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An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Bold, gold, the chrysalis gleams. And deep down inside . . . the butterfly dreams.

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer climates for overwintering months. However, changing environments make it continually more difficult to find food and places to lay eggs. In this nonfiction picture book, the monarch’s life cycle is detailed in lyrical verse as stunning art accompanies each stage in the butterfly’s life.

The most recognizable butterfly, monarchs are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and face drastic challenges when it comes to locating food sources–milkweed. Milkweed for Monarchs is the perfect resource for young readers to learn more about these beautiful insects and how they can foster monarch-friendly environments in their own backyard. Backmatter includes actionable ways for readers to help this vulnerable species.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: How did you decide to write about butterflies in your new nonfiction picture book, Milkweed for Monarchs?

Christine Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we bought a milkweed plant with the vague idea that we were helping butterflies in some way. Little did we know that our plant was loaded with eggs and soon we had a bunch of very cute caterpillars. Sadly, they were eaten by various predators in our garden, but that set me out on this journey, wondering about monarchs.


GRWR:
What eats monarchs? I thought they were poisonous.

CVZ: When the monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, they do retain some of the plant’s toxins. And they have the bright “stay away” body markings consisting of yellow, white, and black stripes. But they still end up being dinner for other insects, spiders, birds, lizards, and mammals. In our garden, we’ve seen ants carrying little caterpillars away; raccoons and birds pluck them off.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int1 flitter flutter wings
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: Did you encounter any obstacles trying to sell this book?

CVZ: It took me a while to figure out how to write it. I tried it in prose and verse, in fiction and nonfiction. The version that ended up working best was a short rhyming poem with facts in sidebars and in the backmatter.

An earlier version of this manuscript won first place at SCBWI-LA’s 2021 Writers Day and also earned me the annual Sue Alexander Grant. Even so, when the manuscript went out on submissions, some publishers passed stating they already had a monarch book on their list and they didn’t want to compete against their own products.


GRWR:
So it sounds like butterfly books are considered evergreens like dinosaur, alphabet, or things-that-go books?

CVZ: Yes they are, so both my area of focus for the story and how I presented the text had to come from a fresh angle. I’m passionate about trying to help the monarchs. The western monarch’s population went from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 2000 butterflies in 2020. The just-in 2023 count shows the population is still ~95% down.

Monarchs need milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars can eat; that became my focus, how the milkweed plant is essential for this insect’s survival. Milkweed plants are also amazing: they get eaten down to nothing and keep regrowing. I welcome munched-on plants in my yard because that means insects are being sustained through their life cycle which, in turn, benefits the larger food web.


GRWR:
As picture book writers we’re often told not to write in rhyme unless it is extremely well executed. Was that a problem you encountered?

CVZ: I actually didn’t but I also feel my rhyme was solid by the time we sent it out on submissions because I’d applied the various checks such as scansion. However, writing in rhyme makes revisions much harder because each round with the publisher meant not just updating the text but also redoing the rhyme. Sometimes I had to scrap stanzas and write new ones.

And rhyming books have limitations because they are not as likely to be translated into a foreign language since so much more is involved in translating poetry, though it does happen. With my first book, A Brief History of Underpants—which was written in prose—a Korean-language translation came out not long after it was published. I’d love for Milkweed for Monarchs to be translated, especially into Spanish since many monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico’s mountains and the butterflies have been part of Mexican culture for generations. Also because the gorgeous illustrations are by Alejandra Barajas who is from Mexico.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int2 beyond human borders
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: While the main text of the book is a short poem, the facts in the sidebar and backmatter are in prose, right?

CVZ: Yes, and that meant switching my brain back and forth as we worked through the various drafts!

GRWR: How did you do that?

CVZ: I would read through one pass focusing only on the poem, then on another pass, I’d work on the facts.


GRWR:
Beyond being a gardener, are you involved with monarchs in other ways?

CVZ: We’ve had our garden designated a sanctuary which basically means that we promise to garden without pesticides, providing a certain number and variety of different kinds of milkweed plants including native ones, and also providing nectaring plants for the butterflies and other pollinators.

Beyond that, I’ve applied for and been granted free plants for a local LAUSD inner-city school and started their butterfly garden. I’ve also volunteered for Xerces for several years now, helping count the butterflies overwintering along the Southern California coast, and uploading that data to their central database.


GRWR:
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CVZ: I hope my book imparts a sense of wonder and a feeling of hopefulness. It doesn’t take much to make a difference whether for the monarchs or for other creatures in our world.


GRWR:
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your amazing experience with us today. I’ve learned so much!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers by purchasing a copy of Milkweed for Monarchs here.

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/christinevz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/BeamingBooksMIN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

Christine Van Zandt author photo
Author Christine Van Zandt Photo Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

AUTHOR BIO:

Christine Van Zandt is an editor, writer, and award-winning author. Her nonfiction picture books include A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021) and, Milkweed for Monarchs (Beaming Books, 2024). She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family. You can find her at www.ChristineVanZandt.com.

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – No Voice Too Small

NO VOICE TOO SMALL:
Fourteen Young Americans Making History

Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson
and Jeanette Bradley

Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

(Charlesbridge; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

No Voice Too Small cvr

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

There’s no better time than right now to make our voices heard. But this isn’t about our voices. It’s about our children’s voices. And, in particular, it’s about the diverse voices in No Voice Too Small that stand out from the daily din of our world. The fourteen children selected for this rich collection of poetry and prose may not have been known to you prior to reading this book, but you’ll remember them afterward.

Though not your kids, these powerfully productive activists will make you feel proud that they never let their age or inexperience hold them back. They saw something they needed to address and ran with it by organizing marches and walks, fundraising, protesting, DJing, and even starring in a TEDxTeen talk.
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NVTS int Ziad Ahmed
Interior spread of Ziad Ahmed from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

 

The editors have invited 14 #ownvoices authors and poets to compose poems inspired by the “young Americans who opened hearts, challenged minds, and changed our world.” They include S. Bear Bergman, Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Grimes, Hena Khan, Andrea J. Loney, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Fiona Morris, G. Neri, Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorrell, Charles Waters, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Janet Wong. The three editors have also contributed.

The poetry provides a compelling and creative way into each highlighted individual’s unique situation. And, as a poetry lover, I appreciated the variety of poetic forms that offers readers an opportunity to experience: Ballad, Cinquain, Concrete poem, Elegy, Free Verse, Onomatopoeic poem, Reverso, Spoken word poem, Tanka and Triolet. Perhaps the subjects covered (racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, Type 1 diabetes, gun violence, and more) will prompt kids to write their own poems on a topic that resonates with them.

The children’s names that follow are ones to watch out for since I’m certain they will continue to make headlines as they fight for their beliefs for years to come. They are: Levi Draheim, Cierra Fields, Judy Adams, DJ Annie Red, Marley Dias, Ziad Ahmed, Jazz Jennings, Jasilyn Charger, Noah Barnes, Zach Wahls, Mari Copeny, Viridiana Sanchez Santos, Adora Svitak, and Nza-Ari Khepra. I was glued to the pages learning about them all, and intend to reread the poems multiple times. Joseph Bruchac’s free verse poem Water Protector inspired by Jasilyn Charger especially moved me. Her protests and runs aim to bring awareness and protections for water preservation for “the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as millions of people downstream.” It opens with this unforgettable line, “We need the river more than it needs us.”

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NVTS int Jasilyn Charger
Interior spread of Jasilyn Charger from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

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The prose accompanying each poetic spread contains the specific background about the cause these fourteen kids and teens have pursued, along with tips on how kids can get involved and amplify these causes with their own voices.

I reached out to editor and illustrator, Jeanette Bradley, because I was so impressed with her illustrations, the book’s layout, and the kraft paper-like pages and wanted to know more. “The art is created digitally using Procreate for the iPad. It is drawn as if it were charcoal and pastels on kraft paper, but both the paper and the pastels are digital tools. The art was inspired by the book design done by Art Director Diane Earley. Because the book contains multiple layers of text, and poems have unique shapes, the book design had to be done before the illustrations. I then had to draw to fit the art into the remaining space on the spread. When I got the page proofs, Diane’s choice of font made me think of a sign hand-lettered on cardboard, which inspired me to use kraft paper as a midtone background and draw into it with both light and dark ‘pastels.'”

The backmatter includes details on each poet’s connection to the subject they wrote about, a description of the poetry forms, and an additional free verse poem by the editors. The separate endpapers include quotes from all of the children featured in No Voice Too Small.

This timely anthology of youth activism is the go-to book for students and families who are not only looking for a rewarding read, but are especially eager to find inspiration and motivation. I hope that the excellent examples of kids making themselves heard and making a difference will spark something positive in your youngster because they are our future, and their voices do matter.

    •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: The editors of No Voice Too Small are donating one percent of hardcover sales to Teaching For Change, (teachingforchange.org), “a nonprofit that helps youth learn to participate actively in a diverse democracy.”

 

Find out more about Jeanette Bradley here.

Find out more about Keila V. Dawson here.

Find out more about Lindsay H. Metcalf here.

 

Click here to order a copy of No Voice Too Small or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/5/20

 

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