We are happy to reveal the cover of KidLit in Color author Kaitlyn Wells's new picture book, A Family Looks Like Love, which will be published on May 31, 2022 by Penguin Random House. Fellow KidLit in Color author Lisa Stringfellow interviewed Kaitlyn about her book.
Lisa: What were your thoughts when you first saw the cover?
Kaitlyn: First, all credit goes to my wonderful illustrator, Sawyer Cloud, who did a beautiful job honoring my vision for this book. She breathed life into these characters and imbued warmth and love from the very first page. As for the cover itself, I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s simplistic and refined. By focusing on the characters sans a distracting background, the reader is subconsciously reminded that love—that invisible yet tangible element—is all around. Even if you can’t see love, you feel its presence when you’re surrounded by those who care the most about you.
Lisa: What would you like everyone to know about A Family Looks Like Love?
Kaitlyn: I wrote A Family Looks Like Love from the broken pieces of my heart. It wasn’t easy discussing race as a biracial kid who grew up surrounded by people who “don’t see color” or only see color. Sometimes I felt like I had to accept other people’s assumptions about who I was and who my family should be. I felt silenced in order to make room for the louder (and fallacious) voices in the room. And when I did speak up, it hardly led to acceptance. On easier days, people assumed I was lying when I pointed to the white woman in the room as my mother. On harder days, my extended family decided it wasn’t worth knowing their Black relatives, and refused to shake my hand in greeting. And as a little girl, I found myself looking for ways to fit into the mold these people told me I needed to be in to gain their acceptance.
It’s taken a long time to realize I didn’t do anything wrong—their shortsightedness was the toxicity destroying my self esteem. Still, no one should have to go through that experience. A Family Looks Like Love reminds every young reader (and even young readers at heart) that what other people say about who you are and who your family should be is irrelevant. The only perspective that matters is your own. And it’s normal (and amazing!) for no two families to look exactly the same. I learned these lessons and more from my parents and friends who reminded me that love transcends skin color (or, in this case, fur color). I hope anyone who picks up A Family Looks Like Love feels empowered to shed any notions of self-hate, and embrace only the goodness that surrounds them.
Lisa: If a bookseller were hand-selling A Family Looks Like Love, what might they say to a potential reader?
Kaitlyn: A Family Looks Like Love is a heartwarming tale about a young pup who looks different from her doggy siblings, and has to work through her own feelings with inadequacy when other animals in the neighborhood doubt her legitimacy because of her appearance. A Family Looks Like Love reminds everyone that there’s more than one way for a family to look, and the more diversity, the better. While the inspiration for this book was based on the author’s experiences growing up mixed race, the message is meant for anyone who’s been told their family isn’t their own. All are welcomed and loved, no matter if your household includes adopted kids, multiracial parents, a single dad, two moms, multiple generations, non-traditional members—or all of the above!
And here is our cover reveal!
Lisa: Kaitlyn, please finish the following sentence starters:
Sutton Button… looks like my own little dog named Sutton, who doesn’t resemble her littermates either! Genetics, even in the doggy kingdom, can be wild!
Did you know… the flowering tree in the story is an apple tree?
Families are… beautiful, no matter what they look like. Family is the home you can always return to; the journal that knows your most embarrassing secrets; the light on your darkest days; and the heart that always beats for you.
You should have asked me…what I’m writing next! I have so many stories inside of me, especially stories full of joy. I’m working on picture books about a Black viral immunologist who saves the world (true story!), a sassy cat (hey, my cat Tanzie needs her own book too!), and a little girl just hoping to make her mother smile on one of her darkest days. I just hope I get to see these books in readers’ hands one day!
Lisa: Kaitlyn, thank you so much for sharing your cover on our blog today. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Kaitlyn: I’d love to stay in touch with readers. People can join my mailing list, and connect with me on social media.
Lisa: Thank you again, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn Wells is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others. Her commentary on diverse literature can be found in The New York Times Book Review, BookPage, and Diverse Kids Books. Bring her chocolate or ask about her pets to become fast friends. A Family Looks Like Love is her debut children’s book. She lives in New York City with her wonderful husband, rambunctious dog, and demanding cat.
You can learn more about Kaitlyn at https://kaitwells.com.
Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and sign up for her newsletter.
KidLit in Color author Tonya Abari interviewed author Anne Wynter about her new picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, illustrated by Oge Mora.
Tonya: What inspired you to write the story Everybody in the Red Brick Building?
Anne: I grew up in a house, but I spent most of my adulthood in apartments. So I was always noticing the unique aspects of apartment living - especially the relationships between apartment neighbors. For a long time, I tried to write about that theme in a full-length play for adults. I loved the idea but my scripts kept falling flat.
Once I started trying to write picture books, Everybody in the Red Brick Building was the second manuscript I wrote. The writing process was relatively quick, probably because I had spent so much time thinking about these themes and working through plot possibilities. It turned out to be a much better fit in a picture book.
Tonya: This picture book is rich with onomatopoeia. Can you explain your process for selecting which middle-of-the-night sounds to use for this book?
Anne: This was one of the hardest parts. I tried to pick onomatopoeia that was a little truer to the actual sound - in the way that a “woof” is usually closer to the sound a dog makes than a “bark.”
I also wanted to make sure the sounds didn’t have too many similarities when it came to assonance and consonance. This was challenging because, for the quiet sounds, it was tempting to use multiple sounds with “shhh,” so I had to play around a lot to make sure the text had enough variety.
And I took several nighttime walks for inspiration!
Tonya: You captured such an intricate moment (waking up and going back to sleep in the middle of the night) so beautifully. Regarding this manuscript, does art imitate life?
Anne: Thank you! And yes, definitely. I wrote this when I had an infant and a toddler, and there was a lot of waking up in the middle of the night. When each of my kids were babies I would think about the person on the other side of the wall in the apartment building. I’m sure they could hear the baby crying - and I always crossed my fingers that they were heavy sleepers or were able to fall back to sleep fairly easily.
I think about sleep a lot because it’s one of my favorite activities!
Tonya: What advice would you give to a new picture book writer who is mining their world for smaller moments to write about?
Anne: If there’s something that really captures your attention or imagination, make note of that and don’t automatically dismiss it because it seems too silly, strange or trivial. If you’re around kids, notice what fascinates them. Kids are wonderful at picking up on the smallest details and moments.
Tonya: Oge Mora’s collage-style illustrations really compliment your words perfectly . Tell us about the author/illustration process for this book – working with Oge Mora.
Anne: I didn’t work directly with Oge for most of the process, and we only (virtually) met and communicated after the final artwork was done. Getting to talk with her, pick up on her energy (she’s a great presenter and speaker) and receive practical tips from her - it has been inspiring and invaluable.
Tonya: Many authors have said that their debut picture books are the ones they least expected to be published first. As a debut picture book author, was this the manuscript that you expected to debut first?
Anne: When I sent out Everybody in the Red Brick Building to agents, I only had one other picture book manuscript, and I knew Everybody in the Red Brick Building was the stronger one. So if my querying process was successful, I expected that one to be my debut.
But I have to say, I had practically zero expectations for this manuscript. I was hopeful, of course, but after years of submitting for short story and playwriting opportunities, I learned not to expect anything. So getting an agent and a book deal was a wonderful and surprising ride!
Tonya: 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?
Anne: I have two board books coming out in January - One Big Day and Hands On! - both illustrated by Alea Marley. After that is Nell Plants a Tree, a picture book illustrated by Daniel Miyares that’s scheduled for 2023.
I have two more unannounced picture books coming out (I’ll give you one hint about the first one - it has to do with Texas) and I’m also working on chapter books - which feels a bit scary because it’s new to me. But I’m having a lot of fun.
Originally from Houston, Anne is an author and playwright who currently lives in Austin, TX with her husband, her two children, and her cat. Her debut picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, is illustrated by Oge Mora and will be published on October 19, 2021 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. She also has two board books coming out in January 2022 - One Big Day and Hands On!, both illustrated by Alea Marley - and a picture book that will be published in Winter 2023 - Nell Plants a Tree, illustrated by Daniel Miyares.
To learn more or say hi, follow Anne on Instagram (@anne_wynter) or visit annewynter.com.