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Jean Reidy and Joey Chou have created a new beauty of a book, a new classic, not only in the colorful art, but in the imaginative question. What would YOU do? It’s an existential explosion (whoa, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that phrase) with all the options Jean and Joey present, from space exploration to simply being brave and doing the right thing. A child is presented with how wide and wonderful the world can be, and most importantly, told that they are in charge of their own destiny.

Jean! What a gorgeous book! Can you tell us how it came to be?

This book was truly the collision of two sources of inspiration.

As you know, I do school, library and bookstore visits. And one of my favorite parts of any visit is the “question and answer” part. But I’ve always felt it should be renamed the “question and answer and stories” part. Because kids love telling me their stories. And even though you probably think of me as a story writer, I’m also a really great story listener.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Teachers and librarians are awesome at helping kids understand what questions are and how to ask them. And I love answering. But no matter how much they’ve prepared, kids still have stories to tell.

Some of the stories I hear can be very funny. I once heard a seemingly endless saga about … wait for it … bowling shoes! But whether funny or serious, their stories are honest and earnest and heartfelt.

In some school sessions kids have an opportunity to read me their stories or show me their art. And again, these are some of my favorite sessions. They’re a great way foor kids to give me a peek into their worlds and for me to communicate to kids how much I value them and their perspective.

I feel that as a children’s author, one of the most important parts of my job is not to talk “at” kids, but to talk “with” them and hear them. To listen to their hearts and hopes and dreams. And to honor their perspectives. What a privilege.

Okay, so where am I going with all this?

Well, one day into my inbox comes this amazing piece of art by Joey Chou—complete with a title. As a matter of fact, that original art is very similar to our final book cover.

This happens every so often, where I’m sent a single piece of art—not an entire picture book of art, just a single piece—and asked if I’d like to try to write a story to go along with it.

And usually when that happens, I don’t answer right away. I take a few days or weeks to kind of daydream about the art and listen to the story that it’s telling me. And I don’t always say “yes.” Because for me to say “yes,” that art has to take up residence in both my head and my heart. I mean it has to move right in and stay there.

Well, guess what happened when I saw that particular piece of Joey Chou art?

I just imagined all those awesome kids telling their stories and I said “yes” immediately.

So, there you have it. That’s where it all began.

Jean, you have to tell us: what would you do in a book about YOU?

My little kid self would have given you an answer that would have turned this blog post into a lengthy novel with a separate chapter for each and every dream and aspiration. My grown-up kid self says, “I would just try to be the best ‘me’ I can be.”

Thanks for having me, Tara!

Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your delightful new book. It’s out TODAY from HarperCollins!

And blog readers, you can win a copy.

Just leave one comment answering the title’s question.

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!

onefund

I saw author Jean Reidy’s post this morning about donating a picture book critique to benefit One Fund Boston and thought it was such a wonderful thing, I offered to join in. (And now Tammi Sauer joined us! That’s AMAZING!)

Please visit Jean’s blog and bid! The top three bidders win!

Or, if you don’t wish to win a critique, click the flag to donate directly. As Audrey Vernick said, “You’ll win a good feeling.”

by Jean Reidy

1. YouTube
Kids say and do the darndest things, right? And so often, they provide tender or hilarious or wonder-filled inspiration for picture books. But why limit yourself to the kids you know. More than ever, proud parents and brilliant marketers are happy to share a little one’s latest escapades. While I’ve never derived a direct storyline from YouTube videos, I do find in them that wacky lens through which to view a kid’s world. Here are some of my favorites:

2. Artist and Illustrator Websites
Three of my six picture books were inspired, in part, by browsing illustrators’ websites. Whether or not a particular illustrator ends up paired with my text, by studying the works of today’s most celebrated artists, I enter an altered state (Twilight Zone!) of visual creativity that triggers my muse. In the process I often discover a tone, emotion, whimsy or character that might just complete my story.

3. Beat Boxing
Whether they rhyme or not, most of my picture books have a distinct rhythm. And every so often that rhythm comes to me before the story. Listen carefully to your life. Do you hear the thump bump of your feet hitting the stairs each time you go up and down? Do you hear the crunch and shush of your shovel in crusty snow? How about the screech and thrum of an old file drawer? Beat box, then play with those rhythms to see if they have a story hidden inside them.

4. The Timeout Corner
Kids adore naughty characters. Whether we’re seeing ourselves or giggling with relief at another’s foibles, we all love stories with a little mischief in them. “Do some time” with a kid in timeout and you might just find a story there. Or think back to your own timeout corner—come on, fess up—we were all there once. What got you there? What were you feeling? Just remember, keep messages light. Because even a little mischief needs to be a fun read.

5. Your Day Job
Okay, let’s face it. Few of us get to take a morning stroll along the beach or dream by the hour under the old oak tree. Instead we might get regular face time with a subway hissing and shrieking during a crowded commute. Or the steely skyscraper out our window. Or the deli man who serves us pastrami on rye. Or a carpool of crack-me-up kids. Or even a baby giggling at the garbage man. Whether your day job is at home or away, it’s those “regular” experiences that often provide fodder for great picture books. Keep your notebook handy!

Jean Reidy is the author of the newly-released LIGHT UP THE NIGHT  from Disney-Hyperion, which Kirkus calls a “gorgeous, mesmerizingly rhythmic read-aloud” in a starred review.

Her other picture books include TOO PICKLEY!, TOO PURPLEY!, and TOO PRINCESSY!  from Bloomsbury.

Please join Jean at LIGHT UP THE LIBRARY, her online auction benefiting literacy in Africa and a library at Musana Children’s Home in Iganga, Uganda. She has something for everyone— including terrific items for picture book writers. The auction runs 11/7 – 11/18 at http://lightupthelibrary.blogspot.com.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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