Ninja Turtles and dream friends--in the KidLit Studio with James Bird
What I first noticed about 2020 debut middle grade author James Bird was his loving posts about his young son. James often revels in all the "dad" moments of fatherhood, and his snapshots of cuteness overload have been interspersed on his Facebook page (where we've been friends for a while) with info about his debut #OwnVoices novel, The Brave. In this New York Public Library pick for Best Books of the Year, main character Collin counts every word that is spoken to him. When this quirk makes him a prime target for bullies, his frustrated dad sends him to live on a reservation with his biological mother, who is native Ojibwe. Collin’s experiences in this new environment--with new people--inspires readers to find their own courage and trust.
James is a multi-faceted mover and shaker; he is also a screenwriter and director at the independent film company Zombot Pictures (his films include We Are Boats and Honeyglue). Like Collin in The Brave, James is a California native of Ojibwe descent. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the author and actor Adriana Mather (his favorite writer, see below), and their adorable son.
Come on in. James is eager to share the things that make him a happy man.
1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would like to say publishing a book or directing a film, but the truth is, my greatest
achievement is my son. And with that, I’d add being a father. I never knew my dad and I
am so happy that my son will never not know me. I’ll always be there for him. That is
my greatest achievement.
2. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’d say right now, I am very close to being perfectly happy. Of course there are always
going to be problems that arise, but waking up beside my wife and son, writing books,
making films, and not worrying about being homeless or how I’m going to feed my son
makes me very happy. I am pretty happy. Especially being surrounded by animals (cats,
dog, pig). Animals have a way of keeping you happy.
3. What is your most treasured possession?
Since all my writing is on my laptop, I should say that…but that’s replaceable. I’d
probably have to go with my phone because of this pandemic. It’s the only way for me
to talk to my mom and friends that live on the other side of the country.
4. When and where were you the happiest?
Right now. Right here.
5. What is it that you most dislike?
The thing I dislike the most is animal cruelty.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I am not a fancy guy. I never cared about about designer clothes, watches, gold chains,
or expensive cars. I’m pretty simple. I’d say just having a car feels pretty fancy to me. I
drive a Prius.
7. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to play the guitar. I would say speak another language, but that’s
more of a learned skill rather than talent--so I’ll stick to wishing I could play guitar.
8. Where would you like to live?
Someday, I’d love to live in Scotland. I went there on my honeymoon and fell in love
with the place.
9. What do you most value in your friends?
Optimism. We should all surround ourselves with people that strive to find the silver
linings on every cloud.
10. Who is your favorite hero/heroine of fiction?
Hmm. I would probably have to go with all four Ninja Turtles. They got me through a
lot growing up.
11. Which living person do you most admire?
Eminem. I think he’s the most talented artist on earth.
12. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Obedience. That is listed as a virtue and being obedient is something I have never been
able to fully understand. It’s not in my blood.
13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I could stop biting my nails. I’ve done it since I was a toddler. It’s really annoying.
14. What is your favorite and least favorite word?
Favorite word: Spirit. I’ve always loved it. Least favorite word: sour cream. Those two
words together have always been gross to me.
15. What is your perfect environment for creative work?
As an author: being home, writing with a cat on my lap. As a director: being on set,
surrounded by people who are as passionate as I am.
16. What’s the weirdest thing about you that you’re willing to share?
I have friends in my dreams. I’ve known them since I was a little kid. I’ve grown up with
them. That’s pretty weird, I hear.
17. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Musician. I love music more than I love books and movies. I probably shouldn’t admit
18. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? (Doesn’t have to be kidlit.)
All of Adriana Mather’s books. She is my favorite author.
19. What is the favorite book of your childhood?
Chester Cricket’s New Home. I had a learning disability when I was a kid. That was the
first book I was ever able to read the whole way through. It took me over two years.
Now I take it with me everywhere I go.
20. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God/Goddess say when you arrive?
God: May I take your coat?
Me: Oh, no. I’m not staying long. I need to go back and finish a few things.
God: I know, but at least stay for the show. Bowie is going on in fifteen minutes.
Me: I can do that.
More about James:
James on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jamesbirdwriter?s=20
A Children's Book Council interview with James: https://www.cbcbooks.org/2020/08/24/james-bird-the-brave/
The New York Times Review of The Brave: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/31/books/review/the-brave-james-bird.html