An Interview with Katherine Hannigan
Where did Ida B and the idea for her story come from?
Ida B came out of a lot of things in my life moving to the Midwest and
falling in love with the space, the hills, the woods, the people who have no
idea who you are but who wave and smile at you as they drive by. She came from a
love of laughter and being outdoors, a fondness for people with a good dose of
punkishness in them. I think in many ways Ida B has the life I would have chosen
if I could have.
You were teaching at a university when you started writing this novel.
What made you think about writing a children's book?
When I moved to Iowa, I decided that I wanted to write, on top of the
teaching and making art and exhibiting I was doing. I wrote an article and a
story, and I started a book a few times, but I always gave up after about ten
pages because I didn't think I knew enough about what I was doing. Then a
couple of years ago, on a whim, I went to hear somebody named Kate DiCamillo
speak in St. Paul. I'd never read anything by her, but I thought I'd like to
hear what an author had to say about the process and inspiration and that sort
of thing. So I went to the Fitzgerald Theater and I started crying before Kate
even opened her mouth. The place was full of people who had obviously been
deeply affected, in a positive way, by this woman's writing, and that moved me
profoundly. That night, I went home and started writing Ida B in a spiral
The serious themes in Ida B are interwoven with a good deal of
humor. How did you manage to find just the right tone for the story?
I don't know. If it is just the right tone, I'd have to give credit to
the voice of Ida B. Certainly she's funny and has a unique way of looking at
life. But the constant throughout the story is her love for her family, the
trees, Rufus and Lulu, Ms. Washington and Ronnie, fun and freedom. The really
hard times she faces are losses of love. Even though she won't always admit
it, Ida B never stops loving and trying, and I think that's what make the
tragedies even more poignant, and the good times and the humor so heart-filling.
Are you Ida B?
Somebody told me the other day that I was Ida B, but I'm not. Sometimes I
wish I were. I wish I had had the confidence, when I was young, to speak my mind
more and not to be embarrassed by the things that make me unique. I think
sometimes I try to live up to her example the way she fills her days with
the things she loves, completely in touch with what she cares about and believes
in, living life to the fullest. I understand her, and I agree with her most of
the time. I'd just express things a little differently than she does
But what about the 'Soap Mask' episode?
Well, that doesn't mean Ida B and I don't share some traits and
adventures. Like Ida B, I decided that covering my face with dish soap and
letting it dry overnight might be a very successful solution to a disturbing
problem. But my 'problem' was, I think, my first blemish. I experienced the
same 'flashes of flame' as Ida B, and I guess my mom and I bonded on the
trip to the doctor's. But I was acutely embarrassed by the failure of my
invention and the circumstances that gave rise to it. Ida B, on the other hand,
was only encouraged by the results of her creative endeavor.