What do you imagine when you hear the word “possum”? After reading Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Appleblossom the Possum, you may think of those strange creatures a little differently. In an interview with Holly and Gary Rosen, the book’s illustrator and Holly’s husband, we learned all about the real-life inspiration behind Appleblossom. They also shared what it was like to work together as a couple and what other projects they have in store. Read on for a sweet Q&A with the funny, creative duo.
What inspired you to create a book about a possum family? What makes possums special?
Holly: This all began years ago when I looked out the window of a house built into the hillside where I was living when I first moved to Los Angeles. It was dusk and a possum, the size of a beagle, walked by. Slow moving, pointy nose to the ground, he was on the other side of the glass, but only inches away.
I thought the creature was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen.
I phoned pest control and the next day a man arrived with trap. I immediately said, “I don’t want you to kill the animal.” The man laughed as he said, “Oh, I’d never kill a possum. I’ll just relocate him up the road and into the hills. I make my living moving these guys around.”
Many years went by and I read more about possums. I heard stories. I came to understand they meant no harm. And then our dog went out one night into the yard and returned to the door holding a possum the size of a loaf of bread.
Gary: I got our dog to drop the creature. It was most certainly dead. The animal’s legs were stiff. Spit was coming from the mouth. A horrible smell filled the air.
We coaxed the dog inside and I went to get a plastic bag and gloves to dispose of the possum. But when I returned, the animal was gone. The possum was not dead, the possum was playing possum.
Holly: We were delighted! This animal really knew how to sell a death scene. We live in Southern California and we have many friends who are actors and this possum got us thinking. The next day I asked my husband to draw a picture for me of a possum. He’s a fantastic artist and he set about capturing one of these unusual marsupials.
What was it like for you guys to work on a book together?
Holly: From the beginning, it was great fun. We set about learning as much as we could about possums.
Gary: We sought out books, pictures, and personal stories about these nocturnal animals. We knew it was all destiny when one night we were driving in the hills of Pasadena. It was pouring rain. We were far from home on a narrow street and a big, wet, slow moving possum appeared in the middle of road.
Holly: We didn’t hit the possum, but managed to brake just in time. We came to a complete stop and the possum stared up into the headlights right at us. We watched the possum recover his senses and cross the road only to disappear into a clump of wet ivy. After that we just had to finish the book.
Gary: The year that we worked on this book was a year of talking about possums. We love them now.
At the beginning of Appleblossom the Possum, Appleblossom’s mother explains that it’s time for her children to start venturing out on their own. Do you remember ever experiencing anything that scary when you were little?
Holly: When I was in the third grade my family moved to Holland. My parents put me in a local school. I didn’t speak the language and I remember that it was decided I would walk home on my first day. They showed me the way, and I said I could do it. But when the time came I remember feeling so alone. I was afraid I’d get lost and never find them again. I did make it, but not without a few tears.
Appleblossom has many personality traits that enable her survival on these solo adventures. What’s your favorite quality of Appleblossom’s?
Gary: I like that she has a sense of humor. When I draw pictures of all the possums I believe that they would all love a good joke.
Holly: I admire her positive attitude. She doesn’t think she’s the most talented possum in the world, but that’s not going to stop her.
What is one thing you’d like young readers to learn about the concept of family from Appleblossom the Possum?
Holly: The love you get from your family is what gives you strength in life. Brothers and sisters can be annoying, but they can also be the ones to save you when you’re in real trouble.
What have your children taught you about reading?
Gary: Our boys are older now, but discussing books and what we are all reading is something that brings us together. We are a family of storytellers, so interesting characters are favorite topics around our dinner table.
What projects are you guys working on next?
Holly: Gary is illustrating the Russian version of Counting By 7s. The English edition had no illustrations, but in Russia the publisher wanted drawings to accompany the text. So he’s doing that.
Gary: And Holly is working on her next middle grade novel.
Holly: We answer each other’s questions!
Holly Goldberg Sloan is the author of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller Counting by 7s, which was named an ALA Notable Book and an E. B. White Read Aloud Award Honor Book. Her most recent novel is Appleblossom the Possum. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and a writer and director of feature films. She lives with her husband and Appleblossom the Possum illustrator, Gary Rosen, in Santa Monica, California.