Happiness is being alone in a pig barn--Deborah Underwood in the KidLit Studio
Updated: Mar 14
Deborah Underwood can often be found outside her San Francisco apartment, sipping soy lattes and feeding scrub jays in the backyard garden she created as a way to cope with pandemic stress. She's a prolific and critically-acclaimed writer, with such celebrated titles as Interstellar Cinderella and The Quiet Book. Her most recent books, both released in 2020, have garnered praise from readers around the country. Every Little Letter, which shows us that even the smallest among us can have a very big impact, was one of School Library Journal's Best Picture Books of 2020. And Outside In, which oh-so-gently suggests we consider renewing our connection with nature, was especially timely, coming out a month into the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times named it one of its 25 Best Books 0f 2020, and it just scored a 2021 Caldecott Honor!
Inside the Kidlit Studio caught up with Deborah near the end of 2020, and found her answers to our questions just as delightful as her picture books.
1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning public speaking, which used to terrify me.
2. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sitting in my garden on a sunny day with a soy latte, a scone, and a bunch of birds. And
maybe a cheetah.
3. What is your most treasured possession?
Sentimental: a photo of my mom. Practical: my Vitamix.
4. When and where were you the happiest?
Possibly when I was alone in a pig barn at a farm sanctuary. I was sitting in the hay,
leaning up against my adopted pig Babe, who was snoozing. Then a barn cat appeared
and crawled into my lap as the sun was setting. A pig, a cat, a sunset: what could be
better than that?
5. What is it that you most dislike?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
When I visit Maui, I splurge on a particular condo that’s bigger than I need because it
has a sleeping loft that lets me hear the ocean at night and a second bathroom where I
can dump my snorkel gear. It’s ridiculous, since I’ll spend hours trying to shave ten
bucks off the car rental.
7. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be one of those people who is comfortable in any situation and makes others
feel that way, too.
8. Where would you like to live?
I adore San Francisco, but at some point it would be nice to live somewhere smaller.
Maybe Monterey or Pacific Grove.
9. What do you most value in your friends?
10. Which living person do you most admire?
11. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Niceness. Not that it isn’t good to be nice; it’s that many women of my generation were
taught to prioritize being nice over taking care of ourselves.
12. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d be more patient.
13. What is your favorite and least favorite word?
Favorite today: “liminal.” Least favorite today: “crepuscular.”
14. What is your perfect environment for creative work?
A quiet place with big windows where I can spread out papers, drink coffee, and stare
at the ocean. And internet that turns on for five minutes once every two hours.
15. What’s the weirdest thing about you that you’re willing to share?
Let’s just say that there have been an alarming number of silly cooking songs
improvised in my kitchen lately.
16. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’d like to be a visiting professor at a small liberal arts college who has a nice office, gets
to chat with students, and doesn’t need to teach much. Or a TV comedy writer.
17. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? (Doesn’t have to be KidLit.)
I have read so little this year—my attention has been totally fractured—but I loved Dan
Gemeinhart’s The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.
18. What is the favorite book of your childhood?
Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash or Cathie Runs Wild by Elinor Lyon.
19. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God/Goddess say when you arrive?
“Come in! A lot of animals have been waiting for you.”
More about Deborah:
Another interview with Deborah: