Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Crystalee Calderwood ~ Guest Author Q&A

Crystalee Calderwood’s first love was reading. She could read before she entered kindergarten. Writing was, naturally, the next step. For many years, Crystalee focused on poetry. It helped her get through her rocky teen years, and she honed her skills as an English major at Penn State Altoona. In 2006, Crystalee got accepted into the MFA program of her dreams at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. At Chatham, Crystalee began to think maybe poetry was no longer for her.

“It felt like they were putting me into a box,” she says. “Everything was about ‘Is this going to sale?’ I was expected to write like everyone else, and I felt like I couldn’t please anyone.”

During her very first semester, Crystalee took a class called the Craft of Writing for Children and Adolescents. Writing for kids wasn’t an instant passion for her. In fact, it took a picture book writing class a year later to seal the deal. Crystalee picked up writing for children as one of her emphases, but also continued in the poetry program. Crystalee is now a graduate of Chatham University and the author of her first picture book, Angeline Jellybean. She is a full time Literacy*AmeriCorps member who teaches computer skills to job-seeking adults. She is currently working on two YA novels and a handful of picture books.

Where did you get the inspiration for Angeline Jellybean?

I don’t even remember how I came up with the story. I was taking a picture book writing class back in 2007. Our assignment was to write a picture book under 500 words, and that’s what I did. I wrote it in rhyme because I wanted to see if I could write a rhyming picture book. I didn’t even really expect to like it. That’s how Angeline was born. A few rounds of revisions and a submission later, here it is!

Is Angeline anything like you?

Oh yes. *laughs* Angeline loves jellybeans almost as much as I love chocolate. Of course, I have learned to limit my chocolate intake, and I didn’t have to go through the nasty side effects that Angeline did! Angeline is also very strong-willed and has a bit of a temper, which reminds me of a certain little redheaded girl I once knew.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I used to write short stories way back in first grade. I’ve been reading even longer, since before I started school, so I only felt it was natural for me to write. I wrote poetry for many years. It wasn’t until I went to grad school to get my MFA in Creative Writing that I discovered writing for children. That was in 2006. I ended up with a dual emphasis in poetry and writing for children and adolescents. I am amazed at how far I have come along with my writing since then.

How do you get the ideas for your picture books?

Well, I live and experience life, first of all. I get most of my ideas from things I’ve seen, experienced or heard. I also try to interact with children. I spent a year as a volunteer reading to children in daycares across Pittsburgh. In that year, I learned more about what children like than I had learned in my entire life. I also love to read children’s books. I’m always asking myself if I can write something better than or different than the kinds of books that are out there. I’m not interested in writing books that copy a current trend, unless I can put my own spin on that trend.

Do you experiment with other genres as well?

Yes, I do. I started out writing poetry. I have also experimented with flash fiction. But nothing makes me happier than writing for children. I’m really a big kid at heart, and I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. I have also recently completed a young adult novel in verse, and I’m very excited to break into the YA market was well.

To learn more about Crystalee’s career visit:



  1. Crystalee...lovely to have you here today. What a creative way to learn more about children by volunteering at daycare center. Terrific idea!

    Best wishes,

  2. Angeline Jellybean was a joy to illustrate and hope to work with Crystalee again

  3. 4RV Publishers is delighted that Crystalee submitted Angeline to us.

    When the partnership between Crystalee's book and Stephen's illustrations meshed, we had a vivid, interesting children's book.

  4. I'm currently working on two picture books. I really enjoyed learning what you've done and how you've gotten your ideas as well.

    Wishing you much success.

  5. Very interesting interview. Love the title of Crystalee's book - great kid appeal!!

    Margot Finke

  6. An interesting interview. It's great that you knew at such an early age that you loved to write. Look at you now. :) Congratulations on your book.


  7. Who could resist any book with a girl called Angeline Jellybean? I buy a lot of kids books because I have family of an uncountable number of children--not all mine, thank goodness, but closely related. We range from almost-born to 95. I think everyone of us would enjoy Angeline.

  8. Thanks to everyone for stopping by and learning a little about me. :-)

    I just wanted to add that Angeline Jellybean would make the perfect gift for an Easter basket. You can purchase it at or from :-)

  9. Lovely interview, thanks for sharing! I love the title of the book.

  10. The title is definitely a hook for kids. It sounds like such a fun book.

    Great questions and answers.


  11. Crystalee, I enjoyed getting to know you more. I wonder if that "in a box" feeling is a PA thing-my son just told me today he's afraid to go to an art school because he didn't want them to make him "draw like everyone else".



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