Check This Out: How The Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

With me on the blog today is the always lovely Kate Hosford. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, which was illustrated by the amazing Gabi Swiatkowska. This book, published by Carolrhoda Books in March 2017, is too delightful for words.

  

Check out the book trailer:

Now, let’s talk to Kate!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I love the tea set that my grandmother left me.

Kate’s grandmother’s Spode china

(2) When I studied in India during college, I loved drinking chai on trains.

Indian chai at the launch party at Books of Wonder in New York

(3) This summer, I got to drink tea at the Buckingham Palace Garden Café, where they have really nice paper cups.

Fancy to-go cups

(4) My new favorite place in New York is the Japanese tea house, Cha-An, where they have wonderful Matcha and a great selection of desserts.


Matcha with something sweet at Cha-An

El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Kate: At first, I simply had a vague idea about a queen going around the world and drinking tea with children from different cultures. But after several revisions, the story became about a lonely, pampered Queen who thinks she is searching for the perfect cup of tea, when she is actually searching for friends and meaning in her life. In the final version, tea still has a multicultural function in the story, but it is also a metaphorical device for tracking the Queen’s emotional state. Gabi Swiatkowska did such a great job showing the Queen’s many emotional states not only as she learns to make tea, but as she learns how to do other things as well, like snuggle a kitten.

El Space: This is your second collaboration with illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska. What was your process for working with Gabi? How long was the process from writing to production?
Kate: Gabi and I met in an illustrators’ group in 2000, back when I was doing illustration. We were good friends before we became collaborators, which was probably helpful. This book has a complex emotional arc, with the Queen making a bit more progress in each place she visits, but then backsliding to her old haughty ways at the beginning of each visit to a new place. Gabi did an amazing job of conveying all the emotional complexity in the book. Sometimes I offered opinions that Gabi took, and other times, she would stand her ground. I have learned that when Gabi stands her ground, she is always right!

Gabi and Kate at their launch party at Books of Wonder

I started this book with my faculty advisor, Uma Krishnaswami, in 2009, when I was getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I sold it to Carolrhoda Books in 2013, and it came out this spring. In my original drafts, I had the children in each country giving the Queen little gifts, and acting deferential. Uma encouraged me to “turn colonialism on its ear,” and create child characters that are completely unimpressed with royalty. This is when the book really came together. When the children treat her like a normal person, the Queen begins to evolve emotionally.

Interior illustrations © 2017 by Gabi Swiatkowska

El Space: Favorite tea? What, if anything, do you take in your tea?
Kate: I drink a lot of peppermint tea and honey, lemon tea and honey, green tea, and chai.

El Space: In a discussion of why picture books are important, Kwame Alexander said

Picture books are the great experience equalizer. We don’t have to leave the comforts of the beds in the rooms of our houses, and yet we can still travel through time and place and circumstance.

Erzsi Deak said

Picture books are also the groundwork for understanding innately how Story works, as the reader anxiously turns the page to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Why do you think they’re important?
Kate: Oh there are so many reasons! I agree with everything that Kwame and Erzsi said, and here a few other reasons as well:

Picture books can create intimacy. Often picture books are read out loud, either by a teacher or parent. This sort of intimate experience allows the child and adult to bond over the book together, which then gives the child yet another reason to continue reading.

Picture books hone a child’s ear. When picture books are read out loud, they allow children to hear the rhythms and cadences of beautiful language, which hopefully makes them want to read more.

Picture books are good for the brain. The child who is seated next to a picture book reader is synthesizing the words on the page, the language of the reader, and the illustrations. The constant toggling back and forth between these elements is stimulating and complex, forging the neural pathways that are essential for increasing intelligence in a young child.

El Space: Name a favorite picture book from your childhood. Why was it a favorite?
Kate: Probably my favorite book was called Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and Philippe Fix. It is a gorgeous, eccentric book about an old lady who lives on the top of a hill with a Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and an alligator. One day, the Magical Mouse predicts that the town below will be endangered by thirty days of rain. It is then up to Alexander to make the treacherous journey into town to warn the mayor about the rain. The book’s illustrations are just spectacular, and I loved the fact that this eclectic group of animals lived with the Old Lady.

The cover where the Old Lady is serving tea

Strangely, I didn’t realize until I just reread the story that tea plays a rather important role in the book. The Old Lady gathers her friends every day in the drawing room for tea, she nurses Alexander back to health with ginger tea when he returns from warning the mayor, and at the end of the book, when the mayor comes to honor the Old Lady for saving the town, she gives the medal to Alexander instead, and invites the mayor and her animal family to tea.

  

The Old Lady, nursing Alexander back to health with ginger tea (left); the mayor, having tea with the Old Lady and her friends at the end of the book

El Space: What will you work on next?
Kate: A poetry collection about how brilliant the octopus is! I read Sy Montgomery’s incredible book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonders of Consciousness. and then was lucky enough to meet Sy and interact with her namesake, Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium. I also want to do something funny related to the life of a classical musician. This is a bit of a challenge since most of them had really difficult and tragic lives. However, Jonah Winter was able to do it in his fabulous picture book, The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven, where he tries to figure out how Beethoven could have moved five legless pianos to 39 different apartments. It’s such a unique topic, and his treatment of it is wonderful.
I’m also very excited about a picture book I have coming out next spring with Abrams called Mama’s Belly. It’s about a little girl waiting for her sister to be born, and wondering if there will be enough love to go around. (Spoiler alert: There is!)

    

Thanks, Kate, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who visited this blog. You can find How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

Want a curriculum guide for How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea? Click here.

You can find Kate at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

One of you will find her book in your mailbox or tablet. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. You could name your favorite tea as you comment. The winner will be announced on May 1.

Kirstea, the tea-loving Shoppie, gives Kate’s book five stars!

Book covers, author photo, interior illustrations, and book signing photos courtesy of the author. The Soul of an Octopus, Surf’s Up, and Pumpkin Time covers from Goodreads. Kirstea photo by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys.

Bending in the Wind

Happy post-Easter! I had a great Easter. If the celebration of Easter is part of your tradition, hope you had a good one too.

While out for a walk in a high wind the other day, I couldn’t help noticing the flowers. Many were doubled over, their stems bent by the wind. Bent, but not broken. This roused my curiosity. Why was this the case?

Botanists have studied why plant stems can take the pressure of the wind without breaking. The vascular tissue in a plant stem helps stiffen the plant enough to take the wind, while keeping it flexible enough to bend and not break.

While searching the Internet on the subject, I discovered a new word: thigmomorphogenesis, which is

the response by plants to mechanical sensation (touch) by altering their growth patterns

A “mechanical sensation” like wind can cause a plant to change the way it grows. A plant hormone like ethylene also aids in this process.

Imagine that—change inspiring growth in a new way.

You’re probably not here for a botany lesson, so I’ll get to the point. I couldn’t help comparing myself to the plant stems I observed. When the winds of change come, I tense up, rather than welcoming the change as a catalyst for growth. Instead, I plant my feet—the very image of inflexibility. I’m not overly fond of change—especially change involving discipline.

Growing up, my mother used to say that I was stubborn. I preferred to think of it as firmly resistant. But lately I’ve also noticed that the more resistant I am toward change, the easier it is to be broken by an unavoidable change. Bending seems a lot healthier.

For those of you who are reading these words (and I’m grateful you took time to do so), please don’t think this post is a veiled attempt at calling you or anyone else out. It’s totally not. This is what I observed about my own life.

Since Easter is a celebration of new life, I can’t help being reminded that new life can mean a new attitude. I desperately need one. Because like it or not, change comes like the wind. I can either bend with it or break.

How about you? Do you bend with change or resist it?

Photos by L. Marie.

Differently Creative

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. My room used to horrify my mom, who is a very neat person.

“Clean your room!” she’d tell me every once in a while, especially when guests were due to arrive. Or she’d say, “Clean that closet.” The closet was where I stowed a number of projects birthed through my imagination.

This is my desk at home.

    

Those of you who are neat might be ready to crawl up a wall at the sight of it. Heh heh. Sorry about that. Whenever I’ve worked full-time in an office—usually at a publisher or book packager—my desk was usually the messiest. Piles of books, files, and knickknacks lived on my desk. Many of my neater coworkers had that crawling-up-the wall reaction whenever they looked at my desk. But whenever a supervisor or coworker asked me for anything—a book for a quote; the address of a writer we hired for a project; whatever—I could produce it just like that.

On the day before important clients were due to visit, one of my supervisors would declare a cleanup day. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Yep? Just like Mom.) I would have to return books to the office library and dump my knickknacks in a convenient drawer—only to pull them back out when the clients left.

There’s a method to my messiness. You see, I’ve often had to work under extremely tight deadlines. Like having to produce a book in a month. All of the resources required for the project needed to be at hand. That way, I could do the job quickly, without having to get up and constantly search for whatever was needed.

As a freelancer, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects also. Which usually means stopping one project and starting another, before returning to the first project. Which also means more and more things get piled up on my desk (like the sharks I’m crocheting [see below], which are on top of my writing journal).

Another aspect to my cluttered desk is my love of color. Cheerful, colorful objects always make me feel better. Which is why I love daisies, especially Gerbera daisies.

   

A number of people have asked me over the years, “Why can’t you keep your desk neat?” My answer to them is, “Does it really have to be?”

A piled-up desk is not the image I usually see in magazine articles featuring a writer’s workspace. I usually see beautiful wooden desks with everything in its place. But what you see in this post is my space. I don’t want to pretend that it’s different from what I’ve shown here.

The bin of DVDs and blu-rays (and the occasional skein of yarn) that sits next to my desk

I don’t think of myself as more or less creative than someone with a pristine desk. I think of myself as “differently creative.”

How about you? What does your creative space look like? Is it messy? Neat? In between?

Photos by L. Marie with the exception of the gerbera daisy image, which came from freeimages.com, and the Tyra Banks finger snap gif, which came from pic2fly.com.

Resilience

I’ve mentioned before on this blog (right here, actually) that a stray orange tabby has taken up residence in the bike shed of my apartment building—a no-pet building. Not that I have anything against pets. I live here, because it’s cheaper to live here. I don’t have a pet anyway. Well, not officially. The orange tabby, whom I’ve nicknamed Feral, is my unofficial pet. I share him with my next-door neighbors who also feed Feral.

I assure you, a cat is in this photo. This is from the previous post. Feral is not fond of having his picture taken.

Feral prefers tuna, but not the cheap kind you can get at a discount store like Aldi. His palate is much more highbrow. Albacore tuna, please. In water.

Late last fall, my neighbor built Feral a little house out of a cardboard box, and lined it with straw. This house fit snuggly at the back of the bike shed. Feral seemed to like it. During the cold winter days, particularly the below zero days, I felt better, knowing Feral was out of the chill wind.

Anyway, last week, I went out to feed Feral, only to discover that his house had been thrown away. The bowl I used for his food had been placed on the sidewalk.

Feral had been evicted.

As I mentioned, I live in a no-pet building. Someone might have informed the powers that be of our secret pet (though technically, he’s not in the building; he’s in the bike shed).

Two days later, I peeked in the bike shed, only to discover Feral curled up behind the bikes once more. Despite the loss of his box, he’d returned to the only place he seemed to call home. So that night, I left a bowl of food and some fresh water, only to discover the next day that the food bowl was missing, and Feral too.

He’d been evicted. Again.

I thought he was gone for good. Nope. He turned up on a day when rain fell like the proverbial cats and dogs.

At the back of the apartment building is a window with a view into the attached bike shed. I could see Feral in there, sitting nicely, waiting for me to bring a bowl of food.

Feral is the picture of resilience for me. He survived being dumped in this area by someone who didn’t want him. He’s made it through a number of winters. Sometimes he comes to the shed bearing scars earned from fights. He won’t let anyone come near him to take him to the vet. He runs away and stays away if you try to pet him. All he wants is food and water. But sometimes, when I stand at the window and look in, he meets my gaze. Just that little bit of contact—knowing I’m nearby, though behind glass—seems to be enough.

Tuna from bumblebee.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Still Beckoning the Lovely

My continuing quest to beckon the lovely took me to the gym of a church this past Saturday, where I helped organize the games for a five-year-old’s birthday party. (If you have no idea what beckoning the lovely means, click here for the post that provides more information.) Picture twenty-one shrieking kids eight years old and under (most around four years old or five years old), racing at top speed across a gym—sometimes colliding with each other—and you’ll know what my day was like.

    

   

Sorry. I’m just showing photos of decorations. No one gave me permission to show his or her kids on this blog.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I are close like that. You’re thinking, How is being in a room with twenty-one children lovely?

Well, I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I can’t have biological children. But I appreciate the miracle that is a child.

That doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view of children. I know kids can be cruel to each other. After all, I was not a nice child. I remember how a friend of mine and I made up a mean song about a girl named Jennifer, whom we didn’t like for some reason. We sang it with gusto in her presence. See? Not a nice kid.

Plus, I’ve been around kids all of my life in some capacity or another. I’m related to some, I’ve taught others, babysat them, scolded them, and planned parties for them. Their sense of wonder and their skill at getting on your last nerve are what inspire me to write books for and about them.

So, helping out at that party, as tiring as it was, is what I would describe as lovely. Seeing how much fun the kids had, as well as the dads who courageously allowed groups of small children not necessarily their own to dress them as jellyfish, reminds me of the creative ways adults can be present in the lives of children.

Speaking of present, that’s my cue to segue to the winner of Second Chance Romance, a novel written by your friend and mine, Jill Weatherholt. Jill is giving away a signed copy as a present to a commenter. (See what I did there with present? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

  

The winner is . . .

Is

Is

Is

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Laura, please comment below to confirm. I will then pass along your email address to Jill. Thank you to all who commented!

Cover Reveal: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I’m always excited to see great book covers. And when a cover belongs to a book written by one of my VCFA classmates, well, I’m overjoyed! Feast your eyes on the cover for The Unbinding of Mary Reade, a young adult historical novel written by the awesome Miriam McNamara. Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency.

Summary

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession―and her safety―depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything―her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade will be published by Sky Pony Press on February 6, 2018. Now, let’s talk to Miriam!

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Miriam: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They are such mythical people: two women who joined a pirate crew in a time when women had no power. I was particularly drawn to Mary Reade, who was raised as a boy by her family―so the story goes―as part of an elaborate scheme to keep them off the streets. The idea of someone being raised as someone they know they are not is very timely, even if Mary Reade’s story is unique. I thought it would be an interesting lens to examine gender through. As a queer teenager, it was hard for me to unravel the connections and differences between gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story about a character for whom no easy lines could be drawn regarding either. Mary doesn’t fit any convenient labels, so she really has to figure out who she is starting from scratch.

I love outsider cultures, the communities that are formed by those who don’t fit into the mainstream. I love to explore what happens when people break the rules, especially when they break them just by being who they are. I love to explore what happens when people follow the rules and are still let down by them, as so many people often are. I also just wanted to write a love story about queer girls, because there aren’t enough of them.

El Space: What a gorgeous cover! What, if any, suggestions were you expected to provide for the cover? Did you have any say over what was depicted on it?
Miriam: I was not expecting to have any say regarding the cover, so I was thrilled when my editor, Rachel Stark at Sky Pony Press, asked me if I had any input. I found a couple of covers of other books that I absolutely loved and put together a mood board with the covers and a few other images, and wrote a paragraph or two about what I envisioned. Fonts, color schemes, images, etc. Nothing too specific. When I sent it to Rachel, it turned out that we’d picked out mostly the exact same book covers as comps! So I knew we were on the right track.

El Space: Who worked on the cover? How long was the process?
Miriam: It was almost exactly a month later when I heard back from Rachel. I was psyched about the cover, but both of us had the same concern about one tiny detail. Rachel relayed the feedback to the design team, and I received the final cover the next day!

El Space: How did you react when you saw the cover?
Miriam: I was really pleased. One idea I’d thrown out was having the font of the title be kind of like a binding coming undone, with a ribbony, fabric-like quality to it. You can see that they nailed that! And I love the ship! And the color scheme is PERFECT. It’s got a great romantic feel to it. So yes, I’m very happy!


Author Bio

Miriam McNamara was born in Ireland, raised in the Southern US, and is a new, proud resident of the Midwest. She has dressed up as some variation on pirate for Halloween more years than she has not—her favorite still being Rollerskating Pirate, circa 2003. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where The Unbinding of Mary Reade won the Norma Fox Mazer Award for a YA work-in-progress. She lives with her wife, two dogs, and two cats in a tiny house in North Minneapolis, but she also calls Asheville, North Carolina home. You can find her at www.miriammcnamara.com or on Twitter at @McNamaraMiriam.

Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Book cover courtesy of the author.

Beckon the Lovely

Not long ago, my friend Sharon emailed a link to a TED Talk by author/filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal (see below). You might know this author either from her books (see above) or from her very popular and very heartbreaking New York Times article, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” (The answer to that is, yes.)

If you have twenty-one minutes to kill, take a look. I highly recommend it. But in case you don’t, I’ll give you the upshot of the video in seven words:

Make the most of your time here.

That was Rosenthal’s motto. Was, because the author recently died from ovarian cancer, which made the video all the more poignant for me. Though this talk was given years ago, I found it very fitting today.

One of the pieces of advice she gives in the video is to “beckon the lovely.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear ugly words, or discover that someone lovely died from an ugly disease, or I hear about the ugly actions of others, my soul craves something lovely.

[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I think of flowers and sunsets and clingy baby pandas. My friend Jill emailed this article, which features a video of a clingy baby panda. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. There is a reason why this video has over 160 million views. Lovely sights beckon to us.

Like flowers. Flowers of any sort catch my eye.

   

Photos from a couple of years ago and recently (last photo). Alas, a recent snowstorm killed these sprouts off.

Crocheting also is a way I beckon the lovely. I promised Marie of 1WriteWay that I would post a photo of a jellyfish I crocheted recently for a little boy’s birthday party, thanks to this pattern. I can’t help but smile that the designer chose to make something lovely and cuddly based on the form of a creature with a harmful sting.

When I consider ways to beckon the lovely, I’m reminded of lovely gestures people make. Last week, a colleague came bearing two boxes of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, which brightened our day.

Speaking of gestures, the lovely Jill Weatherholt is giving away a signed copy of her debut novel, Second Chance Romance. (U.S. only. Sorry.) All you have to do to be considered for the drawing is to comment below. What have you seen recently that you consider lovely? Perhaps you were the one whose lovely gesture made someone’s day. Do tell! Or describe what you plan to do to beckon the lovely this week. The winner will be announced on March 27.

     

Amy Krouse Rosenthal book cover from Goodreads. Second Chance Romance cover from Jill Weatherholt. Dunkin Donuts Munkins from Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.