I loved how your book also inspired a community of friendship and generosity in your readers who left little gifts, like a piece of cheese, for Twitch. You’ve encouraged creative play with his story, but you’ve also instilled a love of letter-writing and struck up a correspondence with many of Twitch’s young fans. Do you have any favorite letters Twitch received that were particularly amusing or surprising?
JF: There are so many. I’ll share a few:
– Ben became a friend to Twitch and remained Twitch’s friend through second grade. He wrote often and created teepees, houses, vehicles and brought mini pancakes in the morning. Before he came into the school in the morning Ben visited Twitch’s tree often leaving treats. After leaving Live Oak for kindergarten, Ben’s Mom drove him to Live Oak after school to drop off letters and gifts for Twitch.
– Justin, Ben’s best friend was equally involved. His Mom even baked a cheese cake for Twitch’s birthday. Justin once asked, “If I didn’t have Twitch, who would be my best friend?”
– Jack, was once caught peeing on Twitch’s house. He wrote the following letter: “Dear Twitch, I’m sorry I peed on your tree! You are going to have a surprise. It’s a big swing. We couldn’t find a card with a mouse on it so I made this card for you. Twitch we couldn’t buy a flower because my Mom said no. I love you Twitch. P.S. Do you like Spiderman? Love Jack”
His next letter: “ Dear Twitch, I know you are sad. I got you a swing with $5.00 from my piggy bank. I was sad that the money went away. I was sad, sad, sad. I love you and I have been sorry ever since. I hope you like the heart I made you.”
A later letter from Jack: “ Dear Twitch, My little brother is little. You must give me a little thing. I never give Nick a little toy so I’m going to put it in my treasure box. Please Twitch I wish I could have a magic cape and a magic wand so I can change my brother into a big boy. I wish Twitch, you could give me a little, little frog. Love Jack”
– Lastly, One of my most treasured letters comes from my friend’s 83-year-old mother. I had just self-published Twitch and I brought her a copy. On a trip to visit I shared some of the children’s letters with her and she said she’d love to have a friend like Twitch. After we returned I sent her a small letter from Twitch with a tiny parasol inside.
She responded: “ Dear Twitch, I was very delighted and surprised to hear from you and I really appreciate the gifts. I used the parasol during our hot spell and it really comes in handy.” She then continues the letter by inviting him to visit and tells him all the things they would do.
I responded by sending her a small stuffed mouse with a backpack on containing his belongings.
I received the following response from her, “I don’t know how to express myself in this note because your gift of Twitch means so much to me. I so appreciate the effort you put into this, without your creativity there would be no Twitch and I would never have become the complete idiot I am over a mouse who really isn’t.”
NR: Which books influenced you the most as a young girl?
JF: My Dad always read to us at bedtime. My favorites were, A big book of Fairy Tales and The Uncle Remus Stories, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby and others. He read them with the dialect they were written in. Fortunately we have a recording of him reading them to his grandchildren.
And, I’m dating myself but some of my favorites were The Beatrix Potter stories, The Secret Garden, Heidi, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Little Women.
NR: Now that Twitch has a following, including children looking for him at DiVine Pizza where he works the night shift, what do you tell them about the shy little mouse and his most recent adventures?
JF: In my letters to the children, Twitch often spends weekends in the city visiting his cousin Marigold. They have many adventures. There is also a boat he’s building on the river. Progress is slow.
NR: I adored the magical and beautiful illustrations by Megan Elizabeth in Twitch. How did you become acquainted with her work and collaborate together on Twitch?
JF: I met Megan (Megan Carlson) through a dad at Live Oak. He became interested in the book’s progress. Megan is the daughter of his boss and was attending Laguna College of Art and Design in southern California. Her major was children’s book illustration. Twitch became one her of college projects. She is so talented.
NR: If you could invite five guests to a special pizza feast with Twitch at DiVine Pizza, who would you invite?
JF: That is a difficult question, my immediate response would be my grandchildren but that would be more than five.
I believe I’d love to invite five of Twitch’s very best friends.
Ben – his loyal buddy,
Justin – his best friend
Joseph – the boy who worried about the upkeep of Twitch’s house.
Jonah – Twitch’s friend in Illinois. (Bookworm Gardens)
Shirley – Twitch’s friend in San Diego.
There are so many others. Maybe they could join us the next time.
NR: If you could be reincarnated as your favorite literary character, who would you choose and why?
JF: I know Beatrix Potter isn’t a literary character, but being as gifted and creative as she was would be fun.
NR: Do you have other stories you’re working on? More adventures for Twitch and his cousin Marigold, perhaps?
JF: I have a story in my mind about Twitch visiting Marigold in San Francisco. Marigold lives in the San Francisco Public Library behind the books on the shelf. Of course a cat lives in the library. Twitch has 37 cousins living in San Francisco. They would have adventures visiting Coit Tower, riding the cable car and picnicking with their cousins.
The second is in Bookworm Gardens in Wisconsin. I must tell you about Bookworm Gardens. A Live Oak family was being transferred to Illinois and their son Jonah was struggling with the move. Jonah wrote, “Dear Twitch, I went to your restaurant and we are going to move soon. We are going to fly on an airplane to where we move. We are moving to Illinois pretty soon. We are going to move after school ends. I will miss you” They took some Twitch books with them. Jonah’s Grandmother was involved in founding a children’s park that was being built in Sheboygan, Wisconsin called Bookworm Gardens. The group was choosing books to be represented in gardens in the park. She was delighted with Twitch and chose it for a garden. What an honor!
I visited Bookworm Gardens last fall to read at The Children’s Book Festival. The gardens are delightful. There are over 60 books represented in 60 gardens. Everything is interactive. The children can climb into the covered wagon from, Little House in the Prairie, visit Winnie the Pooh’s home, give Dirty Harry a bath, ride in The Magic Schoolbus, build a fairy house and write a letter to Twitch. It is wonderful.
Bookworm Gardens was the dream of Sandy Livermore after visiting a 4H children’s garden at Michigan State. She fell in love with the idea of a children’s park based on nature and literature. In 2005 Sandy and her many volunteers began the construction. Through sponsorships and a devoted community it opened in 2010.
Twitch has his home there in a birch tree over a small stream. In the summer he receives almost one hundred letters a day. The staff enjoys reading them.
On my visit last fall I discussed with the staff that a book of adventures for Twitch in the gardens might be a fun.
NR: What is your dream for Twitch?
JF: I believe Twitch has value to children, helps to build early literacy, great imaginations and ultimately fosters their early childhood education. His first book was self-published and I am very proud to say that thousands of kids know Twitch and love his book. But, in a dream world I’d love to see Twitch published officially and brought to even more kids. And who knows, more books could follow.
For more information, visit: http://twitchthemouse.wordpress.com
Nicki Richesin is the author and editor of four anthologies; Crush, What I Would Tell Her, Because I Love Her, and The May Queen. She is the San Francisco correspondent for Du Jour and a frequent contributor to Sunset, The Horn Book, 7×7, The Huffington Post, and Daily Candy. Find her online at https://nickirichesin.com/.