Sometimes, Storms Come

Last week started off like a gentle breeze literally and metaphorically. The temperature was warm and inviting. I had a lovely time with Kate Hosford on the blog. (In case you missed that post, you can read it here.) And I read a beautiful post by Penny over at her Life on the Cutoff blog. The photos of colorful flowers paired with a poem by Robert Frost made a powerful and uplifting combination. (You can read that post here.)

   

My birthday happened midweek. I spent much of the day in a windowless room without wifi. I’ll say more on the why of that in August probably. I can’t discuss it now. In celebration of the day, a friend gave me flowers (below) and a ton of my favorite tea.

Inspired by Penny’s post, I went in search of flowers to photograph, but found many of them windblown and defeated looking.

   

The gentle breeze earlier in the week had turned cold and dreary, thanks to the relentless rainstorms that shoved their way into the area. Fitting weather for the events ending the week. First, a friend texted me to say that her mammogram resulted in the need for a biopsy of “something suspicious.” And then my sister-in-law texted to announce that her mother had been rushed to the hospital.

It doesn’t look good, she wrote. Less than half an hour later, I heard back from her: She’s gone.

Yes, sometimes, storms come.

Even if a loved one has reached old age after living many years in poor health, you still aren’t ready for that person to leave. But after taking turns with my brother to desperately give her mother CPR (no response) until the paramedics came (still no response) and watching the medical team at the hospital try to rouse her mother (no response), my sister-in-law reluctantly let go.

So that was the week—a grim reminder of the cycle of life: birth and death.

On Saturday, the friend who learned of her need for a biopsy handed me this hyacinth:

A reminder that though storms sometimes come, life goes on.

Speaking of life going on, thanks to the random number generator, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, you can expect a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea to come your way. Please comment below to confirm.

Photos by L. Marie (except for the author photo). The paintings in the background of one photo were painted by Rick Smith. Copyright © 2016 Rick Smith.

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.

The Winner’s Circle

Bless you, Random Numbers Generator. I would give you a present, but you’re software. Still, you’ve been a big help to me today.

InfinityandMe_cover1-251x300

The winners of Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Sharon Van Zandt and beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!!!

Books will be ordered from Amazon, so please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to confirm snail mail addresses.

24178

The winner of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Professor VJ Duke!!!

Please email to confirm your snail mail address.

            Faithful_SALESmech.inddSirens front cover.indd

8701091

For Janet Fox’s books, I’ve got a winner and a surprise winner.

The winner of the $20 gift card to purchase two of Janet’s books, one of which has to be Sirens, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andra Watkins!!!

But I’m also giving away a copy of Faithful—surprise—to someone. And that person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!!!

Andra and Jill, please confirm your snail mail addresses. Janet will also mail a bookplate to you.

Thank you to all who commented. Winners, please email me to let me know email addresses and all of that good stuff. Congratulations to you all!

Naruto-Opening01_222Recently, I watched two movies based on the popular manga series starring Naruto Uzumaki, a kid ninja in training. One was Naruto the Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom.
Anyway, a quote of Naruto’s struck me:

I’m not giving up. Ever.

Maybe someone needed to see these words and take them to heart today. Maybe you’re a NaNoite who wonders if you’ll really crack that 50,000 words. Or, maybe you’re just someone who has a big task ahead and aren’t sure you can do it. Or, maybe you think you’ll never be published. The winner’s circle isn’t just for people who’ve won books. It’s for people who face the dance with discouragement, but like Naruto commit to keep going. That’s you, right?

I thought so.

P. S. A special shout-out to another good friend—Laura Sibson—who is running a marathon today. Run well, Laura! You can do this!

Infinity and Me cover courtesy of Kate Hosford. Naruto image from Wikipedia. Charlotte’s Web cover from Goodreads. Janet’s covers from her website.

Check This Out: Infinity and Me

Like poetry? Today on the blog is the clever and prolific Kate Hosford. I was first introduced to Kate at VCFA through her wonderful poetry.

red_photo_cropped

Kate is represented by Tracey Adams and is here to talk about her latest picture book, Infinity and Me, a New York Times best illustrated book for 2012, published by Carolrhoda Books.

InfinityandMe_cover1-251x300

Kate also wrote Big Bouffant and Big Birthday. Thanks to a generous donor, TWO of you will win a copy of Infinity and Me. That’s right. Two! But first, let’s talk to Kate!

         BigBouffant-BookJacketbigbirthday

El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Kate: I grew up in Vermont, I love to eat octopus, I often cry when I hear children sing, and I’m fascinated by Iceland.

El Space: What inspired you to write Infinity and Me? Please tell us how you and the illustrator, Gabi Swiatkowska, came to create this book. How unusual is it for an author/illustrator team to approach a publisher as a team?
Kate: When my two sons were little, I noticed that they enjoyed talking about infinity. Usually the conversation would center on whether it was possible to write down the biggest number or find the edge of the universe. When my search for picture books on this topic proved unsuccessful, I decided to try writing one myself. I tried many different formats, including rhyme, which really didn’t work.

I finally decided to structure the story around a girl who goes on a quest to find the meaning of infinity. This format appealed to me, because it would allow children to see that there are many different ways to imagine this concept—dare I say an infinite number of ways?

Before I decided to write for children, I had worked as an illustrator. Gabi Swiatkowska and I had been in an illustrator’s group together, and had become friends. When I wrote the story, I already had Gabi in mind as the illustrator, because I knew that her ethereal style would be perfectly suited to this topic. As soon as I had a working draft, I sent it to Gabi, asking her if she would be willing to illustrate it. A few weeks later, a beautiful little dummy arrived in the mail, and I knew that we had something exciting to shop around.

scan0001

Gabi’s sketch

scan0002

Gabi’s final art

However, it took years to sell. While editors were interested in the book, many publishers felt that the topic was too abstract for young children. Knowing this, I spent a some time assembling quotations from young children about infinity, which are now on my website, but most publishers remained unconvinced.

I will always be grateful to Lerner for having faith that children could handle this subject matter. The book has been received well both by children and adults, which has been really gratifying.

I think it’s quite unusual to approach a publisher as an author/illustrator team, and in general not advisable, since editors view choosing an illustrator as an important part of their job. I think it worked in this case, because Gabi was already an established illustrator, and without the sketches, this manuscript probably would have seemed too esoteric even to editors who were open to this topic.

El Space: At VCFA, you were known for your poetry. What are the challenges to working in rhyme for a young audience?
Kate: One challenge is finding rhymes that sound so natural that the reader can simply concentrate on the content of the poem. Forced rhymes, created by inverted sentence structure or simply by choosing the wrong word, end up jumping out at all readers. In these instances, the artifice of the poem is exposed, and the reader sees the poet straining to make the rhyme work.

In the case of young readers, the choice of rhymes is further limited by vocabulary that is appropriate for the age level. I’m all for introducing new vocabulary words to children through poetry, but there can’t be so many new words that they struggle to understand the poem.

30119El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Kate: I will not mention mentors from Vermont College of Fine Arts, because there are so many of them. In terms of other writers: Shel Silverstein for his whimsical nature and the surprising twists that he puts in his poems, Marilyn Singer’s for her technical prowess, and her amazing invention of the reverso poem, and Dr. Seuss, who is still so fresh and modern today.

For middle grade, I am inspired by Lois Lowry’s versatility, especially when I consider that she is the author of both The Giver and The Willoughbys. I’m also inspired by Louise Fitzhugh and Judy Blume for being brave enough to write their groundbreaking books.

1629601I’m interested in the work of E. Lockhart/Emily Jenkins for her ability to write for every age level, and for giving the world one of my all-time favorite YA novels, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. I also love the work of Carolyn Mackler and Rachel Cohn.

At the moment, I’m very interested in humorous novels, especially the Diary of Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and the Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. I think humor is so difficult to get right, and I have great admiration for those who can do it.

El Space: How do you think picture books have changed in the last ten years?
Kate: In the last decade, picture books have started to skew younger. However, there have still been plenty of successful picture books that are aimed at an older audience. This is probably most true for non-fiction, which seems to be a bourgeoning market, but it is also true for fiction.

There are picture books in traditional storybook format that have done very well, like Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. There are also cerebral picture books like those of David Weisner and Shaun Tan, which are aimed at an older audience. Whether or not one considers The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck to be picture books, the success of these books by Brian Selznick proves that older children can be entranced by sophisticated stories that incorporate a good deal of visual narrative.

        127179920607

El Space: What writing advice helped you turn an important corner in your writing?
Kate: I have learned to pay attention to the voices in my head. For instance, if a story comes to me in rhyme, then I should probably try it first in rhyme. This may sound obvious, but with my first picture book, Big Bouffant, I had only one couplet going through my head in the beginning: “All I really want is a big bouffant, a big bouffant, is all I really want.” But instead of writing the story in rhyme, I spent the next five years trying to write it in prose. It was only when I returned to rhyme that the story worked. Of course, my initial “voices” may not always be the ones that work, but it probably makes sense to explore them first.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Kate: I recently sold a poetry collection called Poems from a Circus Chef, and a picture book called The Perfect Cup of Tea. Both books will be coming out from Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing, in 2015. I’m really excited about Poems from a Circus Chef, because it is my first poetry collection. Presently, I am experimenting with different poetic forms so that I will have lots of different options for each poem when I start working with my editor. I’m also very excited about The Perfect Cup of Tea, because I will get to collaborate again with Gabi Swiatkowska. Other than that, I am trying to write a novel about a homeschooled Icelandic rock star.

Great talking with you, Kate!

Looking for Kate? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Gabi’s website is here. Infinity and Me is available here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Indiebound

Two of you will win Infinity and Me. Wondering how? Just comment below!

Kate’s covers from her website. Other covers from Goodreads.