Henry Herz’s latest picture book I Am Smoke is already receiving a lot of praise, including a starred review from Kirkus! Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian and book reviewer for School Library Journal, included I Am Smoke on his 2021 list ofThe Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books. And Matthew Cordell, author/illustrator of the Caldecott Medal-winning book Wolf in the Snow, said, “I’ll never look at smoke the same way again!” With so much buzz about I Am Smoke floating around, I’m super thrilled that Henry stopped by to tell us a little about how the idea for his creative nonfiction picture book was formed.Take it away, Henry!
I find the employment of fictional elements to convey facts a great way to engage with young readers and teach them without them realizing it. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction. Now, there are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I’d never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke than smoke itself? But I needed an overarching structure. I considered the chemistry of smoke. It turns out that wood smoke is primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. Water vapor got me thinking about the water cycle—water evaporates from rivers, lakes, and oceans to form clouds. Eventually, the water precipitates as rain or snow. Rinse and repeat.
Then I considered the carbon dioxide given off by wood smoke. Two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom. Carbon… Inspiration struck like lightning splitting a tree. Plants are the lungs of the Earth. They breathe in carbon dioxide through their stomata. They drink up water through their roots. Sunlight provides energy to split those molecules. The plant forms cellulose from carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, sequestering more and more carbon as they grow. Conversely, burning tree branches releases the stored carbon. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too.
Wow! That’s pretty fascinating! Thanks, Henry. I have a feeling that you’re not just blowing smoke. 😉
Readers, go out and find this book ASAP!
Henry Herzauthored 11 traditionally published children’s titles: MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES (Pelican, 2015), WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY (Pelican, 2016), MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS (Schiffer, 2016), LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH (Pelican, 2016), CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW (Sterling, 2017), HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS (Pelican, 2018), ALICE’S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius, 2018), GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE (Schiffer, 2018), 2 PIRATES + 1 ROBOT (Kane Miller, 2019), I AM SMOKE (Tilbury House, 2021), and THE MAGIC SPATULA (Month9 Books, 2022).
Henry is an editor at Running Wild Press. He’s an SCBWI member and moderates author panels yearly at San Diego Comic-Con. He earned a BS in Engineering from Cornell U., an MS in Engineering from George Washington U., and an MA in Political Science from Georgetown U.
Please welcome author and artist Amanda Leemis to Frog on a Blog. Amanda and I share a passion for literacy and picture books! Amanda stopped by with an awesome list of her top ten picture book picks for the preschool classroom. With schools all over the U.S. opening up again, her post couldn’t be more timely. Let’s take a look!
The Top 10 Picture Books You Need for Your Preschool Classroom includes wonderful indie authors and illustrators you absolutely must discover along with some classic picture book favorites! Each book on this list has amazing illustrations that will captivate early readers and bring them into an exciting story. It can be difficult for our earliest readers to sit through a long book, so each pick on this list has about 2-3 sentences per page. Now, let’s get reading!
Written and illustrated by Cat Min
Can a tiny bunny make a big difference? Come along with Willow as she ventures outside of her mailbox home for the first time! It’s a very scary big world out there and she faces many obstacles. She goes on a journey to deliver a very important note to the moon. Willow uses her creative mind and brave heart to conquer her fears and deliver a very important message. The water color illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and you will be instantly transported into a beautiful story. It will be a hard time picking your favorite illustration.
Going to school for the first time can be a lot of things: scary, confusing, exciting, adventurous. This is what the Moose learns as he heads to school! Follow along with this amazing character as he paints a picture with his hooves, blows stuff up in science class, and plays the drums. The end of the book has a great message too! If you accidentally take the wrong bus after school, it’s ok! The bus driver is there to help you and make sure you get home safely. Never be afraid to ask for help. If you like this book, then get excited, there are 19 more! See the review for “The Moose Goes to a Farm”.
Written by M. Drew and illustrated by Margherita Grasso
This book is packed full of whimsy, captivating illustrations, and furry best friends! Have you ever seen cats and dogs literally raining from the sky? No? Well then, you must check out this amazing picture book. If you’ve ever had a kid who has had a bad day and they just need to escape into a world that’s packed full of goodness, this book is a must! Follow along a little girl’s rainy day as she catches puppies and kitties falling from the sky. Don’t these animals need homes? I guess she’ll just have to make some extra room.
Written by Carly Simon and illustrated by Margot Datz
Going to bed isn’t any fun, especially when there is ballet to do! Amy the Bear wants to dance. She wants to dance in her bedroom, and do pirouettes and beautiful leaps. Her mother tells her several times that it’s bedtime, but Amy’s excitement is so infectious that her mother lets her dance on! This book’s illustrations are amazing! You will immediately want to join Amy and dance around her beautiful leafy house and look at the sunset out the large windows. While this book is great for bedtime, it is also great to read before nap time at school. It’s calming tone and peaceful images will bring everyone’s mind to rest.
When we get mad sometimes we want to shout, sometimes we want to cry, or sometimes we want to hurt other people. The little boy in this story just needs someone to listen. After Taylor’s amazing creation falls to the ground different animals come by to tell him what to do to feel better. Roaring doesn’t work, talking doesn’t work, and laughing doesn’t work. When a rabbit comes along he sits patiently and listens to the boy’s story. He hears about all the animals who tried to make him feel better, but never listened to his feelings. You will fall in love with rabbit, and be encouraged to persevere when things are difficult. The illustrations in this book are so cute and you will love the patient, listening rabbit.
Penelope the T-Rex is excited for her first day of school, but when she arrives she discovers that all of her classmates are humans! How will she be able to resist eating them? Penelope has such a hard time making friends, and by the end of the day she feels very lonely. The illustrations in this book are so unique and captivating. At the end of the book, Penelope sees what it’s like to get a taste of her own medicine (she gets bitten by a fish!) and she changes her ways. This book is great for the classroom and has a great message about how to treat one another in a kind way.
Ghosts aren’t real, or are they? Follow along on a little girl’s journey as she is called through the forest by a mystical creature. Could this be the legendary ghost horse? Perfect for Halloween, this book has bright and colorful illustrations that will usher you into a perfect preschool spooky adventure. In the end, we see that things are never as scary as they seem. Good news! There are 3 more books in the cowgirl series! These are wonderful books for little ones who love horses. See “Cowgirl Lessons” for more horse fun.
Do you love colors, counting, and dogs? Then this book is for you! Dog has 1 black dot on his left ear, but as the day moves along he finds more and more colorful spots on his coat. A splat of red jam leaves a red spot, a splish of blue paints leaves a blue spot, and a splosh of pink ice-cream leaves a pink spot. Count all of his 10 dots and name all of the 10 colors. What a messy dog! After his bath at the end of the day, he gets nice and clean in the bathtub. The illustrations are great for pre-K! With big shapes and bright colors, there is so much to talk about!
Written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman
When a rustling in the trees attracts Bear’s attention, he goes to find out who is making the sound. What kind of animal is it? Could it be a new friend? His friends join him as he looks high and low to see where the sound is coming from. This book is great for learning about how to make new friends, and what to do if someone is a bit shy. Come check out tons of different animals and find out who is hiding from Bear.
Come discover how little Trixie says her very first words, “Knuffle Bunny”. On the way back home from a trip to the laundromat with her dad, Trixie begins to wail and sob. What could she be crying about? Oh no! She left her stuffed animal at the laundromat! Explore New York in these super unique illustrations and follow the family as they traverse the city to retrieve their lovable plush!
Amanda Leemisis a model, artist, and creator ofThe Hollydog Blog!She is passionate about encouraging our littlest humans to read! With two books published in the “My Hollydog” series, she loves illustration and uses her skills to create printable worksheets for ages 2-5. Creating resources that build fine motor skills and boost creativity is her passion.
It is my pleasure to welcome children’s book author Michelle Vattula to Frog on a Blog. Michelle’s debut picture book, The Stalking Seagulls, was published earlier this year. Once upon a time, Michelle and I were in a critique group together, and I had the privilege of seeing an early draft of this story. I’m so excited that her hilarious boy vs. seagulls book is now out in the world! Let’s hear from Michelle.Be sure to read all the way to the end for information about a giveaway!
Congratulations on the publication of your debut children’s picture book The Stalking Seagulls! Please tell us a bit about the book and what inspired the story.
M.V.Hi Lauri and thank you so much. The Stalking Seagulls is a day at the beach that everyone has experienced at one time or another. A little boy gets a sandwich and the seagulls descend. The fun part of the book is what the main character, Alec, does to try to thwart the seagulls advances. My family visits my snowbird parents each year in Florida and one year the seagulls were quite relentless, which is where I got my inspiration.
The Stalking Seagulls was printed in a special font called dyslexie. Can you tell us a little about that? And is it common for your publisher, Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing, to print books this way?
M.V.According towww.dyslexiefont.com, Dyslexie font is a typeface – specially designed for people with dyslexia – which enhances the ease of reading, learning and working. The dyslexic font has subtle differences with the letter, such as being thicker on the bottom and slight slants to certain letters. This in turn assists the dyslexic reader. My publisher MacLaren-Cochrane only prints their books in dyslexie.
How long have you been writing with an eye toward being published?
M.V. Even though I have been writing for a long time, it has only been in the past six years that I have truly focused on being published and ultimately learning as much as I can about the publishing world.
What is your favorite thing about picture books?
M.V. Hmmm….that is a great question. There are so many areas to address, but overall, I love how they make me feel. When a picture book has a great and satisfying ending, I then feel good. Picture books can elicit many different emotions and having a writer creative and talented enough to evoke them is quite a special talent.
You have a degree in Speech-Language Pathology. How does your knowledge of speech pathology affect or inform your writing?
M. V. My main focus in Speech-Language Pathology was within the geriatric population, so I dealt with a lot of Aphasia (an acquired language disorder due to a brain injury, such as a stroke) and Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). That being said, the use of language was vital, making sure words and thoughts were clear and that words and phrases helped elicit language and communication. It’s complicated to explain, but my background has allowed me to use language that is fun and creative.
You are a member of at least one writer’s critique group. How important is it to you to be involved in groups like this?
M.V. Being part of a critique group is everything! I have three different critique groups and they all bring something different to the table. I am blessed and thankful for their expertise and opinions. They have all made me a better writer and critiquer.
What’s next for Michelle Vattula? What are you currently working on?
M.V. I have a great agent, T.J. Kirsch, from JCH Literary, who believes in my writing and is working hard to find it the right home. I have multiple completed manuscripts, Yay! I am doing a lot of revisions on others. I just started working on a sequel to a complete MS. Lots of pokers in the fire, that’s for sure.
Instagram @michelleciampavattula and Twitter @Mmvattula
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
M.V.I hope you enjoy The Stalking Seagulls. If you are a writer and frustrated with the process, stay strong and keep going. The publishing world is a hard business, but with perseverance and heart, anything is possible. Best of luck and may the seagulls never get your sandwich!
Thanks so much, Michelle! I’m sure everyone will enjoy your wonderful debut book.
Folks, if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of The Stalking Seagulls, here’s a chance to get your hands on one. Michelle has generously offered to give away a signed copy of her book to one person who comments on this blog post by August 23. A winner will be chosen at random.
Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.
Michelle Vattula was born in Boston but grew up most of her life in Erie, PA. After she received her Bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio, she ventured back to Boston for her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Northeastern University. Michelle Currently lives in the beautiful rolling hills of North Pittsburgh with her Finnish husband, her two rescue Golden Retrievers (one who is a therapy dog), and two beautiful boys who are her true inspiration for writing.
Michelle’s debut picture book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, was released by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing on April 20, 2021. Michelle is part of the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI leadership team as their New Member and Critique Group Coordinator. She is also a proud member of the Twitter group #Newin19. Michelle is represented by T.J. Kirsch from JCH Literary, and is open for interviews, story times/readings and visits (virtual and in-person).
Title:An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Z
Publisher/Year: The School of Life/2021
I admit it, I don’t post about poetry very often here on the Frog. But, April is Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than by sharing a children’s picture book filled with fun poems?And lovely illustrations, featuring adorable animals?
ButAn Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Zby The School of Life, with amazing art by Rachael Saunders, is more than a fun read. It features 26 emotions from anger to melancholy to zeal, each one encompassing a two-page spread with a new animal and setting.The goal of the book is to help children develop emotional literacy. Some of the featured emotions are more straight forward, such as boredom, fear, or happiness. And some are more complex, such as embarrassment, insecurity, or vulnerability.
Sample from L is for Loneliness:
If Loneliness was an animal,
It would glide throughout the deep:
No ears to hear its lonely song,
No company to keep.
Children experience many different emotions, and some have difficulty expressing them properly or even articulating what they’re feeling, leaving them with another feeling–confusion. An Emotional Menagerie aims to help children understand and deal with their feelings and emotions in a healthy way.
Though the rhyme isn’t perfect in every stanza, children will still likely be engaged listeners as an adult reads them each poem. And they will definitely enjoy viewing the charming animal pictures while they listen.
My favorite spread: T is for Tranquility
During these extra-trying days, I can’t think of a better time to share a book about emotions with our kids.
When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.
When I first read this beautiful picture book last summer, I knew it would be a contender to win this year’s Caldecott Medal, a medal awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
“Michaela Goade’s vivid, swirling watercolors capture the sacredness of water and amplify Carole Lindstrom’s passionate call to action and celebration of Indigenous ancestry and community.”
We Are Water Protectorsis a special book.Congratulations illustrator Michaela Goade, as well as author Carole Lindstrom, and publisher Roaring Brook Presson a well-deserved win!
“Michaela Goade’s semi-translucent color palette beautifully bathes every page with powerful illustrations,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Annisha Jeffries.
Please welcome multi-published picture book illustrator/author Holly Hatam to Frog on a Blog! If you’veread the New York Times Bestselling picture book Dear Girl, A Celebration of Wonderful, Smart, Beautiful You! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, then you’ve seen Holly’s amazing art. Holly, who’s been creating art since she was a little girl, is also a greeting card designer, and a textile engineer.Her latest book, Dear Baby, A Love Letter to Little Ones by Paris Rosenthal was published this past September.Let’s hear more from Holly!
Please tell us a little about your background and how you got started in children’s book illustration. Have you always been interested in creating art?
H.H. My first year of college was a one year course studying every art medium. My professor saw that I showed skill in graphic design and suggested I study that after this course. So, instead of listening to my own heart, I followed the professor’s suggestion. After three years, I had my BA in graphic design. I had two jobs out of college working for design firms. I hated every minute of it. After being fired from both jobs, struggling for years as a freelancer designer and running my own wedding invitation company for 9 years, I finally listened to my heart and followed my dreams of becoming a children’s book author/illustrator.
I have been interested in art since I was a little girl. My parents tell me I was always drawing and would often hold gallery openings in my room. With taped drawings on the wall, I would charge my parents a 25 cent admission fee. As a little girl, my biggest dream was to become a children’s book illustrator and work in animation. Both of those dreams have come true.
What is your preferred medium to work with when illustrating children’s books?
H.H. I create all my art digitally. It makes it easier to make changes when editors and creative directors ask for massive revisions.
How important do you consider diversity to be in children’s books and how do you support diversity in your own work?
H.H. Diversity in children’s books is so important to me. Growing up in the 80’s as a person of colour, I felt invisible. I felt different. I never saw a character on tv or in books that looked like me. It made me feel so unimportant. It made me hate my culture and being different. And now as a mom, I still see the same thing happening with my son. My son is biracial, so it’s that much harder to find books with characters that look like him. I don’t want him to grow up feeling invisible like I did. I try whenever I can, to make the hero of my books a person of colour. It is my goal to shine the spotlight on every kid who has felt invisible or unheard. It’s time for them to be the heroes.
Dear Baby, A Love Letter to Little Ones by Paris Rosenthal, and illustrated by you, was just published in September. Please tell us more about this beautiful book.
H.H. Dear Baby is the third book in the Dear series. It’s a sweet book, filled with loving advice and encouragement for the little humans of the world. It reminds the little ones that there is no limit to what they can be, where they can go or what they can do!
Can you share a bit about projects you’re working on right now?
H.H. I have so many exciting projects on the go right now! I wrote and illustrated two more board books about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I’m working on the fourth book in the Dear series; Dear Teacher. And I’m working on a chapter book series with the amazing Megan McDonald. I have several other projects as well, but I can’t share quite yet! 😉
As a bestselling picture book illustrator who has illustrated several books, do you have any advice for illustrators who are just beginning their journey?
H.H. My advice for illustrators is to always be true to who THEY are. Don’t compare yourself to other illustrators. Certainly be inspired by other artist’s work, but don’t try to emulate or copy them. You are a unique individual with your own unique story. If you illustrate what you love and what inspires you, it will shine through your work.
Where can fans go to connect or learn more about you?
Holly Hatam is the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Dear Girl, and Dear Boy, which she had the pleasure of creating with Amy, Paris, and Jason Rosenthal. Some of her other books include Made by Maxine, written by Ruth Spiro, and Jack (Not Jackie), written by Erica Silverman. Holly lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her wacky husband and even wackier son.
I’m so grateful for every one of my blog followers. Thank you for your numerous comments, likes, and shares over this past year, a year that has been, well, difficult in so many ways. Your support has encouraged me to keep blogging and keep sharing the many wonderful picture books the world has to offer.Cheers to you, and best wishes for a spectacular 2021 for all! 🙂
Now, you may remember that I usually post the top circulating print picture books. That is, the picture books that were checked out most often from theCommunity Library of DeWitt and Jamesvillein a given year. But this year, due to the pandemic, I’m going to do things a bit differently. The library was completely closed for a couple of months, and for about six months, we’ve been offering curbside pickup. I share all this just to say that circulation of print picture books has been down this year, though it has picked up.
But checkouts of digital picture books have gone up, up, up. So I’ll share the top 3 circulating print picture book of 2020 for my library. And then I’ll list the top 15 digital picture books for my library’s entire system, consisting of 31 county libraries.
Top 3 Circulating Print Picture Books:
Top 15 Digital Picture Book Checkouts:
Jory John’s picture books dominated the digital list, taking the first three spots!
All of these books have bold covers with big illustrations, which would help them stand out on a digital screen. It’s no surprise that kids would have chosen these outstanding titles from the 100s of digital picture books available.
What were the most checked out picture books at your local library in 2020?
Please welcome picture book author, teacher, and eternal optimist Donna Paul to Frog on a Blog. Donna’s book Carl The Cantankerous Cat was published earlier this year. It features an engaging story, 70 vocabulary words, a glossary, and post-reading follow-up activities. Donna is a Montessori elementary teacher with over ten years of classroom experience. She’s stopped by today to share 5 principles that she keeps in mind when choosing picture books for her classroom. Let’s hear from Donna!
A Montessori Teachers Approach to Picture Books in the Elementary Classroom
by Donna Paul
Picture books are my jam! I love everything about them. So much so that I self-published my own,Carl the Cantankerous Cat.Crazy, I know! As an elementary Montessori teacher, I find it helpful to supplement lessons with picture books whenever possible. Why? Picture books are inviting, uplifting, thought-provoking, and heartwarming. Images and illustrations are powerful! The right picture book can not only imprint positive life morals but also spark the curious imagination within a reader. You know what I’m talking about. For me, it was anything with spectacularly illustrated pets. Those books spoke to me. And later I would speak them to my stepdaughter, Taylor, and share their magic with her. Now she’s going on twenty years of age (where did the time go?), and we still enjoy reminiscing about her childhood, what she grew up doing, saying, and reading. I tell you this – memories are made with picture books.
Did you know that a carefully selected read aloud can be a powerful teaching tool for learners of all ages? Picture books can captivate a class of fidgety first graders, bring jaw-dropping wonder to the early elementary years, and spark intellectual discussions with upper grades. Combining pictures and illustrations can benefit a student’s literacy skills, promote reading, improve observation skills, and encourage creativity. They encourage all types of learners to engage and explore. Amazing!
But not all picture books are created equally. When considering picture books for my Upper Elementary classroom, I always keep Dr. Montessori’s ideas about young children and their development in mind. Remember these important principles on your next library trip!
1 – Keep It Real – Choose books that are based in reality. Children are naturally interested in the world around them. They should be exposed to books that cover real-life scenarios. Try to find books with stories of real experiences, such as daily life activities, and that show pictures of real objects, such as vehicles, rather than fantasy.
2 – Choose Beauty – Select books with alluring illustrations. Model to children how delicately you hold a picture book as if it is a piece of art. Children love beautiful things. Aesthetically pleasing books are known to grasp a reader’s attention and admiration.
3 – Rich Language – Children want to learn new words. They want to understand unfamiliar vocabulary terms. They want to know how to pronounce long words. Words intrigue children. So, look for picture books that offer descriptive words, accurate language, and a vast vocabulary. While the illustrations take the reader on a journey, including extra description in sentences allows readers to experience the story much better.
4 – Educate Yourselves – Look for books that provide a deep, thought-provoking lesson. Expose children to the world around them via the comfort of a picture book. The reader should walk away knowing something new.
5 – Readability – Read a few pages. How does it sound? Does the language flow smoothly or is it awkward and flat? Text that flows rhythmically and naturally is most appealing. Soothing sounds that vary in pitch and tone are effective in holding a listener’s attention. Find books that allow the reader to explore a range of emotions through the text.
Picture books are excellent supplementary teaching tools. I love using them in my classroom. Illustrations help children understand what they are reading. Pictures guide readers to analyze the story. If children are having difficulty with the words, illustrations can help them figure out the narrative, which leads to an increase in their comprehension. Equipped with picture books that follow the guidelines above, readers are sure to flourish in and out of the classroom.
A Montessori elementary teacher by trade with over ten years of experience in the classroom,Donna Paulis a self-published author and co-creator of engaging and educational activities for young learners, as well as an online ESL teacher. If she’s not working, she’s probably working out. Donna strives to live a healthy and adventure-filled life. Family, learning, writing, health and wellness, compassion, plant-based food, tiny living, loving animals, and travel are topics that make her soul smile.
An eternal optimist and fueled by the power of patience (and plants!), Donna is a believer in the good of all beings. Driven to make herself a better person and always striving to lead by example. You canfind her picture book,Carl the Cantankerous Cat, on Amazon.
Summary: A polar bear cub wakes in his den to the snowy world outside after a long slumber. There’s no one around, not even his mom and he can’t remember what she looks like! The little cub journeys out to find her and along the way he meets many arctic creatures that are not like him. Follow this brave cub as he goes on a journey to see if he finds someone out there just like him!
Do you have a children’s picture book coming out soon? I’d love to wish it a Happy Book Birthday here on Frog on a Blog! CLICK for more information.
It’s my pleasure to share an interview today with Kitty O’Meara, author of the lovely picture book And The People Stayed Home.
Just published, the book And The People Stayed Home began as a heartfelt poem posted on social media, which was shared over one million times, and earned Kitty the title “poet laureate of the pandemic.”It’s a testament to the resilience of people during uncertain times, as it paints a picture of life in lockdown and hope for a brighter tomorrow.Let’s hear more from Kitty!
Congratulations on the recent release of your picture book And the People Stayed Home! Please tell us what inspired you to write this special book and about its journey to publication.
KO: Thank you; that’s very kind of you!
For most of my life, writing and other creative arts have been my way to explore and process the experiences and emotions of life, so I wrote these words at the beginning of our lockdown last March, and shared them with my Facebook friends. One friend asked to share the post, and it quite quickly went viral.
I re-posted the poem to my blog and, among the thousands of comments, calls, messages, and texts I received, was one from the Managing Editor of Tra Publishing, who asked, at the kind request of Tra’s founder, if I would be interested in developing a children’s picture book based on the poem. I was overjoyed, and we began the work of co-creating this amazing book in early April. It has been a complete blessing and joy to work with these talented artists, and I’m very proud of the finished creation.
In what ways do you hope your book will touch readers, especially those most affected by the pandemic?
KO: I hope it will offer comfort, peace, and delight as a work of art, and I hope it will inspire readers to discover ways their own artistic and emotional gifts can help them cope and heal through this time of sacrifice and hardship. We’re all in this together, everyone on the planet, and I think we need to encourage each other, express gratitude to our essential workers, keep ourselves and others safe, and look for ways this experience can help us listen more deeply to our hearts and to those we love, looking for ways we can make the world a better place for all of our gifts to unfold.
I imagine teachers and parents sharing And the People Stayed Home with children, exploring their feelings and their responses to this time, naming their gifts, making art…it’s a sensitive and touching book, but also one that encourages and evokes joy.
And the People Stayed Home is beautifully illustrated. How excited were you when you finally held the finished product in your hands?
KO: I cried! A lot! I agree; it’s beautiful. I kept holding it, setting it down, reading and rereading it, marveling at the artwork…And I have such lovely memories of our video meetings, notes, and calls, sharing ideas, changing our minds, adjusting, evolving and growing this book, and ourselves, together. I named myself as a writer when I was 6, and of course worked as one in advertising and all through my career, but to be holding this gorgeous book in my hands…well, it’s been a pure blessing.
Were you expecting the poem that is the essence of your book to become so popular?
KO: Well no, not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever posted on Facebook with expectations of any kind except to share with my close friends how I’m feeling. This was a complete mystery-fluke-surprise-blessing, that’s for sure.
You are also a chaplain and spiritual director. How do those vocations affect or inform your writing? And what writing projects are you working on now?
KO: Well, I started with Theater and English degrees, and I worked in advertising, then went back for a teaching degree and taught middle school literature and language arts for many years before leaving to write full time. That was quickly curtailed by the need to care for our parents, who seemed to all experience health failures and end-of-life crises at the same time.
And after those years of journeying with death, loss, and grief, I went back to school again and trained for chaplaincy and spiritual direction, so I’ve had many careers and experiences in offering my gifts to the world, and they’ve all been enlarging and rewarding. I’ve been writing since I was very young, and I guess, have always explored themes revealed by love and loss, nature, family, joy, memory, and, increasingly, the understanding that we’re all gifted differently, and need to honor and develop those gifts to serve one another and the Earth…traveling with my parents’ friends’ and in-laws’ end-of-life journeys led me to the deep exploration of healing…not just physical diseases, but the emotional and psychic wounds that hinder the development and sharing of gift. I worked with my patients and those who have come for spiritual direction to meet those wounds and heal them, and have seen how we can heal all the way through our last breath…Because of chaplaincy and spiritual direction, the mystery, and gift, and hard work of healing (always connected to our capacity to love ourselves and others) have all become integral to my writing and my understanding of our gifts.
I think these ideas will always influence my work, including the children’s stories I’m working on now. And I think that’s because picture books take us so beautifully to symbol, silence, and mystery: they touch us deeply and trigger responses that are both very simple and very profound. And, in my case, they require co-creation, because I do not have the gift of creating visual art through illustration, and I love that, since I think healing itself, like loving, is an ongoing co-creation. Life is all about relationship.
How do you feel about being called the “poet laureate of the pandemic”, and where did the name originate?
KO: I think it was a very kind compliment, but there are many poets gifting us, always, and certainly through this time, uniquely and profoundly and in a variety of voices and styles that are absolutely necessary. We need art more than laureates, and I’m not in need of being recognized beyond the fact that my voice matters, too, and this poem touched people deeply when it had to in ways far beyond imagining.
I’ve always taken my education seriously and worked diligently to use and deepen my gifts. Writing has been a constant practice, as I said, for integration and reflection, and as a creative outlet; so, the fact that something I wrote affected others is not at all a new experience; I’ve shared my writing and received positive feedback all my life. That it affected others in such numbers is both mystery, timing, and a function of social media, a good reminder of the internet’s power. Elena Nicolaou, a wonderful writer in her own right, used the term “poet laureate of the pandemic” in her article for the Oprah Magazine Online, as a reference to the poem’s having gone viral, more than as a recognition of my lifetime achievement. 🙂
Can you tell us about the upcoming animated film based on And the People Stayed Home?
KO: I think you’re referring to the Vooks.com animation of the picture book? That has been produced and is available now on the Vooks.com site. They are a wonderful company! I love how they honor the original artwork, tweak and extend it with amazing animation, provide a narrated voiceover, and enhance everything about the original book in doing so. And the People Stayed Home was beautifully narrated for Vooks by Kate Winslet, and yikes, what an honor that is! I wish Vooks had been around when I was a child, and when I was a teacher; it’s a marvelous wonder for parents to investigate and consider joining, too. I love the creativity and myriad ways it invites children’s interaction with story; it really compliments books so magically.
Where can fans go to connect and learn more about you and your book?
KO: Thank you for your interest and wonderful questions! I hope that your readers will love this book as much as I do; it’s such a finely-crafted treasure, and one that I think could be a lifelong favorite, reminding children and their parents of a time that was both challenging and deeply precious.
And I hope you, and your readers, will be safe and well in the days to come. Keep reading; keep creating. 🙂 Gentle peace.
Kitty O’Mearalives near Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Phillip Hagedorn, their five rescue dogs, three cats, gardens, and books. A former teacher of middle school writing and literature and a hospital and hospice chaplain and currently a spiritual director, O’Meara has been a lifelong writer and artist. And the People Stayed Home is her first print book.