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Author Interview: Sharon Giltrow

Jul

06, 2020 |

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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!

Zzzzzzz!

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:

EK books

Booktopia

Amazon

Amazon Australia

Amazon UK

Abe Books

Book Depository

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.

You can find Sharon on her WebsiteInstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

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Reading Our World

Jul

06, 2020 |

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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.

Midnight Without a Moon - Kindle edition by Jackson, Linda ...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.

Sulwe by [Lupita Nyong'o, Vashti Harrison]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.

Cover ImageFinally, 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! 

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Author Interview: Valerie Bolling

Jun

01, 2020 |

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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!

DANC4EVR

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 Bollings 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. 


You can find her website HERE, and follow her on TwitterGoodreads, and Instagram.

Signed copies of LET’S DANCE! can be purchased from RJ Julia Booksellers, and unsigned copies are available at Bookshop.orgAmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

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Author Interview: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Mar

16, 2020 |

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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.

I am fascinated by the concept of THE COPYCAT. So clever! Will you tell everyone what it’s about?

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!

Hogwart’s house?

Ravenclaw!!!!

PB&J vs. mac & cheese?

I’m allergic to nuts, so mac ‘n cheese all the way!

Winnie-the-pooh character?

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.

You can follow her on TwitterGoodreadsFacebook, and Instagram.

THE COPYCAT is available now through AmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

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Lost Resume #2

Feb

25, 2020 |

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Hello, friends! I know it is a Tuesday, and I am not normally here on the blog, but this week is special, being the lead-up to the release of my upcoming picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson).

This week I’m sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who both did and didn’t make it into my story. I hope you enjoyed Snow White’s Lost Resume from yesterday. If not, you can find it HERE. Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #2: Captain Hook!

I really liked this resume. The tricky part on this one was that I needed to be careful not to confuse the Captain Hook character from J.M. Barrie’s book, with the one from the Disney movie. As such, I was forced into the extra work of reading the original PETER PAN (sometimes an author’s job is tough,* but as a professional, one carries on).

The reason this resume was not included,** is because after I sent in the eight resumes for consideration, I was asked to replace another character in the book. They felt the original character was too controversial for schools.

Can you guess who that character might be? I’ll give you a hint. It involved hygiene, and it was a male character. (I’m going to be honest here, I don’t think you’ll guess who it was! 😂) Anyway, Captain Hook became the replacement. Since we wanted resumes from characters who were not already in the book, the resume fell out of the running.

Yesterday, I said I might tell you who Snow White (and the 7 Dwarves) replaced, but since no one parried a guess, I will hold off until the end of the week. I gave no hint yesterday, but I’ll give one today. She replaced someone who also brought along a group, and who was in a nursery rhyme instead of a fairy tale. (My hints don’t make it easy, do they? 😂)

Have a wonderful week! And be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #3! In the meantime, don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members!

If you don’t want to wait, and just want to pre-order a copy of my book (I can hardly blame you for that!), you can find it on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don’t have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

*I’m kidding, this part of the job is not tough at all. I LOVE when I’m forced to read a good book. 😉

**Well, one major reason, anyway . . . I don’t actually know all the reasons my publisher chose the four they did. I can only guess.

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Author Interview: Aya Khalil

Feb

17, 2020 |

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I’ve always said that one of the best part about being an author is meeting other authors and getting to read their books and stories (sometimes a little early!).

With my own picture book coming out in 2020, I was fortunate to meet several other debut picture book authors. One of them is Aya Khalil. Her book THE ARABIC QUILT: An Immigration Story, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, releases February 18th.

I got to read her book in advance, and am so excited to have her on my blog today. So please welcome Aya Khalil! (As always, I’ll be in bolded green text.)

Hi Aya, Welcome to my blog!

Hi! Thanks for having me.

I’d love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure, I am a freelance journalist and educator with my debut picture book coming out in February. I live in Northwest Ohio with my three children and husband.

Wow, three jobs (counting author)! That is not easy, especially with kids. And huge congratulations on your book. I’m so excited for it’s release. Please tell us about it.

My book is about a beautiful girl named Kanzi who recently immigrated to the US from Egypt. She tries so hard to fit in but the teasing really gets to her. With the help of her teacher and mom, she learns to appreciate her language and culture.

It’s so hard to remember what’s important when you’re young . . . especially in the face of teasing. I loved that Kanzi had so many supportive adults in her life. Kids need that! I’d love to know what inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story.

My picture book is based on true stories growing up as an immigrant. I moved to the US when I was one with my parents and brother. We attended a mostly all-white school in a rural town in North Dakota. We had incredible teachers there and especially this one teacher who thought of this lesson one day. She asked me, with the help of my mom, to write down our classmates’ names in Arabic. My classmates thought their names in Arabic were so cool! So they each copied their names on their own and the teacher hung them up as a quilt. This happened over 20 years ago and just comes to show how powerful teachers can be, especially to their minority students.

What a lovely and inclusive lesson plan! Teachers have such an influence and can do so much good. And I love that you used your own life stories to inspire you. What advice would you give to beginning writers about finding ideas?

Write down ideas all the time! Whether it’s a blog or even on your Notes app, write down encounters or situations. Maybe you will end up making it into a book some day.

Great advice! You never know what might inspire a story.

Above you mentioned you do freelance journalism. Have you always wanted to write? And how did you get into writing picture books?

I read to my kids often and used to review picture books and I always thought it would be so neat to get my words out there to young children. With my background in journalism my published work was usually geared towards adults.

Well, I’m so glad you took the plunge! The Arabic Quilt is a beautiful story that will no doubt resonate with a lot of kids!

Thanks!

As a new author what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about being an author?

That it takes A LONG TIME! I was always so used to the fast-paced world of journalism and quick responses and quick edits and quick publishing times! Ha! That’s not always the case in the picture book industry.

Haha! No, it is not. Such a stark contrast between the two industries. Patience is definitely needed for the book publishing world.

Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Kanzi would put on her license plate (even though she’s definitely too young to drive!)?

QuiltTheHate (Like quit the hate but with the word quilt instead)

How perfect! And I’m guessing that after your book releases, there will be a lot of classes making their own quilts, just like Kanzi’s class.

Thank you again for stopping in and answering some questions!

Thank you so much for asking these great questions!

Best wishes for your book! And to all my readers, please find Aya’s social media links below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE ARABIC QUILT!

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Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and educator. She holds a master’s degree in Education with a focus in Teaching English as a Second Language. THE ARABIC QUILT is based on true events growing up, when she moved to the US from EGYPT at the age of one. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Post & Courier, Toledo Area Parent, and more. She’s been featured in Yahoo!, Teen Vogue, Verona and more. www.ayakhalil.com

You can follow her on TwitterGoodreadsFacebook, and Instagram

THE ARABIC QUILT: an immigration story is available for pre-order from your local indie book store (find it at IndieBound), from AmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

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Conquering Fears

Jan

13, 2020 |

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Over the holiday break, my boys and I had a chance to do some rock climbing on a climbing wall. You pull on the harness. They clip you in. You choose “Easy,” “Medium,” or “Hard.” And off you go.

It sounds so simple, and really, the wall isn’t that high. But about halfway up, I caught a glimpse of the down. I had to refocus myself on simply finding the next handhold. Conquering my fears one step at a time.

Conquering FearsMy 13-yo got to just about the same point when he called down, “I think I have to come down!” He’d hit that same wall. But he didn’t know how to get past it.

Now, I knew he was safe. He was buckled in. The rope and mechanisms would catch him if he fell. I’d already done it myself, and I knew he could do it.

So I called to him, “Keep going! You’re almost there. You can do this!”

And he did. He made it to the top. Pressed the buzzer in proof, then rappelled down to safety. Man, was that kid proud of himself!” He had faced down his fears and come out the other side as the conquering hero. There is something truly empowering in that.
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Fear is a real thing. It can take hold of our minds and hearts, and can physically make us ill. It can keep us from doing the things we want to do, or from even trying to accomplish the things we want to accomplish. It whispers in our ears:
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You aren’t good enough.
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That is too hard for you.

You should stick to what you know.

But those are lies. If we refocus ourselves, take things one step at a time, and stop thinking about those fears, we can conquer them! Maybe not on our first try, but if we keep trying, it will happen.

Sometimes we need outside support, and that’s okay! That’s why you should surround yourself with people who build you up. People who believe in you. People who can see things from a different perspective. Find those people! Search them out, then hold them close. I know it’s made a huge difference in my life.

Conquering fears is hard. It can be scary. It can take time. LOTS of it! But I tell you what, that feeling you get when you finally make it is worth it.

Remember.

You ARE good enough!

Nothing is too hard if you’re determined.

Learning new things is amazing!

What fears are you hoping to conquer?

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Happy Holidays!

Dec

16, 2019 |

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Happy Holidays!

This beautiful family illustration was done by Eri Miranda. You can find her HERE.

We decorate a fake tree every year, and we collect ornaments everywhere we travel to remind us of all our adventures.I will be busy spending time with my family for the rest of December, so I won’t be posting here on my blog until January. My family celebrates Christmas, and here are some of our traditions:

I’d love it if you’d share about the holiday you celebrate, and any special traditions you have!

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Computer Animation (& Books!)

Dec

09, 2019 |

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Today’s the day! I finally get to share an animated page from HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS! But before we go there, let’s talk Computer Animation (& Books! . . . because of course). And I want to start with a story:

Many moons ago, I was at an auction to raise money for some youth camps. One of the offerings was an animated image done by Ira Baker (who happens to be THE GUY who works with Sandra Boynton on her very fabulous videos). Cool right??!

Well, at that time, I did not have a book out. I had a very recent book deal, but for middle grade. I didn’t see how I could use this offering, but my husband is a visionary. Without telling me, he bid on it and won.Ira and I chatted about ways I could use it, but I just didn’t have the right project, and he very kindly let me put it on hold. Fast forward five years (yes, FIVE), and I finally had the perfect images from HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS, my upcoming picture book.

I got permission from my publisher, Capstone, to animate a page, and sent Ira my ideas along with some of the images done by Courtney Dawson, the illustrator.

He was brilliant! 

I think I watched the clip he sent for a good half-hour on repeat. And guess what??! Not only will I be sharing that clip with you, today, but when I learned Ira also does book trailers for other authors, I convinced him to answer some questions about computer animation, book trailers, and more.  

On to the interview! (Like usual, I’m the one in bold green type.)

How did you get started working with computer animation?

I enjoyed animation as a child but never thought it could actually be a career path for me.  However, I was very into making videos which eventually led me to the BYU film department.  While there, I tried to get exposure to all aspects of filmmaking, and even became proficient in 3D animation. I was struck by how I could tell a story all by myself, and that story would be a simpler and “purer” representation of my ideas than I could achieve in live action. After college I went on to have a career as a video editor, but it was my new ability to create imagery through animation that proved to be the most valued skill to my clients. After a few years, I realized that I was rushing through my edits just so I could get to “the fun stuff.” I wondered “why can’t I do the ‘fun stuff’ all the time?” So I made a few tweaks to my career path and became a full-time animator.

I love that you figured it out and made changes. So tell us more about the “fun stuff.” What is your favorite project that you’ve gotten to work on? 

Sandra Boynton’s TYRANNOSAURUS FUNK – Sung by Samuel L. Jackson.

Okay, I may have watched this video two or twenty times. I love Tyrannosaurus Funk so much! Samuel L. Jackson is amazing. His voice!! And wow, Sandra Boynton is a brilliant writer. How cool is it that you’ve worked with Sandra Boynton on so many projects! How did you get that gig?

I worked for a time with a company in Provo called Kaleidoscope Pictures who handled the film production for Franklin Covey. Kaleidoscope wanted to use a song that Sandra had written to illustrate one of the Seven Principles. I was the only person on staff at the time that had any animation experience, so the whole production fell on my shoulders. For one whole gloriously creative month, I lived and breathed 2D animation and became forever enamored with it’s aesthetic and charm. When the animation was finished, we all held our breath and waited for Sandra’s approval. She loved it! After a few years she wanted to do some animated projects herself and she called me up. We’ve been working together ever since.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I think it’s so inspiring to see how giving something your best can lead to opportunities you never could have foreseen. 

So I’d love to know more about the process of making a book trailer. When you work with an author to create a book trailer, how does the collaboration work? Does the author plan it, and then you carry it out? Do you help coordinate the content? Or something totally different? Tell us about it!

Sometimes the author has very specific ideas, sometimes I’m given more free reign to tell the story as I see it. There’s no right way to do it as long as we’re both proud of the end result. The important thing is to keep the author constantly informed of my progress and showing him/her everything as it is finished.

Communication is so important! It makes all the difference. So how much new art do you have to create for a book trailer? 

Usually the animation is based on the book illustrations, because that’s all that exists. I go through a lot of Photoshop work separating the characters from the background and then breaking the characters down into layers that can be individually moved. After that, I rig the characters so they can go through the full range of motions and/or expressions that each scene demands.

I usually approach each illustration as a frozen moment in time and ask myself “what events brought these characters to this exact moment in time?” and “what happens immediately after this moment?” Then I make the characters do what those answers suggest; always trying to infuse as much charm, personality and storytelling into the process. If the author and I disagree, I will make adjustments until the author is happy with the result.

So fascinating! As an author, I ask a lot of those same questions when writing. Story is so important. I love that it’s at the heart of a good book trailer. 

What advice do you have for any future computer animators out there?

There are so many resources available now that I never had! You can take courses online and watch free tutorials on YouTube if the college route is not for you. The secret is to find a story to tell and then start making animation right away! Even if you don’t fully understand the software, you can learn quickly as you go if you are passionate about your ideas. 

Where can authors contact you if they are interested in having you create a book trailer for them?

You can email me at iratheanimator@gmail.com or follow me on instagram @iratheanimator.

Thank you so much for your time! Computer animation is such an interesting field, and I’ve really enjoyed learning more about what you do and especially how it connects to books and stories.

And so, without further ado, here is the page from my book that Ira animated:
Isn’t it so fun! I love how the book flops and the hair bounces. Those details really make it shine! Thank you so much, Ira!
HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS is available for pre-order now!

IndieBound ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Goodreads

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In the Hot Seat

Dec

02, 2019 |

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Hi all! I hope you had a lovely weekend and Thanksgiving. Today, I’m in the hot seat over at Melissa Roske’s blog as part of her Ask the Author series.

If you haven’t visited before, definitely check it out! She uses the Proust Questionnaire, and some of those questions are hard! It’s so fascinating to see how authors respond. And to try to figure out how YOU would respond.

In fact, if you want to come back and tell me how you would respond to any particular question, I would love that. Put yourself in the hot seat!

Have a lovely week, and be sure to come visit next Monday, December 9th. I’ll be interviewing Ira Baker, the computer animator who works with Sandra Boynton on her super fun videos. He also does book trailers. So excited to have him stop in!

The Grand Tetons

(just a beautiful picture of the Tetons to send you on your way to making it a wonderful week)

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