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An Interview with The Crayon Man Author Natascha Biebow

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

NATASCHA BIEBOW

AUTHOR OF

THE CRAYON MAN:

THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS

(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 6 to 9)

 

The Crayon Man cover

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

In 1903, a man’s innovative invention appeared in homes in a bright green box for only a nickel – Crayola crayons. In a world where children are given crayons almost as soon as they are born, where the smell of crayons is more recognizable than coffee and peanut butter, what must it have been like to live at a time when crayons were a novelty? The Crayon Man, illustrated by Steven Salerno, is a story of the inspirational inventor Edwin Binney, the man who loved color and nature, who listened and created one of the world’s most enduring, best-loved childhood toys—empowering children around the world to imagine and draw ANYTHING!

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Happy National Crayon Day! It’s so nice to have the opportunity to talk to you about The Crayon Man, Natascha, because it happens to be the favorite book of one of my favorite 4-year-olds. I have it at my house and every time she comes over, she wants me to read it aloud. 

Natascha Biebow: Wow, that’s so much fun to hear, thank you! 

 

The Crayon Man LovedColor int1
Interior spread from The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Clarion ©2019.

 

CP: I was listening to your interview on the Nonfiction4Life podcast and I loved hearing you talk about the extensive research you conducted. What were some of the highlights of your research process?

NB: I was very fortunate in that my research took me to some really cool places: I visited the inside of the Crayola crayons factory in Easton, PA, and saw first-hand how the crayons are made today with super-speedy machines; I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History archives in Washington, DC, to view the Binney & Smith company archives; I connected with Binney’s great-granddaughter and so many helpful librarians and experts, who were incredibly generous in fact-checking my research.

 

CP: That sounds amazing! Did you learn anything particularly surprising?

NB: I did! Previously published nonfiction books about the invention of Crayola crayons focused on the manufacturing process and how Binney’s wife, Alice, helped to name the crayons, but none of these delved into Binney as a man and what motivated him. In my detective work researching, I uncovered just how much he loved color and was influenced by nature. Because he worked for a factory that made black stuff – printing ink, dye, lamp black – I was instantly hooked on the contrast: all day long, he was surrounded by black, yet he loved color. THAT was why he wanted to create colored crayons!

 

The Crayon Man bouquetspread int2
Interior spread from The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Clarion ©2019.

 

CP: I’m always hoping to find new tricks for organizing my research. How do you keep information organized as you conduct research?

NB: Ha! I wish I could say I have some amazing system. I know some people use index cards or similar, but the fact is I collate all my references into a folder of printed out articles and notes, etc., and keep an MSWord document with key facts and website links/dates. The best tip is to use EasyBib, which allows you to create a project-based record of all your sources (which is also excellent for when you need to create a correctly-formatted bibliography). 

 

CP: Yes! Thank goodness for EasyBib! You mentioned earlier that you connected with one of Binney’s descendants. What was her reaction to the book?

NB: Crayola kindly put me in touch with Binney’s great-granddaughter, who generously shared her memories and photos. After publication, though, magic happened – Binney’s great-great-granddaughter sent me a fan letter, and she connected me with more relatives. When we met up in person, she shared a precious photo album and stories about other members of the family. Attics were dug into and more photos and artifacts uncovered, including a stunning snap of Alice Binney with her daughters, Dolly and Helen, standing by the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair Crayola display. It’s a rarity, given how few photos were taken then. No smartphones! I really wish we’d have had it in time to include in the book. Now, these family photos and artifacts have been donated to the Smithsonian to be added to their archive, which is fantastic.

 

Binney Crayola St Louis World's Fair
“Dolly, Alice & Helen, Crayola Booth at St Louis World’s Fair 1904 Photo courtesy of the Binney Family”

 

CP: That’s incredible! What do you hope young readers take away from this story?

NB: Edwin Binney had a knack for listening and making what people needed. He loved nature and turned to it for inspiration. Binney was also a generous entrepreneur who gave back to his community. His flair for innovation, creativity, persistence, and ability to listen are all attributes that future generations will need to make our world a better place. In this fast-paced world of ours, where kids are so often on devices, I’d love it if the book were to encourage kids to just doodle with crayons or to be inspired to look more closely at nature, ask curious questions and invent something.

 

CP: Wonderful! I know it will. You’re a writer, but you’re also an experienced editor who has worked on a number of award-winning books. How did you get started in editing?

NB: I studied Developmental Psychology at Smith College and have always loved writing and editing (I edited our high-school newspaper). I wanted to combine my interest in words and young children’s development so after I graduated, I decided I would start with the 6-week Radcliffe Publishing course (now Columbia Publishing course) so I could learn about children’s publishing. Soon after, I moved to London where I had family, and was lucky to land a job as an editorial assistant at a very small, independent publisher. It was the perfect place to get hands-on experience in all the aspects of how a book is made, before moving on to more senior editorial roles. 

 

CP: That sounds like a good place to start. Was it your interest in editing that led you to start coaching writers through your Blue Elephant Storyshaping business?

NB: Yes, after several years in senior commissioning roles in-house at large publishing houses, I decided I wanted to spend less time on managerial and budgeting tasks and get back what I was most passionate about – hands-on editing and storyshaping. So now I coach and mentor authors and illustrators at all levels to help them fine-tune their work pre-submission, doing all the creative thinking and editing that I love; I am also developing a small, independent list as the Editorial Director of Five Quills, which is a huge privilege! I love the collaborative process of the picture book journey. A key part of this is helping creators to tease out the stories they want to tell.

 

CP: It sounds like you’re getting to do all the things you love! Are there any particular books you’ve edited that we should be on the lookout for?

NB: Always! Five Quills is thrilled to launch some very talented debuts – Paul Morton’s Bug Belly, a hilarious chapter book series about a greedy frog, who is an ingenious inventor; I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek, an empowering, joyful picture book that celebrates identity and belonging; and Lottie Loves Nature by bestselling author Jane Clarke and James Brown, an exciting new eco-adventure series for younger readers.  

 

CP: Those sound wonderful! How do you divide your time between writing, editing, and coaching?

NB: My editing business – coaching and mentoring authors and commissioning and editing for Five Quills – is my day job. I feel very fortunate to be doing work I am passionate about and that I enjoy. Alongside this, I try to carve out time each week to at least noodle away at my new writing projects. Sometimes, I am writing when I’m not writing – in my head, on journeys, waiting for my son’s tennis lesson, as I fall asleep at night . . . In the summer when school is out, I earmark time to work on larger writing projects that involve research. I also spend time each month doing virtual school visits. Connecting with young readers is a fun, rewarding aspect of promoting your work and a source of inspiration. And then there is volunteering as Co-Regional Advisor SCBWI British Isles, which is a daily commitment. Some advice I got from Tim Grahl was to plan out your days so that you can be more focused and not distracted by ‘bitty’ tasks. That works well for me. But some days, the list just doesn’t get done, so my motto is to be kind to myself, eat some chocolate (dark), and try again tomorrow. 

 

CP: That’s such good advice. And I think being kind to ourselves (and eating dark chocolate!) is key to doing good work. It sounds like you’ve created a perfect combination of structure and ease. I was very impressed when you received the 2019 Stephen Mooser Member of the Year from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to recognize your contribution as Regional Advisor since 1998, building the British Isles region into the largest international region of the organization. What an accomplishment! But now I know you also received the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), which was presented by HRH Prince Charles himself. That must have been exciting! Tell me about it. How did you get it? What was the ceremony like? How on earth did you decide what to wear?!

NB: Yes, it was all incredibly exciting and also a bit surreal. I am fortunate to work with a very talented and generous team of dedicated volunteers, some of whom decided to nominate me for the MBE. It takes a couple of years for the Queen’s approval. It was a complete surprise and is, of course, a huge honor. I didn’t know who would be presenting the award until the actual day of the investiture at Buckingham Palace. My son scored the day off school and my mom, partner, and uncle were guests. Figuring out what to wear was an interesting challenge – a day jacket and fancy hat are de rigueur, and of course, if you know me, they had to be . . . blue! The ceremony is held in the stunning Ballroom at Buckingham Palace. I met some fascinating people from all kinds of professions and voluntary services, who were also being recognized for honors. The investiture is meticulously choreographed. We were briefed about how to approach the royals: HRH Prince Charles would say a brief word to each of us, pin on our medals, shake hands, and then we should back away – no mean feat if you’re wearing heels. I was so afraid I would trip up or get muddled! Afterward, I signed a copy of THE CRAYON MAN and asked a staff member to pass it on to HRH Prince Charles. Later, I got a thank you note from his office! The MBE is really an award to celebrate with ALL the hard-working volunteers who have contributed to making the British Isles the largest international region of SCBWI. 

 

MBE award NB
Natascha Biebow holds the MBE award at her Buckingham Palace investiture.

 

CP: That sounds so wild! What is one thing you wish more aspiring children’s authors understood about breaking into this business?

NB: I love elephants – they have thick skins (which allow them to keep cool). We authors also need thick skins to keep cool (heads), because this is a business that requires a huge amount of perseverance to weather its ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s incredibly challenging to stay positive and to keep re-imagining your work until an editor says ‘yes’ to your book. Aspiring authors sometimes don’t realize publishing is a slow, long game. Even when you do secure a book deal, the work is just beginning! However, I feel very fortunate to be able to be part of the business of making children’s books, and to be doing something I love – writing!

 

CP: What’s next for you, Natascha?

NB: I have a number of books out on submission, and am constantly dreaming up new ideas. 

I am also writing a young fiction chapter book series, which is a bit of a steep learning curve, but fun.  

 

CP: It sounds like you have lots of good things in store for readers! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

NB: Thank you for inviting me to celebrate National Crayon Day on GoodReadswithRonna.com! 

 

Natascha Biebow Author PhotoBRIEF BIO: 

Natascha Biebow’s favorite crayon color is periwinkle blue because it makes her heart sing.  She loves to draw and make stuff, just like the inventor of the Crayola crayons. She lives in London, where she writes, edits, coaches, and mentors children’s book authors and illustrators at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, and is the long-time Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles. In 2018, she was awarded an MBE for her services to children’s writers and illustrators. The CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS is the winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, voted for by children, and an NSTA Best STEM book and JLG Gold Selection. She loves true stories and is currently working on more nonfiction picture books, a chapter book series, and a novel. Find her at www.nataschabiebow.com

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK


LINKS: 


THE CRAYON MAN Book Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED2Poiah-Ok

THE CRAYON MAN KidTimeStorytime read-aloud: youtu.be/nFS6Ey75MS0

Website: www.nataschabiebow.com

Instagram: @nataschabiebow

Facebook: www.facebook.com/nataschabiebow

YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCdIqcSoV-30W_C2xAVLzBKw

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/natascha-biebow-90183626/

Free Picture Book Craft Tips: www.blueelephantstoryshaping.com/blogs-craft-tips-for-you/

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff received a Bachelor’s Degree in set design for theater from California State University Fullerton, before becoming a bookseller, preschool teacher, and newspaper columnist. (She never did become a set designer!) Eventually, she figured out how to combine books, kids, and writing into one career––as a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter), won the SCBWI’s 2022 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction Text for Young Readers and was named a 2022 Robert F. Sibert Informational Fiction Honor Book. Colleen lives in Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her at www.colleenpaeff.com or visit her on Instagram and Twitter @ColleenPaeff. 

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Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books for 2022

Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books

A Roundup

 

Check out what’s new and noteworthy this year for Valentine’s Day

 

Love from Madeline coverLOVE FROM MADELINE
Based on the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans
Written by John Bemelmans Marciano 
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Viking BYR; $8.99; Ages 0-3 yrs)

It would be difficult to find a person unfamiliar with the Madeline Media Franchise, so when I learned that a new picture book was available based on the daily adventures of Madeline the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans, it was a welcome stroll down memory lane.

This new mini-book (the first of five)  Love From Madeline takes the reader back to the Catholic boarding school where Madeline lives in Paris with her many friends and most notably her teacher, Miss Clavel. Salerno’s illustrations of the sole red-head playing around town, skiing in the snowcapped mountains, and sailing the waters, continue her adventures. But this time she teaches us the meaning of love.

We learn basic lessons that we often forget “Love is in the simple words: good morning and hello,” as Madeline and friends dressed in matching blue outfits with yellow hats wave to the doorman and the woman selling flowers. Each page turn teaches kids how love can be as simple as giving a hug to someone upset or giving someone a lift on their scooter. When the book ends, kids see that “love is always found at home”  when Miss Clavel turns out the lights of the blue-shaded room with six beds lined up on each side and tucks the kids in for the night. This story gently and sweetly introduces kids to the real meaning behind Valentine’s Day—love.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

What is Love coverWHAT IS LOVE?
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
(Chronicle Kids; $17.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Shelf Awareness

I read What is Love? again and again and each time I got something new out of it. The water-colored art and heart-felt prose of this book are perfect to read on Valentine’s Day or any night as a bedtime story. It’s written by NYT bestselling author for children, Mac Barnett, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner. He teams up with illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis, who is also an author and illustrator of bestselling picture books.

Ellis’s watercolor paintings of greens, pinks, and blues gloriously take the reader on an artistic adventure as the protagonist sets off on a journey into the world, suggested by his grandmother, to find the meaning of love. But he soon learns that love is different for everyone. He first meets a fisherman hugging a very large fish who smiles and says “Love is a fish” when asked what love is. The boy disagrees since he finds fish slimy and bad-tasting. “The fisherman sighed. You do not understand.”

The actor loves applause, the cat loves the night and the soldier loves his horse. The characters gather together in a beautiful spread showing, “A sports car, a donut, a lizard, a ring. The first snow of winter, a maple in summer. A grizzly bear, this pebble right here-these are all things people told me love is.”

Barnett returns the boy home taller and wiser to a grandmother who is older and still wise and asks “Did you answer your question?” Ellis closes the story with a loving embrace of the two smiling with a black background and butterflies flying nearby as the boy answers “Yes.”

This modern-day take on old-time classical picture books about love reminds us that love can be more than one thing and that we are all surrounded by it even on days when we feel like it’s lost.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The House of Love coverTHE HOUSE OF LOVE
Written by Adriana Trigiani
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

With a lovely name like Mia Valentina Amore, which means My Valentine, Valentine’s Day is always an extra special one for the main character in The House of Love, a storybook from NYT’s bestselling adult author Adriana Trigiani with art from popular illustrator Amy June Bates.

Together with her Mama, Mia helps prepare the house for the holiday. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the home is described as slightly run down with some broken window glass, faded wallpaper, creaky stairs but also a place that, when everyone was around, “… had rooms exploding with conversation, laughter, and sometimes even an argument.”

The youngest of seven children, Mia is concerned her siblings won’t be back in time for the Valentine’s Day party. But Mama takes Mia’s mind off things by keeping her busy crafting family Valentines, decorating, and baking. This delightful mother-daughter day is spent bonding and creating special memories that only they two share. At the day’s end, after the whole family has eaten and celebrated, Mia realizes that everyone has gotten a special Valentine except her, making her feel sad and forgotten. Little does she know that something special just for her awaits beneath her pillow. Bates’s beautiful art conveys charm and an old-world feeling, like peeking into the Walton’s home. This slice-of-life story reminds readers that a house and family may be far from perfect but when it’s filled with love, it’s THE BEST place to be.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Love Grows Everywhere coverLOVE GROWS EVERYWHERE
Written by Barry Timms
Illustrated by Tisha Lee
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Here’s a rhyming picture book for Valentine’s Day, or any day really, that celebrates how special love is. Using plants as the inspiration, author Timms presents a lovely lyrical look at how the love that makes plants grow is the very same one that can nurture many different kinds of relationships in our lives.

Yes, thought and care are all love needs/to help it grow, like tiny seeds,/that might seem nothing much at first/till up into the light they burst.

This is such a beautiful sentiment and one that children will easily understand especially the spreads devoted to making friends. Love is about helping those in need, it’s about being there for those close to us and making time for new people too.  Lee, in her picture book debut, has created rich art with diverse characters that is a delight to see page after page in various scenes. The illustrations exude the same warmth the plants do making it feel like spring is just around the corner. What an uplifting read to share this Valentine’s Day!  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Slug in Love coverSLUG IN LOVE 
Written by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Nadia Shireen
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This new picture book cracked me up. Between its sweet surprise near the end and the inviting rhyme that is just perfect for beginning readers, Slug in Love is a terrific book to read aloud this Valentine’s Day.

Illustrator Shireen has added to Bright’s bouncy rhythm with bold colors and geometric-shaped animals that pop off the page and might be fun for kids to try drawing themselves.

The thing is that Doug, the slug, is a huggy sort of guy, but not everyone he encounters agrees. No one is eager to embrace this little slug.  After looking for love from spiders, caterpillars, and other assorted creatures, Doug thinks he’s found the squelchy, slimy, yucky, sticky love he’s after, only he’s wrong. Is he destined to be alone? What’s a slug supposed to do? Well, as it happens, love comes to Doug in a most unexpected way. And that, it turns out, has made his search and this picture book worthwhile.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I was hoping to have a review copy of Love in The Library before this post went live so I could share this true love story set in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII. But when I went to schedule this, it sadly had not arrived. I hope you will add this picture book to your reading list

 

Additional Recommendations:

Peekaboo Love coverPEEKABOO: LOVE
Written by Camilla Reid

illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The latest interactive board book in the Peekaboo You series, Peekaboo: Love is packed with things to “push, pull, or turn on every spread,” sure to entertain your little strawberries.

MY HEART GROWS
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Joanne Liu
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

A clever novelty board book, My Heart Grows features a die-cut heart that grows along with the love the parents in this story feel. Seeing a child experience new things fills the hearts of the parents and grandparents depicted in this story. The child-like art is vibrant and adorable making this a great Valentine’s Day gift for someone special in your life.

 

Further Valentine’s Day Reading:

I Love You Because I Love You
Written by Muon Thi Van 
Illustrated by Jessica Love

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An Interview with Author Rajani LaRocca

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

RAJANI LAROCCA

AUTHOR OF

WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET

(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)

MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS

(Little Golden Books; $5.99, Ages 2 to 5)

THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU: ALL ABOUT YOUR DNA

(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Where Three Oceans Meet coverWhere Three Oceans Meet, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

A child, mother, and grandmother travel all the way to the end of the earth in this picture book that celebrates multigenerational love—perfect for fans of Drawn Together and Alma.

“I want to see what’s at the end of the earth!”

Sejal, Mommy, and Pati travel together to the southern tip of India. Along the way, they share meals, visit markets, and catch up with old friends.

For Pati, the trip retraces spaces she knows well. For Mommy, it’s a return to the place she grew up. For Sejal, it’s a discovery of new sights and sounds. The family finds their way to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet, and delight in making it to the end of the earth together.

This own voices picture book celebrates the beauty of India and the enduring love of family.

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Kamala-Harris LGB coverMy Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Ashley Evans

Help your little one dream big with a Little Golden Book biography all about the first female Vice President Kamala Harris! The perfect introduction to nonfiction for preschoolers!

 

This Little Golden Book about Kamala Harris–the first woman, first African American woman, and first Indian American woman to be elected Vice President of the United States–is an inspiring read-aloud for young girls and boys.

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

The Secret Code Inside You coverThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Steven Salerno

Learn about the secret code that is DNA in this vibrant and informative picture book!

Why can’t humans breathe underwater? Why are some people tall and others short? Why do we resemble our parents and grandparents? This book explores all this and more in flowing, rhyming text, explaining cells, DNA, and genetics in a way that is simple and easy for children to understand. Colorful and brilliantly illustrated, The Secret Code Inside You illustrates that while DNA may be the blueprint for how a person looks, what you choose to do with your body is entirely up to you!

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Rajani, congratulations on an incredible three years! As a big fan of your work––and of you as a person––it has been such a joy to watch your career take off. You burst onto the kidlit scene in 2019 with your deliciously fun middle-grade novel Midsummer’s Mayhem and followed it up with the picture book Seven Golden Rings in 2020. Now, in 2021, two more highly acclaimed MG novels, Red, White, and Whole and Much Ado About Baseball, and two wonderful picture books, Bracelets for Bina’s Bothers and Where Three Oceans Meet, have already hit bookshelves. Plus, two additional picture books, My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris and The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA are coming out in the next few weeks! You are a book-making machine, Rajani! But, seriously, are you a book-making machine? 

Rajani LaRocca: Haha, not really! I do love writing, and I try to write a lot. But having six books come out in one year is mainly due to a combination of good luck and coincidence. Some of those stories I wrote quickly, and others took years. Of my books publishing in 2021, two were sold in 2018, two in 2019, and two in 2020! I’m incredibly fortunate!

 

OCEANS Illustration 1
Interior spread from Where Three Oceans Meet written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

CP: Ok. So you’re mortal like the rest of us. In that case, what would you say are the five most important productivity tools, mindsets, or life hacks that enable you to be such a prolific writer while also working as a primary care physician? 

RL: Ooh, this is such an interesting question! I would say:

  1. Write a lot. Capture ideas when they come to you, and when you feel like writing, do it—even if you only have a few minutes. I like to have multiple projects at various stages going at once so when I’m “stuck” on one thing, I can move forward on something else. Productive procrastination!
  2. Figure out what’s hard for you, and save your “clear head” time for that. I find writing novel first drafts challenging, so I try to work on my drafts in the morning, before I get caught up with work and email and my brain turns to mush. But I’ve found that I can revise at almost any time, including the evening and late at night. And I can also work on picture book manuscripts at any time.
  3. Give yourself time if you need it. Some stories need years to take shape … and that’s ok!
  4. Set deadlines for yourself. This can be as simple as an upcoming critique group meeting you want to submit something for, or a workshop or conference that you need to prepare for.
  5. Exercise, walk, shower, meditate, and do other things that get your subconscious mind going. That will help you figure out your stories!

 

CP: That’s all such great advice. Thank you! So, what does a typical day look like for you? 

RL: It depends on whether I’m in the office seeing patients. On those days, I try to get up early, write or exercise (depending on what’s more urgent), head to work, and then squeeze in some writing after dinner. On days I’m not in my office, I try to write early, then walk the dog, exercise, and keep writing in between checking messages for work and doing other errands, cooking, etc. 

 

CP: In the author’s note for Where Three Oceans Meet, you mention that, though the book is fiction, it was inspired by a childhood trip you took when you were visiting extended family in Bangalore, a city in Southern India. What was it like to see such a deeply personal story come to life through Archana Sreenivasan’s illustrations?

RL: Archana lives in Bangalore, where most of my extended family lives! She is such an incredible illustrator — from her first sketches, I knew she was the perfect person to illustrate this book! As a South Indian woman, she was able to depict the clothing, the scenery, and the food in such an authentic way.

She put a lot of details about her own grandmother into the art, so this is a very meaningful book to both of us. 

 

Kamala LGB spread 4
Interior spread from My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Ashley Evans, Little Golden Books ©2021.

 

CP: It sounds like you were both really lucky to come together on this project. It was clearly meant to be! I grew up with Little Golden Books (The Poky Little Puppy was my favorite!), so I was really excited to see you’d written a Little Golden Book about Kamala Harris. What was your favorite Little Golden Book and how did the Kamala Harris book come about?

RL: I grew up on Little Golden Books — The Poky Little Puppy was my favorite, too! I love that generations of readers have grown up reading these stories.

I was so thrilled to be able to write a Little Golden Book about our remarkable Vice President! When the publisher approached my agent in November 2020, I had to say yes! But they needed my draft the next month, so it was an extra fun challenge to research and write a book in that time frame. They signed on the incredible illustrator, Ashley Evans, and then the book came together very quickly! 

 

CP: How amazing that it all came together so fast! In another one of your picture books, The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA, you explain DNA to the youngest readers––which already sounds tricky––but you do it in rhyme. What an impressive feat! Tell me about the process of writing this book. Was it a rhyming text right from the start?

RL: This was the first picture book I ever wrote! It was always in rhyme, which is not easy, especially with a nonfiction book explaining the basics of genetics to young readers! I tried very hard to un-rhyme it, but the book persisted (and perhaps insisted?) on staying in rhyme. It wasn’t until years later, after the book had been sold, that I realized why my brain insisted that the book be written in rhyming verse. DNA nucleotides always pair up in the same way: adenine with thymine, and cytosine with guanine, which is similar to the “pairing” that occurs with rhyming words! 

The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA explains the basics of genes and chromosomes and discusses why baby animals look like their parents and we look like our family members. But it also touches on the limits of DNA, and how our choices also determine who we become. It contains back matter with more DNA facts and an experiment that kids can do at home!

 

SECRET CODE Illustration 5
Interior spread from The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Little Bee Books ©2021.

 

CP: I LOVE that experiment and I can’t wait to try it and that makes perfect sense about why it had to rhyme! You host a fabulous podcast with Artemis Roehrig called STEM Women in KidLit which has featured Melissa Stewart, Vicky Fang, Kirsten Larson, Jennifer Swanson, Stacy McAnulty, and so many more incredible authors! Have you noticed any similarities between all these STEM-focused women?

RL: Thanks so much! Artemis and I have had such a wonderful time doing the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast and talking to a wide variety of women with STEM backgrounds who write or illustrate books for kids. One of the common themes we’ve noticed among these creators is that they all have a sense of wonder about the world we live in and how it works, and they feel compelled to share this wonder with young readers. Another common theme is that these creators are willing to try different things and risk failure—because hypothesizing, experimenting, and learning from failure are all part of the STEM process as well.

 

CP: Of course! That makes perfect sense. At the start of this interview, we talked about making room for the different parts of your work life. I wonder if you’d mind talking about making room for different parts of your emotional life, as well. I know you lost a beloved family member to Covid-19 and it happened at a time when you were having so much success in your writing life. It must have been difficult to balance the sorrows and joys brought on by two such wildly contrasting life events. What helped you through it? 

RL: This has been such a difficult time for the entire world. All I can say is that there is still joy to be found in the midst of sorrow, and the people we love stay with us long after they’re gone. One side effect of all this time spent at home with family is that we try to enjoy the little moments and live in the present. It’s not always possible, but we keep trying.

 

CP: Thank you, Rajani. What powerful reminders. So, what’s next for you?

RL: I have a picture book and another middle-grade novel coming in 2022!

I’ll Go and Come Back will be published by Candlewick on March 29, 2022. It’s a picture book about a little girl named Jyoti who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, Jyoti makes her feel better. This story, which is close to my heart, is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return. It’s the first book I sold, way back in March 2018.

 My next middle-grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other.

 

CP: Those sound terrific! I can’t wait to add them to my growing Rajani LaRocca collection. Thanks for making time to chat and best of luck with all your upcoming books!

RL: I loved chatting with you, Colleen! Thanks so much for having me and for asking such great questions!

 

Rajani LaRocca Author 3
Photo credit: ©Carter Hasegawa.

BRIEF 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 novels and picture books, including Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Red, White, and Whole (2021), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is 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.

 

 

 

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BUY RAJANI’S BOOKS HERE:

WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET

SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS

BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS

MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS 

THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Website: www.RajaniLaRocca.com

Twitter and Instagram: @rajanilarocca

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

 

MORE ON RAJANI LAROCCA:

Writing Like a Doctor, Doctoring Like a Writer MG Book Village

SummerThyme Chocolate-Chunk Cookies with Citrus ZestThe Book Hive

Out to the Ballgame with Rajani LaRoccaKirkus Reviews Interview

How I Managed to Get Six Books Published in 2021Writer’s Digest

Reading with…Rajani LaRoccaShelf Awareness

One to Read: Rajani LaRoccaStory Monsters Ink

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

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Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

PRIDE:
The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Written by Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred review – Shelf Awareness

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag book cover

The rainbow is arguably one of the most well known symbols representing “hope” and PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Steven Salerno, shares that message beautifully. I whole-heartedly recommend this 48-page picture book that’s geared for elementary school-aged children.

After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.

In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:

interior artwork from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Interior spread from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Random House BYR ©2018.


PRIDE
conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.

 

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