Madison Farkas is an author, media critic and editor who has written for CBC Books, Global News, Avenue Magazine and the Calgary Journal, among others. Her background is in magazine publishing and local investigative journalism and she is a yoga lover, amateur chef and sometimes painter. She lives with her partner and many houseplants in Ontario, Canada. The Three Tree is her first book.
Hi Madison, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk to you today! Tell us a bit about “The Three Tree.”
It’s a fantasy adventure story about a little girl who lives in a town where people love to count to five. When the Evil, Mean Mad Magician steals their magical number three and they can’t count anymore, the girl must decide if she’s strong, brave and smart enough to go on a quest to rescue it.
What was your inspiration behind the story?
It was originally a bedtime story that my dad invented. My family was at a party when I was very young and the hosts didn’t have any kids, so there were no books to read at my bedtime and my dad had to come up with a story on the spot. So, I guess his inspiration was the pressure of a demanding toddler!
What motivates the young female protagonist?
She wants to prove to her people and more importantly to herself that she can succeed at the quest she chooses to take on. She has moments of self-doubt and has to face the townspeople’s misgivings but ultimately what gets her through both is her belief in herself.
What kind of role model is she for young girls?
She’s resourceful, and she’s a leader. She steps up where other people falter – including and especially those who are bigger and older than she is. As someone who struggles with impostor syndrome, writing a character who is so sure of herself and her abilities was very empowering. I hope it’s the same for anyone who reads about her, but especially girls. I’ve always imagined that she’s going to follow in the footsteps of the wise old lady and one day use those leadership skills to become head of the town.
What is the most important message you hope young readers take away from “The Three Tree?”
That a big part of their ability to succeed hinges on their self-confidence. The little girl is the strongest, bravest and smartest person in the land, not because that’s objective fact, but because she chooses to be. It’s true because she believes it’s true.
How did you find your illustrator, Sakshi Mangal?
FriesenPress, the company I published my book through, suggested her to me. They showed me samples of several illustrators’ work and I was immediately drawn to the soft whimsy of her style.
What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?
Much harder than I expected! I’ve always had a very clear picture of how the story should look in my head, ever since I was a child myself. Communicating that to someone else was a challenge. I started by creating a storyboard so I could determine which scenes I wanted illustrated, then sketched out stick-figure drawings of how they should look. I also Googled a lot of pictures for Sakshi to use as references. It took us a few rounds to get everything just right and she had some inspired ideas for cute little details that I never even considered, especially in the crowd scenes.
What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
Keeping the book accessible to children with a broad range of ages and abilities while at the same time not underestimating their reading comprehension. Kids can understand a lot and I wanted the writing to be respectful of that without being too advanced. It’s a tough balance to hit.
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books, authors, and stories?
I read a huge range of genres, but a lot of fantasy and more recently, a lot of nonfiction. My absolute favorite picture book as a child was (and still is) Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow. It’s a beautiful story originally published in 1957 about a little girl learning about the seasons, the holidays, and the passage of time throughout the year. I still have a copy and I wrote a paper on it when I took a course on literature for young children in university. I borrowed the concept of not naming the protagonist from Over and Over.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe had a huge influence on me as a young reader, but in terms of pure craft, the author I most closely model my current fiction writing after is probably NK Jemisin, especially her book The Fifth Season. I mentioned Charlotte Zolotow already, but really can’t overstate how much Over and Over informed my writing for children. That’s especially true in how she trusts her young audience to pick up on context clues so she can incorporate words that might be beyond the normal scope of a child’s vocabulary. There’s a reason the Charlotte Zolotow Award recognizes outstanding writing in a picture book.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
I do a lot of cooking and baking, I sing in a community choir, and I spend probably too much time analyzing TV shows. I wish it were possible to read and write at the same time.
So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?
I do! It’s completely different from a children’s picture book, but my partner and I are currently writing an adult fantasy novel. I may also turn more of my dad’s original bedtime stories into children’s books in the future.
Where can readers purchase your book?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. The hardest part about writing is getting the initial story written down, but you need to do that first before you can make it better. Pretty much nothing you write is going to be perfect on the first try. A first draft is allowed to be clunky and amateurish; the important thing is making it exist.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
You have to immerse yourself in the format. Good picture books are much more complex and nuanced than they’re given credit for. The best way to pick up on how they pull that off while still being accessible to their target audience is to read as broad a range of them as possible. Pay particular attention to the classics and try to identify why they have so much staying power.
Madison, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me! The Three Tree has been part of my life and my family’s life for longer than I can remember and I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to share it more broadly.