Recently, I got the chance to read and review a newly released picture book titled Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Claire LaForte.
This is a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Kindness is so important, yet it feels as though it’s more and more rare. What a difference kindness could make in the world! So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to read this book. Kids need to be taught about kindness now, and what better way than through picture books?
This book did not disappoint!
Kindness is a Kite String is a poem that suggests different ways to spread kindness. From hugs, to sharing a book, to visiting sick neighbors, this story gives a lot of great ideas for ways to spread kindness. But more than that, it teaches kids that Kindness is something that grows and spreads whenever you share it.
Kindness is a topic that we need to talk more about, and this book is a wonderful start for both kids and adults alike. If we all took this message to heart, we just might find ourselves in a better world.
Today we have another author interview! I’m so excited to have Sharon Giltrow on my blog just in time for Father’s Day! She is the author of Bedtime, Daddy! which released on May 12th. Let’s jump right in, and as always, I’m in bold green.
Hi Sharon, welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
Sure, I would love to 😊. I am the youngest of eight children and grew up on a farm in South Australia. My childhood was spent reading, making mud pies, exploring the salt lake and swimming at the beach. Now I am a part-time teacher of children who have a developmental language disorder and best of all a full-time writer. I started writing children’s books when my first child was born in 2006 but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started taking the idea that I could become an author seriously. I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 picture book challenge, enrolled in children’s book courses and started my journey towards becoming a published author.
Wow! SEVEN older brothers and sisters. As it happens, I grew up near a salt lake as well! Floating on the water is a pretty interesting experience. And I’m so glad you decided to write. Please tell us about your book!
Bedtime, Daddy! Is a humorous role reversal story, where the little bear in the story puts their daddy bear to bed. To do this the little bear must wrestle daddy bear into his pajamas, read just one more story, battle endless excuses, and use go-away monster spray to finally get daddy to bed. The story has a great balance between heart and humor. It would make a perfect bedtime and Father’s Day book, and there’s even a Teacher’s Guide.
I loved the role-reversal in Bedtime Daddy! What inspired you to write it?
My husband and my children. Over the last fourteen years my husband and I have taken turns reading to our children and putting them to bed. During the nightly bedtime routine, I had a lightbulb thought… ‘wouldn’t it be funny if our children put us the parents to bed.’ The idea for Bedtime, Daddy! was born.
I love those lightbulb moments! And the steps of getting Daddy to bed are hilarious. One of my favorite parts is the monster spray. Do you have a favorite part of the story?
My favourite part of the story is when Daddy Bear and Little Bear are snuggled up in bed reading a story and Daddy Bear interrupts the story with these questions…
‘Why don’t ducks have arms?’ Or ‘Do sharks sneeze?’
They were awesome questions! I love the randomness of it all. So true to life! And let’s talk art. The art is so whimsical, and fits the book perfectly. It really helps the reader feel that the advice is coming from a kid. Did you have any input on the art or illustrator? What was your reaction at seeing the art?
EK Books asked Katrin Dreiling to illustrate Bedtime, Daddy! Before I signed the contract, they sent me Katrin’s early sketches of the characters. There was a daddy bear, a human dad, a little bear and a little child. Anouska the editor made a suggestion that perhaps using bear characters would have a more universal appeal. I trusted Anouska’s advice and am very happy with the bear characters. I love Katrin’s illustrative style and colour palette and she has illustrated my words and vision perfectly. When I first saw the storyboard for Bedtime, Daddy! I was ecstatically happy.
How interesting! Very cool that you had a choice on that. Can we talk writing for a minute? How many picture books would you say you wrote before finally getting a deal on this one?
My first picture book I wrote was in 2006, I then went on to write nine more before I signed the deal for Bedtime, Daddy! Since signing the deal I have written four more picture book manuscripts and one chapter book manuscript.
That is a lot of books. This business takes a lot of perseverance! What helped you the most on the path to publication?
Not giving up and believing in myself! As well as the support of my critique partners and the Kidlit community. Surround yourself with like-minded writers.
That is great advice. Having that support makes all the difference!
One last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Little Bear might choose for his personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
Hahaha! I love it! So perfect. Okay, I know I already said last question, but where can we purchase Bedtime, Daddy!?
Bedtime, Daddy! is now available to order around the world:
Thanks so much! And for my readers, see below for where to find and follow Sharon on social media platforms.
Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, WA with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. When not writing, Sharon works with children with Developmental Language Disorder. Sharon was awarded the Paper Bird Fellowship in 2019. Her debut PB Bedtime, Daddy, released May 2020 through EK books.
Big apology for missing posts. Between COVID-19 and the deaths of so many of my black brothers and sisters, my mind has been full. I’ve been wrestling with myself and working on how to be a better ally to the black community.
I’ve learned a lot by listening to my friends, and by reading books by black authors. So that’s where I want to start, because education is always the first step. We can’t empathize with others if we don’t listen and understand their plight. Today I’m sharing three books by black authors that I love and recommend.
First up is Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson. This book was fascinating to help me really understand the plight of blacks living in the south during the 50’s. Here is the Amazon description:
It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.
Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.
Next is Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. I loved this book about learning to love yourself exactly as you were made. It’s such a universal message, but it means even more in the context of the racial struggles in the U.S. Here is the Amazon description:
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.
Finally, I want to share The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali, and illustrated by Hatem Aly. A year or so ago, I read Ibtihaj’s book, Proud, about her journey to becoming the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. If you recall, she went on to win the bronze medal in the team sabre event. I really enjoyed her story, and loved how she talked about what wearing a hijab means to her in this picture book. It was beautiful, and a reminder to me to seek to understand first. Here is the Amazon description:
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are.
I hope you check out these books and love them as much as I did. Wishing you all love and safety in these uncertain times. Please share books that you’ve loved that help us understand experiences that are not our own. I’d love to read them!
Today, I have Valerie Bolling on my blog. Her super fun debut picture book, Let’s Dance! released in March. She is another fellow 12×12 picture book author. (Super secret* author hint: if you want to meet other writers and learn more about writing, joining writing groups is a great way to do it!)
*It’s not actually secret at all.
I’m excited to learn more about Valerie and her book, and hope you are, too. So let’s get to it! As always, I’m in green.
Hi Valerie, welcome to my blog!
Thank you for inviting me, Janet! I’m happy to be here.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
Sure, Janet. In addition to being an author, I’m an educator. I’m also an aunt. I have always loved children. Even as a child, I connected with younger children – my cousins and those in the neighborhood – reading to them, helping with homework, and planning the games that we’d play together. Writing, too, has always been something I’ve enjoyed. As a child, teen, and adult, I’ve always written poems, stories, and articles. I even kept a diary during my teen years.
I decided to write picture books because I want children to see themselves in books and to see others who may be different from them. I want them to celebrate and appreciate our diverse world and to experience connection and empathy. I know that’s a tall order, Janet, but it’s what keeps me writing.
Beautifully said! It IS a tall order, but a tall order worth working for. 😊 And speaking of your writing, I loved your book! Please tell us about it.
Let’s Dance! is a book that celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them. It’s a book that’s sure to get young readers and dancers moving, and it provides the perfect distance learning movement break.
I definitely wanted to try out all the dances when I read it! What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to write a book that showcases the joy connected to dancing. I was not only motivated to celebrate the universality of dance but also its diversity and inclusiveness. Anyone – no matter who you are – can dance. It is an activity we can enjoy together … even virtually these days.
Dancing is such a fun way to connect. And I love that you use dances from all over the world. The brief descriptions of each of the dances at the end was especially fun. Was that always part of your manuscript? Or at what point was that added?
That’s a great question, Janet. The original manuscript didn’t include the two-sentence descriptions for each dance. My editor, Jes Negrón, at Boyds Mills & Kane, requested that I add the back matter. Shortly after acquiring the manuscript, she told me that she’d probably ask me to write the descriptions, so I wasn’t surprised when she did.
So fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes process. No two books are the same! But I have to ask . . . since you did the research, have you danced all of these dances? And which one is your favorite?
I haven’t danced all of the dances but would be willing to try most of them, except for breakdancing. No way can I spin on my head or do a one-armed handstand!
Haha! Yeah, I think I would struggle with that one, too!
I don’t necessarily have a favorite dance, but I have a personal connection with kuku because I learned that dance in college.
That must have been such a fun class. I confess, while so many sound fun, I’ve always wanted to learn Irish Stepdancing.
Okay, let’s talk art. The art is so fun! The illustrator, Maine Diaz, really makes the dancing come alive. Did you have input, or what was your reaction to seeing it for the first time?
Jes was kind enough to allow my input into the selection of an illustrator, and it’s obvious that Maine was the right choice! I saw early sketches for the book and was able to offer input, which I appreciated. I was not prepared, however, for the finished project. I was THRILLED! Maine’s illustrations are captivating and energetic; they certainly make my words DANCE!
They really do. Such a perfect pairing between words and pictures.
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think the dancers in your story might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
What a fun, creative question, Janet! I wrote the first thing that came to mind.
Love it! The perfect license plate. Thanks so much again for stopping by here on the blog.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me about Let’s Dance!, Janet. I appreciate the opportunity to share my book with your readers.
You’re welcome! And for the rest of you, see below to find out where to get your own copy of Let’s Dance! and where you can connect with Valerie on social media.
LET’S DANCE! (Boyds Mills & Kane) is Valerie Bolling’s debut picture book. In addition to being an author, Valerie has been an educator for over 25 years. She is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel valued and heard. Besides writing picture books, Valerie has been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly (“The Family Writing Project Builds a Learning Community in Connecticut”) and NESCBWI News (“Microaggressions Don’t Feel ‘Micro’”). Recently, she had a poem accepted for publication by Cricket Media. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.
Please Welcome Gabi Snyder to my blog! I love Gabi. We met through a picture book group called 12×12, and are now both part of the Debut Crew. I confess, I may be fangirling to have her on my site. I actually read her book announcement before we met and thought it sounded brilliant! I’m excited for you all to learn more about her.
Now on to the interview! As always, I’m in green.
Hi Gabi, welcome to my blog!
Hi Janet! I’m excited to be here!
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
Back in the day (early aughts), I studied English-Creative Writing at The University of Texas, with a focus on writing fiction for adults. After earning my MA, I took a succession of jobs that used writing (like grant writing and instructional design), but I wasn’t finding much time to do my own writing.
Fast forward to 2013: when my kids were little (3 and 5), we moved from Austin to Corvallis, Oregon. With a break from work following the move, I found time to get back to my own writing. Only, by then, reading daily with my two littles, I’d become immersed in the world of picture books and fallen in love with this form of storytelling.
Isn’t it an amazing form? I’m totally in love, too. Your book is so fun! Please tell us what it’s about.
TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE starts with a gate left open and a dog escaping her yard to join a poodle on a trike. Soon it’s three dogs on a scooter and then four dogs on a bike. With each new mode of transportation, a new dog is added to the fun. But what the pups don’t notice is that the original dog’s family cat is in hot pursuit.
It’s such a fun premise! I can just imagine kids giggling over that cat. What inspired you to write Two Dogs on a Trike?
If I had to guess which picture book I reread the most as a child, I’d name GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. The silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic. In TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, we count up to 10 and back down again while moving through different and escalating modes of transportation.
And the dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in the story was inspired, in part, by my childhood pets. I grew up with a cat we called Kinko (named for his kinked tail) and an assortment of dogs. Kinko was the undisputed boss. Now my family includes one daredevil dog and one cat who keeps us all in line.
Haha! I had cats growing up, too, and they definitely keep us all in line.
I love that your book leaves so much room for the reader to create a story. Sparse text books can be really tricky, and yours makes it look easy! I would love to hear about your revision process. Was the initial draft pretty similar to this, or what kind of edits did you have to make?
Great question! Unlike most of my stories, drafting TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE was fairly quick and painless. It came out mostly whole. Of course, my brilliant critique partners still had suggestions for taking it to the next level. For instance, looking back at my first draft I see that the first line of the story initially read “One dog on the sidewalk.” With help from my critique partners, that line changed to “One dog, all alone…”. And then, when working with my editor, Meredith Mundy at Abrams, she pointed out that Sandra Boynton’s book HIPPOS GO BERSERK opens with this line: “One hippo, all alone . . ..” I wanted my opening line to vary more from the first line of that Boynton classic, so we changed that line to “One dog stands alone.”
So fun to see the evolution! Thank you for sharing. I feel like I just got a peek into your secret lab. 😊
Okay, so hearing about the story, and knowing you have a dog and cat, any chance we can see a picture? Everyone loves pet pictures.
Camille (the dog) and Henry (the cat) love to help me write! Camille likes to drape herself across my lap as I type, and Henry keeps my manuscripts warm and furry.
Adorable! What a cozy way to write. 😸🐶
Finally, the art. I love the bold colors and the simple, yet intricate images (which is quite the feat!). The illustrator, Robin Rosenthal, conveys so much emotion and humor and makes it look effortless! What is your favorite image from the book, and why?
I am absolutely smitten with Robin’s illustrations. And I love the 80’s retro vibe of the fashion choices.
Aren’t those the best??! The 80’s rocked.
For the first half of the story, the dogs are oblivious to the fact that they’re being followed. When we reach “10 dogs,” there’s a realization. That last animal? Not a dog! The revelation spread and the one that follows are my favorite images in the story. And while my illustration notes made clear who that not a dog is, I didn’t specify where we are. Robin Rosenthal’s illustration for that spread is hilarious and unexpected! I gasped in surprise when I saw it, and yet it feels like the inevitable “of course!” choice. Truly perfection.
It totally felt inevitable! It’s a neat thing to watch an illustrator’s work not only bring a story to life, but add that extra to make it that much MORE.
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think the dogs (and the cat!) in your story might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
Those are purrfect! (I couldn’t resist! Haha!) Thanks so much for stopping in!
Thanks so much for hosting me, Janet! 😊
TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE will be released on May 19th. To learn more about Gabi, her book, and where to find her on social media, see below!
Reader. Writer. Lover of chocolate. Watch for Gabi Snyder’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, coming from Abrams/Appleseed in spring 2020, and her second picture book, LISTEN (working title) from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books in spring 2021. Gabi lives in Oregon with her family, including one daredevil dog and the cat who keeps everyone in line.
If possible, consider buying TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE from your local bookstore. You can use Indiebound to find a local store.
If you don’t have a local indie or if they’re not able to take online orders, consider supporting local bookstores by ordering from Bookshop.
Wow, it’s been a while since I posted an author interview, but I have some great ones coming up this month to make up for it!
First up is Claire Annette Noland. We met through our debut author group, The Debut Crew. She is one of our fearless leaders, and I’ve been so happy to get to know her even better through this interview.
Her debut picture book, Evie’s Field Day, illustrated by Alicia Teba, comes out on May 1st. It’s a fun one, and you can find my review HERE.
But let’s get to it! As always, my comments are in green:
Hi Claire, welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
I’ve always been a reader. I became a writer in high school when I took a creative writing class and realized kid lit was my happy place. I decided I wanted a career focused on children and books and I’ve been able to do that as a bookseller, children’s librarian, reading specialist, kindergarten teacher, mom to four children, and now author!
Wow, your list of jobs is like my dream list! Kid lit is my happy place, too. Can you please tell us about your upcoming book?
Evie’s Field Day is about a girl who loves to win and looks forward to getting more ribbons at the annual field day. Unfortunately, things don’t work out as planned and Evie is not a very good loser. When she is finally ahead, she is faced with a decision. Should she race ahead and win or make a choice to stop and be a friend.
Field days are the best! But I totally get how Evie feels. It’s easy to get caught up in winning. What inspired you to write this story?
No one likes to lose but it is a fact of life. We can’t always win. As a child, I never seemed to win anything but games of chance, like BINGO. As a mom and teacher, I saw how frustrated and upset children can get when they lose. I want to encourage children to enjoy the game, focus on doing their best, and on being a good friend and teammate. I hope Evie’s Field Day will be help children to be good sports.
It’s a good lesson to learn young. Still, I love how spunky Evie is as a character. She reminded me of myself when I was a kid. I loved winning! Did you base her off of anyone you know?
Actually, she is a combination of my four children who each struggled with competitors and learned many valuable lessons in the process.
I love that! Kids are the best inspiration. And I also loved all the fun field day games in your book. How did you choose them? Did it require research?
Field Day is always one of the most anticipated days in the school year and the games included in the book are student favorites. I had many to choose from!
I guess it helps when you’ve been a teacher for a few years! The suggestions on teaching good sportsmanship in the back matter are great! Was that part of the initial drafts or your submission package or did it come later? How did you develop that?
Cardinal Rule Press has a very clear vision for the books they publish. They want realistic stories about children and the issues they face. They want to empower children as well as encourage parents and teachers. Each of their books have suggestions and activities that support the topic.
The back matter was developed after the contract was signed. I read many articles on sportsmanship and talked to coaches. I also included techniques that I personally developed as a teacher and parent.
Fascinating to see how the process works for different publishers.
So let’s talk about the art. I love how the illustrator, Alicia Teba, uses color to really spotlight the kids in the story and bring focus to the action. Was this something you had discussed with your editor/art-director beforehand, or was it a fun surprise? What was your reaction on seeing it?
I love the illustrations done by Alicia. The color palate was the brilliant idea of Maria Dismondy, publisher of Cardinal Rule Press. I was able to see the draft illustrations throughout the process and I am thrilled with each page. I especially love how Evie’s emotions are so clearly evident.
So clear! Now, I have to ask. The timeline is so long for picture books. You’ve been looking forward to release day for years now. How has COVID-19 affected your release day plans?
Evie’s Field Day was planned to launch in time for end of the school year activities. Unfortunately, things are turning out differently than planned because children are not at school. The book is being launched virtually and we are planning a big #AtHomeFieldDay on May 21st.
The field day will be celebrated on Instagram. Families can post pictures on Instagram with the hashtags #EviesFieldDay and #AtHomeFieldDay to be eligible for prizes. Here’s a blog post with some fun activity ideas: At Home Field Day- 10 ways to play, and here’s information from Cardinal Rule Press about the #AtHomeFieldDay contest. I hope many families will join the fun!
Sounds super fun! What a great way to celebrate. 😊
Okay, one last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Evie might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
Love it! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Claire, I loved learning more about you and your book. Wishing it a very successful launch!
And for the rest of you, thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Claire on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of EVIE’S FIELD DAY!
Claire Noland is the author of easy readers, board books, and picture books for young children. She knows that everyone who reads is a winner and as a children’s librarian, reading specialist, and author, her life’s goal is to excite kids about books and reading. She writes from her home in Central California.
I have fallen off the earth, it seems. Like the rest of the world, I’ve been adjusting to a new life where my kids are on the computers all day attending zoom classes and doing homework in virtual classrooms. Posting on my blog has dropped in priority. However, I’m beginning to think we need another computer, because I really miss my writing time! (Actually, I’m making 10-yo late for her class which starts in two minutes, so I guess this will be short.) 😬
For many, this has been a great time to hunker down and write. For others it has been a time of anxiety and fear, and zero writing is getting done. For even others, it’s a time of adjusting schedules and finding a way to get in writing again (like me!). Times like these can mean a lot of guilt for some. Guilt for escaping from the realities of life. Guilt for NOT escaping from the realities of life. Guilt for having time and ability to write when others don’t. Guilt for not writing when you feel like you should. So. Much. Guilt.
I can’t be productive in any way with guilt, so I gave myself permission to take a break. If I write, great! If I don’t write, well that’s great, too. Right now, my focus is on my kids. Helping them cope in a time that is pretty stressful. They worry about school. They worry about friends. They worry about the world. They worry about their dad who still goes in to work everyday in a high risk environment (he’s a physician). I perhaps can’t fix the world right now, but I can make my home a little spot of peace for my kids. Give them some stability in a world that seems to have very little of that.
I hope that you will all give yourself permission to be the person you need/want to be right now. No guilt. We’re all doing our best. Big hugs, and stay safe!
An open letter to all moms everywhere.
These past couple of weeks have brought change that would bring a piggy bank to its knees. I’ve been scrambling, along with every other mom I know, to figure out not only a new schedule for myself, but for my kids, too.
I’ve seen amazingly helpful posts like THIS ONE by Patricia Bailey. I’ve seen lists of great activities to keep kids reading like THIS ONE put together by Kate Messner. And wow, there have been so many people jump in to offer advice and schedules. And basically, people are good and helpful. I’ve loved seeing all the helpers jumping in.
But moms, just a little reminder that we are only human. If you are plowing through, and feeling great about how it’s going, that’s wonderful! But if you are struggling, and ready to tear your hair out, and on the verge of tears . . . you know what? You are not alone.
My kids and I had some really great moments this last week, but we also had some really bad ones. In between the laughs, and the hikes, and the movie nights, we had raised voices. We had tears. We had breakdowns.
Please, cut yourselves a little slack. Remember that we are going through a global crisis that no one could have forseen (well, except those dystopian authors. They saw it all). If watching TV and eating cookies is what works for you, do it! If letting your kids play Minecraft for a few hours is what you need to maintain your sanity, do it! So what if Karen is plowing through her color-coded chart? Karen is not you. That is Karen’s way of coping. You do you.
These are tough times. But know I’m rooting for you! I’m rooting for us all. We will get through this, and we will be stronger.
All the air hugs to you and yours. And remember . . . you’re doing great!
I’ve had this blog post scheduled for a while. Long before the chaos of COVID-19 hit. I debated if we should hold off, but after talking to Wendy, we both feel the world needs some non-COVID-19 things to talk about and enjoy. Wendy is so fun, and I hope you enjoy this fabulous interview!
Today is going to be awesome! I’m so excited to have Wendy McLeod MacKnight here on my blog!
Wendy is the author of THREE amazing Middle Grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press, 2017), The Frame-Up (Greenwillow Books, 2018), and her most recent release The Copycat (Greenwillow Books, 2020), which came out last week!
Wendy and I met as middle grade authors through the debut group the Sweet Sixteens, and bonded over kindred-spirit characters. When I was on the hunt for a new agent, a happy twist of fate landed me with Wendy’s, and I’m just thrilled to have an excuse to ask all the questions and to get to know her, and her latest book, even better!
I’m just going to jump right in, but as always, I’ll be in green bold.
Thanks Janet! I’m going to try and explain the concept without any spoilers! THE COPYCAT tells the story of Ali Sloane, whose family has moved WAY too many times during her short twelve years. To survive all these new schools, Ali has learned to adapt; whatever the popular kids are doing, so is she. When she and her parents move to Saint John to live with her great-grandmother, Ali hopes that she can finally set down roots and make real friends. But it isn’t easy to be yourself when you’re not sure who yourself really is. Throw in a family feud and a mysterious fog and things get way more complicated for Ali!
A family feud and mysterious fog are sure-fire ways to complicate anyone’s life! I love it! So what inspired you to write THE COPYCAT?
My own life! I moved five times before I was sixteen, twice between the time I was fourteen and sixteen years old. The last two moves were incredibly hard, and I struggled. I was so lonely, and to make friends, I would try hard to be like them instead of myself. It was painful, and I definitely wanted to write about how hard it can be to be your authentic self when you’re just trying to survive socially.
I knew the book had to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick because a) the fog is really something; b) it’s such a cool port city; and c) the character of Gigi is (very) loosely based on my grandmother, Huia Ryder, who was a force of nature, and from who I inherited my love of all things gaudy and sparkly!
I think you nailed how painful it is when you’re trying to be just like everyone else, and it just isn’t you. This idea of being true to yourself is a major theme in your book. Did you ever struggle with fitting in as a kid?
Um, see above! Honestly? I am a total goofball and people pleaser, so it was hard to find my people sometimes. But I’m also totally lucky: my best friends from grade one are still my friends, and the group of friends I acquired after our last move are still my friends. But I have no idea where any of the kids are that I befriended when I was fourteen, so that kind of tells you that they were never real friends, and the first batch of friends I made in Fredericton didn’t totally stick either.
I’m a people-pleaser, too. I totally get that. (And the goofball bit is probably why we get along so well!). Not all childhood friends stick, but I’m always amazed that the best ones keep coming back, even after years of separation.
So now that you have all kinds of wisdom and hind-sight, what advice would your adult self give to your past self?
Advice? I was a sensitive, drama-prone romantic who felt awkward a lot of the time. I’d love to tell younger me to hang in there and be true to herself, but I don’t think she’d believe me. I’d also tell her to keep believing in magic. That I think she’d believe.
Haha! Yeah, I didn’t believe the adults much either, but they were right. And amen about the magic!
Taking a little turn here . . . one of the things I loved about your book were all of the side notes, like “Ali’s List of Schools (So Far).” I am a BIG fan of lists. Did you include these with the original manuscript? How did these become a thing? (Which I’m so glad they did!)
I love lists, too! Those lists were always there, though I think my agent, Lauren Galit, really encouraged me to go for them!
She’s a wise one!
The lists were a shorthand way to impart information, but they were also a way to give the reader a sense of how much Ali tries to control things in a world in which she has very little control. She loves her parents, but the moves are painful for Ali, and they’ve caused a huge amount of bitterness. I didn’t want to shy away from that; when we moved, I was furious with my dad for months. I basically left the Pig Face neighborhood and had no friends for months and it was awful. Later, I got that my dad had no choice, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of your parents as sometimes being helpless.
So true! And then it’s a shock when you become an adult and realize the truth, that we’re all just doing our best. But I love that you let Ali express her bitterness, because it’s HARD being a kid, and having to deal with the consequences of choices we didn’t make.
So let’s talk characters! I know this is a cruel question, but do you have a favorite character from your book? I’m kind of partial to Alfie with his cool British accent, and mysterious life. And I love how important family is to him. I think we would have been friends.
I love Alfie. I’m kind of partial to Gigi, who is (very) loosely based on my grandmother. In the end though, I think I love Digger best, because he really is trying, despite all of his pain!
Putting bits from people we love into our characters is one of the best parts of being an author! And isn’t it interesting how we love the characters who hurt the worst? I feel the same way about my own characters.
Okay, you know I have to ask. If you were a Copycat, what would be your favorite thing to turn into?
In no particular order: A goldfinch, Batgirl, Amal Clooney, and Adele.
Gah! I really want to know why on all of these . . . okay, except Adele, because she’s AMAZING . . . but that might be a long detour, so I’m letting you off the hook. But fascinating answers!
Okay, I would love to learn more about you! Being an author is a second career for you. Can you tell us about your past life, and also, why you decided to become an author (and particularly a middle grade one!)?
In my past life, I worked for the Government of New Brunswick, and ended my career in charge of the Department of Education. All of my positions in government were about supporting children or vulnerable people, and it was so rewarding.
I decided to become an author when I was eight or nine years old, and that desire never wavered. Finally, I got up the courage to try! I only ever wanted to write middle grade fiction, because the books I read when I was that age are the books that have stuck with me for my entire life. They’re the books I read over and over. It’s such a magical time of life for reading and it’s a privilege to write for middle grade readers!
Amen, my friend! It is a huge privilege. Anything else you want to share? Random facts, things that are important to know about you . . .
Other things about me: Sapphire is my favourite colour, I’d walk for hours for a piece of chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting, I feed every kind of critter (although raccoons are my favourite), I adore science fiction TV series and movies, consider Jaws the perfect movie, am petitioning to adopt Baby Yoda, and never turn down cheese.
You Canadians are so cute the way you spell ‘favorite’! I love it! (haha!) And this is a wild coincidence, but when I went to Canada last year, I came face to face with a raccoon. I think it wanted me to feed it. Maybe it was one of yours! But oy, on Jaws. I saw it when I was super young in the theaters, and that movie still gives me nightmares. I’m a total wimp.
Are you ready for this next bit? Speed round!
Cadbury vs. Hershey’s?
Cadbury! Canada is a Commonwealth Country!
PB&J vs. mac & cheese?
I’m allergic to nuts, so mac ‘n cheese all the way!
Christopher Robin. He always suspects he’s going to grow up and he sucks the marrow out of his time in the hundred-acre wood. Fortunately for me, I haven’t grown up yet!
Campfire & S’mores vs. Symphony & Crème Brûlée?
Definitely campfire and s’mores. But if I can eat Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris, I’m there!
What?! I had Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris just last week, and you totally weren’t there. I now feel cheated. And that is bad news on the nuts! But when you come visit, I will forgo my usual PB&J and whip you up some mac ‘n’ cheese. 😊
Okay, final question. License Plates. I always have to ask. What would Ali’s personalized license plate be if she were old enough to drive? You have 8 letters, and GO! (P.S. do you have personalized plated in Canada?)
We sure do have personalized license plates in Canada!
Hmmm, I think Ali would go with FAMILY. Corny, but true!
I don’t mind corny! I mean, aren’t all personalized license plates just a little bit corny? As they should be. Thank you so much for indulging all my questions and visiting us here on the blog! And wishing all the best for you and THE COPYCAT!
Thank you so much for asking me to visit your blog, Janet! I am a huge Janet Sumner Johnson fan!
Awww, get on with you. 😌💓
As for the rest of you, thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Wendy on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE COPYCAT!
Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up (a fantasy that asks “What if every original piece of art is actually alive?”) and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons.
Happy International Women’s Day! I wanted to mention three inspiring women who have influenced me over the years. Today I’m focusing on public historical figures, because otherwise I would just post pictures of my mom, grandmother, sisters, aunts, well . . . you get the idea. So here we go!
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person ever to win a second Nobel Prize, and the ONLY person to have won two Nobel Prizes in two different sciences (Linus Pauling won one for Chemistry and one for Peace). She is one of the very few women I remember learning about in school. She knew what she loved, and she worked tirelessly to make the world a better place through her work. I could go on for quite a while about her accomplishments, because they are many, but you can read more about here HERE. Marie Curie told me that a woman could do anything they put their mind to.
Her life was so filled with love for others, that you can’t help but be inspired to work harder to be a little better. If you look up quotes by Mother Teresa, you will find a plethora of inspiring words. Here is just one that I love: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” The reminder that if we all did the little that we were able to do, the world would be a better place.
Harriet Tubman is one of the other few women I remember learning about in grade school. What impresses me most about Harriet Tubman is that she didn’t hesitate to brave danger after danger–knowing what it could mean for herself if she were caught–to help other slaves experience the freedom that she had gotten. If only we were all so fearless, and so concerned about others.
So many inspiring women have helped change this world for the better, and it was tough to only highlight three. I think of Pocahontas, Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Florence Nightengale, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Jane Austen, Ada Lovelace, and that is just to name a very few (and not even considering those who are still alive!). I thank them all for standing strong in their beliefs. For working hard in the face of doubt. For changing the world for the better.
Which women are you honoring today?