Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #37: Saint and Spinner, Farida Dowler (a.k.a Alkelda)

h1 July 23rd, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

{Note: What excellent timing! Alkelda is hosting the current Carnival of Children’s Literature today over at her site. Go see!}

Okay, so Farida (otherwise known as Alkelda over at her wonderful blog, Saints and Spinners) may not appreciate being called a saint. That’s a lot of pressure. But Jules, in particular, has gotten to know her a lot more lately, and she’s a good, kind person. So there. Saint she will be in our world.

Farida is pictured here with her daughter, who goes by “Lucia” at her site. “Everyone in the House of Glee has a saint’s name or pseudonym, with the exception of Brad the Gorilla, my tenant,” Farida told us. “Brad will probably be outraged that he doesn’t get his own interview. Maybe I’ll interview him for Saints and Spinners just to appease his wrath. I don’t want a gorilla hurling rotten bananas at me from the top of our hutch, after all.”

We at 7-Imp think that Farida’s blog (Saints and Spinners, that is — for the record, she has another blog that serves as her “gig website”) is one of the most distinctive kidlit blogs out there. As a professional storyteller (who also has her M.S. in Library Science) who shares folktales that appeal to all ages (using finger-puppets and instruments to accompany traditional and original songs for toddlers and preschool children; “My favorite stories contain fools, tricksters, and unconventional heroes,” she writes at her site), Farida uses both her gig site and her Saints and Spinners blog to talk about storytelling, her storytelling techniques and props, stories (of course), saints (of course — Farida says, “{I feature} Stories of the Saints, especially when there are specific anecdotes about them”), children’s music (both traditional and contemporary), other musicians who create music for children, mix tapes for her readers; thoughts on parenting (here is Jules’ very, very favorite post of Farida’s on parenting), her gardening, and sometimes her own personal life and adventures with her daughter — without ever getting uncomfortably personal. She also contributes to Poetry Fridays.

And, lucky for us all, she’s recently started two series of sorts, entitled “Children’s Books that Never Were” and “Song of the Week.” The first series features the fictional collected letters of one Garrulous MacKenzie, “hapless editor and Ursula Nordstrom groupie, offering advice to new writers such as Shel Silverstein, Robert McCloskey, and Marjorie Flack,” says Farida. Really, these are funny. Check out The Misgiving Tree, Revenge of the Carrot Seed, and Terror of the Toilet — to name a few. Penny Esmarkus, nemesis of Ms. MacKenzie even got her own 7Imp-style interview over there at Saints and Spinners . . . As for “Song of the Week,” Farida told us, “this is a new feature whereby I post the lyrics to a child-friendly folksong, chords for the guitar players, sound files when available, and any personal recollections I might have.” This is a fabulous new feature: check out this and this and this!

As for the story of the blog’s name, here’s what Farida had to say:

After one of my storytelling programs at Island Books (yay, Island Books!) in Mercer Island, Washington, I was chatting with one of the mothers about different kinds of stories. “The stories I like to tell usually involve fools who end up doing well for themselves.”

“Those are the best kinds of stories,” the mother replied. Then, we started talking about saints, because there are a number of saints who were considered to be foolish for one reason or another (think of St. Francis stripping off all of his clothes in front of his father to rid himself of worldly possessions). I recommended Once Upon a Time Saints, and More Once Upon a Time Saints (by Ethel Pochoki) as child-friendly books.

All at once, it occurred to me that I should do a storytime about the saints and also one about different textiles in fairy tales. “I’ll call the program ‘Saints and Spinners’!” I said. The mother thought that was a good idea. I carried the idea around in my mind, but it wasn’t until a month later, when I started a blog simply so I could comment on a friend’s blog, that the name returned to me.

For the record, here are some stories involving weaving, sewing and other manners of textile arts:

Really, you don’t have to look very hard to find textile stories in different cultures of the world.

Here’s what we love the most about Alkelda: She defies your expectations and assumptions. Before you think that she is a certain way, because she is, say, Catholic, think again. In fact, over at this conversation early this month at Robin Brande’s blog she said, “one of the top things that makes me see red (besides the terrible things going on in the world and anything that might possibly threaten children) is when people tell me what (they believe) I think instead of asking me what I think. Anytime someone says, ‘Well, I know you think ______ because you’re Catholic/American/female/etc.'” . . . Leave it to Alkelda to remind us not to judge a book by its cover (so to speak). Right on.

We’d like to thank Alkelda for stopping by for an interview. We are happy to feature her blog and hope that perhaps this will bring even more readers to her wonderful, informative, and fun site. (And we’re putting in our vote now for her to record her own CD one day — unfortunately, this one’s not for real — so that we can hear songs like “Superhero Teaparty,” “The Potty Train,” and “Tricycle Race”).

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: What do you do for a living?

Alkelda: Before I became a mom, I was a 30-hour-a-week children’s librarian. Now, I’m a part-time freelance storyteller and full-time mom to a four year old girl with lots of “penguins” (i.e. opinions).

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

Tony Dowler at tony.dowler.comAlkelda: I’ve been blogging with Saints and Spinners since February 2005. However, my husband and I used to share a blog at in 2002.

7-Imp: Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?

Alkelda: When I started blogging, I originally thought I would just post stories I liked to be place-holders while I commented on other friends’ blogs. I quickly picked it up for its own sake so that I could discuss the things I was thinking about in the context of storytelling. As I brought more music to my storytelling, so I brought that music to the blog. I continued to blog because I realized that I had an outlet for writing that didn’t involve trying to get published. (Thank you, 101 Reasons to Stop Writing) . . . {Ed. Note: Here was her first official post}.

7-Imp: Which blog or site would you take to the prom to show off and you love it so much you could marry it?

Alkelda: Besides the blogger I’m actually married to, you mean? It would have to be Blogapotamus Rex. My college friend and former boat-dweller Galetea [sic] started her blog a few months before mine. I hadn’t known her very well in college (she was a freshman and I was a senior), so I was surprised to find out how witty and tight her writing was. Even new motherhood hasn’t slowed her down terribly much. For example, as a preamble to her birth experience, Galetea wrote, “To say that my birth plan went out the window is a colossal understatement. My birth plan tied sheets together, went out the window, caught a cab to the airport and spent the weekend losing money at The Sahara and getting hammered on free cocktails.”

7-Imp: What are your other favorite things to do, other than reading and blogging?

Alkelda: Playing guitar, playing my daughter like a guitar, folding origami, gardening, writing silly songs, dancing, watching science-fiction-based television shows on DVD (I don’t own a T.V.).

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Alkelda, 16 years oldAlkelda: Between the ages of 13-16, I was a hard-rocker with black-eyeliner and spiked hair like my idol, Joan Jett. I think I would have found my teen calling more fulfilling as a goth princess, though. I ended up changing my look during a school production of “Anything Goes.” I also fell for a handsome geek and started curling my hair in the traditional 1980’s poofed-up, mullet-like style. For awhile, they called us “Mr. Rogers and Joan Jett.”

7-Imp: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

Alkelda: Odetta, Duran Duran, Rory Block, Johnny Cash, Gillian Welch, Led Zeppelin, Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell, Patsy Cline, Gorillaz, Alabama 3 (called “A3” in the United States), any song I’m working on with the guitar, and of course, ABBA.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Alkelda: That’s. Not. Fair.


Robin Brande, Mitali Perkins, and John Green. I’m choosing them because I think they would actually be good company. I have met some authors whose work I’ve enjoyed, and I’m convinced they would not be good company.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Alkelda: “Apt.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Alkelda: “Pussy” (to refer to female genitalia, not sweet little kitties—and may I just add that I am FURIOUS that “The Owl and the Pussycat” is ruined as a performance song? Thanks a lot, foul-mouthed fiends of the world!)

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Alkelda: Gardening, good conversations, guitar, massage.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Alkelda: Current events, fundamentalism, people telling me what I think (instead of simply asking me what I think).

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Alkelda: “Bloody hell!” (Thank you, Spike from “Buffy”)

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Alkelda: An orchestra warming up.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Alkelda: Booming music from car stereos, especially when the lyrics contain mean words.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Alkelda: Trapeze artist, harlequin juggler, independently wealthy philanthropist.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Alkelda: Waste management.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Alkelda: “Hurrah! You’re here, and so are all your loved ones, including the people that some uptight folks claimed would never get here because they were of the ‘wrong religion.’ (Those uptight folks are here, too.) Hell had to shut down due to lack of tenants.”

14 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #37: Saint and Spinner, Farida Dowler (a.k.a Alkelda)”

  1. Well, at least I got a mention. Still no interview, though. I’m giving the Landlady a hard time about that. I know she was working on the Carnival all weekend, but still…

  2. Oh, gosh. Can you guys and Akelda come to my house for dinner? I mean, this is so much fun…

  3. Alkelda/Farida, thank you! I’m so happy we actually will get to have coffee together, and not too long from now (for those of you who don’t know, see 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference–Jules and Eisha will be there, too. Star-studded, I say).

    Your Joan Jett look is ROCKIN’! But I think I like your mommy-with-sweet-daughter look better.

    Thanks for another fab interview, E & J. I love how you’re working your way through the world, introducing us to one cool person after another. Talk about rockin’.

  4. Liz, come to Chicago instead! I’ve been waiting for you to move from the “tentative” to the “RSVP” list.

    p.s. Poor Brad. Maybe we can sneak in an interview with him one day.

  5. Another great interview, y’all! I love the Joan Jett look, Farida.

  6. I find these interviews ADDICTING; Alkelda has always interested me — I love the real and blog names of her whole family. Maddalena. Farida – it sings. She sings. How awesome!!!

    And I LOVE that someone else wanted to be a riot grrrrl. I cannot pull off the Joan Jett hair, but wow, I must now go back and pull out all of my black clothes.

    This was fun.

  7. Oh, I love Alkelda/Farida’s blog! Thanks so much for another wonderful interview!

  8. Thanks for interviewing me, Jules and Eisha! I hope to meet all of you at the Kidlit blogger conference or elsewhere in the world. Mazel tov.

  9. What was your role in Anything Goes? I was Bonnie. I love that show!

  10. Little Willow: I was the reporter (one scene only) and then a chorus member. Believe it or not, I never had any featured singing roles in the high school musicals. It’s funny, because I could totally play a minor role now (in a high school musical). I have those high school plays and musicals to thank for my becoming a storyteller, because originally I thought I was meant for the theatre, loved my drama classes, but never got cast for anything of significance. I couldn’t understand it at first, but looking back now, it all makes sense: I wanted to tell stories, not be particular characters.

    Incidentally, the girl who played Bonnie was fabulous. She was a scene-stealer.

  11. What fun! Farida did such a fabulous job with the Carnival of Children’s Literature this week–it’s nice to get to know her better via this interview. Thanks all around.

  12. YES! Farida did an awesome job with that Carnival. So much work had to go into that. What a treat!

  13. Another great interview! Alkelda’s blog is one of my all time favorites. That’s a sweet picture of you and your darling daughter.

  14. […] multi-faceted Farida Dowler of Saints and Spinners and Minh Le of bottom shelf books (whose response to the curse-word Pivot […]

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