Thank you #2 for you, dear #teachers & #librarians: Here are the links (Spotify, Apple, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon…pretty exciting!) to my #reading song so you can sing it too: “If you love books and you know it…”
Do you see the cool poster Mrs. Baker (Cambridge Heights Elementary / CA) is sharing in the photo above? That’s the reverse of the book jacket to DEAR EARTH. I’m so thrilled that you can repurpose it and encourage Ss to be Earth Heroes all year long.
After Ms. Wilcox’ 1st graders (MI) read DEAR EARTH… they talked about ways they could be heroes. Yayyy!!!! Each student picked three ways that they would be earth heroes. (See their clever craft projects above.) And since one of their goals was to save electricity, they kept their classroom lights off all day–which is wonderful in so many ways!
These letters to earth (above) are from the virtual 1st graders from Gaylord Community School MI.
I could go on and on. But the main message of this post is:
THANK A TEACHER–everyday.
Whether it’s one of your former teachers, your child’s teacher (past or present), or teachers you know who keep moving forward in this craziness because they BELIEVE in kids. And their belief in young people makes a difference EVERY day.
Julie Abery: Hello Erin, Such a pleasure to be chatting with you again.
Q 1. When did you first dive into writing for children? What has helped you stay afloat since then?
Julie Abery: My first foray into writing for children was a winter play for the Early Childhood Center where I worked. Dancing snowflakes, ice-skating polar bears, and a missing present rap kept me on my toes as 100 under 5s bumbled around on stage. After writing and producing a few more plays, I finally dived into writing for children more seriously. Over the next few years, I took lots of courses, wrote some wobbly manuscripts, read a lot of mentor texts, and attended a SCBWI conference. When I had really got a grip on my rhythm and rhyming skills, I entered a few contests and slowly I began to find my voice. It was winning one of those contests that opened the door to me signing with an agent and getting my first book contract.
I have a wonderful group of critique buddies and kidlit friends that help me navigate my way through the ups and downs of the children’s publishing world. Writing can often feel like swimming in an endless sea, but if you keep diving in sooner or later you will find that pearl, which might just turn into your next book deal!
Q 2. Which swimming event best describes your writing process for this book?
Julie Abery: This made me smile, Erin! I started my writing process for Sakamoto’s Swim Club on the ‘High Dive’! I was determined to write it in prose. I had the story arc in my head, but when I hit the water, I knew something didn’t feel right. So, I switched to ‘Backstroke’ for a while and let the water gently rush over me and the story deepen in my heart, and that’s when rhyming verse started to flow.
Q 3. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Coach Sakamoto or his swimmers? Bill Smith?
Julie Abery: What a great question! I must admit that I felt a strong attachment to Coach Sakamoto’s story. As a teacher, Sakamoto worked tirelessly to give the kids he taught the opportunity to be the best they could be. He took the swimmers under his wing and applied his scientific knowledge to develop new techniques and improve his swimmers’ strength and speed, despite barely swimming himself. He encouraged them to apply for swimming scholarships at universities. He was dedicated to his young students, he believed in their potential, and in return they trained hard and adopted his tough work ethic.
I connect with Sakamoto because I have seen first-hand how important teachers can be in their students’ lives. As a teacher of the very young, I have always tried to make their first school experience a positive one, where they can move ahead in education excited to learn and meet their potential. Oh, and one more thing… I am not a great swimmer either!
Q 4. What do you hope young readers will take away from this wonderful book?
Julie Abery: Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a story with many themes: breaking free of disadvantage, the importance of a good coach, pride and dedication to the discipline of a sport. Written in spare rhyming verse, with just a few essential thoughts on every page, I hope that young readers will use the space this creates to reflect and be curious, plunge into Chris Sasaki’s vibrant illustrations, and perhaps be inspired in their own lives. And if they love the story, they should read the author’s note at the back for more detail on the Three-Year Swim Club and take some time to investigate themselves.
Julie Abery: Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Erin.
Thank YOU, Julie, for sharing this fabulous book with us.
I’m thrilled to help celebrate the Book Birthday of WHOLE WHALE on the blog today, the wonderful debut picture book by Karen Yin, Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff / Barefoot Books / releasing SOON!
Time for some questions!
Q1. What was the inspiration for WHOLE WHALE?
Karen Yin: I love wordplay, so when the words “whole whale” popped into my mind after I woke up, I was so taken with the sound of it that I ran to my desk to write it down. That sounds like a typical writer thing to do, but that was a first for me! Many of my stories are driven by titles, and this was no different.
Q2. Which of the 100 animals in your book might best represent your writing process for WHOLE WHALE?
Karen Yin: My writing process was bee-like. A refrain kept buzzing in my head—“But surely not a whole whale!” Despite my best intentions, the story insisted on being born as rhyme. The refrain eventually became “But can we fit a whole blue whale?” for rhythm and other reasons, but I still get the chills when I read the original draft. It’s like looking at a photo of your child when they were an infant. When I treated myself to a blue whale plush to celebrate the book’s arrival, I named her Surely.
Q3. Were there any surprises that illustrator Nelleke Verhoeff brought to the book?
Karen Yin: In this meta story, one hundred animals congregate in the pages of the book. I envisioned the spreads filling up with creatures crammed every which way, making the inclusion of a whole blue whale unimaginable. In reality, the repetition had potential to look like wrapping paper, so Nelleke had a cool idea: She zooms in on different animals and plays with size, perspective, and personality as the book fills up. I can’t get enough of her whimsical animals. There’s always something new to look at. I’m so glad Barefoot Books paired us together. Her creative approach matches my raucous text beautifully.
Q4. Congratulations on your debut picture book!
a.Any advice for beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers?
b.What prompted the leap from writing flash fiction to picture books?
Karen Yin: To me, picture books are flash fiction for children. By the time I wrote my first picture book in 2019, I had written part of a novel, several scripts, and a dozen short stories. Writing flash fiction helped me write picture books, because I was accustomed to thinking in tight language and story structures. I also have a background in design and art, so it was satisfying to bring my passions together. My meandering journey of going from long form to progressively shorter forms taught me to treasure the power of a single word. I’m out on sub right now with an offbeat board book—wish me luck!
Q5. I love your rhyming text (and I’m very picky). Were there any mentor texts you used or influences recent or long ago, that inspired you to write in rhyme?
Karen Yin: Thank you! Two lines in Whole Whale are: “A mink, a moose, a mouse caboose. A monkey and a mother goose.” That was my not-so-secret nod to Mother Goose, the fictional author of English nursery rhymes. When I wrote it, I didn’t think this private joke would survive later revisions, because it was the first thing that flew out of my brain. But it reminds me of my book-filled childhood full of whimsy and humor, so I couldn’t bear to rewrite it. And now Mother Goose is a literal goose.
Q 6. I am a big fan of books about inclusion, and WHOLE WHALE is inclusion + STEM = win-win!
Might you share a few thoughts on empathy and inclusion in #kidlit, or perhaps recommend other picture books with these themes?
Karen Yin: In Whole Whale, the animals had a Big Conundrum: One of them couldn’t fit inside the book. I wanted children to know that, like the animals, they can question the boundaries they’ve been given and be creative in solving problems. If we all worked together to make space, how many more of us can come and play? For more books on inclusion and social justice, please check out my Bookshop affiliate storefront, DiversePictureBooks.com.
Q7. Are there any other fun surprises in Whole Whale?
Karen Yin: My editor, Kate DePalma, and the Barefoot Books team really poured their hearts into this book. When I found out they had painstakingly created a page at the end showing all one hundred animals, with names and numbers, my heart exploded. (It was a mess.) When I wrote it, I imagined it would be fun for kids to find and count the animals, and Barefoot really pushed the STEM aspect of Whole Whale.
Q 8.Can you tell us about your upcoming book, SO NOT GHOUL (Page Street Kids / Fall 2022) and any other projects in the queue?
Karen Yin: Absolutely! So Not Ghoul is about a Chinese American ghost who has trouble fitting in at school because she doesn’t wear a sheet and chains like the other ghosts. It has Chinese-style rituals, ghost proverbs, and Mandarin puns. Page Street Kids shared sketches with me last week, and I’m swooning! It’s a story that’s close to my heart, and I hope everyone loves it.
Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today.
To learn more about Karen Yin and her books, see her website: karenyin.com
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!