What inspired you to write this story?
When I close my eyes, I am right back in that moment when the story of Hello Little One jumped into my heart.
I am a public school kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles. My school is located in the Mar Vista/Venice Beach area. We are a way station for monarchs, so it’s not unusual to see these beautiful creatures grace our playground.
One day at recess time, I was walking on my way to the main office. In between the classrooms, a majestic monarch butterfly fluttered about, landing on the flowers in the garden boxes. I was mesmerized by the moment. I wondered, “ What must that butterfly see and experience?” As I wondered, I was struck by the sad, bittersweet thought that the life cycle of this monarch was almost done. It had only about two weeks to live. I was struck by both the strength of this creature and the fragility of life. In that moment, the character of Orange was born.
How long did it take you to write Hello Little One and what was the research involved in writing it?
I wrote the story 7 years ago. The scientific concepts emerged in the story authentically and organically. While I researched specific facts and details for the back matter, I did not do any research for the initial story. Because the science concepts were just there, it was the emotional story that really drove my process.
Did Hello Little One go through a lot of revisions?
Like many novice picture book writers, I did not yet understand the concept of word count and the process of precise word choice. It went through many revisions. Then, it went through many rejections. Rejections inform revisions. Revisions made me a stronger writer. They helped me develop my craft.
Did you have critique partners? If so, how instrumental were they in writing your story?
Without critique partners, writing is done in a vacuum. I am a very social person and yet, writing is a very solitary experience. Discourse with other artists helps me contextualize my work and find its relevance.
What's the one piece of advice that has helped you as a writer?
“Writing is rewriting,” says my good friend Georgia McCreery, longtime television writer.
What are you working on next?
It is always my hope that my work creates discourse, though I am never trying to “teach” a lesson. I have several manuscripts on submission. Themes that emerge for me presently in my picture books are stories of resistance and resilience. I like to challenge the status quo, giving children the opportunity to rethink possibilities not yet imagined as they navigate their world.
I am also working on a graphic novel and a contemporary YA novel. My picture book, Egyptian Lullaby, published by Roaring Brook Press comes out in 2021.
Zeena M. Pliska spends her days immersed in the joy of 5-year-olds. She is a kindergarten teacher by day and a children’s book author by night in Los Angeles, California. A progressive public school educator, she believes that the most important aspect of teaching is listening to children. A social justice activist and organizer for over 30 years, she brings race, class, and gender analysis to everything she does. A lifetime storyteller, she has facilitated stories as a theater director, visual artist, photographer and journalist.
Her debut picture book, Hello Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story from Page Street Kids came out May 12, 2020. Her second picture book Egyptian Lullaby from Roaring Brook Press is due out in 2021.