Today’s #kidlit interview is with Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, whose book, BALLOONS FOR PAPA (Illus. Erika Meza / Harper Collins), releases next week: April 27th.
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Thanks so much for inviting me to be on your blog, Erin!!
Q 1. What are the challenges in launching a book during a pandemic? And how did you deal with those challenges?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Ah, yes. Such great questions. I don’t think any of us were prepared for how the pandemic would affect the launches of our books. The funny thing is – I have only launched books during a pandemic. My debut picture book, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG, came out in September of 2020 and now BALLOONS FOR PAPA.
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: I think the most challenging part for me was and is not having that face-to-face contact with readers, booksellers, libraries, and schools. My go-to phrases have become “be flexible” and “be unique”. In other words, be willing to try something new and different. My publisher for BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG was fantastic and supportive at exploring unique ways to promote my book. We did virtual story times, unique posts on how BESS came to be, giveaways, and even made a video of me reading BESS in front of an old barn. BESS, also, received huge support from several book bloggers, who featured it on their Instagram and Twitter feeds. With BALLOONS FOR PAPA, I reached out again to Instagram book bloggers and to generous kidlit authors, like you, to help get the word out.
I am also doing a virtual story time with @StoryhouseBookpub on May 23rd on Instagram and Facebook. Everyone is welcome.
I hope you can join in the fun!
At the local level, I contacted booksellers and libraries, then sent bookmarks and other promotional items to them. All of them have shown wonderful interest and support of both of my books and I am so grateful.
Kidlit Promotional Groups
Another absolutely invaluable source of support are kidlit promotional groups. I have been fortunate to be a part of two amazing groups – Perfect2020PBs (now known as KidlitCollective) and 2021derfuls. With everyone on a similar journey, the groups provide support and camaraderie that make all the difference in the world whether there is a pandemic or not!
Q 2. You mention in a previous interview that the inspiration for BALLOONS FOR PAPA stems from your children’s reaction to your personal experiences with depression. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, would you care to share more about this?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Sure, Erin. I would be happy to. As all writers know, inspiration for our stories is all around us, but sometimes the inspiration comes from our memories. That’s what happened to me with BALLOONS FOR PAPA.
As I wrote BALLOONS FOR PAPA, there were two memories of when my own children provided empathy and hope to me as I struggled with mild bouts of depression. What I remembered the most from those moments were not how deeply sad I was or how out of control I felt, but my children’s genuine compassion toward me and my emotions.
In one memory, it was my very young son asking if I was okay and offering to help as I struggled with my newborn daughter’s inconsolable crying. It was a small, simple gesture, but so impactful. It let me know I wasn’t alone and that someone cared at a moment when I truly needed it. The other memory occurred after my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. We, as a family, reeled from diagnosis, but it was my daughter’s steadfast resolve that she would be strong for everyone, especially for her dad, that remained in my memory. Their insightful empathy and hope shaped Arthur’s character and became the heart of the story.
Q 3. What surprises did the illustrator Erika Meza bring to the book?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Erika brought the absolute best kind of surprises to this project! I always joke with her that she must be a mind reader, because her illustrations were exactly what I envisioned for Arthur’s story…but sooo much better! BALLOONS FOR PAPA addresses the serious topic of parental depression through Arthur’s eyes. Knowing this, I felt too many words or too much explanation through the text would weight down the story. Erika’s illustrations bring the perfect balance and breathe life into my words. They add just the right amount of depth and emotion to the story arc.
Q 4. Whose idea was it to juxtapose the wonderful splashes of color against black & white images?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Great question! The credit goes entirely to Erika and our UK editor, Alli Brydon. While my original manuscript I submitted to Alli did have a small note mentioning the desire to have the setting mimic the character’s emotions, Erika took that suggestion – knocked it out of the park! Her illustrations are gorgeous and I couldn’t be more grateful to have worked with her on this project.
Q 5. I see that you love playing board games. Which game best describes your Kidlit Writing journey (and why):
a. Chutes and Ladders
d. Trivial Pursuit
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Ohhh! I do LOVE board games and card games! I would have to say Risk. It is a board game all about strategy, planning… and luck! We all know, in the publishing world, you have to be willing to take risks and put yourself out there. I am an introvert, so taking risks isn’t always my first go-to. J However, I would say with my writing journey – I have been more willing to take risks and put myself and my work out there. I think the strategy and planning in my writing journey translates into keeping an eye on the market while maintaining a steady focus on improving my work in hopes some of my stories will find the perfect homes. And, of course, everyone could use a little luck on their side!
Q 6. How do your previous careers– researcher, elementary school teacher, audiologist –influence your writing process?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: The simplest answer is I love to learn. This trait was present when I was a researcher, teacher, audiologist and is present now as a writer. The need to learn about any given topic runs through my veins and I can’t seem to change that. Not that I want to. Though, many times it takes me down rabbit holes while exploring new ideas or researching a new story. J But I think without it, my writing and my writing process would become stale and as with any career, no one wants that to happen.
Q 7. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Children are incredibly insightful and have big feelings just as we adults do – it is my hope that BALLOONS FOR PAPA acts as a conversation starter to talk about those big feelings we all have. I especially hope children will see even small gestures of compassion can have lasting impacts on the adults in their lives.
Q 8. Thank you for writing books that provide such comforting perspectives to readers young and old. [*Congrats on BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG (Illustrated by Katie Hickey/ Page Street Kids)being selected as a Booklist Best of 2020. ] What projects are you working on now?
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia: Aww, thank you, Erin! It is always my hope that both children and adults will connect with my stories.
I am currently working on a nonfiction project. It is the first time I have utilized my audiology background for a story. It’s been a fun challenge melding my scientific brain and writerly brain together, though they were at odds at times in the initial writing process.
Thanks so much again for hosting me on your blog, Erin. It’s been great fun!
Michelle Schaub’s latest book, KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING: The Uplifting Power of Empathy, releases April 1st, Illustrated by Claire LaForte (Cardinal Rule Press ) AND today is her actual BIRTHDAY!
We have some questions for her.
But first, let’s check out her book:
How can YOU lift others with kindness?
KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING is full of metaphors and similes (Great #writing mentor text, teachers!) as well as ways to spread kindness and brighten the lives of others.
The best book for positively teaching kindness.
Q 1. I love the use of metaphors and similes in this book, Michelle. If KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING, what might your #kidlit journey be like?
Michelle Schaub: My kidlit journey would be a squiggly, wiggly line with lots of twists, turns, and tangles as it charts its course. I use this metaphor when I talk about effort, persistence, and success during school visits and pair it with this image:
To elaborate on my squiggly-line metaphor: I first set the goal to be a children’s author over twenty-five years ago. But I was teaching full time, which made it challenging to find time to write. Then I had three children, which made it even harder to find time to write. During those years, I focused on reading as many picture books as I could and studying my craft. I wrote and submitted picture book stories here and there, but they were all rejected. Then I started writing nonfiction articles for magazines and realized I had a flair for making facts kid friendly. (The teacher in me.) I published some articles in Highlights, Appleseeds, and other kids’ magazines. Then I took a class with children’s poet Heidi Roemer and discovered my love for poetry. I sold some poems to Ladybug and Highlights’ High Five and started sending poems to children’s anthologies. Some were rejected, but others made it into actual books! This gave me the confidence to start writing my own poetry picture books. After twenty-five years of rejection, redirection, and persistence, I sold my first book, FRESH PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS’ MARKET to Charlesbridge in 2014.
Michelle Schaub: So back to the line metaphor. Some people have that misconception that setting a goal and working hard creates a smooth path to success. But particularly when it comes to children’s book writing, setback and rejections are inevitable. You have to wrangle with snags and persist on your path to publication.
Q 2. What was the inspiration for KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING?
Michelle Schaub: A commercial for life insurance. No, seriously. I was watching television one day and this Liberty Mutual advertisement came on that totally teared me up. It’s set in a city and starts with one lady stopping a man from crossing a busy street in front of a car. That man goes on to help a mom carry her stroller off the bus. The mom goes on to help someone else, and the kind acts continue to have a ripple effect until they circle back to the first lady. I was intrigued by this pay-it-forward, kindness chain and decided to try and capture that spirit in a children’s book.
Q 3. What do you hope young readers will take away?
Michelle Schaub: KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING describes kindness through experiences children will find familiar, using similes and metaphors. The story guides the reader through a journey of the power of empathy and explains how kindness spreads happiness like sunshine; ultimately connecting diverse groups of people and the community at large. During this challenging year, I wanted to share how the simplest act of kindness can change lives and connect others, no matter how different you may feel. My hope is to inspire children to lift others with kindness. It’s something we can control right now that can make a huge difference in our daily lives and the lives of others. Cardinal Rule Press designed an amazing Readers’ Guide to accompany the book that includes great ideas and downloadable resources, like a kindness journal, to give kids more tools for spreading kindness.
Important: Save the date! Michelle’s official launch of KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING will be a Virtual Story-time at Anderson’s Bookshop on April 1st. (No Joke.)
Q 4. I read that Marilyn Singer is one of your poetry heroes. Any other writing mentors?
Michelle Schaub: There are so many children’s poets I admire. At the top of my long list of writers who are doing some creative, inspiring things through children’s poetry are Irene Latham and Charles Waters (who often work as a team,) Nikki Grimes, Laura Purdie Salas, and Liz Steinglass. I encourage everyone to check out their work.
Q 5. Tell us about Poetry Boost–and the poems you’ve collected for Poetry Month.
Michelle Schaub: Poetry Boost is my blog where I share poetry lessons, graphic organizers, and mentor texts. From my own experience as a teacher, I believe strongly in the power of poetry to boost content knowledge, vocabulary, literacy, and social-emotional learning. There are so many amazing poetry picture books out there on a vast array of topics. It’s really an underappreciated genre. I created Poetry Boost to give parents and teachers fun and easy tools for sharing poetry, while also expanding the audience for poetry picture books.
On POETRY BOOST during the month of April, I’m hosting POEM SHARE FOR POETRY MONTH. I’ve invited children’s poets from around the country to share videos of themselves reading their poems. Each day, I’ll post a new video. From a pantoum about goblin sharks to a two-voice poem about avoiding a book report (written by YOU, Erin Dealey,) I’ve got a delightful round up of poems. I invite everyone to head over to http://www.poetryboost.com/ throughout April for a daily dose of poetry.
Michelle Schaub is an award-winning children’s author and teacher. DREAM BIG LITTLE SCIENTISTS, a rhyming bedtime book with a clever #STEM twist, reminds us that oceans, mountains and forests sleep too, and while daytime wildlife settles down, others awake.
She is also the author of Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections and her poems have appeared in And the Crowd Goes Wild, A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, and The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations.
Huge thanks for joining us on the blog today, Michelle–
to TWO new Little Animal Friends board books with Amicus Ink / March 2021 / Illus. Suzie Mason by Julie Abery:
LITTLE PENGUIN by Julie Abery, Illus. Suzie Mason, Amicus Ink, 2021.
Review:Delightfully heartwarming. LITTLE PENGUIN is the latest addition to the lovely board book series, Little Animals. The story journeys with Little Penguin as he explores the frosty world around him with his mama always close at hand. Abery’s lovely lyrical text along with Mason’s adorable and engaging illustrations introduce little ones to a penguin’s world with warmth and kindness. LITTLE PENGUIN is a perfect read-aloud for young ones everywhere!
—author E. G. Bedia
LITTLE ZEBRA by Julie Abery, Illus. Suzie Mason, Amicus Ink, 2021.
Review:LITTLE ZEBRA continues Julie Abery’s adorable Little Animal Friends board book series. Written in rhyme to engage young listeners, LITTLE ZEBRA transports us to Africa, where we follow the littlest one in the dazzle through her day. Starting off unsteady on her feet, she dances and prances, kicks and flicks, flops and slops. It’s a lively story, delightfully illustrated, that is sure to charm!
Julie Abery: Hello Erin–Thank you so much for welcoming me back to your blog!
Q 1. How does writing for a series differ from writing a stand-alone children’s book?
Julie Abery: The Little Animal Friends series has an established format, so I have a specific story arc and layout to work to, but it has all the elements you would expect in a story:
problem, conflict, and resolution, just in very few words! The rhyming also has a structure that doesn’t change, but I try to ensure that I use as many unique action verbs for each animal, while also being true to their nature.
LITTLE TIGER by Julie Abery, Illus. Suzie Mason, Amicus Ink, 2019.
Q 2. Did you pitch these board books as a series, or did they grow into one?
Julie Abery: The Little Animal Friends series started life as one picture book text – Little Tiger. It was the first story that my agent submitted to editors, and although it received lots of lovely comments, but most said that they didn’t think there was quite enough to the story for a picture book. Little Tiger only has 78 words. Then one editor mentioned that she thought this format would make a great structure for a board book series, and asked if I was working on any other animals. I had been making notes on pandas who are playful and terribly cute, so I set to work to create book two! She loved them both and although in the end the company she was working for passed, they shared the manuscripts with their sister company, Amicus Ink, and the Little Animal Friends board book series was born.
Interior LITTLE PENGUIN by Julie Abery, Illus. Suzie Mason, Amicus Ink, 2021.
Q 3. Does your former career as an early years’ teacher influence your writing?
Julie Abery: It does! Having taught preschool for many years, my experience has been that nearly all children love rhyming books! I love the three Rs – rhyme, rhythm, and repetition, and that was my focus for these titles. Rhyming words are predictive and allow children to guess what is coming next, rhythm gives a song-like quality which they quickly remember, and repetition allows everyone to participate on every page turn.
Interior LITTLE ZEBRA by Julie Abery, Illus. Suzie Mason, Amicus Ink, 2021.
Q 4. As a rhymer myself, I appreciate your excellent rhyme, rhythm, and word choice. Where did your hone your rhyming skills?
ED note: I tend to credit all the song lyrics I memorized as a teen, the bad puns my friends and I made up on the way home from school, and all those scansion/ Shakespeare courses in college.
Julie Abery: Thank you so much Erin, that means a lot!
Growing up I always loved poetry, drama, and singing at school. The first poem I ever recited was Macavity The Mystery Cat from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot (1939) when I was 11 years old! It grew from there really. My mom wrote poems about the world around her too, and as I mentioned above, I loved reading rhyming picture books both to my own children and in my classroom.
Q 5. What projects are you
currently working on?
Julie Abery: A magical winter destination, an adventure on the sea, and a book about some of our favorite pets.
SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB, by Julie Abery, Illus. Chris Sasaki, Kids Can Press, May 2021.
Q 6. Are there any more Little Animal Friends books in the works? Any further news about Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory?
Julie Abery: At the moment I think the Little Animal family is complete, but who knows what the future might bring. 😉
I am delighted that Sakamoto’s Swim Club has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection and has received a starred review:
“A vibrant, original picture book.” Booklist
I am still waiting for my copies to arrive, so am watching for the postman every day!
It has been lovely chatting to you again, Erin.
Thank YOU, Julie!
To learn more about her books, here’s where you can connect with Julie Abery:
whose picture book, SUNDAY RAIN (Illus. Amariah Rauscher / Lantana Publishing) was released March 2nd!
A quiet, sweet story blending common themes of moving, imagination, and friendship.
Matt Forrest Esenwine is celebrating two Book Birthdays-
ELLIOT THE HEART SHAPED FROG (board book /Illus. Anna Kubaszewska / Rainstorm Publishing / Jan. 2021)
“Elliot is an adorable protagonist, and the perfect critter to reinforce colors and shapes with young readers as he searches for his perfect heart-shaped home.”
–author/ poet Michelle Schaub
ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME (wonder and hush of the natural world / poetry / coauthor CharlesGhigna/ Illus. Andrés F. Landazábal / Beaming Books / March 2nd)
in Children’s Exploration Fiction
I paired these two because their books have things in common (see below) AND… both #kidlit authors celebrated a March 2nd Book Birthday!
Q 1. What are the challenges in launching a book (or two!) during a pandemic?
Matt Forrest Esenwine: There are quite a few – not the least of which is the fact that authors can’t visit any stores, schools, or libraries in person! True, we have plenty of online/virtual options, but students are so maxed out on screens these days due to remote-schooling (most are going over the recommended 2-hour limit for elementary-aged children), that it’s hard for adults to justify adding to their kids’ screen time. So that means an author has to work harder with online marketing – blog tours, social media, etc.
Any tips for those with Book Birthdays coming up?
Matt Forrest Esenwine: Be prepared! Know that it’s not going to be easy, and start planning your marketing efforts/promotions now, connecting with bloggers and reviewers, and knowing your virtual visits may very well be more limited than you think. (Working with a local bookstore to offer personally-signed copies is a great way to connect with people and offer something that consumers can’t get from Amazon or a box store.)
Q 2. Both of you have main characters named Elliott / Elliot. Since a tiny bit of each book is autobiographical, how is your Elliott / Elliot like you? How is he different?
Rosie J. Pova: My Elliott is spelled with two t’s so that’s the difference, but the way my character is like me is that he’s an introvert who loves to read, he daydreams and lives in fictional worlds with the characters he reads about. He’s also shy and has big imagination!
Interior art of SUNDAY RAIN (Illus. Amariah Rauscher / Lantana Publishing)
Matt Forrest Esenwine: Interesting question! I think Elliot and I are likely both Cancers. Although I’m not a big astrology kind of guy, I’m a poster boy for Cancers: very home-centered, domestic, sensitive, creative, loving. And I think Elliot, in his search for a new home, displays some of those qualities. However, if he was me, he probably would’ve brought at least half of what he’d found during his search over to his new home, ha!
Interior art–ELLIOT THE HEART SHAPED FROG (Illus. Anna Kubaszewska/Rainstorm Publishing)
Q 3. Both ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME and SUNDAY RAIN invite readers to enjoy the wonders of the outside world. Were you an “outdoorsy” kid or an “indoors” kid?
Rosie J. Pova: When I was little, I played outside a lot, but I would still consider myself an indoors kid as that was my natural inclination. I am definitely an indoors adult, too!
Interior art–ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME (coauthor CharlesGhigna/ Illus. Andrés F. Landazábal / Beaming Books)
Matt Forrest Esenwine: Yes, very “outdoorsy!” I grew up in the woods – the road my childhood home is on is still dirt – so most of my playtime involved trees or animals. My folks were also big into hunting and fishing, so taking hikes and enjoying Nature were part of everyday life.
Q. 4 What surprises did the illustrator bring to the project?
Rosie J. Pova: One of the surprises was that my character had a pet in the art — a grey cat. The other was that he was carrying around a toy boat.
Interior art of SUNDAY RAIN (Illus. Amariah Rauscher / Lantana Publishing)
Q 5. What new projects are you working on now?
Rosie J. Pova: I have another book in the pipeline, The School of Failure: A Story about Success, that will release from Yeehoo Press in spring of 2022 and I’m eager to see the illustrations and cover for that one! My agent and I are also on submission with a few other manuscripts and I can’t wait for those to finds their wonderful homes.
Meanwhile, I keep busy teaching my online picture book writing classes, serve as a judge for Rate Your Story, and have my own picture book critique clients to help. In addition, I am deep in marketing and promotion mode so I’m actually quite busy which is a good distraction from refreshing my email a million times or waiting for updates from my agent…
Matt Forrest Esenwine: I feel fortunate that I sold a couple of manuscripts last year, so those are two projects that are at the forefront of my mind right now. One is a poetry project I can’t really talk about yet (it’s killing me to keep quiet!), and the other is an upcoming picture book due this fall, I AM TODAY, which is being published by my Don’t Ask a Dinosaur publisher, POW! Kids Books. I also have a poetry collaboration with David Harrison that we’re currently subbing, and a possible second collaboration with Charles Ghigna we’re talking about – so stayed tuned!
Q 6. How can readers support authors publishing in a pandemic?
Matt Forrest Esenwine: With our lives and economy in upheaval, it’s no surprise that spending has been down, and new book sales have taken a big hit…so if you can’t afford to buy an author’s book, leave a review of one of their books that you HAVE read!
Leave a review!
Amazon and Goodreads, in particular, are both popular places that potential buyers check out before purchasing, so even though you may not be able to buy a book from a favorite author, you can encourage others to buy from that author – and from an author’s point of view, that’s just as awesome!
Huge thanks and congrats to both Rosie and Matt for joining us today.