Salma Hussain - The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan
Interview by Gabriele Davis
GD: Congratulations on your middle grade debut, Salma! Tell us about your story and what inspired you to write it.
SH: Thank you so much for the warm welcome and the congratulations, Gabriele!
The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is a middle grade novel set in 1991 about a young, Muslim Pakistani girl growing up in big-city Dubai, in the U.A.E. Due to the first Gulf War her parents decide to immigrate to North America. They end up in small-town Dartmouth on Canada’s east coast. The novel is a year-in-the-life of young Mona as she journeys through immigration, puberty, and general tween concerns – “When will my chest grow, Allah? Why is my mother not like the mothers on T.V.? Why is Aba ruining our lives by moving us to Canada?”
To answer the question about what inspired me to write this novel, I’d like to share its origin story: When my daughter was five, she turned to me sleepily at bedtime and asked, “Mama, you were born outside Canada, right? Were you a regular kid just like us?” That one question was the spark behind this entire novel. I knew in that moment that I wanted to write a book in a child’s voice to answer my daughter. I wanted to explore in what ways might the kids who grow up outside Canada be different? And in what ways might they be the same? I wanted this to be an immigration story, and I chose these particular locations because I know them very well! I grew up in the U.A.E. myself (until grade seven) and immigrated to a small town on the eastern coast of Canada when I was a teenager (I completed my high school years in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). I have a familiarity and love for both places, and as they are under-represented in children's literature in North America, I wanted to amplify and celebrate them.
GD: Your story is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl writing in her diary. Why did you choose this format?
SH: Multiple reasons in no particular order:
GD: Your characters deal with challenging, worldly issues as well as more light-hearted preteen concerns. Was it difficult to find the right balance between the two?
SH: Yes, it was a challenge! I was passionate about exploring both simultaneously because that is how life is lived, no? Especially for children who have been or are in the process of being displaced due to war and conflict. There’s somber tragedy as well as gut-busting joy. I hope I struck the right balance! Again, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 ¾ was a sort of mentor text in paving the way for me in this regard: Adrian dealt with parental separation, adultery, abortion, and economic uncertainty, but the author never lost her sense of humor about life and gave readers that joy. It’s something I’ve aspired to do in this text.
GD: What message do you hope readers take away from this story?
SH: There are a few different messages, but first and foremost, I would love readers to simply laugh and enjoy Mona’s story. I hope that they can recognize and accept that each of us are on a journey and doing the best we can. Readers of this novel are ideally at a place in their lives where they are looking out at the world in wonder and marveling at both its splendor and absurdity – something that seems to happen to most of us right around adolescence!
GD: How long have you been writing for children, and what was your publication journey like?
SH: This is the first book I’ve written for children. I was a member of two writing groups when I was writing this novel. I also went through a mentorship program through Diaspora Dialogues (an amazing free mentorship program in Canada). After I finished the mentorship, I submitted 10 sample pages for a flash assessment at a literary festival to which publishing professionals volunteer their time. I was paired with an agent who handles childrens’ literature and she instantly “got” my story, loved it and requested a full. We vibed really well and the rest is history! Everyone says publishing moves slow but in my case, I felt it moved really fast!
GD: Mona’s diary entries inspire some laugh-out-loud moments. Does writing humor come naturally to you?
SH: Thank you for this compliment! In everything I write, I do somehow end up inserting comic moments. Comedy is something I’ve always gravitated towards. I believe half my friends would begrudgingly admit I’m pretty funny, and the other half would roll their eyes and advise you not to encourage me.
GD: What advice would you give writers wanting to write funny stories?
SH: Read funny books. Watch funny movies. Spend time with people who are funny or, at the very least, who will encourage your wacky sense of humor. Find your tribe - in books, movies and real life. Then start writing funny.
GD: Do you have any favorite humorous middle grade novels?
SH: Again, I LOVE the whole Adrian Mole series but only the first one would qualify as MG, and the rest of the series move into YA/adult territory. I also really LOVE It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas.
Salma Hussain writes prose and poetry for children and adults. She grew up in the UAE to parents from Pakistan, and moved to Canada as a teenager. Her debut novel for kids and kids-at-heart, The Secret Diary Of Mona Hasan is out May 3, 2022 by Tundra/Penguin Random House. She lives in Toronto.
Find Salma online at:
Twitter & Instagram: salmahwrites
Congratulations on your debut book, The Juneteenth Story! Please give us a brief summary of the book.
Thank you! The Juneteenth Story is a picture book highlighting the events and circumstances that led to the day that came to be known as Juneteenth, and follows the progression of Juneteenth until it became a national holiday in June 2021.
The Juneteenth Story starts with the position and treatment of Black people in the United States starting in the 18th century until present day. What was your research like for this project? What tools did you rely on and how did you organize it all?
Based on previous knowledge, I had a loose outline of how I envisioned the book flowing and started filling in some of the blanks with whatever information I could get my hands on. I learned so much, but of course, I couldn’t include everything.
I was conducting research during the pandemic, so most of what I did was through resources I accessed online and through my local library. But I found so many treasure troves of information, especially some excellent primary sources. These included the Library of Congress’ recordings of interviews with formerly enslaved people, articles, interviews, and video clips of Juneteenth celebrations throughout the country, and even news articles from Texas shortly after Emancipation Celebration. This information and more helped create a more nuanced narrative than I could have imagined.
From a tools perspective, I keep it simple. I’ve been a Google Docs girl since it launched. I found it to be the easiest thing to use to build out my outline, keep facts and sources organized, and to work on the book on multiple devices. For digital resources, especially, it was nice to be able to link directly to the source in case I needed to go back for additional context.
The book is formatted in a present/ past manner with a modern Black family learning about Juneteenth with illustrations and historical information to match. Did you set out to write The Juneteenth Story that way or did it organically flow into this version?
I didn’t initially set out to do it this way, but my editor and I were talking about using a visual device to keep kids connected to the story since it does take a number of twists and turns throughout. One idea was to put a little girl and her grandparents talking about Juneteenth into the illustration- and for those folks to be inspired by me and my family.
I was excited about the possibility, and my grandfather ultimately was, too! Unfortunately my grandmother passed away in 2015, but my grandfather is 90 years old and sharp as a tack. I provided some older photos of us that were then used to inspire the illustrations.
My grandfather was surprised at how well Sawyer captured his essence, and my absolute favorite illustration of my grandmother is the one in the author’s note where she’s wearing a beautiful green dress. Plus, Sawyer’s kids are always adorable, so I’m honored little Alliah and her giant pigtails received the Sawyer Cloud treatment.
Did you uncover any surprising facts during your research for A Juneteenth Story, especially anything you wanted to include in your book but couldn’t?
Oh so many. I had limited space, so I couldn’t share all I learned, but here are some of the most fascinating.
4. Also, while Al Edwards was known as the one who helped make Juneteenth a Texas state holiday, from a federal perspective, there were a number of lawmakers and activists who were advocating for it for decades, such as Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Opal Lee [not related], known as ‘The Grandmother of Juneteenth.” Although the closing illustration took a different, albeit powerful direction that I love, I would have loved to figure out how to incorporate the image of them helping sign Juneteenth into a national holiday.
The cover of The Juneteenth Story is so vibrant and joyful. What did you think when you first saw the illustrations by Sawyer Cloud?
Sawyer did an unbelievable job with her illustrations- and she’s booked and busy. I personally know two other awesome authors who released books with her this year! In some parts of the story, the material is very difficult. Her vibrant images and the adorable children she depicted throughout the book help balance it out. She has a gift for bringing so much emotion and movement to still images. Some images were so vibrant I honestly felt like I could hear them.
This was a challenging book because it covers centuries of material, different styles of dress, etc., not to mention the fact that she is illustrating people I know and love- but she did it masterfully!
Juneteenth is a special holiday for your family. Please tell us about your personal connection to the holiday.
It is! My grandfather was part of BUILD, an activist organization in Buffalo, NY (my hometown). In 1976, while much of the nation was busy planning for America’s bicentennial, the BUILD organization planned to make a ‘culturally relevant’ alternative freedom celebration for those who didn’t have 200 years of freedom. The celebration became one of the largest in the nation. But as I said in one interview, I was probably in utero during my first Juneteenth! We were at the festival every year when I was growing up.
What are your plans for Juneteenth this year?
This year I’ll be in Buffalo! (I now live in New Jersey). I’m looking forward to it. My grandfather and the Juneteenth Festival committee are just as excited as I am about the book coming out, so I can’t wait to be on-hand at the festival and in my hometown to celebrate.
Do you have any advice for debut or aspiring authors?
Your first draft is probably bad, let it simmer. Be a relentless reviser.
Read a lot. Especially in your genre.
Feeling stuck and looking for inspiration? Sometimes inspiration is right in front of you. Don’t take your lived experiences for granted. Someone else may find them fascinating.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve got a couple in rotation right now! Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley - so good. I also just read the ARC for Tameka Fryer Brown’s holiday PB Twelve Dinging Doorbells– that book made me hoot and holler! Can’t wait until it’s in the world.
When not writing you can find me….?
Visiting bookstores, playing Uber driver to two kids, deliberating if I should hop on the Peloton, listening to podcasts, and cracking jokes on one of my many group text chats.
Tell us about your next project that’s scheduled to hit shelves in 2023.
My next project was actually my original book baby! It is a fiction rhyming picture book called Big Tune, scheduled to launch with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in Winter 2023. Big Tune is a story of Black boy joy, featuring a tenacious, thoughtful, dance-loving Jamerican boy in early 1990s Brooklyn. The illustrator is the incredible Shamar Knight-Justice, who is also a school principal! He’s absolutely one to watch.
Alliah L. Agostini grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Buffalo, NY; Her grandfather was one of the co-founders of the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo. Founded in 1976, it grew to become the third-largest Juneteenth celebration in the world.
A trained marketer with a passion for children's literature, Alliah writes with a commitment to spread joy, truth, and to help more children see themselves on the page. Alliah lives with her family in New Jersey, and has both an A.B. and an M.B.A from Harvard.
Learn more about Alliah at http://www.alliahagostini.com
Instagram + Twitter: @alliago
Congratulations on your new book, Together We Ride! Please tell us what inspired you to write this picture book?
The inspiration for Together We Ride is the children my husband and I saw riding bikes in our neighborhood during the COVID shutdown. In particular, during our daily walks, I witnessed a girl who had just learned how to ride a bike; I noticed her progression as she became a better, more confident rider. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.
Bike riding is a rite of passage for young people and one I clearly remember as a child. You perfectly capture the glee, inevitable falling, and decision children face of “do I get back on or forget about this.” Did you draw from your own childhood memories when writing this book?
That’s a great question, Kirstie. I remember that I enjoyed riding my bike with my cousins and friends. We’d ride up and down my street and also over to my elementary school playground, which was around the corner from my house. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact moment when I learned how to ride a bike. I think these memories are embedded within me though, which is why I was able to portray the experience and feelings in this book. We all know that riding a bike takes practice – falling, getting on and off again – to be able to ride independently and successfully.
The text is really simple and easy for early learners and readers. But we all know the simplest text is often the hardest to write. What was that process like for you and how long did it take you to finish Together We Ride?
Surprisingly, this is the book for which I wrote the fewest drafts. I think I had three. Since I maintained the same end rhyme throughout (with one exception), I was limited with the words I could use, so I think that’s what made it quick work. I shared it with my critique partners twice, and then it was “done.” When I signed with my agent, this is the first book with which he went out on submission. It went to auction and resulted in two two-book deals.
Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s authors?
Kirstie, this is a question authors are often asked. I think the simplest response is that if you want to write, do it, and don’t give up. Also, study, meaning read, read, read in the genre you’re writing. Read to study (think mentor texts), not just for pleasure. Also, read books about craft, and attend classes and webinars. Equally important is to immerse yourself in the writing community by joining a critique group and writing organizations.
The illustrations by Kaylani Juanita are so detailed and captivating. Did you have a lot of illustration notes and what were your thoughts when you saw the beautiful pages Kaylani created?
I didn’t even envision it as a father/daughter story, per se; that was my editor’s vision, which worked for me. Therefore, the only illustration notes I had were to denote which words were attached to the child and which connected with the adult. My ending illustration note expressed what/who we should see on the last page.
When I saw Kaylani’s first sketches, I was very pleased because, as you can see, she’s a talented artist. When I saw the actual color spreads and then held the book in my hands, however, I was especially thrilled. She certainly captured all of the special moments associated with a child learning how to ride a bike.
As an educator, your commitment to children was recently honored with a SERC Equity Award. Please tell us about that honor.
Kirstie, it was indeed an honor to be recognized for my commitment to equity. I believe that all children – all people – need to feel welcome and that they matter. In my work as an educator, I want all students to feel welcome in classrooms and to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. When reading books, I want children to have that same experience – to see themselves, those like them, those who share similar experiences. Schools and books also offer opportunities for us to learn about those who are different from us and have different experiences. If everything around us only reflects one type of person, one view, one story, how will we learn about, enjoy, and appreciate the diverse world in which we live?
Here’s an article I wrote about why representation matters in children’s books.
How are you celebrating your second book release?
I’m going to celebrate by taking a personal day from work on release day and visiting my elementary school alma mater to read to kindergarten and first grade students. I’ll also visit the Barnes & Noble in my city – Stamford, CT – to sign books.
I want to be able to celebrate with everyone who wants to celebrate with me. Thus, I’m having two launch events. One will be in-person, which should be super fun for kids with a lot of activities, and the other will be virtual. For that one, I’ll read my story at the beginning of the program, so kids can tune in, and then a conversation will occur that will be of more interest to adults – especially parents, educators, and writers.
When not writing you can find me….? Teaching, walking or reading.
What are you working on next? I’m working on my books that will release in 2023. I’m also trying my hand at a chapter book series.
Valerie Bolling is the author of LET’S DANCE!, a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award winner and CT Book Award finalist. In 2022 Valerie is happy to welcome TOGETHER WE RIDE (April) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (October). Sequels to these books (TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!) as well as a Scholastic early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023.
A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach for Greenwich Public Schools and is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop. She is also a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Black Creators HeadQuarters, and Diverse Verse.
Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.
Salam Reads (Simon & Schuster) Celebrates Five Year Anniversary: Interview with Editor Deeba Zargarpur & author S.K. Ali + HUGE Ramadan Giveaway
A few years ago Salaam Reads, an imprint at Simon & Schuster was started to uplift Muslim voices. This year they are celebrating five years! KidLit in Color’s Aya Khalil had the honor to interview editor Deeba and author S.K. Ali about publishing, books, and what’s coming up for them. Plus, in honor of the anniversary and Ramadan, Salam Reads is giving away a copy of ALL OF THEIR BOOKS!
A.K: Salam Deeba! Thanks for letting me interview you for KidLit in Color. Can you please tell us your official title and full name and title?
D.Z.: Deeba Zargarpur, Editor at Salaam Reads and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
A.K: Can you tell the readers how Salaam Reads was started and why?
When Salaam Reads was founded, it was, to my knowledge, the first imprint at a major publisher focused on joyous, positive, and diverse portrayals of Muslim characters and stories. When executive editor Zareen Jaffery and publisher Justin Chanda launched it in 2016, their goal was twofold: to offer Muslim children, across a wide variety of lived experiences, the chance to see themselves reflected in literature, and as stated by Zareen, to “plant seeds of empathy” in non-Muslim readers.
While I was already an adult when the imprint launched, its books had an immediate impact on me. Prior to the imprint’s creation, I never saw myself in books. In my childhood and young adult life as a reader, I felt invisible, like my voice and lived experience were not meant to be part of the American experience. As an Afghan-American Muslim who grew up in a post 9/11 world, my identity was both erased and feared in mainstream media. It wasn’t until I read Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, part of Salaam Reads’ inaugural list, that I finally got to see a positively depicted Muslim perspective that felt close to my own. It was a powerful moment for me. It gave me a sense of peace and belonging that I’d been missing my whole life. And, five years later, there’s still so much need for stories that offer this experience to readers, which is why Salaam Reads remains essential for young people today. Every child deserves to feel seen, to be celebrated, and to be the hero of their own story.
A.K: What are some upcoming books from Salaam Reads and what are they about?
D.Z: I’m so excited about the books we have coming up in 2022 and 2023! Many beloved Salaam Reads authors are returning, some with continuations of fan-favorite stories, others with something totally new. And we have some exciting debut voices on the list as well. In 2022, we’re thrilled to be publishing S.K. Ali’s much-anticipated sequel to her much-accoladed novel Love from A to Z. Fan-favorite characters Adam and Zayneb continue their love story in Love from Mecca to Medina, which takes them on a spiritual journey together. From Hanna Alkaf, author of award winner The Weight of Our Sky, comes Queen of the Tiles, a gripping murder mystery set during an intense Scrabble competition, in which teen Najwa Bakri must investigate the mysterious death of her best friend when her Instagram comes back to life with cryptic posts and messages a year after her death.
In middle grade, we are thrilled to be working with Women’s March co-organizer and activist Linda Sarsour on a nonfiction book, We’re In This Together, an inspiring and empowering young readers edition of her memoir We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders. In this edition for a younger audience, Linda shares the memories that shaped her into the activist she is today, and how these pivotal moments in her life led her to being an organizer in one of the largest single-day protests in US history.
In picture books, from beloved Mommy’s Khimar author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, comes Abdul’s Story, a charming and encouraging picture book about a little boy who loves storytelling but struggles with writing until he learns that it’s okay to make mistakes.
And looking ahead to early 2023, I can’t wait to share Love Match by debut author Priyanka Taslim with readers. It’s a heartfelt young adult rom-com about Bangladeshi-American Zahra Khan who is exasperated when her meddling mother arranges a match to secure their family’s financial security—just as Zahra is falling in love with someone else. It’s frothy and fun, but with a layer of depth, and sure to delight any reader who loves a good romance.
A.K: Wow, so many amazing books! What kind of books are you looking to acquire for Salaam Reads nowadays and how can interested readers find out more information about submission guidelines?
D.Z: Since joining Salaam Reads in 2020, it’s been my goal to further expand on what Salaam Reads has already been doing beautifully, by acquiring even more genres and formats of books that center positive and joyous portrayals of the Muslim experience. We want to share stories that center Muslim characters without depicting their religious identity as a major source of conflict, whether in contemporary realism, historical fiction, fantasy, or any other genre. Some projects I’d love to see in my inbox for Salaam Reads include grounded and epic fantasy, non-Western myths/fairytales/folklore, anything that sparks imagination and wonder, and stories that feature non-traditional families.
We recognize that finding a path to publication through the traditional (and historically marginalizing) channels can be limiting, so we have an open submission policy for Muslim authors not represented by literary agents. You can find our submission guidelines at our website, www.salaamreads.com.
A.K: This is very helpful for authors, thank you! What future do you see for Salaam Reads?
D.Z: I’m excited about what the future holds for Salaam Reads. In the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in literature for Muslim children across all publishers, which we’re thrilled about—it means Muslim readers don’t need to depend solely on us to find books that reflect their experiences, and that (we hope) more and more Muslim writers and illustrators will create incredible work, knowing it can find an audience. I can’t wait to see what those creators will make and look forward to partnering with more of them to share their stories.
Since its inception, Salaam Reads’ books have sold a million copies worldwide. We intend to continue publishing picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult novels that serve young people. From contemporary to fantastical, science fiction, and more, Salaam Reads remains a home for literature that widens the lens of what it means to be Muslim, offering readers a way to see themselves reflected in the pages of our books and to discover the wide variety and many intersections of what the Muslim experience can be. There are so many facets of the global Muslim experience that we have yet to publish books about, and so many varieties of voices I’d love to find homes for on our list. I’m hopeful for what the future will bring for Salaam Reads, and excited to be a part of shaping that future.
A.K: Incredible that millions of copies have been around the world, inspiring so many children and adults. Thank you so much for answering my questions and Ramadan Kareem!
Interview with S.K. Ali
Aya Khalil: Salaam! Thank you for letting me interview you! I am a huge fan of your books and I'm so grateful to be interviewing you for KidLit in Color. Love from Mecca to Medina comes out this fall! Can you tell readers, especially those who haven't read the first book Love from A to Z, what it's about?
S.K. Ali: Thank you! Excited to be chatting with you. Love from Mecca to Medina is about two young people, Adam and Zayneb, going on Umrah shortly after their nikah. They join a group of Muslims traveling to Mecca and Medina and it’s about what Adam and Zayneb encounter on their journey — to the center of their faith, and the center of their souls. And how traveling reveals parts of you that you may never have faced before. It’s also about the “after” part of the “happily-ever-after”. Wow, this all makes it sound sort of ominous. But it’s not; it’s got light, humorous moments as well as romantic scenes. And soulful parts. Soulful explorations of our human weaknesses. But happy soul parts too! I will stop talking now.
A.K: Your books tackle important topics, especially for Muslims in America, like racism within the community, Islamophobia, and other struggles and also joys like love and travelling. What are some themes we will be seeing in Love from Mecca to Medina?
S.K Ali: How to fall and still get up and keep going. What’s in our hands and what’s not. What we lowly humans are tasked with and what we're not and how to give ourselves breaks and still aspire to the heights we can reach. (I don’t know if these are themes but I wanted this book to be spiritual while being real so let’s say the theme is Real Spirituality.)
A.K: I love that. I actually vividly remember the first time I saw Saints and Misfits (this was your debut, right?) at my local Barnes & Nobles, grabbed it and read it right away. I was so inspired and loved that a beautiful, authentic book written by a Muslim author was on the shelves and it inspired me to look into publishing! What do you hope your readers will discover and perhaps learn when they read your books?
S.K Ali: Aw, I love this! I’m so glad that Saints and Misfits inspired you! I hope when readers encounter my books, they feel the way you did — that there are spaces for us to share our stories. I also hope that readers learn that they can bring their whole selves everywhere, both in the physical sense (at workplaces, educational settings, etc.) and creative spaces like in the pages of books and on screens. I hope by reading my books where characters are allowed to be fully Muslim, that readers also feel they don’t need to edit their identities to be “palatable”.
A.K: Did you face any struggles while writing Love from Mecca and Medina? Can you give readers a sneak peak at a few lines?
S.K Ali: I faced the struggle of incorporating spirituality in a Young Adult novel. Teens are spiritual people too but it’s very rare to find YA novels exploring that aspect of our lives and there was a voice inside telling me I wasn’t “allowed” to do this; but I kept on because I don’t want spirituality to be a taboo topic. When we’re breaking down so many barriers in storytelling, why not this one? Why not explore that so many of us, of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of faith or lack of it, think about our souls, why we're here, the bigger questions of life?
And oh, a sneak peek? Here you go:
She was standing by the pillar umbrella to the left of the main gate. In a black abaya, open at the front, under which she had a yellow dress on.
On her head was a black hijab; on the shoulder of one arm, the strap of her backpack.
I took all these details in hungrily, like she would disappear any minute.
(This is not one of the spiritual parts.)
A.K: This is all so beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about your upcoming books? How can readers connect with you?
S.K Ali: Just that I’m working on more stories – in new genres! Think historical, mystery, adult rom-com and even sci-fi. I love writing all sorts of things so I’m in my element right now. To connect with me, find me on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and on my website at skalibooks.com.
Thank you for having me on KidLit in Color!
A.K.: Thank you so much for answering all of my questions and Ramadan Kareem!
Readers, make sure you enter our giveaways on Instagram and Twitter for a chance to win all of these books!!
KM: Congratulations on your new book, Wei To Go! Please tell us what inspired you to write this middle grade book?
LM: Thank you so much, Kirstie, for having me. My inspiration for Wei To Go! came from seeing children in multicultural families who’ve been in America for several generations. Depending on where they live or their family dynamics, they sometimes may not know one part of their heritage very well.
My main character Ellie and her brother Kipp are third-generation Americans who are part Chinese. They’re pretty much all American and know little of the language. Ellie isn’t always obedient, and English is her forte, not math and science. Her brother Kipp is good in competitive sports.
Traveling to Asia for the first time opens their eyes and gives them a tie to their heritage. I had fun capturing their reactions in a new environment and couched it in a mystery involving international business.
KM: The story is based in California and Hong Kong. What type of research was involved in creating the setting for these locations?
LM: I lived for many years in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area with tiny neighborhood parks and athletic fields for schoolkids. Ellie’s neighborhood and house is based on that locale, including the stunning jacaranda trees that bloom for a weeks in the spring.
Previous business work took me to Hong Kong a number of times. My kids and I also visited Asia for a few humid weeks one summer long ago. While I had studied a little Mandarin Chinese in college, the Cantonese Chinese dialect spoken in Hong Kong was unfamiliar. Through Ellie’s voice, I tried to capture this reaction to the bewildering language. I also showed her comical attempts to do normally simple things like navigating mass transportation.
KM: Ellie and her brother have a typical love/hate sibling relationship. Was this in any way representative of your own sibling relationships?
LM: Being close in age to my sisters, we probably had the same dynamics of both conflict and loving support while growing up. As a parent, I saw sibling relationships more clearly with my own kids and those of their friends. I tried to incorporate that in my book as humorously as possible.
KM: What do you hope children get from Wei To Go?
LM: I love this question! Middle schoolers who are curious about the world may like this novel. If they’re on the cusp of being independent and enjoy competitive sports, maybe they’ll also see parts of themselves on the pages.
American children may not realize that people overseas are as curious about us as we are about them. My character Ellie encounters people who tell her she speaks with an American accent or are perplexed that she’s unfamiliar with certain customs, even though outwardly she looks Chinese.
KM: The cover illustration is colorful and lively. Tell us about the illustrator and your thoughts on the cover scene?
Penny Weber is my fabulous illustrator. After I gave her a rough sketch of a cover idea, she drew my imagined faces of the characters with the Hong Kong skyline in the background. Moreover, she perfectly captured their playful banter as they team up to solve a mystery.
Please check out Penny’s website on https://pennyweberillustrations.com/.
KM: What are your favorite writing tools and resources?
I have several books on middle-grade writing. However, for day-to-day writing, I rely on a Scene Structure Checklist by C.S. Lakin which includes a handy checklist. I also use two writing tools I made for myself. One is a basic (I’m low-tech!) Excel spreadsheet with the chapter titles and page count. For each chapter, I add the goal, conflict issues, characters involved, and any miscellaneous notes.
My second tool is a plain old Word document to type in impromptu notes. I also include a list of all the characters and their features. For example, for Ellie, I wrote she wears a AAA shoe size and for Kipp, that his best friend is named Wynnie.
KM: When not writing you can find me….?
LM: Concerts, travel, and spectator sports are my favorites. I also love taking walks with my dog, curling up with a favorite book, and spending time with family and friends.
KM: What are you currently reading?
I have a wonderful TBR list of mostly middle-grade books. Three that are on top of the pile are Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser, and A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow.
KM: What are you working on next?
LM: I’m at the revision stage with a related book about Cat, Ellie’s friend, in Wei To Go! She’s a dead ringer for a lady that Raphael painted during Renaissance Italy. Like Ellie, Cat hasn’t thought much about where her mom’s family came from ages ago. However, she’ll have to solve the art mystery to be more acquainted with her ancestry.
Lee grew up in a small Pennsylvania town with a fabulous library. After studying international relations in college, she worked for a magazine in New York City and then went on to graduate studies in business. Her California-based international banking work included a stint in Asia for a few years. Eventually, she became a freelance writer and editor for grades 6–8 English language arts and social studies and then pivoted to writing middle-grade fiction. She lives with her family in New York.
Learn more about Lee at www.leeymiao.com and Instagram @leeymiao.writer.
Ramadan Mubarak! We spoke with several Muslim authors to discuss how they incorporate writing during the holy month of Ramadan. Please scroll through to read their thoughts.
Interview by: Susan Muaddi Darraj
SUSAN: Congratulations on this newest picture book! I loved learning about Abdul’s storytelling talent, as well as his encouraging interaction with Mr. Muhammad. What inspired you to write it?
JAMILAH: My inspiration for stories almost always comes from specific experiences in my life and the inspiration for Abdul and Mr. Muhammad is no exception. While working for a community center, called Mighty Writers, I was teaching a writing workshop to early elementary aged students. Most of the children were enthusiastic about this workshop and filling up their little notebooks–most of them except one student. We’ll call him “H.” H wrote one sentence and then told me he was done. When I prodded him, asking him if there was more he wanted to add to the story, he eventually told me “I’m not a writer like them,” referring to the other kids in the workshop. H was maybe six at the time, and I remember thinking how does a child that young decide that about themself?
I ended up coaching him through adding more and more to his story, and I remember him continually wanting to stop and correct his handwriting and spelling. This is something I’ve noticed quite a bit as an English teacher and writing workshop leader: kids stopping and self-correcting so much they don’t get their ideas out. I had to push him to not care and to keep going. I had to keep emphasizing that more than anything, I was excited to hear what happened next and I was not looking at his mistakes. He needed to know that the story he had to tell was what made him a writer. When our workshop time was over, he had filled up his notebook and couldn’t wait for his dad to pick him up so he could show what he had done. H had never had the experience of writing so much.
SUSAN: Abdul has some anxiety around the fact that he flips letters when he reads and writes. How did you decide to build this into his character?
JAMILAH: Having taught young children writing, I’m very aware that many children, with or without diagnosed disabilities, struggle with writing, and that regardless of diagnosis, they can all be very self-conscious about it. I left whether Abdul has a specific disability open for a few reasons. One is that there are multiple disabilities that could lead to his struggles. Within my own family, we have Abdul’s same issues with writing but these are due to autism, not dyslexia or dysgraphia, which are the more obvious disabilities that could be at play in this story.
The other is in my experience these issues are often not tied to a disability at all. Letter flipping for example is still within the range of typical development through second grade. I wanted kids with all kinds of learning differences that lead to writing challenges to feel at home in this book, and I wanted those children to understand their writing challenges as a common experience and not something to be ashamed of.
SUSAN: Mr. Muhammad shares his writing journal with Abdul and points out how writers always write "messy" at first. Do you keep a journal like this? Can you share with us your own messy process?
JAMILAH: Messiness is definitely a part of my process. I can’t create something new without creating a mess first so then I can organize my mess. I talk a lot about this process here. I’m definitely not a complete pantser but I need to be a messy pantser for a while before I can start plotting and organizing my ideas. My notebooks have my crazy scrawlings (and sometimes doodles), often out of order, and my most obnoxious habit (it gets on my nerves that I do this) is writing in random notebooks for the same story. I’ll have bits and pieces of stories in multiple notebooks. When I need to get an idea down, I grab the closest notebook and just start writing. I do work to at least label the bits and pieces and make sure that each of them has a specific purpose. Like Abdul, drafting for me means writing a less messy mess.
SUSAN: The illustrations by Tiffany Rose are remarkable. I love the depiction of Abdul's neighborhood and school and classmates. What was it like working with Tiffany Rose?
JAMILAH: Honestly, we didn’t communicate a lot during the process except about the initial character sketches. I did wish for Abdul to look like my sons with tall hair and skin “the color of an orange-brown sunrise.” She also asked if it would be okay to make Abdul a lefty like herself, which I thought made perfect sense. However, other than that, we didn’t talk much at all. I think artists should be trusted as professionals to own the picture books they illustrate, and she definitely owned this book!
I knew looking at her previous book, M is for Melanin, that Tiffany would create beautiful, diverse Black children and communities of color. I’m in love with seeing the beautiful depictions of Philadelphia children and adults. I also love how she depicted aspects of the Philadelphian neighborhoods I know well. She captured a corner of South Philadelphia that’s close to one of my favorite Philly mosques and the community center that inspired this book! She put in the El train that I traveled on a lot as a kid and young adult. All of this was without even speaking with her.
SUSAN: We always use Dr. Rudine Sims-Bishop’s metaphor – that kidlit should provide mirrors and windows for children. What are the mirrors and windows being provided to young readers in Abdul’s Story?
JAMILAH: In a lot of ways, this book is a mirror for me as a girl, for my children, and for people like us. We are neurodivergent, Black, Muslim, and from a specific urban context. Even down to little things it is a mirror–I struggled with sloppy handwriting (although strangely, people now compliment my handwriting) and as a girl was made to feel very self-conscious about it. So, this book is for that child who has been made to feel self conscious about the way they express their learning too. I didn’t struggle with writing but I’ve known and loved a lot of kids who do and wanted this to be their mirror.
In a lot of ways this book makes me feel very vulnerable because it is so much me and my loved ones on the page. When I write, I don’t like to think about the window that I’m opening because it can take away the focus from the kids inside who need the mirror–the kids who are in my in-groups. However, I do hope now that it’s coming out into the world that other children will find these experiences relatable and empathize even though they might not know Black Muslims or might not struggle with writing or might not have experienced living in cities.
I also want them to see value in the stories of these kids who are different from them. One of Abdul’s biggest lessons to learn is that being different doesn’t mean his stories don’t have value in the classroom. In fact, in many ways, his differences make his stories more valuable.
Interview by: Alliah L. Agostini
ALA: What ultimately compelled you to make your sweet tofu-making memories into a story?
HW: The inspiration for this story was born of my tofu-making experience with my treasured grandma. When I was a kid, I often sat nearby and watched as she cooked—a process that sometimes involved tofu.
She would wash vegetables, chop meat, stir porridge, and cook all the meals for our entire family. It was during these times that she would share stories that transported me to faraway places and other eras.
After I moved to the US and had my own family, my kids would ask many questions about the process and tools we used to make tofu together: serving as a warm reminder of the sweet time I spent with my grandma in the small kitchen across the ocean. Hence, a story began to take shape.
ALA: This book is not only about creating tofu, but all of the items (and concepts) used to create it. How did you decide to integrate a more holistic experience into the text?
HW: A great book calls for multiple layers with varied messages readers can take away from the story. Though the idea behind the book was grounded in the tofu-making process, I knew the story must involve a bigger concept that is more relevant to kids.
When I cooked with my own kids, I noted their preoccupation with imaginative play and occasional complaints about the time required to cook a proper meal, which inspired me to weave the topic of patience into the text.
In examining the tofu-making process in a more imaginative way, I discovered an assortment of inherent elements that connect with nature and even the universe at large. I’m now so happy to have found a sweet spot that includes food, culture, patience, nature, and intergenerational love all tied into one story.
ALA: I loved your integration of auditory cues into the text, especially since smells and tastes are more predominantly used in stories of food. Why did you decide to use sound cues to engage your readers?
HW: In some tofu-making steps, the use of onomatopoeia comes naturally: such as when blending beans with water and boiling soymilk. It was during the revision process that I realized using onomatopoeia would add a pattern to the structure, making it fun and predictable and more satisfying for young readers to read aloud while adding another layer to the storyline. It’s for this reason that I added sound cues to each tofu-making step as well as in preparing for meal time together.
ALA: Julie’s illustrations are so cheerful and whimsical. Did you incorporate many illustration notes into your manuscript, especially for the more succinct ‘And it takes…’ spreads, or did she just run with the text? And are there any fun ‘easter eggs’ hidden in the illustrations that readers should look out for?
HW: I didn’t add many art notes at all. Though I am an illustrator as well as an author, I didn’t have many specific thoughts regarding the illustrations in this case. There were so many different ways to interpret the text, and I felt it best to leave this task to the illustrator, editor, and art director to do so per their preferences. This required high levels of trust—among the author, editor, and illustrator—to believe in one other while working together to bring the story to life.
When NaiNai and Lin read a book together, Julie’s corresponding illustration reflects so many imaginative and cultural elements: including traditional Chinese symbols, home goods, and natural components. Readers should look out for these intriguing details.
ALA: What do you hope children and families ultimately take from the book?
HW: I hope readers will enjoy this multi-generational tale that explores the magic of patience in making tofu (a food consumed in China for over 2000 years), using sights, sounds, and lots of imagination. As an ode to patience and delayed gratification, this book supports the mindset that good things take time—a concept both children and families can apply in many areas of life.
ALA: What is your favorite memory of passing time while you made tofu with your grandmother?
HW: Above all else, I value the time spent listening to my grandma’s stories. Many of these were about life in the Chinese countryside, which is where she spent most of her life. Since I was born in the city, I didn’t know much countryside living—especially in the decades before I was born. So, I was always curious to learn about something so seemingly close to me yet unfamiliar as well.
ALA: What are your favorite ways to eat tofu?
HW: I love Mapo tofu with ground meat; but since my kids don’t like spicy food, I only occasionally eat tofu prepared in this manner.
ALA: As an author, illustrator, and associate publisher of Yeehoo Press, you wear many hats within kidlit, alone. Which role has been your favorite so far?
HW: My two favorite roles are author and associate publisher. As an author, I can tell the stories I want to tell while gaining a first-person perspective about the type of support an author needs in publishing: helping me understand how a publisher can better collaborate with authors.
As a publisher, I enjoy access to inside industry information including multiple ways books and book-related products are developed and sold. This inspires me to become a better entrepreneur. My ultimate goal is to produce successful books, which I believe requires a combination of compelling storytelling from the author and the illustrator as well as publisher contributions with respect to sales, marketing, and distribution platforms.
ALA: Your book trailer and the theme song are adorable. Have you convinced your children to do a dance to it yet?
HW: Thank you for your kind words. It in fact took me some time to arrange a dance for the song, which called for fun, easy-to-learn moves that aren’t too simple. I did convince my children to perform the dance, and I’ll release a corresponding video soon!
Tofu Takes Time - Picture Book Trailer - Helen H. Wu
ALA: Can you share a bit more about your previous books - and any to come?
HW: The first picture book I ever wrote was a rhyming book, GOOD NIGHT, GOOD NIGHT. Back then I didn’t know anything about meters, beats or patterns. Part of me was embarrassed and part of me was pretty proud that I wrote a rhyming book even before I had the concept of these rules. Sometimes it just takes passion and courage to start a journey!
My next picture book, LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom, will be published by Yeehoo Press in February, 2023.
Inspired by my experience as a minority immigrant student, this picture book follows a Chinese dragon who struggles to breathe fire in his new Western dragon school, only to discover he must carve his own path to finding a sense of belonging. Wrapped in Eastern and Western dragon lore, this fantasy tale celebrates perseverance, self-acceptance, and cultural differences.
Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author, illustrator, translator and publisher. She is the author of TOFU TAKES TIME, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022) and LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is the Associate Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that can empower children to understand the world and our connections.
Currently, Helen lives in San Diego, California, with her family and two kids.
Learn more about Helen Wu at:
Cover Reveal! Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change by Tameka Fryer Brown; Illustrated by Nina Crews
It's Women's History Month and today we are happy to reveal the cover of a new picture book about the trailblazing icon Shirley Chisholm!
Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm's Fight for Change is written by KidLit in Color author Tameka Fryer Brown and illustrated by Nina Crews. It will be released on November 1, 2022 by Millbrook Press.
Lisa Stringfellow talked with Tameka and Nina about their book, which was edited by Carol Hinz and designed by Danielle Carnito and Nina Crews.
Lisa: Thank you Tameka and Nina for sharing your gorgeous new book with us. Tameka, can you share how this wonderful story came to be?
Tameka: In 2017, author Kristy Dempsey alerted me to the tweet of a certain editor who had requested a picture book manuscript on Shirley Chisholm. At the time, though I knew it was an outstanding idea, I was convinced that fictional stories were my lane. Still, every now and again I would think about it, what my approach might be if I were to make the attempt. Two years later, after reading her autobiography, reviewing other books and articles, and watching hours of video footage, I felt like I knew and understood Mrs. Chisholm much more intimately. I focused on channeling her no-nonsense, can-do spirit, and that’s when I finally figured out how to enter the story.
While I was apprehensive about writing nonfiction at first, I’m so glad I decided to give it a try. I am exceptionally proud of this book.
Lisa: Nina, tell us about about the art in the book! What was your inspiration for the cover? What was the process you used in developing your ideas?
Nina: Tameka’s wonderful writing and Shirley Chisholm herself were the inspiration for this image. The cover is always the last illustration to be created. This is good, because by the time I get to it, I’ve got the overall look of the book figured out. This is the first non-fiction book that I have illustrated, and I began by combing the internet for images of Shirley to use as reference. Her energy, intelligence, passion, and humor really shine in those photographs. My challenge was to reflect that in my digital collage illustrations.
The cover is a collaboration with the art director and editor, and we went through a bunch of ideas. First the art director sent me some suggestions. Then I sent back a few ideas of my own. We knew the image needed to reflect how Shirley Chisholm used her voice to fight for change. This is a central theme of this book. Each exchange brought new thoughts about what image to use and how to design the title type. The finished illustration is based on sample art I created to be considered for this project. What a delight to have my first response to Tameka’s manuscript transform into the final cover art!
Lisa: And here is what we've been waiting for! Cover reveal time!
Lisa: Tameka, what were your thoughts when you first saw the cover?
Tameka: I thought, Oh my goodness! This is GORGEOUS! I love it so much! WOW! I love it, I love it, I love it!!
That’s pretty much an exact transcription of my thoughts…the first time I saw it and all the times I’ve looked at it afterwards. I couldn’t be happier with Nina’s art, both on the cover and the interior spreads. Nina’s passion for Mrs. Chisholm—her character, her impact, and her legacy—shine through in every illustration. The bright colors and bold graphic design channel Mrs. Chisholm’s spirit perfectly. It’s the type of cover that will grab a kid’s attention. I absolutely love it.
Lisa: And Nina, now that we’ve seen your beautiful work, can you share any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Nina: Get inspired! Spend time looking at other illustrators’ work. If you’re interested in creating books, dedicate some time to reading picture books cover to cover in your local bookstore or library. Pay attention to blogs and follow folks you admire on social media. Remember that there’s a lot more out there than gets shelf space at the major bookstore chains.
And be sure to play! The best work we make comes from the joy we bring to it. So, look for ways to find joy in your practice. Experiment! I’ve found that ideas I play around with can show up in paying projects down the road. The time taken to explore new ideas is never wasted and keeps me inspired.
Lisa: Tameka, what would you like everyone to know about this picture book?
Tameka: Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change is written as a narrative free verse poem with themes and details that are accessible to younger and older readers alike. The back matter, including an extensive timeline and a diverse list of additional resources, make it the perfect book for all ages to learn about this trailblazing icon. Between the lyrical text and the vivid illustrations, Not Done Yet is both educational and captivating, which makes it a worthwhile title for every collection.
I truly love this book. I hope you will too.
Lisa: Thank you Tameka and Nina for sharing the inspiration and work behind your upcoming book!
Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm's Fight for Change will be released on November 1, 2022 from Millbrook Press and is available for pre-order from Bookshop, Amazon, and other retailers.
Interview By: Tonya Abari
TA: How did you birth this beautiful story, Stella Keeps the Sun Up? We want juicy details. Does art imitate life? Did this story come to you in a coffee shop or dream? Fill us in!
CE: First, let me say thank you. I am so happy you enjoyed it. There were so many iterations of this book…picture book, chapter book, dream sequences, but I loved the idea of exploring a story about sleep. I’ve been lucky throughout this process to work with a critique group through SCBWI and workshop different ideas with my own family and fellow parents in the trenches. And, this felt like the perfect first story to explore.
The bedtime struggle is real in our house. I have memories of sleep training, sleep regression and more recently trying everything from refusing entry into our bed and having our kids sleep on the floor to bribing them with promises of movies or Lego sets if they sleep in their bed uninterrupted for 30 straight days. Right when we think we have it figured out, things change. One thing that seems consistent is that neither of our kids seem particularly phased that their parents are sleep deprived!
TA: Stella, the book’s narrator, has such a strong and relatable voice. What inspired you to write the story Stella Keeps the Sun Up in first person? To expand on this question, why do you think it’s important to consider point of view in picture books?
CE: My children go to a Montessori school and one of the greatest lessons we have learned as parents is how capable our children are – this is true when it comes to using actual glassware at 3-years-old, getting dressed by themselves at a young age, but also in expressing themselves and their desires. I really wanted to write a story that honored a child’s voice and agency.
So often we talk past children, assuming that an adult is better equipped to speak on their behalf. I recall a recent trip to the grocery store and my seven-year-old daughter was practicing ordering from the deli counter. After she placed her order, the person she spoke to confirmed her order with me. I noticed what happened, but more importantly she noticed and wondered why the person didn’t speak to her instead.
While there are many picture books that I love that are in the third person for most of the storytelling, it was important for me to celebrate this joyful, little Black girl’s voice.
TA: The illustrations of Stella are so vibrant and joyful. I love how even her clothes (tee shirt with sun, cute afro puffs) really reflect her personality. Did you have any input on the details of this artwork?
CE: Lynn Gaines did an amazing job! I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her. The one thing that was important to me was that there was no ambiguity about her race. While we are beautiful shades of brown, I was inspired by my desire to bring mirrors to my children and so I very much wanted to see Stella a deep brown.
While we did speak early on about how I envisioned Stella, I will give her all the credit. The fact that she is wearing a tutu AND athletic tube socks, with slippers is spot on. Stella exudes joy and such comfort in her own skin. She marches to her own beat and seeing her on the page makes me smile each and every time.
TA: We love Stella’s fun new rules. Who wouldn’t enjoy dessert before dinner?! How important is it for parents to encourage this free-spirited inquisitiveness?
CE: I had a great childhood, but am also part of the generation where our parents could more easily answer a question with “because I said so.” That doesn’t fly as easily with our children. They want to know the steps that got us to a particular answer and are often ready to express an alternate point of view, which can help justify why ice cream, which is made from milk for example, would make a great pre-dinner appetizer.
There is a lot we can learn from them and frankly some of it involves getting back in touch with the “I can do anything” attitude. I often find myself in awe in conversations or in observation of my own children as they work to figure out the world on their terms. They don’t subscribe to the same rules that dictate why or how things are done. Some of that is because they don’t know them yet, but some of it is also because they don’t care. That innocence can be really freeing.
TA: Stella shows great emotion throughout the entire book. What advice would you give to a new picture book author who is crafting an emotional arc for their main character?
CE: Remember to have fun and to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good as you get started. Even if you want your book to have a certain feel, be a certain length or word count, put it all out there and see what is working along the way. You will have plenty of opportunity to make cuts as you move along. Have fun with characters and voice and be ok with the idea that your final draft may look nothing like your first. If this is for a picture book for children, try to honor a child’s voice and perspective. Big feelings for example are ok sometimes and age appropriate. I have also found it helpful to set an intention for my stories and then to try and figure out how to see that through a child’s eyes.
TA: You dedicated this book to your village as well as your children. Parent writers often find inspiration from their own children. Can you elaborate on how your own children awakened your sense of innocence and adventure? And do you have any advice on how parent writers can tap into these senses if writing for children?
CE: I was looking through my writing journal recently and so many of my notes came from offhanded conversations with my children and my wonder at their kid logic in action. Oftentimes, we as adults, have a tendency to overcomplicate things. It’s not always that deep. One of the blessings of the pandemic for my family was being forced to slow things down. While the various lockdowns have been challenging for different reasons, we also managed to have a lot of fun doing simple things like building forts with pillow cushions, going on scavenger hunts around our neighborhood, taking out the old polaroid camera, seeing firsthand how yeast works and how to make our own slime. There can be wonder in what we so often take for granted. There can be stories in those chance adventures and dialogues.
TA: We all know that publishing is very top secret, but can you give us the scoop – or at least a subtle hint – on what you’re working on next?
CE: I feel so grateful to Denene Millner and the Simon & Schuster team who saw promise in Stella and who committed to making her a series. My children loved reading the Eloise and Fancy Nancy series and the fact that I can be a part of bringing Stella, a character that looks like them into the world is so exciting. Our next book is about Stella and Roger’s hunt for a missing tooth and I have a few more up my sleeve that I can’t wait to share with the team.
Clothilde Ewing has spent her career communicating through journalism as an assignment editor and producer at CBS News and as a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show, through politics as a member of the press team for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, and with nonprofits, where she currently leads communications efforts at The Chicago Community Trust. She was inspired to write the Stella series, after reading a New York Times opinion piece by her now-editor, Denene Millner, titled: “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.” Her goal is for children, whether they look like hers or not, to see children of color in books that have nothing to do with race or struggle and have everything to do with belonging and joy. A graduate of Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Communications, she currently lives in Chicago with her husband and two young children.