It’s PARTY time, friends.
Gretchen McLellan’s latest picture book,
NO PARTY POOPERS!
(Little Bee Books / Illus. Lucy Semple)
deserves a celebration
and EVERYONE’S invited!
“In line with [McLellan’s]…wordplay, Semple loads the bright,
simply drawn illustrations with partying animals amid scenes of either imagined disaster or, at the end, festive conviviality… The paws-itive point here: …regarding differences in others as opportunities rather than obstacles.”
Which brings us to my first question…
Q 1. I love the theme of inclusion in NO PARTY POOPERS! What was the inspiration for this book?
Gretchen McLellan: I’ve found that the ideas that take hold of me and make it into published work have deep roots and themes. Although the initial drive for NO PARTY POOPERS was to explore xenophobia, -isms and stereotyping in a lighthearted way, I have always been concerned about inclusion and belonging.
I grew up in a highly mobile, military family and my radar for acceptance and belonging was switched on early and has never turned off. In a large family of always-the-new kids, one or the other of us was inevitably experiencing those dreadful moments at school when invitations were passed out for parties, but not to us. Exclusion hurts. So in my metaphorical party, everyone is welcome all the time.
Free bear hugs!
Q 2. Speaking of parties, what was it like, launching NO PARTY POOPERS! during the Pandemic? What celebrations had you envisioned (pre-COVID) and what changed once your Book’s Birthday got closer?
Gretchen McLellan: I know I am not alone in saying that launching a book during this Pandemic has been extremely difficult. I think we’ve all been humbled by our lack of control over circumstances, and I’ve come to accept that I had extraordinary bad luck in launching particularly this book this year.
First, the book was bumped because of Covid. As you know, most picture books are printed in Asia and with Covid raging, printing and shipping schedules were affected.
Second, my plans for prepromotion and launch all had to be jettisoned. The cute fabric I bought for table coverings was used for masks instead. The crafts for in-person, bookstore events went on line. ( FREE paper bag puppets download available here.)
Third, the book’s birthday was on the day of George Floyd’s funeral. Having a virtual launch was unthinkable as the world was taking to the streets. Let’s be honest, the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice is far more important than a picture book launch–even if the book is about inclusion.
And now, Covid is in a terrible second wave and, although metaphorical, the setting of NO PARTY POOPERS! is in direct conflict with social distancing and public health and safety. While I celebrate and value this book and its message of inclusion, I am worried that given this context, some may interpret the book politically. 2020! Phew! I really thank you, Erin, for helping me get the word out!
ED note: That’s what #kidlit friends do, right?
Speaking of which, here’s a link to purchase a copy of NO PARTY POOPERS!
Q 3. What surprises did the illustrator, Lucy Semple, bring to this adorable book?
Gretchen McLellan: There are so many! Some of my favorites are the camels drinking out of the kiddie pool with twisty straws, the raccoons getting water to wash the cake from a red fire hydrant, and the skunks spritzing the air from an old-timey perfume atomizer!
Q 4. What would you tell your earlier, teacher self, who thinks she might want to write children’s books someday? Any tips? How has your work as a teacher and reading specialist influenced your career as a children’s author?
Gretchen McLellan: I had the lens of a wannabe author the whole time I was teaching, so I can tell you what I did. I read kidlit widely and selected the best and most beautiful for my classroom and home libraries. I paid close attention to kids’ reactions to what we were reading–which stories left them spellbound, which made them laugh out loud and cry, which characters did they love and why.
Study mentor texts.
As a reading specialist, I observed the match of text to young reader and developed a solid understanding of what makes a great easy-to-read story and early chapter book. In my read-alouds, I learned the essential place and power of the picture book in education and in children’s lives.
Learn from others.
I wrote grants to bring authors into my schools and took notes on how they engaged small and auditorium-sized elementary audiences. I observed children, their conflicts, their worries, their triumphs and joys. I jotted down story ideas.
Read, read, read!
Both MRS. MCBEE LEAVES ROOM 3 (Peachtree / Ilus. Grace Zong) and I’M DONE! (Holiday House/ Illus. Catherine Lazar Odell) were inspired in my classroom.
All in all, I advise anyone who wants to write for children to read, read, read and spend time with real kids and observing kids.
Q 5. What projects are you working on now?
Gretchen McLellan: One of my lifetime goals is representing the underrepresented voices of the military child in literature. I explored the issue of moving, preserving friendships and making new friends in my picture book BUTTON AND BUNDLE (Knopf / Illus. Gillian Flint / 2019) and what parent deployment is like from a child’s perspective in my upcoming WHEN YOUR DADDY’S A SOLDIER.
I am in the final revision stage of a middle grade novel called OPERATION SPEAK. The novel is set on two military bases, one in Washington and one in Germany and is about a boy struggling to reconnect with his father who has just come home from war.
These sound wonderful, Gretchen!
I have one more question for you, since my book, DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5
will be out next month:
Q 6. If Bear or Panda, or any of the other characters in NO PARTY POOPERS! could write EARTH a letter, what would it say?
Gretchen McLellan: Thank you so much, Erin, for inviting me to your blog. You are one of my kidlit and earth heroes. I can’t wait to hold DEAR EARTH…from your friends in Room 5 in my arms! Here’s a letter from Panda and Bear:
We want to have a big party
And invite all our neighbors and you!
We want it to be earth friendly
So here’s what we’re going to do:
- Avoiding plastic would be fantastic!
- We’ll use reusable/recyclable forks, knives and spoons.
- And reusable/recyclable cups, plates and bowls.
- We will decorate with earth-friendly streamers.
- We won’t let balloons go in the air!
- We will compost what we can when the party is over.
Your Earth Heroes care!
Sincerely, Panda and Bear
ED: I love it! Earth and the kids in Room 5 would too!
Thank you, Gretchen, for joining me today.
#Teachers: Gretchen’s website is full of FREE downloads (from crafts to phonics and spelling activities to Readers Theatre) that Gretchen has developed to extend the experience of her books in the classroom.
#Author friends: These materials may spark ideas for you to develop classroom-ready downloadable materials of your own.
Next up–Part 2 of our conversation with debut author Angie Bullaro and BREAKING THE ICE, including how being a goalie is like writing a book! (Here’s part 1 ICYMI)
Until then, be safe, dear friends.