We’re super-excited to ask her five questions about
ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL:
Q 1. What was the inspiration for ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL? Alexandra Alessandri: Isabel and Her Colores Go to School was inspired by my experience of starting school in New York. My home was a Spanish-only space, so I knew very little English when I started kindergarten, and because of this, I misunderstood my teacher and literally got lost in the hallways! While Isabel’s story is different, I did channel that sense of feeling lost because of language barriers.
Q 2. I love that this book is bilingual. What Spanish word(s) would Isabel use to describe her first experience at school? Alexandra Alessandri: Isabel would say her first experience at school was sorprendente—surprising!
Q 3. Were there any surprises that your illustrator Courtney Dawson brought to the book? Alexandra Alessandri: I don’t know that I would call it a surprise, but I love how Courtney captured the colors and swirls of sounds that Isabel hears. There’s something magical in those illustrations and how they capture Isabel’s emotional state so perfectly.
Advice for others on this #kidlit journey:
Q 4. Do you have any advice for pre-published Alexandra, and readers who might also be beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers? Alexandra Alessandri: Keep your eyes on your own journey. It’s so easy to look around you and compare your journey with that of others, to minimize your successes—and sometimes, the lack thereof—by others’ standards, but that is counterproductive in the end.
Q 5. What do you hope readers will take away from ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL? Alexandra Alessandri: I hope they take away how important it is to extend kindness to someone in need. Even a small gesture, like welcoming someone new, can make the world of a difference.
Happy Book Birthday to ISABEL… & Alexandra Alessandri
Spread the word about this fabulous back-to-school book!
To learn more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books,
Yes, it’s STILL summer, but this is a list of before-school-starts picture books.
Like you, we LOVE the wonderful “tried and true” back-to-school books like THE KISSING HAND and THE NAME JAR, and newish ones like ALL ARE WELCOME and SCHOOL’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, but have you checked these out?
In this BRAND NEW bilingual picture book (releasing July 15, 2021) Isabel, whose first language is Spanish, doesn’t speak much English and is worried about her first day at Honeytree Elementary School. During coloring time, she discovers there are many ways to communicate and make new friends.
(Q & A Birthday Blog coming SOON!)
This is a fun read for almost-Kinders who are about to go “boldly where they have never gone before!”
Jacqueline Woodson is one of my #kidlit heroes and this book is wonderful! Need I say more?
This rhymed picture book book gives almost-Kinders and parents & caregivers a book full of Kinder Countdown activities to do as they wait for Kindergarten to start, and Kinder Challenges to do throughout the year.
Burris’ sweet book takes almost-kinders through the day and gives them a reassuring look at what to expect.
I can relate to the energy and excitement of this almost-Kinder kid
as she counts down SEVEN more days until school starts.
As you probably know, I LOVE rhymed picture books
(those with solid scansion and rhyme)
and this one fits the bill.
Also–KindergartenMe approves of this list!
Happy Reading with your ALMOST-KINDERGARTENER too!
It’s a Book Birthday for JaNay Brown-Wood‘s newest picture book,
SHHH! THE BABY’S ASLEEP
Illus. by Elissambura, Charlesbridge.
“Delightful comic relief for every household with a baby.“
“…The text is composed of playful rhyming couplets, with sound effects hand-lettered in all-caps crowding into compositions as if they have lives of their own. The colorful, stylized illustrations add to the book’s playful tone, lending a tense energy and a sense of barely controlled chaos to this Black family’s humorous plight.” —KIRKUS
We’re SHOUTING with excitement for this fun naptime romp.
And we have a few questions too:
They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Mom, Daddy, Grammy, Pop Pop, Shae, Dante, Rover the dog, or the neighborin SHHH! THE BABY’S ASLEEP–?
JaNay Brown-Wood: In this story, I am TOTALLY Baby’s older brother, who I call Junior. He’s in most of the spreads reminding family members to keep quiet so baby can sleep. This story was directly inspired by my husband and I trying to keep a quiet environment so our then-infant daughter Vivian could sleep. And boy, was it a struggle, especially when the whole family got together (we are VERY loud talkers). Also, “Grammy” and “Pop Pop” were actual names I called my maternal grandparents when I grew up, so it was super fun to include that in a story—personal and poignant, too.
2. What surprises did illustrator Elissambura bring to the book?
JaNay Brown-Wood: Vibrancy, vibrancy, vibrancy! I love the colors she used to capture the family. They pop off of the page and are so fun to look at. I also really like the textures she’s captured as well. Looking at her illustrations never gets old! Not to mention, the design and text of the onomatopoeic words which make the visuals on each page so dynamic. There is so much to love—and laugh aloud at—about her illustrations.
3. Can you tell us about any edits or cuts you made to your manuscript on its journey to becoming a book?
JaNay Brown-Wood: Something that was really important to me with this manuscript was capturing the right onomatopoeic language. I mean, have you ever stopped and thought: what sound does a hair dryer make and how do you spell it? So, I played with a few versions to capture the best sound and the proper spelling. I also played with different names for the characters, too, for Dante, Shae, Mr. Young, even Rover! I am beyond satisfied with what me and my editor decided on.
4. In what ways has being a mom changed how (and when!) you write picture books? How do you fit writing into your very busy day as a professor and a Mom?
JaNay Brown-Wood: Having Vivian has intensified my want to advocate for diverse books. When I reflect on my childhood which was rich with literature, but included so few books with black girl protagonists that I saw myself in, I wanted to do what I could to make sure Vivian’s experience is different. But not just her experience, the literacy experiences of children everywhere. I am a firm believer that all children should be able to find authentic books that reflect their experiences back at them in a meaningful and validating way. Having Vivian put that drive into high gear.
5. What is your most vivid, “I want to write books” ah-ha moment?
JaNay Brown-Wood: I have always been a storyteller, from as far back as I can remember. As a child, I wrote stories for fun and sometimes acted them out. As a matter of fact, my sixth-grade teacher even predicted that I’d be a “best-selling author.” Even as a teenager, I would spend hours crafting stories and characters in a notebook and just letting my pen take me on fantastical journeys. So, I always knew I loved creating stories.
The Make-it-happen Moment
It wasn’t until I finished my undergraduate degree that I decided I wanted to truly try to get something published. I immersed myself in all things kidlit (SCBWI, craft books, market books, creative writing course, etc.) and kept the faith, even though some people told me to consider self-publishing. While self-publishing is the right choice for some, I knew I wanted to go the traditional route (publishing house, contract, etc.)—and I am very happy I did! I guess in summary, there was no one “ah-ha” moment, but more like a “okay, you’ve always loved writing so let’s finally make this thing happen” moment instead. And each of those moments just cemented my love for storytelling and sharing my words with the world.
6. What writing tips would you give pre-published JaNay, way back before you entered the NAESP writing contest that lead you to Charlesbridge?
JaNay Brown-Wood: I would say “Nay, don’t lose faith. It’s all a process and it takes time, but don’t give up. Set small goals and keep working toward your ultimate hope: a published book.” That’s what I’d tell pre-published me. And pre-published me might respond, “You sure I can do this?” to which I’d say: “100% certain.”
7. I see that you’re a big Harry Potter fan. If you could have a Butter Beer or cup of tea with one of the Harry Potter characters, who would it be?
JaNay Brown-Wood: It would be a tie between Hermoine and Ginny Weasley–two powerful females who make a huge impact on those around them. It would be a Girl Power teatime with French tea and macarons because, why not! And then, I’d ask Hermoine if we could use the time-turner just for a bit so I could go back in time and give my late little sister a hug (and a wet willy in her ear, lol)—she was a big fan of Hermoine and Ginny, too.
Awww… we wish you could do that, JaNay.
8. What books have you read to Vivi lately that you would recommend to other busy parents?
JaNay Brown-Wood: I love the LAYLA AND THE BOTS series by Vicky Fang and illustrated by Christine Nishiyama. Vivi really loves the characters, and I thoroughly enjoy the seamless and effortless use of STEM. Also, FROG AND TOAD often frequent our bedtime stories. But get this, Vivi will tolerate my books when I choose read them to her sometimes, but she actively asks for me to read her my other book coming out later this year called AMARA’S FARM (Peachtree Publishing, September 2021). That character really resonates with her—and I can tell it is a mirror for her since the character is a little black girl with two afro-puffs, just like my Vivi.
Note, here’s proof of Vivi’s excitement about the LAYLA AND THE BOTS books:
9. What’s the craziest thing a young reader has said to you at an Author Visit?
JaNay Brown-Wood: So many crazy comments to choose from. Like the time the student was unimpressed because she said, “I’ve met other celebrities before, too, you know?” or the time a child asked me why Imani didn’t just get in a rocket to get to the moon. Then there are the standard “How old are you?” and “Are you rich?” Student questions and comments are always so enjoyable and definitely keep me on my toes.
10. What has been the most memorable experience you’ve had in your children’s author career, so far?
JaNay Brown-Wood: There have been so many beautiful experiences I’ve had as a writer, but there are two that really stand out in my mind. The first was when I was reading IMANI’S MOON to a group of children, and a young African American girl looked up at me with pride in her eyes and a smile on her face. In her lap was her own copy of the book, and she followed along as I read the book, flipping to each page I was on. That moment stays with me. It felt like a confirmation that I am doing something meaningful in the world. That I was actually having a direct impact as I shared about a little Black girl who persevered through challenges and overcame—and that if she could do it, so could children everywhere.
The second was when IMANI’S MOON got a shoutout on the Stephen Colbert show. He listed me as an author to read instead of Dr. Seuss. It was completely unexpected and surreal. And it felt amazing to know that so many people around the world heard my name and saw my book on his show—and that he recommended it to his viewers. What a moment that was! What a wonderful, memorable moment!
Happy Happy Book Birthday to
SHHH! THE BABY’S ASLEEP
To learn more about JaNay Brown-Wood and her books,
HOLD everything–are we really celebrating a book about The BRIEF History of Underpants?
You bet your BOTTOM dollar, we are.
“Leaving no double entendre unturned, Van Zandt chronicles tushie-wear from the ‘beginning of buns’ onward.”
“I laughed my butt off! Not only is this book funny, but Christine Van Zandt delivers a veritable wedgie-whirlwind of utterly fascinating underwear info!”
―Aaron Reynolds, NYT bestselling author of Creepy Pair of Underwear
“Humorous illustrations and bouncy text keep the pages turning quickly in this lightweight history.”
―School Library Journal
10 Questions for Christine Van Zandt
Q 1. I read that A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR was inspired by kids at your daughter’s elementary school’s Book Fair who said nonfiction picture books were boring. (Full SCBWI Kite Tales interview here.) My question—why underwear? What’s beneath this particular choice of topic? (See what I did there?)
Christine Van Zandt: When I realized that some kids felt this way about nonfiction books, it made me want to prove that facts could be fun. And, what’s more fun than underwear?! For the youngest kids—what an accomplishment to move on from diapers to exciting big-kid undies. Then, there’s the famous underpants-wearing character that we all know and love who has made walking around in his tighty-whities commonplace. Since kids were already engaging with this idea, why not expand the underpants connection to include facts?
Discoveries & Surprises
Q 2. Your book states that a sumo wrestler’s “unrolled mawashi [loincloth-style underwear worn as outerwear] are about as long as a school bus and as heavy as a watermelon.” What was the most surprising discovery you made as you went from idea to published book?
Christine Van Zandt: The most surprising fact was how difficult it was to research this topic. I stuck to reputable sources and verified each item multiple times. Yet, some findings are ancient or have contradictions. In many reference books, “unmentionables” weren’t mentioned—and they certainly weren’t photographed. Researching clothing items that aren’t talked about, or shown as they were truly worn, made this aspect challenging. Historians try to reconstruct the truth from partially preserved underwear scraps and limited information.
My final list of references and facts that went to the publisher’s fact-checking department was sixteen pages, single-spaced. This book goes back to the earliest undergarments known when I was researching. Already now, a year later, there likely have been new discoveries and ideas about what people wore and why. It’s hard to fit an ever-changing world history into a 1,500-word book and, as it goes with traditional publication, some decisions are out of a writer’s control.
Q 3.Were there any surprises that illustrator Harry Briggs brought to the book?
Christine Van Zandt: Harry’s illustrations were full of surprises! His style enhances the text’s humor. For specific underwear facts, I provided links to images and such. He took it from there, adding his talent and imagination.
Q 4. How have your experiences as an editor and parent influenced your approach in writing for children, and specifically A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS?
Christine Van Zandt: Working as an editor has made aware of what’s expected in today’s marketplace and what’s being published, both in adult and children’s manuscripts.
Being a parent made kid’s books part of my daily life. That immersion influenced me and I switched my focus from writing and publishing for adult audiences to doing so for kids. Reading thousands of picture books gave me knowledge that’s helpful for any manuscript I write.
Reading & Writing
Q 5.Since your bio mentions a monarch butterfly sanctuary, how would you compare the life cycle of a monarch butterfly to writing a picture book?
Christine Van Zandt: Just as a monarch has four cycles in its life (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly), so does the writing of a picture book:
The idea is formed in your mind.
It hatches into words that grow and shed, grow and shed.
Once expanded as much as possible, it must transform into something else.
After what seems like a long wait, a book launches into the world.
Q 6. When did the writing bug “bite”?
Christine Van Zandt: I think I was born bitten! I’ve always written in one way or another, keeping a diary in elementary school. I was a business major before giving in to my heart and switching to English lit.
Q 7. Do you enjoy reading as much as writing?
Christine Van Zandt: I love to read and wish I could do more of it. I read widely, but, when I have a story idea brewing, I read with intention.
I also love to write, but it’s different than reading. Writing is something I’m driven to do. If I go too long without writing, I feel antsy.
Q 8. Taking a page from your own Kite Tales/ SCBWI interviews: What’s expected of today’s children’s nonfiction picture book authors? How has the pandemic changed these expectations?
Christine Van Zandt: Beyond writing an amazing book, then connecting it to the right agent and/or publisher for publication, authors today are expected to have social media platforms and be able to promote each project.
The pandemic’s made it easier to engage with people around the world via sites like Zoom, but that means recording (and editing) content, and performing virtual school and bookstore visits.
Q 9. Favorite nonfiction book and why?
Christine Van Zandt: I’m happy to see so many environmentally focused books. A recent favorite is the middle-grade book, You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet, by Lucy Bell. I wish families and classrooms everywhere would read this book for its approachable ideas on how we all can help conserve our planet. It conveys important information in a kid-friendly manner. Astred Hicks’s colorful illustrations capture the beauty of our world.
Q 10. Favorite underwear joke. ( I know you have one!)
Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids.
She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Q1. I love how all three of your pictUre books have strong social-emotional themes of facing fears, fitting in, finding yoUr place. We’re these part of yoUr childhood as well?
Stef Wade: I’m very blessed in my life to have parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors who gifted me their wisdom and guidance to manage so many different situations in life. That’s not to say I haven’t had to face fears or find my place, but with the help of those around me, I was able to manage pretty well. I realize not all kids have that.
There are so many children out there that can’t or don’t share what they’re going through. My hope is that my stories can give guidance to a child and/or open up a conversation with a parent, teacher, grandparent or even other child that will help kids learn how to handle all different social and emotional situations and struggles in their lives.
Q2. Where did yoU get the inspiration for Q & U CALL IT QUITS?
Stef Wade: My oldest son’s preschool teacher (shout-out to Mrs. Willer!) used to say – “this is Q and U and they’re best friends!” It always struck me as so cute. I wasn’t even writing picture books at that time, but when I started, that phrase stuck in my head and the rest is history!
Q3. They say most books are a tiny bit aUtobiographical. Are yoU more like Q, U, or another letter in yoUr story?
Stef Wade: I love this QUestion! I’m definitely more like U in this story. I’m an extrovert and love being around lots of different kind of people. I’m fiercely independent, so I could see myself getting frustrated by the weight of Q’s neediness. I also tend to work to the point of burnout, so just like U, I need to realize that a little self-care is a good thing! But just like Q realizes in the end, I also value the importance of a long-term friendship and appreciate that friends can be different and that’s what makes a relationship special.
Taking the #kidlit leap!
Q4. How is yoUr previous career in marketing similar (and different) to writing pictUre books? What inspired yoU to take that leap?
Stef Wade: There are so many similarities to my marketing career and writing picture books. Getting your point across in a short space. Making every word count. Being able to pitch an idea. But I’ve also realized that my ability to sell in marketing translates to selling my story to my readers. Not in the “buy my book!” sense, but in writing in a way that makes the reader believe what you’re writing, connect to the character, and care about the story.
I always wanted to write fiction but chose the “more practical” route of business and I don’t regret it! I decided to give my writing a real go when I quit my full-time job to stay at home with my kids. I did a lot of freelance marketing work in the time after that, but somehow, I also found the time to write for myself and it’s been moving forward ever since! And my kids inspire me every day to keep writing for children.
Q 5. What sUrprises did Q&U’s illustrator Jorge Martin bring to the book?
Stef Wade: What an absolute joy to work with someone as brilliant as Jorge Martin. I could stare at the spreads in this book all day! I included very few art notes in this manuscript and Jorge let his imagination run wild. His ability to convey emotions in these block letter people is such a feat!
I especially love the kids as lower-case letters and the illustrations when the other letter blends start to leave each other (the F and L in the plane gets me every time!)
Q 6. Which comes first in your process—the title, a key phrase, or plot, or___?
Stef Wade: It changes every time! This one started with a phrase, but others start with a feeling, an observation, an article I’ve read, an experience I’ve had. Although, for me, it never starts with the plot! That always seems to come later.
Q7. Is there a Q word yoU wanted to place in this manUscript that didn’t make the cUt?
Stef Wade: Why, of course! There are so many lovely Q words but I decided to drop “quixotic” from the lexicon of this story. Other choices that didn’t make the cut: quintessential, qualmishness, quadrumvirate, quadratic and definitely not quarantine….
Happy June 15th Book Birthday to Q & U CALL IT QUITS!