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!
Q 1. 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.
Q 2. 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.
Q 3. 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.
Q 4. 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!
Q 5. 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.
Q 7. 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
Follow her on Twitter @KarenYin
and Facebook: KarenYin
Go and wish her a Happy Book Birthday!