+ and possibly a few Qs for young readers as well…
Q 1. Welcome, Jeanne–I read that you grew up in Southern CA and you and your mom would watch the Oscars together. Did you ever dress up as if you were attending. (Photo please!)
Jeanne Walker Harvey: First of all, many thanks Erin for inviting me yet again on your wonderful blog to celebrate the book birthday of DRESSING UP THE STARS: The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head.
I wish I had such photos, but my mom and I were too fascinated by all the fashion and glamour on the TV to think of dressing up too. However, I often frequented vintage stores with my mom, and I’d try on the most glamorous and over the top dresses we could find — just for the fun of it.
Q 2.If you could invite Edith Head to dinner, what would you ask her?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: What a fun question! Well, I hope you would come along too, Erin, as you always ask such interesting questions in all your interviews.
Oh, there are so many things I’d like to ask Edith Head. I’d be interested to hear about what steps she took before she designed a costume for a particular movie.
There was so much more to do besides reading the script! I know she did a lot of historical research for authenticity of costumes for certain time periods. I wonder how much she talked with the director, screenwriter and actors about the motivation of the characters?
I’d also love to know some inside behind the scenes stories about the famous actors she worked with at the movie studios. Edith Head sometimes had to convince actors to wear less than attractive clothing because this fit the role of the character. And that’s when she needed to be a good advocate of the story and explain why it was necessary. I would love to hear her talk about these important connections between movie costumes and the story of the film.
ED : I hereby RSVP yes to this dinner party. Thanks, Jeanne!
#Teachers–Ask your students what they think Edith Head would say in answer to Jeanne’s questions.
Q. 3. One of the themes of DRESSING UP THE STARS is persistence and going forward despite the NOs. We get a lot of rejections in our #kidlit lives as well. Was there ever a time as a children’s author that you felt discouraged by the NOs? How did you keep going?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Indeed yes! I’ve gathered a slew of rejections over the years, and of course that’s discouraging (especially when a rejection is first read when the hopes were high). But I’ve actually gotten much better about it because I’ve learned so much from these notes from the editors who kindly took the time to explain what wasn’t working with a manuscript.
And I’ve very much taken to heart what our amazing agent, Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency, so eloquently reminds us authors and illustrators – – we just need to be patient and believe there’s a perfect home for our work. And Deborah is absolutely a star at finding such homes for our work.
Q 4. What are some tips for authors hoping to write engaging, inspiring nonfiction like DRESSING UP THE STARS, or ABLAZE WITH COLOR, MAYA LIN, and MY HANDS SING THE BLUES?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Thank you for that compliment, Erin. I always hope that children will be inspired and engaged by these biographies. It’s amazing how many varied ways nonfiction is being written and illustrated for children these days. So I think the most important first step for authors is to be sure they are writing about topics that fascinate them. If the authors are fascinated, they will convey that fascination to children. And then, of course, read and study as many recently published books as they can find in that genre and topic.
LOVE THIS TIP (I do it too!)
JWH: I often type up picture book biography manuscripts that I particularly love to glean a sense of the timing of page turns, wording, and pacing.
Q 5. Do you have a tried and true method of research / finding original sources, or has this part of the process differed with each nonfiction biography you’ve written?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I wish I had a tried and true method of research and finding original sources, but it’s definitely varied from book to book. I tell children during school visits that I view myself like a treasure hunter because I try to dig up everything I can find about a person.
Be a Treasure Hunter
JWH: To me, great tidbits of research are like jewels that will help me find the way to make the story sparkle.
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I was surprised to learn how many actors truly admired her, not just as a costume designer but as a person. She not only designed incredible costumes, but also advocated and supported upcoming struggling actors in an industry that could be pretty ruthless.
Meet the Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Q 7. I see that there is a store front in one of the spreads of the book that says “Jeanne RADIO.” What other surprises did illustrator Diana Toledano bring to the project?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Yes, I thought that was such a wonderful surprise to spot “Jeanne RADIO” in the Los Angeles street scene. Truly, everything about the talented Diana Toledano’s illustrations for DRESSING UP THE STARS delights me.
I was surprised how creatively and skillfully she was able to capture not only the young Edith Head, but also the struggling and then successful fashion designer Edith Head. And she uses such interesting patterns on everything throughout the book which perfectly reflects Edith’s connection to fabrics in her designs. Even the rooftops in Searchlight Nevada, the town near to where she grew up, and the awnings of buildings in the Los Angeles street scene have playful colorful patterns.
Dreams Come True!
Q 8.Now that you’ve written four nonfiction biographies, who would you say is most like you—either as an adult or a child: Edith Head / DRESSING UP THE STARS, Alma Thomas / ABLAZE, MAYA LIN, or Romare Bearden / MY HANDS SING THE BLUES? Please explain.
Jeanne Walker Harvey: What an intriguing question, Erin! I’ve truly been fascinated and inspired by all four of those creative people. But I think I would say I identify most with Edith Head as a child.
JWH: I too spent a lot of time by myself and often found company in my imagination. I too hosted tea parties for my Collie dog named Bonnie, cat named Cola, and a myriad of stuffed animals who were of course also all named. But instead of dressing up the animals, I wrote stories about them. And instead of a cherished bag of fabric scraps like Edith Head, I had treasured pens and notebooks. And every week I carried home stacks of books from the library and wished my name would someday be on a cover of a book. Dreams do come true, just like Edith’s did!
Q 9.What other projects are you working on? Anything you can share?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I’m always working on many projects at once. I primarily focus on biographies of creative people, It seems to serve me well to work on these manuscripts, put them away, and then return to them with fresh eyes. Reduce ((the mantra of picture book authors), revise, reduce, revise. And I’m very excited that I have another picture book biography about a creative person, a female artist, in the works. I can’t wait until it can be announced. Stay tuned!
Q 10. Is there a question you wish I’d asked?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I’d love to share my dedication in DRESSING UP THE STARS.
JWH: She will always be a sparkling star shining in my heart.
Thanks for joining the blog today, Jeanne.
JWH: Thanks ever so much, Erin, for another wonderful interview. It’s always truly such a pleasure to answer your insightful and thoughtful questions.
I hope your readers enjoy learning a bit more about the backstory of our book, DRESSING UP THE STARS – The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head, published by the wonderful Beach Lane Books/ Simon & Schuster and edited by the amazing Andrea Welch. As you know, it takes a team to publish a book, and I feel so fortunate to be part of this team!
To learn more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books,
Q 1. Can you tell us about the journey of BLACK GIRL RISING? Did it start as a poem, or did you always see it as a picture book?
Brynne Barnes: The interesting thing is that I never quite know what I’m writing when I’m writing it. It’s that element of surprise that keeps the process really fresh for me and very exciting. Writing is a grand act of faith, really — to trust whatever comes through when you put pen to paper.
Trust the Process
This book started as a poem, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a stand alone poem for an older audience, or if it was going to be a picture book. It wasn’t until I was halfway into writing the manuscript that I realized this needed to be a picture book because it was the best vehicle for the message. And this wasn’t something that I could know in the very beginning. It wasn’t even something that I decided. At a certain point in the writing process, I just knew what it was, what it was meant to be.
A Journey in Identity
Q 2. What or who was the inspiration for BLACK GIRL RISING?
Brynne Barnes: This is truly my love letter to Black girls and Black girlhood. I know that the journey is unique for each one of us; however, there are similarities that are just inherent to our experience and the human experience.
This book is really about a journey in identity: accepting yourself for who you truly are and getting to know exactly who that is. It is a choice who we become, and that choice is ours. One thing that I’ve learned as an English professor is how seeing the world through others’ eyes reveal something sacred about the human experience that is shared. Every person can certainly read these words and sense that this message told through the lens of the Black, female experience strikes the chords of a universal, human experience.
Q3. What was the most surprising discovery you made –about your process, or the incredible people featured in the book, as BLACK GIRL RISING, went from idea to published book?
Brynne Barnes: When I was 9 or 10, I discovered poetry. I started reading Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and Langston Hughes and many other poets on the shelves in my parents’ house, some of which I could understand and some of which I could not. But there was something about the music of the language that pulled me to it. I knew there was something magical about poetry. And when I read the words of Angelou and Giovanni and Hughes, I felt as though they had written it for me. It felt as if their poems were just for me — like they knew me. And that’s the feeling that I wanted to give to other people, and so I started writing. Now, that was at the very beginning of me becoming a writer.
“…when we write, we’re not writing alone, or as one.”
Decades later, as I am writing this book, and these lines started going through my mind, I was a bit surprised at first to see them show up on the page after all these years. But then, it made sense. After all, my writing started here, with them and their voices and their works. So when I saw these things show up, I thought, “Oh, you’re here. You’re all here. You’re still here.” And I think that’s how it goes. Literature – it belongs to all of us. It shapes us. And so, when we write, we’re not writing alone, or as one. We’re writing as 10,000+ voices throughout time that we have read — that have stayed with us. These writers that I mentioned in this book, they’re like my poetic family. And they’re always with me — because I read them.
“Lyrical, timely, and marvelously illustrated, this work extols the beauty, bravery, and possibilities of young black girls. The author explores strong role models, female and male, from the past to inspire readers to envision the prospects of a glorious future. . . . [T]he rich vocabulary, flowing narrative, and specific word emphasis encourage[s] exuberant read-alouds.”
School Library Journal
“Black Girl Rising is modern ballad steeped in metaphor, music, and magic. From its gold-dusted jacket to its melodic verses, this is the song Black girls need now.”
Carole Boston Weatherford, Newbery Honor winning, NYT bestselling author
Q 1. Welcome to the blog, Patti! Because Author’s Purpose is a key part of this important project, let’s start here: What do you want readers to take away from A River’s Gifts?
Patricia Newman: Connection. Most of us don’t live as close to nature as the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and as a result we forget its benefits. But they exist whether we see them or not. With A River’s Gifts I want to inspire readers to see and understand how nature impacts our lives. I also hope that this environmental success story inspires them to act on behalf of nature.
Q 2. What was the most surprising fact or discovery you’ve made as your book, A RIVER’S GIFTS, went from idea to published book?
Patricia Newman: Before the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River could be destroyed, the lakes above the dams were drained. As the lakes drained, cedar stumps emerged. These cedars were chopped down when the dams were constructed in the early 1900s. Witnesses said their sap still smelled sweet—one hundred years later! I wish I had been there to smell that sap.
Q3.How long does it take you to write such an incredible, in-depth book like A RIVER’S GIFTS?
Patricia Newman: I discovered the idea for A River’s Gifts in September 2018 (with some help from my husband). I submitted an overview of the book with an outline to my editor in February 2019. By July, I had an offer. Two months later I visited Port Angeles, WA, the city at the mouth of the Elwha River, to interview several experts and to see the river for myself. I sweated over the manuscript for four months before finally submitting it to my editor in January 2020. My editor and I worked on a few minor revisions, then let illustrator Natasha Donovan do her thing. We had a final version ready for the printer in early 2022.
Bonus–> Inside look at Newman’s pre-writing process:
Q 4.The “stirring verse” (Kirkus/ starred review) of A RIVER’S GIFTS is a departure from the prose and voice of your other nonfiction books. How did this come about?
Patricia Newman: Even though A River’s Gifts is shorter than most of my other nonfiction, it has a broader scope than my other titles. The Elwha River has been flowing for thousands of years. To fully understand the importance of this river to the ecosystem, I began the story when the river formed. The lyrical verse just flowed out of me. It always felt right for this story, from the first drips of the idea. To channel the river, I guess I became the river.
Meet the Illustrator
Q 5.We love that illustrator Natasha M. Donovan is Métis and lives in northern Washington, which is where the Elwha River is located. In your words, “Like the Klallam Tribe, the area is in her blood. Her illustrations feel like home.” (source) What surprises did illustrator Natasha bring to the book?
Patricia Newman: Natasha is one of those rare illustrators who can draw people and nature well. This land is in her blood. The colors, the smells, the textures, the sounds. When I look at Natasha’s incredible art for A River’s Gifts, I feel the water rushing in spots and burbling in others. I hear the salmon jumping and the river breathing life into the forest. I also loved how she captured the determination of The Strong People, the scientists, and the volunteers involved in the restoration.
STEM Activities and Curriculum Guides
Q 6.Taking a page from your wonderful #STEM / #STEAM blog series, LitLinks, can you share a connection between STEM and language arts using A RIVER’S GIFTS?Will there be a LitLinks post featuring your book?
Patricia Newman: A River’s Gifts has several connections to STEM and language arts, including the salmon, how a river forms, and how a river habitat works. Educators and homeschooling parents can find activities for each of these concepts in the curriculum guide for A River’s Gifts.
Regarding LitLinks, look for a unique STEM connection to A River’s Gifts on September 21, just before World Rivers Day.
Making a Difference
Q 7.What do you tell readers—young and old–who are inspired to make a difference in our world, to help preserve or restore our environment, but don’t know where to start?
Patricia Newman: Start small and start local. Choose something that fits in with your lifestyle, whether it’s packing a zero-waste lunch or eating a plant-based meal one day a week. Do what you can do. We can’t do it all, and the first change is the hardest. Once you begin, you notice other ways you can tread more lightly on our planet, and you will incorporate new habits into your life.
Q 8.Can you tell us about any other projects in the works?
Patricia Newman: There are so many more environmental stories to tell! I’m working on proposals for two of them.
Thank you, Patti, for joining the blog today!
To learn more about Patricia Newman and her books,
What was the inspiration for this sweet story of friendship?
Sandra Nickel: Thank you so much, Erin, for celebrating Big Bear and Little Fish with me! It’s always such a delight and pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions!
I wrote Big Bear and Little Fish when I was working on a post-grad in picture books, where I read every single one of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. I love the way his stories are filled with such heart and humor—and just the right amount of wisdom. By the time I finished reading Lobel’s books, I was in a real time crunch and worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my required stories for my post-grad program. That’s when something magical happened.
I had heard authors talk about characters showing up out of the blue and basically telling their own story. But this had never happened to me. Not until Big Bear and Little Fish.
I was sitting on my sofa, with Frog and Toad and some other friends for inspiration (see my recreated photo above), when I opened my laptop. There were Bear and Fish. Just like that, there they were, a big bear and a little fish. They told me their story, and I immediately fell in love.
Q 2. What insights about friendship might Bear and Fish have for young readers going back to school (or the adults in their lives)?
Sandra Nickel: I hope Bear and Fish help young readers see that we can be friends with people who are different from us—or at least, who we think are different from us. Like many children who meet a brand new person, Bear doesn’t quite know what to do when she first meets Fish. She worries and makes lots of assumptions. But with the help of Fish, Bear learns that although she and Fish are different, they are also the same. And that is a beautiful thing indeed.
For LIBRARIANS & TEACHERS:
Curriculum Guide and Activity Pages
Q 3. I see you have some wonderful activities at https://sandranickel.com/resources/for teachers and librarians to use after sharing this book with young readers. Which one is your favorite?
Sandra Nickel: Oh, Erin! I’m so glad you discovered the curriculum guide and activity pages. They are perfect for National Friendship Month, which lasts the whole month of September! There are lots of great discussion questions and activities—measuring your height just like Bear and Fish do and making a comic strip of new adventures for Bear and Fish.
Out of them all, I think my favorite might be the Find A Friend Scavenger Hunt. Kids investigate what they have in common by asking others if they have a pet or speak more than one language or like to draw. It’s such a great way for kids to discover what they share with their classmates!
Q 4.What surprises did illustrator Il Sung Na bring to this project?
Sandra Nickel: First off, let me say how incredibly lucky I am to have Il Sung as the illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. His use of color is glorious. His landscapes are works of art. Just look at the one below!
But the biggest surprise—and delight—about Il Sung’s illustrations is the way he completely gets Bear. Her expressions are so vivid. Worried. Confused.
And then, in the end, delighted, as we can only be when we find a true friend! When the book was getting its final touches and I saw Il Sung’s jacket flap copy, I had another wonderful surprise. I found out why he did such a spectacular job with Bear. He said he “used to be like a big bear who didn’t see the big picture, but he’s slowly finding ways to discover the bigger world around him, and he’s still eager to learn more.” Isn’t that just fabulous!?!
BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH’s Journey
Q 5. For our writer friends: Can you share the journey of this book? Did you write it during the pandemic?
Sandra Nickel: I wrote it before the pandemic, and it was first spotted by Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Carolrhoda Books, in October 2019. But most of its publishing journey happened during the pandemic—and thank goodness.
And she’s right. Every time Carol and I worked on it, I felt so comforted—a welcome feeling during those difficult days of the pandemic. There is something zen about this story that Bear and Fish gave to me. Carol always says if there is one picture book she would like to “pick up and hug,” it would be Big Bear and Little Fish. Here’s hoping that kid readers find Bear and Fish just went they need them.
Pick up and hug this book!
Thank you, Sandra Nickel, for joining us on the blog today.
To find out more about Sandra Nickel and her books