Skip to content

An Interview with Maria Wen Adcock

 

 

CHARLOTTE CHENG INTERVIEWS

MARIA WEN ADCOCK,

AUTHOR OF

IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE

ILLUSTRATED BY REA ZHAI

(Clarion Books; $9.99, Ages 0-4)

 

It's Chinese New Year Curious George girl CG playig with paper dragon

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE [Clarion Books], which is a perfect book to introduce Chinese New Year traditions to little ones. In this interview conducted by Charlotte Cheng, author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], Maria discusses her process for writing the book, her experience seeing the book published, and much much more. 

Thanks for taking the time to share your author journey with us today! 

 

Charlotte Cheng: Curious George is such a household name. What was it like infusing this classic with your Chinese heritage?

Maria Wen Adcock: I grew up reading Curious George, so it was an incredible honor to work on IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE. Children around the world are familiar with Curious George, so it makes learning about Chinese culture more accessible when children see him celebrating this holiday. I’m so proud to share my Chinese heritage with young readers through an iconic character like Curious George! 

 

CC: For those who are curious, what’s the difference between the terms Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year?

MWA: Lunar New Year is an overarching term for many Asian countries, beyond China, that celebrates the new year based on the moon cycle. Under the term Lunar New Year are subsets: Chinese New Year, Vietnamese New Year called Tet, Korean New Year called Seollal, Indonesian New Year called Imlek, and more. Each country has its own unique New Year traditions. For example, in China, when it is the Year of the Rabbit, in Vietnam it’s the Year of the Cat. Chinese New Year is celebrated with red envelopes, but Korean New Year does not. 

Chinese New Year refers to the holiday that Chinese people celebrate using customs specific to their culture. Though some countries may celebrate their new year in similar ways, such as getting together with families and eating certain foods, not all the traditions are the same. For example, one Chinese New Year tradition involves hanging a sign upside down on the front door. The word on the sign is Fú (福), a Chinese character meaning good luck and fortune. In Chinese, the word for “upside-down” is Dào (). This sounds similar to another word, also called Dào (), which means “to arrive.” So hanging the Fu sign upside-down means good luck and fortune will arrive. This custom is very specific to Chinese New Year.

 

CC: Why did you choose to focus on Chinese New Year for the book?

MWA: The publisher wanted the book to delve deeper into the traditions and symbolism of Chinese New Year. They chose me to author the book so I could tap into my lived experience as a Chinese American to authentically speak to how the holiday was celebrated. Given the book only has seven tabbed pages to work with, space was a premium. I did the best I could to provide readers with as much information as possible about the Chinese New Year.

If this book had focused on the Lunar New Year, to be inclusive and accurate, we would have needed to mention all the different countries under that umbrella term and highlight their unique traditions. But given the limitations of space, we wouldn’t have been able to provide more depth – likely just a mention – and we thought this wouldn’t do it justice.

 

 

Interior illustrations from It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George written by H. A. Rey and Maria Wen Adcock, and illustrated by Rea Zhai, Clarion Books ©2023.

 

 

CC: Chinese New Year is celebrated in so many different ways since China is so diverse. How did you select which traditions to highlight in the story?

MWA: I was able to pull from my childhood growing up in a Chinese American household when deciding which traditions to include in the book. There were so many traditions to choose from. I narrowed them down to highlight the most commonly celebrated ones. 

 

CC: What was it like working on the book with the publishing team and what was your favorite part of the process? 

MWA: My editor, Bethany Vinhateiro, led the process and provided guidelines on format requirements for the Curious George series of tabbed board books. All of the books in this series featured 7 tabs with themes, and each tab included 4 stanzas in rhyme with 4 lines in each stanza. She encouraged me to ensure that Curious George’s personality came out in my story, which I was familiar with given that I had grown up with his stories.

Bethany worked with the illustrator, Rea Zhai, to bring my story to life. I did not directly communicate with the illustrator, which is typical in traditional publishing. Instead, Bethany sent me drafts of the illustrations so that I could ensure they accurately reflected the customs of Chinese New Year. I really enjoyed the process of seeing the illustrations, providing feedback, and then viewing the revisions.

 

CC: When you finally got to see the illustrations for the book, did you see any fun surprises in the images?

MWA: The cover took my breath away as it captured the heart and spirit of Chinese New Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see the title of the book printed in gold foil, which is one of the traditional colors of Chinese New Year in addition to red, which represents good luck. I loved how the Man in the Yellow Hat changed his usual yellow tie to a red one to celebrate Chinese New Year. The illustrations did an amazing job of bringing the holiday to life.

 

CC: What was it like launching your book during Chinese New Year? Any favorite memories from your launch party or school visits?

MWA: Launching my book during Chinese New Year was the perfect timing given its storyline. The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year traditionally include a lot of preparation and teaching the children about the holiday taught them how they could celebrate Chinese New Year with their own families at home. 

I was so thrilled with my launch party at Huntington Public Library where I work in the Youth and Parent Department for my day job. They provided incredible support, and there were over 150 people in attendance – the maximum the auditorium could hold. My sister flew in from Michigan to help me which I appreciated so much. 

The school visits were so fun. The kids were incredibly curious and engaged with my presentation which not only included a book reading but also provided interesting details behind the reasons for each of the traditions mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed interacting with the students!

 

CC: For those who are interested in writing children’s books, what advice would you like to give them? Where should they start?

MWA: I would recommend joining your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org). They offer workshops to hone your craft and access to many agents and editors. The organization can also help you find a critique group which is an invaluable tool for elevating the quality of your manuscripts.

CC: It’s been a pleasure learning about your experience Maria. Happy writing and congratulations on your book!

BUY  THE BOOK HERE:

Support local independent bookstores by clicking here to make your purchase.

e

Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit Maria Wen Adcock
Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit: Maria Wen Adcock

AUTHOR BIO:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [2023] published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Follow: Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

 

 

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books including Night Market Rescue and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curriculum for a variety of companies including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop. You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her on Instagram @charlottemakesbooks or Twitter @charlottedraws

ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

Website: https://reazhaiart.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zhazhazhaart/

Share this:

An Interview with I Ship Author Kelly Rice Schmitt

 

SHANNON ANDERSON INTERVIEWS

KELLY RICE SCHMITT

AUTHOR OF

I SHIP:
A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY

Illustrated by Jam Dong

(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

I Ship COVER container ship at port

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Come aboard a massive container ship as it pulls into port, loads up with cargo, and heads out to the open ocean. The ship’s voyage includes starry skies and stormy seas, swift currents and unforeseen delays. Through it all, the crew keeps working—with goods to keep the world going, they must carry on.

Rhythmic text from Kelly Rice Schmitt and delightfully detailed illustrations from Jam Dong provide a riveting look at the journey of one mighty ship.

 

INTERVIEW:

Shannon Anderson: Congratulations on your new book, I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY. This is even more exciting because it’s your debut! This is a story about a ship’s journey, but what was the journey of this manuscript? How did it get acquired?

Kelly Rice Schmitt: It’s fun to think of my writing journey paralleling the journey of Ship. Just like a container ship, it takes a lot of people and a lot of preparation to launch a book. I SHIP’s publication journey began with an amazing online retreat put on my SCBWI Ohio-North called the Triple Scoop ReTreat. I highly recommend this conference if they ever do it again. Attendees met with a published author mentor in small groups (created by the hosts according to MS style/ appeal, etc) for 2 Saturdays in a row, getting live feedback on an MS and then having time to revise in between in order to prepare the story for a live reading and feedback with an editor. My editor, Carol Hinz, loved the first version of I SHIP, which was originally focused specifically on the 2021 Suez Canal Crisis, where the Ever Given container ship was stuck in the canal and halted global trade for weeks. She thought the story would be more timeless if it were a general shipping book. The final option of the conference was the chance to add on a paid critique follow-up with the editor after you have revised with their notes. Carol had a few more suggestions and invited me to revise and then submit it to her! I did, and she acquired I SHIP. It was very exciting!

 

SA: What inspired you to write about a container ship?

KRS: After having multiple jobs related to energy ships in my energy trading and supply career, I knew I just HAD to write something about shipping for kids. I loved the idea of a shipping process book, but it took many years to find the right way to tell that story. It wasn’t until a critique partner, Christine Abely, suggested writing about a container ship getting stuck, like what happened in the 2021 Suez Crisis with the Ever Given, that I had a path forward with specifically writing about a container ship. 

 

I Ship int1 container ship bridge
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

 

SA: This story is told from the ship’s first-person point of view. What caused you to choose this perspective?

KRS: I was inspired to use a first-person point of view while participating in Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords challenge, in which writers must tell a compelling story using only 50 words. While writing what is now going to be a follow-up to I SHIP (yay!) I was pushing myself to distill a very complex topic for kids into something simple and relatable. With only 50 words, I realized I could be both brief and emotional by telling the story through the eyes of the subject matter! I felt it also added a connection point for kids, bringing them more directly into that world.

 

SA: There is SO much to learn from this book. Readers can not only learn throughout the pages of the story but also through your glossary of shipping terms and STEM back matter information. What was your research process like for this book?

KRS: In addition to reading many adult books and watching media on the history and technology of container shipping, I also consulted with Youtuber Bryan Boyle to help us with accuracy. I loved his content (Youtube: @bryanboyle) following his journeys at sea as a U.S. Merchant Marine and thought he could help us convey this story with details that would resonate with people like him who work on these gigantic ships and, also, in the land-based jobs that support them. Bryan helped us make changes to both the text and art to better reflect real-life shipping. He was extremely helpful, and I hope we achieved that goal. I love back matter, and I had a lot of fun creating it for I SHIP. I hope everyone checks it out! There is also an activity guide that can be found here (https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/804) with more fun activities, experiments, and coloring pages for PREK-5th graders to interact with the book. 

 

 I Ship int2 container ship en route the world is waiting
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

SA: What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading this?

KRS: I hope readers of all ages discover details about the amazing shipping process that enables 80 to 90% of global trade. Container ships, their ports, and the incredible teams that run them are the backbone of the global economy, and we can see the ripple effects in the supply chain when elements of their journey are interrupted. Urgent medication and vaccines may be delayed, toys may not arrive for a holiday, certain produce may not be available due to weather conditions on the journey at sea, in publishing—books due for a release date are delayed. Surprisingly, many of us know little about an industry that fundamentally impacts our daily lives.

 

SA: Do you have other projects ready to deliver to the world?

KRS: You have such great puns today, Shannon! I’m excited to share that I SHIP is the first in what will be a series of STEM books, all told in first person tense. The second book will be released in Fall 2024 and hopefully will be announced soon! I also have an unannounced forthcoming fiction picture book in progress with Knopf Books for Young Readers (a PRH imprint).

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Support your local independent bookseller or click here to purchase a copy.

AUTHOR BIO:

Kelly Rice Schmitt Headshot Photo Credit Kyle Murphy
Kelly Rice Schmitt Photo Credit ©Kyle Murphy

Kelly Rice Schmitt is a former energy trader and children’s writer who loves getting small humans excited about big ideas . . . like container shipping! Although she has scheduled ship logistics and tracked energy shipments around the world, she has never worked on a container ship. Kelly lives in North Carolina with her husband, young children, and many stacks of books. I Ship is her debut book.  Keep up with Kelly at www.kellyriceschmitt.com or follow her on social media.

Share this:

An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

Share this:

An Interview with Katrina Tangen, Author of Copy That, Copy Cat!

 

 

NORA NICKUM INTERVIEWS KATRINA TANGEN, 

Author of COPY THAT, COPY CAT!

Illustrated by Giulia Orecchia

(Barefoot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Copy That Copy Cat! cover multiple animals

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This rhyming, lift-the-flap picture book of riddles introduces children to biomimicry in a thoroughly fun format. From sonar to snowshoes, discover concrete examples of human inventions that copy things found in nature. The story invites readers to guess the answers to riddles based on rhymes and visual cues that peek through die-cuts. Page turns reveal surprise answers that show how inventions mimic biology, with additional information under flaps. Endnotes include lift-the-flap guessing games to reinforce learning.

INTERVIEW:

Nora Nickum: Katrina, Copy That, Copy Cat! is such a fantastic book. I love how you used rhyming riddles where the answer isn’t what the reader expects. Kids love surprises! Can you tell us what inspired you to write about this topic and use this rhyming riddle approach?

Katrina Tangen: Thank you! Fittingly enough, I was quite a copycat for this book! It was inspired by two main things. The first was Abi Cushman’s Animals Go Vroom!, which uses misdirection to set up hilarious page turn surprises. I loved it, but kept wanting it to rhyme to set the joke up even more. So I tucked that away as an idea of a format I wanted to try sometime. 

The other was my sister Heather, who is a high school science teacher. I was brainstorming nonfiction ideas and asked her for some STEM topics. One of her suggestions was biomimicry—which I’d never heard of! So she explained (although I only sort of understood) and I stuck it in my notes, along with a vague idea of a puzzle component. 

A month or two later, the idea of combining them popped into my head. I started researching that day and finally started to understand what biomimicry actually was!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int1_Bird
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: How did you decide which inventions to include? 

KT: There are several other great picture books about biomimicry, but they tend to skew older and focus on cutting-edge inventions. I wanted to go younger and focus on everyday inventions. So, it’s about how airplanes work at a basic level, rather than a specific way of improving an airplane, like winglets. That felt more accessible and also let me explain the basic science behind the inventions. As a bonus, I wound up being able to include a lot of the cutting edge inventions on the cover and in the backmatter!

 

NN: Were there any fun inventions you ended up not having room to keep in the book?

KT: It was hard to choose—there are so many cool ones! Octopus/suction cup made it into the manuscript but got cut in editing because of space. (Although the first suction cups were actually gourds.) Finding anything to rhyme with “octopus” took forever!

And Velcro (which was inspired by burrs stuck in a dog’s fur) never made it in at all. I wanted to include it because it’s such a fun, kid-friendly invention. But all of my others were animals, and this was really about the plant. Plus, I didn’t think any kid was going to be able to predict the word “burr”!

 

NN: Did you pitch the book with the interactive die-cuts and lift-the-flaps, or was that element added later? 

KT: No, that all came later. I never thought I’d have die-cuts or flaps—much less both!

One of the first things my editor Autumn wanted to talk about was adding some kind of interactive element. Originally, the idea was specifically “like flaps, but something else.” So I researched lots of board book interactive elements. We looked at different mechanisms for the transition from the animal to the invention. We also considered interactive demos of the science or invention. My favorite idea was a wheel you could turn to fill and empty the submarine tank, which would have been cool!

Eventually, we decided that the page turn already worked well for the reveal, but adding the die-cut would make it even better. So then we researched different ways to use die-cuts (Giulia Orecchia, the illustrator, has some other books that do cool things with them!). In the end, we decided to copy from Animals Go Vroom! again. Abi’s book uses a die-cut to show the animal and then when you turn the page, you see the animal in the context of the whole scene, which reveals the joke. Copy That, Copy Cat has the extra layer of tricking you into seeing an animal in part of the invention. Giulia did such a good job with that!

The big flaps work really well to add space for the science explanations without taking up all the illustration space. And they can even be in a nice big font, which I appreciate! 

 

NN: It’s so cool to hear about how all those design decisions were made. And Giulia’s art is wonderful. The interactive back matter is really intriguing, too. Kids will have so much fun with it! How did you decide what to include in the main rhyming text, and what would fit better here at the end?   

KT: Originally, I just had normal backmatter—further reading and a podcast and music to check out, and a bibliography. The fun backmatter all came after the plan to add interactive elements during editing. We talked about having an interactive element on each spread, so I came up with one for each invention. Then there wasn’t space, so they got moved to the back and a couple were replaced by Fun Facts. 

The airplane/bird one was changed quite late because we couldn’t get a for-sure answer on part of the science in the original version. That was stressful because I had to research the new one very quickly. Figuring out which wing goes up to turn which way was tricky—I still have to act it out to be sure! But I think it turned out well and, as my nephew has discovered, it makes a fun (very) mini flip book!

 

NN: Those last-minute changes can be hard, but it turned out great! Something else I’m curious about: You have a small space for the “How does it work” text under each flap, and you’ve done a great job making things concise and clear within those constraints. Was it difficult to pare those explanations back to the most important elements and write them in kid-friendly ways?  

KT: Yes! First I had to study the topic enough to understand it, then explain it clearly but succinctly, using simple words. (Much easier to do any two of those three at a time!) Some of them were pretty straightforward, like the flippers and snowshoes. But the airplane wing was a little tricky, and the bike reflector was almost the death of me! Explaining how eyes work, how mirrors work, and then how retroreflectors work all in a couple of sentences is not for the faint of heart. I’m glad we were able to have the diagrams take on some of that job—particularly because in figuring those out, I realized that, in streamlining the text, I’d messed up part of the science. Glad we caught that in time!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int2_Plane
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: Shifting from you as an author to you as a reader: What books did you most enjoy when you were a kid? 

KT: I loved to read, especially mysteries. And writing nonfiction is kind of like solving a mystery. You investigate, collect evidence, make connections, and fit it all into a pattern that (hopefully) snaps together at the end in a satisfying way.

 

NN: I love that comparison between writing nonfiction and solving mysteries! Were there any nonfiction children’s books that drew you in when you were young?

KT: I wasn’t really a nonfiction kid. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t the range of kid’s nonfiction we have today. I’m sure there were some great books that I missed, and I bet there were nonfiction books in my picture book reading that I don’t remember. One I do remember (for the unusual title) is How God Gives Us Peanut Butter, which showed how peanut butter is made. And I did love process videos, like when Mr. Rogers would take us to see how a mailroom runs, etc. 

But my impression in elementary school was that nonfiction was all educational textbook-y books or browsable photo-illustrated books designed for reluctant readers. (Plus they always seemed to be about sports, and I was not a sporty kid!) 

 

NN: It really is great that there’s so much more creative nonfiction for kids to find on shelves today–with your book being a fantastic new addition. Now, to wrap up, a super important burning question: Would you rather have flippers like a frog, or sticky feet like a gecko?

KT: Gecko feet would be super fun—or maybe echolocation, so I’d never run into things in the dark!

NN: Even better! Thank you, Katrina, for sharing the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Copy That, Copy Cat! I know kids and adults alike are going to really get a kick out of it and learn a ton. 

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/copy-that-copy-cat-inventions-inspired-by-animals-katrina-tangen/19800210?ean=9781646869992 

Publisher’s Page: https://www.barefootbooks.com/3/copy-that-copy-cat-board-book

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @katrinatangen

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katrinatangenauthor

Author website: www.katrinatangen.com 

 

Author Katrina Tangen
Photo of Katrina Tangen courtesy of the author

AUTHOR BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Katrina is disabled by severe ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). She writes fiction and nonfiction for kids of all ages; Copy That, Copy Cat! is her debut. Profile pic photo credit: Katrina Tangen

e

e
INTERVIEWER BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023) and the forthcoming nonfiction picture book This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024). Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

Twitter: @noranickumbooks

IG: @noranickumbooks

 

FIND THE ILLUSTRATOR AT THE LINKS BELOW:

Twitter: @GiuliaOrecchia

Instagram: @giuliaorecchia

Website: https://giuliaorecchia.it

BUSY PBs PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @busyPBs

Instagram: @busypbs

STEAM TEAM PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @SteamTeamBooks

Instagram: @steamteambooks

 

Share this:

An Interview with Rajani LaRocca, Author of Your One and Only Heart

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN PAIGE CONRAD

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Your One and Only Heart Cover

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:
A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca

In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?

Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.

I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.

 

DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!

RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.

In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int1 Your heart is Singular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?

RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.

There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!

 

DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?

RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.

 

DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?

RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.

Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.

And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.

When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int2 Your Heart is Muscular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: What’s up next for you?

RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!

Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!

My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.

And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.

 

 

Author Rajani LaRocca headshot
Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit ©Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

BUY THE BOOK: 

https://www.rajanilarocca.com/picture-books/your-one-and-only-heart/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

 

Share this:

An Interview with Vicky Fang, Author of The Boo Crew Needs You!

 

 

AN INTERVIEW BY ABI CUSHMAN

WITH VICKY FANG, AUTHOR OF

THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!

(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $12.99,  Ages 3-8)

 

 

boo crew needs you cover Vampire Skeleton Ghost

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Trouble’s come to Monster Town, and emergencies abound!

There’s no time to wait around… get the Boo Crew!

Get ready for a spooky interactive story experience with Lula, Bones, and Fang—a ghost, skeleton, and vampire team who need YOUR help fixing all the messes and frights of a Halloween night gone wrong! Whether it’s tapping the page to mend a broken pumpkin or turning the book to set a toppling haunted house back upright, the action prompts let kids join in on the fun and save the day.

 

Boo Crew Needs You Ring-a-Ling
Credit: Sourcebooks, Text ©2023 by Vicky Fang, Illustrations by Saoirse Lou

 

INTERVIEW:

Abi Cushman: THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU! is such a fun Halloween story with a fantastic cast of
spooky characters. You and Saoirse Lou, who illustrated the book, did a wonderful job of making
this book really engaging. What inspired you to write a Halloween-themed story?

Vicky Fang: Aw, thank you! My kids LOVE Halloween. My little one thinks about his costume probably
year-round. I think it was inevitable that I would try to write a Halloween book! Of course, looking
at my drafts, my peak inspirations definitely came right around Halloween, so the annual
reminder kept me coming back to it.

e

AC: I love the interactivity in this book. There are so many fun action prompts like pushing
buttons and switches, clapping, searching for objects in the illustrations, and more. Did the book
always include interactivity? And how did you come up with these interactive elements?

 

Boo Crew int1 what a sight
Credit: Sourcebooks, Text ©2023 by Vicky Fang, Illustrations by Saoirse Lou

 

VF: The book always included interactivity, though my first pass only had one, big interactive
moment. When I shared it with my agent, she suggested I weave interactivity throughout. Ouf, I
put it away for two years after that, because the thought was so daunting! But eventually, on
another Halloween when I had run out of NYTimes crosswords, I pulled it back out again and
tackled it like a difficult word puzzle!

e

AC: Yes! I agree writing a picture book is often like solving a word puzzle. It must have been
incredibly satisfying to solve this one after two years! Now, this is your first rhyming book. Can
you tell us about your process for writing in rhyme?

VF: The book started with a rhyming phrase that popped in my head: “It’s a glitch! There’s a
hitch! Something’s screwy with this switch!” At that point, it wasn’t a Halloween story, but once I
decided to pursue that rhythm for my Halloween book, I needed to learn how to write in rhyme! I
signed up for Renee LaTulippe’s amazing Lyrical Language Lab course and learned and
practiced meter and rhyme. I highly recommend the course for anyone interested in writing in
rhyme.
e

Boo Crew Needs You int2 yay_ ooray
Credit: Sourcebooks, Text ©2023 by Vicky Fang, Illustrations by Saoirse Lou

 

AC: I remember a Tweet where you mentioned how your 8-year-old complained that you only
wrote robot books. And I have to say, it’s true that you do have quite a flair for writing really
great robot books, like FRIENDBOTS and LAYLA AND THE BOTS. I noticed that THE BOO
CREW NEEDS YOU! has a distinct lack of robots. Did your kid’s comments spur you on to write
more non-robot books, like this one?

VF: Hahaha, the things we do to try to impress our kids! Well, it was a bit more of a desire to
prove to the industry that I can write more than just robot books. I love writing STEM books, but I
didn’t want to get pigeon-holed and I wanted to show a broader range as a writer. Of course,
now that I have seven non-STEM books coming out, I worry that I’m losing my niche as a STEM
author for my readers! In the end, of course, I don’t think it really matters and we just need to
write what inspires us—as you know!

e

AC: Haha I think no matter what you do, people will definitely remember you have a knack for
STEM themes as well. In fact, even though THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU! is not a robot book,
I think the interactivity element does give this book a STEM flavor because it shows kids that
one action (or input) yields a certain result. Can you talk a bit about why STEM topics interest
you as an author?

VF: I love writing STEM books because there are so many fundamental lessons that help all
kids, whether or not they want to specialize in STEM when they get older. I want kids to be able
to break down a problem, to brainstorm solutions, and to generate solutions. That lesson holds
across all of life! THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU! fits into this as well, with the team working
together with the reader to solve problems and save Halloween. Ultimately, I want to inspire
creative and bold problem-solvers!

e

AC: I love that! Your debut book, INVENT-A-PET (which definitely encourages kids to solve
problems) came out in 2020. Since then you’ve had 9 more books published, with 10 more to
come. Do you have any tips for writers who would like to be as prolific as you?

VF: I think what’s really helped me write so many books is writing across different categories.
Sometimes my ideas work better as a board book, or as a chapter book. Logistically, it’s also
easier for my agent to be pitching multiple books of mine when they aren’t in the same category.
Board books, early readers, and chapter books also are often sold as series. That would be my
practical advice for being prolific as a children’s book author—but I would add that it’s probably
best not to worry about the numbers and write the best book you can that comes from your
heart, because that’s what will make your book stand out to editors!

 

AC: That’s such great advice! And I think it works well on a practical level as well as a creativity
level. So speaking of being prolific, what’s next for you?

VF: I’m so excited for my new books launching this fall! Releasing in September, ALPHABOT
(MIT Kids Press) is a mix-and-match novelty book of robotics terms from A to Z that lets kids flip
the flaps to create their own robot. And then in October, the first book in my new early reader
series, BEST BUDDIES (Scholastic), releases! It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named
Scratch and their silly adventures at home. It’s illustrated by Luisa Leal and comes from the
same editorial team that was behind LAYLA AND THE BOTS!

I’m currently also working on a new chapter book series that I’m incredibly excited about, called
AVA LIN. It’s a heavily illustrated chapter book about an optimistic and creative six-year-old
Chinese American girl with a knack for getting into—and out of— trouble. I’m in the middle of
final art for Book 1, sketches for Book 2, and manuscript edits for Book 3, and I love working on
it, so I’m hoping readers will love it too! Keep an eye out for it in Spring 2024!

AC: Wow! I am so excited about all of these books. They sound super fun, and again, I see you’ve
got something coming out for a wide range of ages. I can’t wait to read them all.

Thanks for sharing your process and writing tips with us, Vicky! Congratulations on the release
of THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!

 

BUY THE BOOK

Support a local independent bookstore and purchase a signed copy below.

(type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed):

https://www.lindentreebooks.com/the-boo-crew-needs-you.html

or here: https://vickyfang.com/books/the-boo-crew/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA FOR VICKY FANG:

Website: https://vickyfang.com 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/fangmous

IG: https://www.instagram.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fangmousbooks

 

Author Bio:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You! You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

 

 

Illustrator Bio:

Saoirse Lou is a freelance illustrator from the seaside town of Poole in the UK. When she’s not
drawing, she loves reading books, walks in the countryside, drinking lots of tea, and snuggling
down under blankets with her family to watch movies. Saoirse enjoys using color and texture to
bring warmth and emotion and diversity to book characters, in particular, she loves drawing from
her experience as a mother to bring sensitivity to her artwork. See more of Saoirse’s work at
saoirselou.com or on Instagram @Saoirselouscribbles.

 

Interviewer Bio:

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020), and Animals Go Vroom!,
worked as a web designer for over 15 years. She runs two popular websites of her own:
MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care site, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a
“Great Website for Kids” by the American Library Association. Abi lives in a small Connecticut
beach town with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating
nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) Learn more at abicushman.com.

Share this:

Tiffany Golden Interviews Amanda Davis, Author of Moonlight Memories

 

TIFFANY GOLDEN INTERVIEWS AMANDA DAVIS,

AUTHOR OF MOONLIGHT MEMORIES

Illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan

(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Moonlight Memories cover art girl holding teddy under moon

 

 

Publisher’s Summary of Moonlight Memories:

Discover how a young girl gains healing and hope as she processes the loss of a loved one in this beautifully sensitive story.
e
… Whether children choose to use art as their outlet or find another way, the message is clear: they can carry the memories of their loved ones with them. An ending Note to Parents features guidance from a licensed children’s counselor about how to use the book and where to find additional resources. Written from a place of personal experience, this story strives to bring comfort to children hurting after loss.

 

INTERVIEW:

Tiffany Golden: Let’s start with a speed round…

  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time? This is such a hard one, so I’m going to default to recency here and say, If You Find a Leaf, written and illustrated by Aimee Sicuro (love the imaginative text and mixed media illustrations), Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King and Ekua Holmes (loved learning about the life of MaVynee Betsch and am a big fan of Holme’s gorgeous collage art), I Love You Because I Love You by Muon Thi Van and Jessica Love (love the sweet, lyrical text and Jessica Love is another favorite artist of mine). I also love Muon Thi Van’s other book, Wishes, illustrated by Victo Ngai (spare text yet so powerful in both words and imagery)!   
  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Herbal tea all the way-caffeine makes me jittery! 
  • Where is your safe place? The ocean and anywhere with my pup.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? I love all animals, but our pup Cora is the best. 
  • Early bird or night owl? Used to be a night owl but with an 18-month-old, I’ve been forced to take a serious look at my bedtime routine and have been making an effort to get to bed earlier as part of my self-care. 
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world … a big heart.

Okay, now down to the serious stuff….

TG: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books. 

Amanda Davis: My love for art and writing stems back to my childhood. My father passed away when I was young, and I turned to art and writing to cope and process my emotions. This is what led me to teach art and later write and illustrate children’s books. I want to show kids the power in our stories-whether through writing, reading, or visual art. In 2012, I took a continuing education course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called, Illustrating Children’s Books, with illustrator Ilse Plume. This course was eye-opening for me and kick-started my career in kidlit. I realized that children’s books combine all three of my passions: art, writing, and stories. After completing that course, I dove headfirst into the craft of writing and illustrating for children (while balancing my job as a full-time high school teacher). I joined SCBWI, 12×12, and found a local and online critique group. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could about the kidlit industry. I began to query literary agents and editors with a few of my stories. Looking back, I probably queried those stories too early, but hey, that’s part of the learning process. The story that finally landed me an agent and later a deal is my debut creative nonfiction picture book titled 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, which published in 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group. 

 

Moonlight Memories int Spread1 Piper grieving
Interior spread from Moonlight Memories written by Amanda Davis and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, WorthyKids ©2023.

 

MOONLIGHT MEMORIES is my second picture book with the wonderful team at WorthyKids. The story is beautifully illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan and released earlier this month. This story holds a special place in my heart as it was inspired by my own personal experience with loss.

Amanda Davis and her dad when she was young
Amanda Davis and her dad when she was young.

As mentioned above, my father died when I was young. After his death, I was unsure of how to cope with this unexpected loss. I don’t remember many people talking to me about it or being given any resources to help me process. It wasn’t until I found art and writing that I was able to fully process the thoughts and emotions surrounding his death. I found my outlet. I found my voice. I soon realized that my father would always live on through the memories I was creating with my words and visuals.

MOONLIGHT MEMORIES tells the story of a young girl who is dealing with the loss of a loved one and finds comfort and healing through creativity. I have a third (unannounced) nonfiction picture book forthcoming that also has themes of loss and healing in it. Clearly, this is an important topic to me, ha! I hope my books can offer hope to readers and foster meaningful dialogue to help children process and heal from essential life events. 

 

TG: What inspires your work?

AD: My own experiences inspire my creativity. I like to write and draw about the things I’ve been through in my life (both joyous and difficult), the places I travel, people I meet, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m inspired by kindness, nature, animals, and family. Often these aspects find their way into my work. Creativity is all around us, we just need to pay attention.

 

Moonlight Memories int Spread2 Mama face in stars
Interior spread from Moonlight Memories written by Amanda Davis and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, WorthyKids ©2023.

 

 

TG: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

AD: There is no right or wrong way to get published. Each person’s story is different. Sometimes it’s a short, smooth journey, and sometimes it’s long and bumpy. Try not to compare. Instead, keep going. With every pass, send another query out. This industry has taught me not to take anything personally. You want to work with an editor or an agent who is going to love your work wholeheartedly. The truth is, not everyone is going to. And that’s okay. Art is subjective. With that in mind, there is strength in solidarity. This can be a very isolating business if we let it, so remember to reach out for help and to connect. The children’s book industry is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of. There is so much talent and wisdom. Connect with people. Ask questions. Never stop learning from one another. We are all on this creative journey together. 

AD: Thank you for interviewing me, Tiffany, and thanks for hosting us, Ronna! Thanks to all those for reading and supporting my work!

✦                                     ✦                                                                                                    ✦                                                 

TIFFANY’S THOUGHTS ABOUT MOONLIGHT MEMORIES:

This book is such a love letter to those experiencing a profound loss. This book found its way to our family soon after the loss of my sister. There’s a sweetness in looking to the sky and processing through art. The words are heartwarming, and the images are enchanting. This is one we’ll read over again.

 

BUY MOONLIGHT MEMORIES:

Local indie for signed copies (Upon checkout, type in the comments how you’d like the book personalized): https://www.buttonwoodbooksandtoys.com/page/moonlight-memories-amanda-davis

 

Amanda Davis Headshot Photo Credit Angela Wood Photography
Author Amanda Davis Photo Credit: Angela Wood Photography

AUTHOR BIO:

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, and a yet-to-be-announced forthcoming titleShe also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Tiffany Golden writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction, mostly inspired by her experiences as a Black, disabled woman. She is also the winner of Lee and Low’s New Visions Award for 2021. She teaches creative writing to third-to-fifth grade students, is a member of SCWBI, and received the Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship.

Find out more at www.tiffanygolden.com on Twitter @mstee13 and Instagram @tiffany.golden.13

WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS FOR AMANDA DAVIS:

Website: http://www.amandadavisart.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandadavisart

Instagram: https://instagram.com/amandadavis_art

WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS FOR MICHELLE JING CHAN:
Share this:

Amanda Davis Interviews Tiffany Golden, Author of I Want To Be Big!

 

AMANDA DAVIS INTERVIEWS TIFFANY GOLDEN,

AUTHOR OF

I WANT TO BE BIG!

ILLUSTRATED BY SAWYER CLOUD

(PAGE STREET KIDS; $18.99, AGES 4-8)

 

I Want To Be Big cover small boy large shoes
e

SUMMARY:
Amanda’s Review of I WANT TO BE BIG:

“I WANT TO BE BIG is an imaginative and creative read about the desire to grow up and how it may not always be as exciting as it seems. Golden’s text is playful and fun, while the repetition of “big” throughout is sure to be a hit for multiple read-alouds. Cloud’s illustrations are emotive and help bring the themes of familial love to life!”

INTERVIEW:

Amanda Davis: Let’s start with a speed round…
e
  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time?  Aw, c’mon. That’s like asking who’s your favorite kid. Of all time?! I love THE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodson; my nephew and I even went to see the play at the Bay Area Children’s Theater in Berkeley, CA. THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle, classic. My niece and I always read that one. Also, WHEN SADNESS COMES TO CALL by Eva Eland. My aunt sent that one to me after my sister’s passing. 
  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Decaf tea lattes for the win! 
  • Where is your safe place? Always the ocean.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? I’m allergic to most of our furry friends, but human babies and toddlers are amazing. 
  • Early bird or night owl? Night owl from day one.
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world … Love and observation.

Okay, now down to the serious stuff….

 

AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author/illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs? 

Tiffany Golden: Even though I didn’t illustrate I WANT TO BE BIG! Sawyer Cloud did an amazing job, I always knew I wanted to write. I wanted to create the stories I wanted to see and knew that I had to be a writer to do that. I thought I’d be a screenwriter, though. My undergraduate degree is in film and television. For steady work, I became a Teaching Artist (which is exactly what it sounds like—an artist teaching their craft), and then my love for creating with and for children blossomed. I then wanted to make stories for families to share together.

I think I was afraid to admit I wanted to be an author/illustrator. I thought doing “art-adjacent” stuff like graphic design would be enough, coupled with writing. But, when I was really honest with myself, I wanted to be an author/illustrator. I decided to learn to draw in my mid-forties. It’s so fun and challenging to learn a whole new skill. I most likely won’t illustrate every one of my books, but it will be special when I do. Similar to when illustrators tackle writing. 

 

IWTBB int1 skateboard on rainbows
Interior illustration from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

AD: What inspires your work?

TG: My work is mostly inspired by the people I love, especially my late sister, Nicole. I’ve found that one way for me to honor someone is to put their legacy on the page somehow. It can be as simple as a name, a characteristic, or a life viewpoint. I’m surrounded by a wonderful family, each with unique perspectives and mannerisms.

I’m also inspired by my culture. There are so many unique experiences within Black culture, there’s always something to write about, amplify, and celebrate. It is truly a gift.

 

 

IWTBB int2 bigger than everyone
Interior illustration from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

TG: Create community. Kidlit is a welcoming and warm world. Make sure you get to know other creators in it. I’ve made so many meaningful connections in critique groups, workshops, book release groups, and many more! Grow your network with wonderful creatives!

 

IWTBB int3 too big for everything that I love
Interior spread from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

TG: Thank you for interviewing me, Amanda, and thanks for hosting us, Ronna! Thanks to all those for reading and supporting my work!

 

BUY I WANT TO BE BIG!:

Bookshop to support local bookstores

Amazon for all other purchases

Click here for an activity guide.

 

Tiffany Golden with nephew Jaiceon photo credit Rose Fruci
Tiffany Golden with her nephew, Jaiceon, the inspiration of I Want To Be Big! Photo Credit: Rose Fruci

AUTHOR BIO:

TIFFANY GOLDEN writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction, mostly inspired by her experiences as a Black, disabled woman. She is also the winner of Lee and Low’s New Visions Award for 2021. She teaches creative writing to third-to-fifth grade students, is a member of SCWBI, and received the Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship.

Find out more at www.tiffanygolden.comon Twitter @mstee13 and Instagram @tiffany.golden.13

 

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, and a yet-to-be-announced forthcoming titleShe also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.

 

Share this:

An Interview by Maria Wen Adcock with Night Market Rescue Author Charlotte Cheng

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE CHENG

AUTHOR OF NIGHT MARKET RESCUE

ILLUSTRATED BY AMBER REN

(ROCKY POND BOOKS; $18.99, AGES 4-7)

 

Night Market Rescue cover night market dog GoGo lanterns family

 

 

INTRO:

Charlotte Cheng is the author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], illustrated by Amber Ren. Her picture book was released to the world on May 2, 2023. In this interview conducted by Maria Wen Adcock, author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE and founder of the parenting blog BiculturalMama.com, Charlotte discusses her inspiration for the book, Taiwanese traditions, and more.

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock: What inspired you to write Night Market Rescue?

Charlotte Cheng: My family comes from Taiwan, and although I was born in the US, we made trips back to Taipei as often as we could to visit family. Each time we visited, my parents brought me to famous Taiwanese night markets so I could soak in the tastes and joys of their childhood.  To this day, I can still recall the smells of sizzling sausage and the sights of colorful goods. I wanted to share these fond memories with others and chose to do so by writing Night Market Rescue!

e

MWA: Why did you decide to use a stray dog as the main character? How did you come up with his name? 

CC: I was struggling to figure out how to write Night Market Rescue with an interesting perspective. A few years ago, we also learned that some street dogs rely on night markets to survive. I started exploring how a night market could be seen through the eyes of a street dog. In fact, during one of our family trips to Taiwan, I spent time taking photos of night markets from a dog’s perspective. I then chose to name the dog GoGo as the word “gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.

At the same time, we started helping rescue organizations and fostered a few dogs. Eventually, we decided to rescue one ourselves. His name is Waldo, and he is a proud and integral member of our family. In fact, GoGo might look a little like Waldo because we shared photos of him with Amber Ren, the talented illustrator for Night Market Rescue.

e

Night Market Rescue int1 stray GoGo finds new place page 03
Interior art from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

e

MWA: What Taiwanese traditions did you want to make sure you featured in the book?

CC: I focused a lot on sounds, tastes, and textures. I wanted people to feel like they’re with GoGo as he explores the night market. Some specifics I made sure to include were the scooters (one of Taipei’s preferred modes of transportation), sizzling sausage (a famous Taiwan treat), and haggling grandmas (a staple of any Asian market).

e

MWA: Why did you think it was important to write a book highlighting Taiwanese culture? 

CC: Taiwan is a small island packed with a fascinating history. From Dutch castles to lantern festivals to marble canyons and mountains that rise above the clouds, my parents devoted a lot of time sharing their culture with me. I now have a young daughter and hope stories like Night Market Rescue will be an opportunity for me to do the same. Furthermore, Taiwan is a place that many people don’t have a chance to visit. I hope Night Market Rescue will be a way for them to learn about this special island.

e

Night Market Rescue int2 Taipei market GoGo and lanterns Page 04
Interior spread from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

 

MWA: What was the process like working with the publishing team?

CC: I’m a collaborative creature at heart, so working with the publishing team was a dream come true! Lauri Hornik is the President of Rocky Pond Books, a new imprint at Penguin. The moment Lauri acquired Night Market Rescue, she immediately began working with me to refine the manuscript. The book is in rhyme, so revisions were a little tricky, but the story is so much stronger now!

I then got to see this story come alive through the talented hands of our illustrator, Amber Ren. It began with character designs and pencil sketches. Then she added vibrant colors that brought movement and energy to each page. Throughout each stage, the Rocky Pond team invited me to provide feedback and suggestions. Sometimes, I even sent specific photos of my dog Waldo to help highlight how Taiwanese street dogs behaved in different scenarios! It was a pleasure witnessing the images transforming into the final illustrations that are now found in the book.

There are many others at the Rocky Pond team that have contributed to making Night Market Rescue as well: from art direction and book design to marketing and publicity. I’ll be collaborating with Lauri and her team on four more books over the coming years. I’m greatly looking forward to working with them all again, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rocky Pond family!

 

MWA: What did you and your publishing team love the most about the illustrations? 

CC: Amber Ren is such a creative and detailed illustrator! She captured the sights and sounds of a Taiwanese night market with vibrant and colorful images that just jump from the page. There are so many details that I hope readers will catch. Someone is drinking boba in the background because the beverage was invented in Taiwan. Even my Ama makes an appearance as she briskly bargains with a vendor! Amber also hand-wrote each vendor sign in traditional Mandarin, and she even incorporated feedback from my parents on the exact phrasing of some of the vendor names. Most of all, Amber managed to illustrate the full spectrum of GoGo’s emotions – from curiosity to loneliness to joy. You root for GoGo because he’s so charming and eager when exploring the night market. I could not imagine working with a better illustrator than Amber, and I hope we can work together again!
e

MWA: Do you have any books or projects coming up? If so, please describe them.

CC: I actually have several books coming out over the next few years! In 2024, Roar Choo, illustrated by Dan Santat, will be published by Rocky Pond Books. It’s a story of how a dragon recovers from a cold through the help of a phoenix friend. In the same year, A Name for Sister, illustrated by Sophie Diao, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a magical new sister story inspired by a centuries-old naming tradition from China. In 2025, Rocky Pond Books will also publish two more of my stories: I Miss You Most (2025), illustrated by Xindi Yan, and Icy Fruit (2025), illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Both of these books are inspired by my two grandfathers. You can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay updated about these books.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Charlotte’s local indie store:

https://www.thereadingbug.com/book/9780593531723

IndieBound:

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593531723

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlottedraws

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlottemakesbooks

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlottechengdesigns

e

Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit Airecel Brady
Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit: Airecel Iris Brady

ABOUT AUTHOR CHARLOTTE CHENG:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books, including Explore China: A Mulan Discovery Book and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curricula for a variety of companies, including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop.

You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her social media sites above.

e

ABOUT INTERVIEWER MARIA WEN ADCOCK:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [January 2023], published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Follow: Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AMBER REN, THE ILLUSTRATOR:

https://www.amber-ren.com

https://twitter.com/AmberRenArt

https://www.instagram.com/ren.amber

http://amber-ren.tumblr.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/amber-ren-1921a092

Share this:

An Interview by Rajani LaRocca with I’m an American Author Darshana Khiani

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARSHANA KHIANI

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

I’M AN AMERICAN

ILLUSTRATED BY LAURA FREEMAN

(Viking BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

I'm An American cover flags diverse children

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

 

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: What was the inspiration for this book?

Darshana Khiani: My initial inspiration came in the Summer of 2017, I watched a YouTube video of a White man conversing with an Asian man about being American. Even though the Asian man answered every question with an answer that was similar if not the same as the White man’s answers, it didn’t matter. The White man would not “see” the 4th generation U.S. born ethnically Chinese man as an American. I was flabbergasted. When is one considered an American? Initially, I wrote a narrative story about a biracial child questioning his identity. Unfortunately, the draft didn’t feel like a picture book and had veered from the heart which was “If America is your home and you believe in the ideals/values of this country then you are American, regardless of color, ethnicity, or even citizenship.”  From a conference critique, I received a suggestion to create a concept book with layered text, set in a diverse classroom. The American values would be prominently featured in the main text with the student’s family backstory in the secondary text.

 

I'm an American int1 classrom
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: What kind of research did you do? How did you decide which people/which stories to include?

DK: Since this book covered immigration history at a higher level, I first started with a middle-grade nonfiction text on immigration history and then dug deeper into specific events and facts delving into topic-specific books.I wrote copious notes of whatever details were significant or interesting to me. I created a spreadsheet with all the different values and then marked which groups had stories or experiences that could help showcase that value. This was important since I wanted to capture as much diverse representation as possible from older immigrant stories to newer ones, immigrants from different regions of the world, as well as those groups who are non-immigrants. 

 

I'm an American int2 MexFilipAmer
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: Laura Freeman’s art is stunning! Was there a lot of revision once the illustrations came in?

DK: There was plenty of revision of the text for a few of the vignettes for accuracy and sensitivity reasons, and even some shuffling around of page spreads for story flow. All good stuff. There weren’t any changes needed as a result of the art. I agree Laura’s art is breathtaking and I do hope she gets some professional recognition for it. I don’t think this was an easy book to illustrate.

 

RL: What do you hope young readers get from this book?

DK: No matter who you are or how you came to the United States, if you believe you are an American then you are. Also for people who’ve been here for generations, to realize that the reasons people immigrate today such as the need for safety or basic human rights is no different than the reason people immigrated in the 17th through 19th centuries. Despite our differences and challenges as a nation is it our values that we continuously strive and try to uphold that make us American.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase I’m an American.

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

e
D Khiani headshot by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani  – Author Photo ©Lisa Noble.

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

e

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

 

Share this:

Darshana Khiani Interviews Mirror to Mirror Author Rajani LaRocca

 

 

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

MIRROR TO MIRROR

(Quill Tree Books; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

MirrortoMirror cover twin sisters scaled

 

SUMMARY:

Rajani LaRocca, recipient of a Newbery Honor and Walter Award for Red, White, and Whole, is back with an evocative novel in verse about identical twin sisters who do everything together—until external pressures threaten to break them apart.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

MIRROR TO MIRROR Title PageRajani LaRocca: Mirror to Mirror started with a single poem. In April 2020, I took an online workshop with renowned poet Lesléa Newman in which she talked about several types of formal poetry, including the ghazal—a poetic form, often set to music, that is popular in South Asia and the Middle East. Inspired by the workshop, I wrote a ghazal about a twin lamenting that her sister had changed and the two were no longer close.

So then I started thinking: why did these two grow apart? What happened to them? And I started to create the characters. Because ghazals are often sung, I knew that the twins would be musical. I also thought that one would be hiding a secret that was eating away at her—and that secret would be the heart of her separation from her beloved twin.

 

DK: What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

RL: One challenge I faced was the same one I always face when writing a dual-POV book: how do I make the voices distinct from one another? How do I make sure each one moves the story forward? At first, I wrote Maya’s voice in poetry and Chaya’s in prose, but that felt jarring. When my editor suggested I change it so that both voices were in poetry, that felt much better, but I still had to work hard to make the voices different from one another using the content and attitude in the poems, as well as structure, imagery, and word choice. The book starts with a couple of short paired poems, each titled “She’s the One,” where the twins express how they think about each other. These poems were drafted during that first revision, and I thought they vividly set the tone of the book and established the viewpoints of each twin.

MIRROR TO MIRROR Page3

I interviewed several sets of identical twin sisters for this story, and it was fascinating! Not only were they closer than other siblings, but some described each other as “soulmates.” They told me stories about eerie connections they had, and how no matter what else was going on in their lives, their bond was unshakable.

 

MIRROR TO MIRROR Page 4 continuation of poem

 

But there is room for misunderstanding even in the closest relationships. I tried to create a story where each twin thinks she’s doing something to help the other, but instead drives a wedge between them.

2020-2021 were difficult years for me and my family. Thanks to the pandemic, we had to contend with separation, illness, anxiety, and death. It was challenging to write a book at this time, but I had to keep going.

 

DK: What do you hope young readers get from this book?

RL: I wanted to explore anxiety and mental health in a poetic way. I wanted to show that people can struggle not only with symptoms but also with telling others, even those who know them, that they are struggling. I wanted to depict the helplessness we can feel when someone we love is going through something hard.

I hope that young readers understand that we all go through difficult times, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. I hope they learn that although we may sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression, we don’t have to deal with these feelings alone, and it’s important to share with those we love and trust because only through sharing can we start to get help.

 

MIRROR TO MIRROR Page5

 

 

DK: You are a doctor and a prolific award-winning writer, so clearly you’ve got this writing thing figured out. What do you feel are the key ingredients to keep the writing flowing?

RL: You’re too kind, Darshana! I feel very fortunate to be writing books for young people today. Here’s my advice:

  • Write what you love, what you’re interested in, what makes you happy. Don’t worry about what anyone else is writing.
  • Write a lot! I always try to have multiple projects going.
  • Figure out what’s most challenging for you to do, and work on that when you’re at your best. For example, drafting (as opposed to revising) novels is challenging for me, so when I’m working on drafting a novel, I make sure to devote time to this in the morning when I’m refreshed and less likely to get interrupted. In contrast, I find that I can draft a picture book or revise something (long or short) at just about any time. 
  • Live your life! It’s important to do things other than write to feed that writing soul. Spend time with family, friends, and in nature.
  • Support your friends and other creators. 
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. In publishing, there are only so many things we can control—including making our books as good as they can possibly be.
  • Have fun! I always try to write from a place of joy.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

The Silver Unicorn Bookstore: https://silverunicornbooks.com/events/23095

Link to Publisher page including activities, discussion topics, etc.
An educator’s guide is forthcoming.

Purchase Mirror to Mirror on Rajani’s website.

 

Rajani LaRocca Author Photo Credit Carter Hasegawa
Author Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

Share this:

Vicky Fang Interviews Elisa Boxer, Author of Hidden Hope

 

VICKY FANG INTERVIEWS ELISA BOXER,

AUTHOR OF

HIDDEN HOPE: 

How a Toy and a Hero
Saved Lives During the Holocaust

(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Hidden Hope cover girl with toy duck

 

Starred review – School Library Journal, Booklist

 

INTERVIEW:

Vicky Fang: Elisa, HIDDEN HOPE is such an inspiring book. I love that you’re able to share a story that is so historically rich in such a compelling way. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Elisa Boxer: Vicky, thank you so much. Great to be here with you. The idea for this book began when I first saw this photo on Yad Vashem’s website:

 

Wooden Toy duck Credit Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Wooden Toy Duck Credit Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection

 

Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, and this hollowed-out wooden duck is part of the artifacts collection. When I learned that this duck was made with a secret compartment to hide documents from the Nazis during World War Two, and that the French Resistance worker who used it to smuggle those documents was a teenager, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell.


VF: It’s such a fascinating story! In addition to writing children’s books, you’re also a journalist. How does your background as a journalist affect your work as a children’s book author?

EB: I definitely combine the two on a daily basis. Whether it’s doing research, conducting interviews, writing a narrative, distilling complex issues down to manageable bits of information, or zeroing in on areas of emotional resonance with the audience, the processes with journalism and book writing are very similar. And the result, telling a (hopefully) compelling story with a strong emotional takeaway, is always my goal.

 

VF: I would say you’d definitely succeeded with HIDDEN HOPE. In the backmatter, you also talk about your personal connection to this topic … could you share a bit about that?

EB: My personal connection is two-fold: Both sides of my family are of Eastern European descent, and relatives on each side were killed during the Holocaust. As both a journalist and an author, I definitely feel compelled to help shine a light on these atrocities. But also, growing up, I often felt like I had to hide my Jewish voice because my childhood was filled with so many personal and hurtful incidents of Antisemitism. I wasn’t strong enough back then to stand up to hate; to expose injustice. So in a way, I suppose I’m making up for lost time. When I first saw that picture of the duck, it struck me that here is this artifact, in an international museum, on display for all to see. And yet it was never supposed to be there, according to Hitler’s plan. If anything, it was supposed to be in his intended “museum of an extinct race.” As were all Jewish artifacts and all Jewish signs of life. So on a personal level, as I mention in my Author’s Note, I want to help bring more and more stories like this out of the darkness and into the light.

 

VF: Could you talk about your experience in writing this book? Was it hard to spend so much time on such a difficult topic?

EB: It’s so interesting, this question has come up quite a bit. People ask whether it’s been hard to write about such a dark topic. And while there’s no question that this was an unimaginably devastating time in history, the whole point of the Holocaust was to create a master race and erase the Jewish people from the face of the earth. And yet so many of us are here writing about it. We’re bringing these stories to light. We’re the descendants that were never supposed to be here. And not only are we here, we’re raising our voices to tell the stories that the Nazis never wanted told. There is something incredibly uplifting and empowering about that. I never want to stop doing it.

 

Hidden Hope int1 interior objects
Interior art from Hidden Hope written by Elisa Boxer and illustrated by Amy June Bates, Abrams BYR ©2023.

 

VF: What a wonderful message, thank you. Amy June Bates’ illustrations also do such a good job of highlighting the mood and the action of HIDDEN HOPE and I love that there’s an Artist’s Note in the end from her. What did you think when you first saw her illustrations?

EB: Oh I love Amy’s Artist’s Note too! And exactly about highlighting the mood and the action. I have been researching the French Resistance for years, and have so many images in my mind. But Amy has an incredibly unique gift for creating old-world style art that takes you back and makes you feel like you’re right there, in the middle of it all, riding along with Judith and the duck on the streets of Paris. I was in awe of her work from the time I first saw her preliminary sketches. Her art is so authentic that it makes the whole book feel like an artifact in itself. One of the most powerful details to me is the contrast of vibrant, saturated color from Judith’s beret with the more muted, cloudy, shadowy watercolor illustrations that so perfectly capture the somber feel of what was happening. A recent Booklist review highlighted one of my favorite spreads: “One particularly haunting spread casts the reader’s gaze through a jagged, broken windowpane to bear witness to soldiers’ cruelties.” I mean, the art on every page is extraordinary, but that scene really stands out.

 

VF: What do you hope young readers take away from this story?

EB: Initially, I wanted to tell this story because it’s so full of hope and intrigue and I wanted young readers to find inspiration in this little-known hero who was filled with determination in such a dark time. And I wanted this book to take its place alongside others that are opening up wider conversations about Antisemitism. But as I began really feeling into the deeper layers, which for me comes during the writing process, I began to realize that this is, ultimately, a story about the importance of never having to hide the truth of who you are. Although certainly nothing can be directly compared to the horrors of the Holocaust, I do think many of us have aspects of ourselves that maybe we feel unsafe showing to the world. I actually found myself asking some uncomfortable questions, like: “Where and with whom do I feel like I have to hide the full truth of who I am?” These aren’t always conscious questions. But I do hope one of the takeaways for young readers (and older ones too) is deciding to show up in any given situation as the most authentic version of who they are. Not hiding. Bringing their fullest selves into the world.

 

Hidden Hope int2 girl on bike
Interior spread from Hidden Hope written by Elisa Boxer and illustrated by Amy June Bates, Abrams BYR ©2023.

 

VF: I think that’s such a wonderful aspect of your books. You tell such specific and inspiring stories, but the themes are so big and universal. You’ve written a wide range of wonderful nonfiction picture books, from COVERED IN COLOR: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Fabrics of Freedom to SPLASH!: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change. How do you find story ideas and decide which ones to pursue?

EB: With nonfiction picture books, I’m looking for that “YES!” in my gut that keeps drawing me back to the topic. I’m initially looking for inspirational people, places, or events that I find intriguing enough to spark my curiosity and make me want to dig deeper. And then there has to be something more. For example, with SPLASH! Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change, it was impressive that Ethelda was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. But when I learned that she used swimming to help heal from polio, and that she got arrested for standing up to sexist laws that said all women had to swim with socks, I knew this story had the potential to inspire young readers to break barriers in their own lives.

With COVERED IN COLOR: Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s Fabrics of Freedom, I knew that Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a dynamic duo who created massive displays of public art like wrapped buildings and islands. But when I researched more about Christo’s background, I learned he grew up under Nazi rule and then under Communism. This fascinated me, how someone whose childhood was filled with so much suppression could dream up and generate these wild, large-scale, outside-the-box creations. And so this became a story about courage, and pushing the limits of what appears to be possible, and creativity that refuses to be contained. So with each topic, in order to pursue it as a book, there has to be the potential for a strong inspirational theme and emotional takeaway.

 

VF: So what’s next for you?

EB: Right now I’m looking forward to this book launching into the world on March 14th! I’m so happy to have heard from teachers around the country who will be incorporating it into their Holocaust education curriculum, and am looking forward to virtual author visits to support that.

Next year, I have four more books on the way: DEAR YOUNGER ME: What 35 Trailblazing Women Wish They’d Known as Girls (Rowman & Littlefield), THE TREE OF LIFE: How a Holocaust Sapling Inspired the World (illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books), BEAM OF LIGHT: The Story of the First White House Menorah (illustrated by Sophia Moore, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books) and one that hasn’t been announced yet. 2024 is going to be a busy year! Meanwhile, I’m working on more picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel and a middle-grade collective biography that I’m really excited about.

EB: Thank you so much for this interview, Vicky. And to Ronna, for hosting us. And to everyone who supports our books!

VF: Thank you, Elisa, for sharing your personal story behind this beautiful book, HIDDEN HOPE: HOW A TOY AND A HERO SAVED LIVES DURING THE HOLOCAUST. It’s been an inspiring conversation!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Local indie for signed copies (type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.printbookstore.com/book/9781419750007

 

Author Elisa Boxer photo credit Melissa Mullen
Author Elisa Boxer Photo Credit: Melissa Mullen

AUTHOR BIO:

Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, One Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/

Links to social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/eboxer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Elisaboxer/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/boxerelisa/

Illustrator’s website: https://www.amyjbates.com/

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You! You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

Share this:

Elisa Boxer Interviews Author Kirsten W. Larson

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH

KIRSTEN W. LARSON

AUTHOR OF

THE FIRE OF STARS

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

The Fire of Stars cover Cecilia Payne

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

INTERVIEW:

Elisa Boxer: I’m so happy to be here interviewing my Soaring 20s colleague and friend Kirsten W. Larson about her newest picture book, The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of. It’s an absolutely stellar book! Kirsten weaves together two stories in one: The creation of a star, and the evolution of astronomer Cecilia Payne, who discovered what stars are made of …

Kirsten, you make the dual narrative structure look easy. But I know it is anything but! Did you set out with the intention to write a dual narrative? If not, at what point in the process did you decide on this format?

Kirsten W. Larson: This was a last-minute decision, believe it or not. In May 2017, my agent Lara Perkins (of Andrea Brown Literary Agency) and I were preparing to sub this book as a run-of-the-mill picture book biography. Meanwhile,  I was working on a blog post featuring Hannah Holt’s query letter for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY (Balzar + Bray, 2018). The book itself was still over a year away from release, but the query stuck with me. Hannah pitched her biography of Tracy Hall, who invented lab-produced diamonds, asa two-tale picture book—a turn and flip. … The two stories meet in the middle with a shared phrase.”

That was a total lightning bolt moment. I finally saw a way to add more hooks to my story and appeal to readers of both biography and informational books – by telling two stories at the same time. I went back and added the story of star formation alongside Cecilia’s formation as a star scientist.


EB:
That’s fascinating! The story is so seamlessly woven, I never would have guessed that it was a last-minute decision. What was the most challenging part about writing a book with this structure?

KWL: I think what sets this book apart from other parallel biographies (and made it very challenging to write) was the idea of having a shared line of text on every spread that applied to both stories – the star and Cecilia. It seemed like a good idea when I came up with it, but then it proved to be much harder to pull off. At one point I told Lara I couldn’t do it, and we should forget about it. But she kept encouraging me. She knew I could do it. But it was so, so hard.

Then, once I was working with editor Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, she had the additional idea of wanting to be able to read those shared lines only, without the additional text about Cecilia, and have it make sense for the youngest readers. The whole thing was a real puzzle, but I’m so happy we were able to get everything to work. It makes this book truly special.

 

EB: I’m so glad that Lara kept encouraging you, and that you stuck with it. You’ve created the perfect mentor text for aspiring authors of dual narratives. What advice would you give them?

KWL: I think this is a case where you have to be careful about the form not overtaking the writing, much like when you are writing poetry or even lyrically. For me, it helped to plot out both stories independently, step by step. I nailed down Cecilia’s major plot points, asking myself questions like “What’s the inciting incident?” “What’s the all is lost moment?” etc. Then I wrote down step-by-step how stars formed before trying to line the two stories up and brainstorming what language might connect them. I am a very visual writer, and I actually thumbnailed the stories in my journal trying to match things up and experimenting with language. You can see some of my journal pages here.

 

EB: I love the scene at the beginning, where Cecilia’s mother sets her down in the snow, and she expects a warm blanket, but instead finds her toes freezing! “It’s the first time Cecilia learns things aren’t always as they seem,” is such a powerful statement that foreshadows her discoveries to come. At what point in your research did you come across that particular anecdote, and how instrumental was it in building your scenes and threading that theme?

 

The Fire of Stars int1 young Cecilia Payne with mother in snow
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson a nd illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

KWL: The theme of this book was always the “ingredients” of a successful scientist, characteristics like being a good observer, curiosity, passion, and persistence. The book always showed how Cecilia exhibited those characteristics even as a child. For example, the scene where she watches slimy slugs in the garden was there from the start as was the scene about the bee and the bee orchid, which really set her on her quest for discovery.

But, to your question, I came across that story of Cecilia and the snow very early on in my research. Yet even though I knew about that story from the beginning, I didn’t include it until I started working on the parallel structure! I needed something that came before Cecilia in the dust and dirt of the garden, something that nodded to the star she would become.

That’s when I added this moment in the snow. I just tracked down a document on my computer when I “unwrote” Cecilia’s story, summarizing what needed to happen spread-by-spread in a line or two. That’s the last thing I wrote before I pieced the two stories together.

 

EB: Those same ingredients of curiosity, passion, and persistence clearly apply to you and your research as well! Can you tell us a bit more about your research process?

KWL: This book was a bit of a departure from my usual research process. Typically, I like to start with secondary sources for context before digging into primary sources to hear my characters’ voices in letters, diaries, and autobiographies.

At the time I started my research, there weren’t many book-length secondary sources about Cecilia at all. Dava Sobel’s GLASS UNIVERSE wasn’t out yet, nor was Donovan Moore’s biography. So I moved pretty quickly to primary sources like Cecilia’s published autobiography, her oral history from Harvard, and her research papers including her dissertation.

I did a lot of research around the edges, including the women who worked at Harvard Observatory and the field of astronomy and astrophysics to understand what was known in the field of astronomy at the time Cecilia was working. I talked to physicists and astronomers to discern the magnitude of her contributions.

EB: How much of yourself do you see in Cecilia?

KWL: What I’ve learned through this book and WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is that “STEM people” and “creative people” have so much in common. We’re all creative. We’re all problem solvers. We all take feedback. We all fail. So, yes, I feel a great affinity for Cecilia, especially that feeling of being lost and feeling hopeless, as well as that thrill of the shiny bright moment when an idea comes together and a new piece of knowledge or art comes into the world.

 

The Fire of Stars int2 astronomer Cecilia Payne studying stars
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson and illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

EB: Speaking of shiny and bright and everything coming together, Katherine Roy’s illustrations are breathtaking. What was it like seeing her preliminary sketches and watching them evolve?

KWL: Katherine’s work on this book is incredible, and it’s such a thrill to see her splattering paint and using toothbrushes to give the impression of star formation. 

The original visual idea for this book, which I put in art notes for our editor, was to split the story horizontally, with the star’s story on the top and Cecilia’s below. I saw some early sketches, and it wasn’t working the way we hoped. The star story seemed very disconnected from Cecilia’s. When Katherine shifted the two stories to a side-by-side the whole thing really started coming together. This just goes to show you the tremendous power of illustrators who know far more about visual storytelling than authors do. This book was such an adventure!

EB: I couldn’t agree more, from a reader’s perspective, that this book is an incredible adventure! One of my new all-time favorite picture books. Thank you so much for giving all of us a peek into your process.

Click here to purchase a copy of the book.

Click here for the publisher page for a good way to access activities, discussion topics, etc.

Social Media Links: @kirstenwlarson @kroystudio (Twitter) @chroniclekids

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle-grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Visit her website at https://kirsten-w-larson.com

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines, and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the VoteA Seat at the TableOne Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com

 

Share this:

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2023 – Some Kind of Hate

 

 

STBA 2023 blog tour logo

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH

SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD HONOREE

SARAH DARER LITTMAN

 

 

 

SCHOLASTIC DESCRIPTION:

Declan Taylor is furious at the world. After winning state as a freshman starting pitcher, he accidentally messes up his throwing arm. Despite painful surgery and brutal physical therapy, he might never pitch again. And instead of spending the summer with his friends, Declan is forced to get a job to help his family out. On top of that, it seems like his best friend, Jake Lehrer, is flirting with Declan’s crush and always ditching him to hang out with the team or his friends from synagogue.

So Declan ends up playing a lot of Imperialist Empires online and making new friends. It’s there he realizes he’s been playing with Finn, a kid from his class. Finn is the first person who might be just as angry as Declan. As the two spend more time together, Finn also introduces Declan to others who understand what it’s like when the world is working against you, no matter how much you try. How white kids like them are being denied opportunities because others are manipulating the system. And the more time Declan spends with Finn, the more he sees what they’re saying as true. So when his new friends decide it’s time to fight back, Declan is right there with them. Even if it means going after Jake and his family. And each new battle for the cause makes Declan feel in control of his rage, channeling it into saving his future. But when things turn deadly, Declan is going to have to decide just how far he’ll go and what he’s willing to sacrifice.

In a stunning story set against the rise of white nationalism comes an unflinching exploration of the destruction of hate, the power of fear, and the hope of redemption.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome to the blog, Sarah. I’m thrilled to discuss your STBA 2023 honor book Some Kind of Hate. How does it feel to be recognized twice now by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee? Has that changed your life in any way? 

Sarah Darer Littman: It’s three times! My first book, Confessions of a Closet Catholic won the Older Readers award in 2006, and my third book, Life, After, was also a Sydney Taylor Honor Book in 2011.

It means the world to me to have my books honored in this way.

I’ve noticed a difference winning the honor this year vs. earlier in my career because it was announced as part of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I think it’s raised the profile of the awards within the wider children’s literature community and that’s a good thing.

And now for a funny story – winning the Sydney Taylor Award in 2006 had a hand in my meeting my husband, Hank, to whom Some Kind of Hate is dedicated.

We are both fans of the singer/songwriter Jill Sobule and were on her fan listserv, Happytown, which was a fun community of interesting people. When Confessions won the award in 2006, I wrote an off-topic post telling my fellow Happytowners about it. Hank saw the post and thought “Littman … she sounds like a nice Jewish girl.” He googled me and found my website and my blogs and thought I was cute and funny – but he couldn’t tell if I was single or divorced. He thought about emailing me, but worried that I might think he was a creeper. Like most female writers, I’ve had weird emails and dm’s from a lot of randos over the course of my career.

I was going through a very difficult divorce at the time, and wouldn’t have been in the headspace to meet him then, so it was a good thing he held off.

Fast forward to September of that year – I finally had a trial date for my divorce and I logged onto the Jewish dating website, JDate, to “window shop.” I had no intention of starting to actively date yet, but wanted to get an idea of what kind of fish were out there when I was ready to dip my toes back into the dating sea.

Hank wouldn’t have come up in any of my searches because he was a little younger than me and didn’t have kids. I figured anyone who was in that situation would probably want kids, and I was happy with my son and daughter.

But in his profile, Hank had posted about how someone on JDate had said to him “You live in Boston so you must be a liberal, and like Ann Coulter I hate all liberals,” marveling that anyone would write that to another person on a dating app.

After Ann Coulter’s unforgivable comments about the 9/11 widows, (she went on the following year to talk about how us Jews need to be ‘perfected’) I felt compelled to respond, so I wrote him a private message saying that he’d dodged a bullet. I didn’t sign it, and didn’t expect to hear back from him.

The following day, I received a long email, beginning with: “Dear Sarah, I bet you’re wondering how I know your name …” and proceeded to tell me about how he’d been interested in me nine months earlier!

Our first date was a Jill Sobule concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC in October 2006, and we celebrated our 10-year anniversary in 2016 by getting married.

So thank you, 2006 ST Committee, JDate, and Jill Sobule. I guess I should also thank Ann Coulter for being so hateful that I felt compelled to respond to Hank’s profile.  Love really does win!

GRWR: The release of Some Kind of Hate is significant in that, as you mention in your Author’s Note, antisemitism has been on the rise in both the U.S. and worldwide. Was it that increase that planted the seed for this novel, a particular incident, or was this story something you had already been thinking about as the intolerance, scapegoating, and violence in our society toward minorities or the “other” have grown this past decade?

SDL: Yes, it certainly was part of the inspiration, and a reason why I felt compelled to write this novel when I did.

Many of my YA novels focus on the intersection of teens and technology – an area that fascinates me because being “a woman of a certain age” I grew up without it. I often wonder if I would have survived to adulthood if I’d grown up in the social media age. It’s not that I’m a Luddite – I just view technology as a TOOL, one of many we have as humans to work with to find solutions to the real problems that we face in our society and around the world.

Unfortunately, we’ve been fed the Silicon Valley myth that technology is THE SOLUTION, rather than a tool, and these companies have been making insane amounts of money with no accountability for the damage they do, or their unethical behavior Think Facebook’s experimentation with manipulating emotions through the timeline, and how that led to Cambridge Analytica’s use of it to influence the 2016 election.

I use the analogy of a hammer. A hammer can be used to build, but it can also be used to break and destroy. It’s important that we view technology within that framework, rather than buying the Silicon Valley narrative that it is the solution to every problem.

 

GRWR: Thank you for putting the note in the beginning of Some Kind of Hate about how hard it was to research and write such a disturbing topic, and how some readers might feel discomfort reading it. I felt compelled to read on because I wanted to understand the mindset of hate that Declan, Finn, Charlie, and Ronan felt. Becoming immersed in the world of Stafford’s Corner where the protagonists live, I identified with the Jewish characters who on any given day could be crossing paths with the extremists in your story and have absolutely no idea of the potential threat they posed. Yet at the same time, I appreciated the eye-opening insights into the roots of antisemitism that the book offered. I hope the education coupled with the positive example conveyed through Jake and Arielle, and Kayleigh to speak up, since silence is complicity, will resonate with young readers. What has been the response of your teen audience?

SDL: It’s been enlightening for many non-Jewish readers who have been blissfully unaware of the fact the kind of microaggressions their Jewish friends face, or how we have to hire armed guards and spend a fortune hardening our places of worship, just to be able to pray safely.

But it’s also helped readers understand why young people are drawn to extremism, and hopefully to recognize some of the dog whistles that we hear all around us – including from some members of Congress.

One of the most important things I learned from research and from interviewing former extremists is that most young people aren’t drawn to these groups by the ideology – at least initially. It’s because they have a lack in their lives, and they’re seeking community, identity, and purpose.

That’s made me think about ways that we can help young people find those things based around seeking love and understanding of our common humanity, rather than hatred and fear of the other.

 

GRWR: Since this novel delves deep into the scary world of white-supremacist militias and radicalization from online gaming that causes the rift between Declan and his best friend Jake who is Jewish, how did you remain grounded as you researched it and met many former extremists who shared their experiences with you?

SDL: The truth is I didn’t. I struggled to maintain my mental health while working on this book, particularly when lurking in some of the NeoNazi and Christian Nationalist chatrooms on Telegram. I found I could only do that for short periods because it was like being sprayed with toxic firehose of hate.

Having a supportive husband and good friends, who reminded me to step away when it got to be too much, was critical to surviving the process.

 

GRWR: I cried several times over the course of the book, sometimes as I read Declan’s chapters. I initially thought I would not want to read Declan’s perspective as he descended into the dark world of conspiracy theories and antisemitism. But it was his voice, his despair and his skewed perceptions, that kept me gripped. I needed to see if he could escape the world of hate he’d entered. Is his voice an amalgamation of all those men and boys you interviewed for the novel? Was it a challenge to create and write a character like Declan’s?

SDL: I’m not sure I’d call him an amalgamation, but I certainly drew on what I learned in the interviews and readings I did to create him. What was important was trying to figure what it was specifically that precipitated his vulnerability to these ideas. An impulsive decision with lasting consequences, one that put the future he’d imagined for himself in jeopardy was the key to breaking open his motivations. By layering that on top of the Gilded Age levels of economic inequality we see in our country today, combined with the way social media algorithms work, Declan’s journey becomes understandable, even if the ideas he comes to believe are horrifying.

GRWR: I have always loved novels written with dual POVs. Can you explain the pros and cons of writing a novel this way and why ultimately you chose Declan Taylor and Jake Lehrer to tell this story?

SDL: A big part of why I’m a writer is because I’m fascinated by what makes people believe, act, and behave the way they do.

First person seems to be my natural voice, but it’s limiting because what the reader knows is framed by that character’s perceptions and biases.

By writing in first person but with multiple POVs, the reader experiences the world along with each character. It allows us to see how each character’s actions are interpreted and misinterpreted by the other characters in the story, and how the same incident can look completely different when viewed through another character’s emotional lens.

A big part of the difficulty I had writing this book was figuring out who should tell the story. When I sold the book on proposal in summer 2020, it was from dual POVs, with a boy and a girl character as the main characters.

I was teaching full-time as a special appointment at WCSU that year, so by the end of the year, I’d only written 20K words, which for me is about a third of the first draft. But I’d continued researching in between teaching and grading and moving house and pandemic anxiety and trying to find the time to write. The additional research made me realize that misogyny is a big vector of radicalization for many young men. So, in January 2021, I asked my editor if I could switch it to two male POVs because I felt that was the best way to tell the story. She thought we should try to keep a female POV, so I rewrote it from three POVs – Declan, Jake, and Kayleigh. But when that was finished, it was clear that Kayleigh’s POV wasn’t adding enough on its own, and we could achieve what we needed to through her conversations with the two other characters. At that point, I went back and rewrote it from Declan and Jake’s point of view, and it worked much better.

It was also important to me that we had two male points of view because there is so much conflicting and frankly disturbing information being put forward for young men about what it means to “be a man.” If you’ve never heard of Andrew Tate, for example, prepare to be horrified by how a toxic combination of misogynistic content and algorithms is influencing young boys, and the effect teachers are seeing in school.

For research, I watched a bunch of videos by self-styled “alpha males,” which had some decent advice about personal hygiene, and how to dress well, but fell apart when they started talking about women. I watched so many bearded, muscled men telling young men and boys “what women want,” which bore absolutely ZERO resemblance to anything that most women want. You know, like to be treated like fully actualized human beings, to be listened to and respected, to be paid equally for doing the same job, to have control over medical decisions involving our bodies, to be recognized for the invisible labor that seems to fall on our plates even when both partners are working. What we want shouldn’t be all that difficult to understand.

So many aspects of our society prevent young men from understanding this, including the unfortunate tendency in our society to label books as “boy books” and “girl books” and believing that it’s okay for girls to read “boy books” but that it’s not okay for boys to read “girl books.”

I was at a school visit in the Midwest years ago, and in between the first and second presentations the media specialist said that she was glad she’d had me speak to the mixed audience because originally, she’d planned to have me only speak to the girls because I write “girl books.”

After taking a deep breath, I explained that I don’t write “girl books” – I write “thinking human being” books. I asked her what message it sends to boys – and to girls – when girls are required to listen to male authors, but boys are exempt from listening to female authors. We’re giving kids a message that female voices are less important, that male voices are the ones that matter. I explained that if we’re doing that in elementary and middle school, what’s going to happen as young people grow up and move into the workplace?

Ask any woman who has been talked over in a meeting …

 

GRWR: Something said by Jake’s mom, the local synagogue president, particularly resonated with me after Jake described Declan’s new online gaming friends’ antisemitic and Islamophobic remarks. “It never stops with just hating us. Scratch an antisemite and you’ll find a whole bunch of other hatreds, too. Basically, people choose to hate the idea of us as a substitute for facing their fears of change in society and the world.” You’ve mentioned in interviews and in the book how it’s often not the ideology of these right-wing hate groups that lures recruits in, but rather the sense of “community, identity, and purpose.” Can you please speak to that issue since it seems to be at the heart of more than antisemitism? And how does anyone targeted by this misguided hate find a way to forgiveness?

SDL: I wanted to make sure that we don’t put the burden on those who were targeted to be the vehicle of redemption for the people who targeted them.

But I also know from life experience that holding on to anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Don’t get me wrong – righteous anger when there is injustice can be energizing, and an important catalyst for change. But it’s also exhausting and ultimately corrosive.

I wanted to include Jewish teachings about the stages of forgiveness because they recognize that like grief, anger is something we overcome bit by bit – and that moving between the different stages might take work on our part, even when we were the wronged party.

Change is unsettling. Change is frightening. And when we perceive that it’s impacting us in a negative way, it’s much easier to blame someone else than to take a good hard look in the mirror and figure out how to adapt.

Bad actors take advantage of this. They seek to weaponize fear of the other to consolidate power. It’s important for people to learn how to recognize how divisive rhetoric and propaganda work. When we see something on social media that raises a strong emotion, we must pause and think who benefits from that provoking that emotion and fact-check before sharing it.

 

GRWR: Declan’s parents and his twin sister Kayleigh are unable to wrest Declan from the militia’s cult-like clutches and watch him spiral downward. I thought it was important that you included the people who toward the book’s end listened to and helped Declan own up to his culpability. They provided readers with hope. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still used to foment hate and antisemitic conspiracy theories such as those claimed by Holocaust deniers. Jake’s father explained that The Protocols have been proved to be fake, more than once, by historians and in different courts of law. How do we guide individuals we know who are easily swayed by such propaganda to consider more reliable sources?

SDL: I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. A good start would be to train media specialists in every school and to ensure information literacy skills are incorporated across all subject areas.  Part of the reason I included the debate scene in Mr. Morrison’s class was that when you’ve convinced yourself that the media is controlled by nefarious sources, it’s easy to discount information that contradicts the narrative.

It takes patience and persistence to overcome such beliefs. An adult non-fiction book I recommend reading is Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist. It’s about how attending New College of Florida and experiencing kindness and pushback against his ideas helped bring R. Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black, out of white nationalism. Reading it also puts Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s placement of extremists like Christopher Rufo on the Board of Trustees there in a deeper context.

I also highly recommend that people sign up for Rumorguard from the News Literacy Project. They send out up-to-the-minute alerts about misinformation that is circulating on social media. They also have a great educational project called Checkology.

 

GRWR: Part of the reason Some Kind of Hate is so engrossing is how believable secondary characters are as well as the setting (it takes an hour bike ride to see the whole place). People have jobs, go to school, play sports (baseball and soccer being the two prominent ones), and even hang out at the local café. I’ve probably spent time in a place like Stafford Corners where the supermarket cashier resents summer visitors and the local economy is closely tied to a big corporation or manufacturer. Did you spend time traveling and people-watching to absorb the atmosphere of the kinds of towns where such “other” anger and hostility are born?

SDL: As an author, I’m always people watching – and listening. I also drove through rural areas of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states while I was researching and writing and revising this book, and saw places where beautiful old houses are crumbling into disrepair, where barns are collapsing, where the shopfronts on main streets are mostly empty or boarded up, and where abandoned factories stand like the ghosts of our industrial past. Places where the opioid epidemic hit hard, and where the sense of decay and despair hang heavy in the air. When you spend time in those areas, it’s not hard to understand why people are looking for answers, for something or someone to blame.

 

GRWR: Are you working on a new novel, one that allows you to take a break from the heavy subjects explored in Some Kind of Hate?

SDL: Waiting to hear on a proposal for a twisty novel that I’m co-writing with a friend. It isn’t exactly light, but not as personally painful as Some Kind of Hate. I’m exploring other genres and am hoping to get back to writing funny to balance out the dark subjects!

 

GRWR: Thank you, Sarah, for your thoughtful, eye-opening answers. I hope our readers will visit Turning the Page Books: https://www.turningthepagebooks.com/book/9781338746815 to purchase Some Kind of Hate and then come back and reread this interview again.

 

  • Click here for the Sydney Taylor Book Award official page.

  • The STBA blog tour 2023 schedule can be found here.

  • Watch Sarah discuss her novel on YouTube here.

  • Buy Some Kind of Hate here.

AUTHOR BIO:

Sarah Darer Littman Photo Credit Cate Barry Photographs
Author Sarah Darer Littman Photo Credit Cate Barry Photography

Website: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahdarerlitt/

Sarah Darer Littman is the critically acclaimed author of 19 middle grade and young adult novels, including Some Kind of Hate (2023 Sydney Taylor Honor) Backlash (Winner of the Iowa Teen Book Award and the Grand Canyon Reader Award) and Confessions of a Closet Catholic, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. As well as writing novels, Sarah teaches in the MFA program at Western CT State University, and at the Yale Writers’ Workshop. She is also an award-winning columnist.
Share this:

Little Red and the Big Bad Editor: An Interview with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey

 

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

Written by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Illustrated by Shanda McCloskey

(Aladdin BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

NOTE FROM RONNA: As a grammar fanatic, I’m thrilled to be able to share this fun and informative interview by Moni Ritchie Hadley with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloseky, author and illustrator respectively of the new picture book LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR. Celebrate its book birthday with us by reading on because I know you’re going to devour this chat! 

 

INTERVIEW

Moni Ritchie Hadley: Welcome, Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey! Thank you for taking the time to chat about your new book and writing and illustration processes. Rebecca, this story creatively spins a popular fairytale with a new narrative. What was the original pitch for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR?

Rebecca Kraft Rector: In this fractured fairytale, the Big Bad Wolf is so distracted by Little Red’s poorly written thank you note to her grandmother that he keeps missing the chance to eat her.  

MRH: Based on the educational subject matter and the structure of a fractured fairytale, this story seems to be the type of book a kid would love, and a parent or teacher would want to purchase. How did you come up with the concept?

RKR: I like to play with words and came up with Little Red WRITING Hood. The idea that Little Red’s poorly-written thank you note to Granny would distract the Big Bad Wolf grew from there. 

MRH: Do you begin your stories with pencil and paper or on the computer?

RKR: I mostly use the computer, but I also jot down phrases and ideas in a notebook that I keep beside my bed. Some of my best ideas come when I’m only half awake.

MRH: Today, kids primarily use technology to communicate. Do you feel that kids will relate to a thank-you note written with pencil and paper?

RKR: I hope so! Kids still use pencil and paper in the early grades, and the Common Core Standards include things like using capital letters and punctuation. I’ve heard from teachers that there’s even a letter-writing unit in most first-grade classes.

MRH: Shanda, as the illustrator, what attracted you to this manuscript?

Shanda McCloskey: The happiness I felt when I read it for the very first time! Rebecca definitely knows how to have fun with words 🙂

 

 

 

Little Red int1 oresent
Interior spread from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

 

MRH: Can you tell us about your process?

SM: I spent a few days drawing/redrawing character look possibilities for this book. When I saw something good in a character sketch, I would just “follow the light” and then tried drawing the character again, leaving in the good and stripping the bad, over and over until the characters felt “right-ish.”

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR was drawn digitally, printed onto paper, and painted with watercolors.

Little Red’s cape had to be red (obviously), so I started there. I found that Little Red popped best when her colors were warm in contrast to a cooler background. Wolf needed to blend into the background sometimes, so he is cool-toned as well. Then, I stuck in some of my favorite colors for fun, like Little Red’s pink and purple outfit.

The first dummy took me two months or so. Then it went through a couple of versions with feedback from the publishing team over several months. Things like character consistency, spread variation (ex., full bleeds, vignettes, panels), hair and skin color, etc., were tinkered with.

MRH: Were you able to collaborate?

RKR: No.

MRH: Shanda, when illustrating a book based on an existing story, how do you separate the images of the past and make them fresh?

SM: It happens automatically when you are working with new characters in a new world. But it’s also cool when my “style” shows through in all my books, at least a little bit. Also, every book is a leveling-up experience for me. There may be a new technique I’m using or a mood I’m trying to achieve. There’s always something in my craft to tinker with or improve upon with each book.

MRH: You are an author of children’s books as well as an illustrator. Is it easier to illustrate someone else’s words or to illustrate your own? How is the process different?

 

 

Little Red int2 swoop
Interior art from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

SM: They both have various perks! When illustrating my own stories, I can add a speech bubble with a joke if the notion hits me. But it’s not really my place to do that when I’m illustrating someone else’s words. But on the flip side, having limitations can sometimes be nice and clean, and it sure is nice to launch a book with a partner. If it flops, it’s not just on you!

MRH: Rebecca, this is your second picture book. Where do you usually get stuck in the writing process, and how do you get out of it? 

RKR: Ha! I get stuck all over the place—the beginning, the middle, the end—everywhere! Sometimes I’ll print out what I have, and seeing it on paper makes it easier to figure out what to do next. If I can let myself play and have fun with the story, I find my writing goes more smoothly. My critique groups are big help with both brainstorming and pointing out where I’ve gone astray.

MRH: Are you more like Little Red or the Big Bad Editor? How so?

RKR: Hmm, I guess I’m more like the Big Bad Editor because, like him, I’m frequently frustrated by bad grammar and punctuation.

SM: Hmmm. I identified with both of them! I can definitely be a stickler for what I think is “the right way” to do something. But I can also appreciate how Red didn’t wait until she had a perfect letter to say thank you to her granny. She just went for it and improved along the way! #amwriting #amillustrating

MRH: Are there any other secret insights that you can share about this book?

RKR: Unlike all the other stories I’ve written, I wrote the last line first. Also, the entire time I was writing and revising the story, I thought I was filling the story with fun metaphors. Nope! Every single one was really a simile. I still can’t write metaphors.

SM: I put my own real kids’ artwork on the refrigerator in Granny’s kitchen 🙂 And there’s usually some nod to a book I’ve previously worked on. Such as the fire truck (FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON) and the snuggle bunny (BEDTIME BALLET) on Little Red’s shelf in her room on the first spread.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR releases today! Thank you both for chatting with us.

 

BUY THE BOOK HERE:

Bookshop.org


FOLLOW REBECCA KRAFT RECTOR:

Website – https://RebeccaKraftRector.wordpress.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/beck.writerrider/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rebeccakrector/

Twitter -https://twitter.com/RebeccaKRector

@RebeccaKRector on Instagram and Twitter

 

FOLLOW SHANDA MCCLOSKEY: 

Website – https://www.shandamc.com/little-red-and-the-big-bad-editor/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/shandamccloskeydraws/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/ShandaMcCloskey

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/shandamc

 

FOLLOW THE INTERVIEWER:

Moni Ritchie Hadley, author of The Star Festival and Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

Website www.moniritchie.com

On Instagram  @bookthreader

On Twitter @bookthreader

 

 

Share this:
Back To Top