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 neighbor in 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:
She’s featured on Vicky Fang’s website on the Creation Gallery!
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,
Check out her website: JaNayBrownWood.com
and Instagram: janaybrownwood
And Happy Summer Reading to ALL!
I’ll be off to Fine Arts Camp –which is a day camp this year–during the month of July, but back to celebrate books by Lindsay Bonilla and Katelyn Aronson in August.