I’m so grateful to the current group of EMU’s Debuts for letting me visit for a guest blog.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was a member of EMU’s Debuts, waiting for SOPHIE’S SQUASH to come into the world. It was a time of excitement and fun and nervousness and wondering.
I’ve had more books come out since SOPHIE, but I still feel the same way when a new book arrives. What will happen? Will people like it? Will it matter?
So I’d like to walk you through the questioning process for my new book, BE KIND, illustrated by Jen Hill, which released Feb. 6 from Roaring Brook Press.
BE KIND started with a conversation I had with Editor Connie Hsu from Roaring Brook Press. She wanted to publish a book on kindness and had the title. My job was to write the story. Which led to question No. 1: What should I say?
I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a child who wants to be kind, but isn’t sure quite how to go about it – especially after the first attempt doesn’t go so well.
I thought back to how I often felt as a kid – nervous and unsure. Wanting to do the right thing, but afraid of having it taken the wrong way. So quiet, that I probably sometimes came across as rude even though that’s not what I wanted.
In the book, the main character ponders different ways of being kind and how each way might make a difference in the world. I like how it shows that there’s no one right way to be kind. All you can do is try sincerely and try again if it doesn’t work.
The story is told from inside the main character’s head. Which led to question No. 2: Who should this character be?
Because the story is told in first person, the main character doesn’t have a name. Or an identified gender. We wanted a character people could relate to and see themselves in.
And it’s interesting. Some people have read the book and assumed the main character is a girl. Others have assumed a boy. My favorite response came from Madison, Wisconsin, school librarian LuEllen Childers. She read the book to some students, and the kids started discussing if the main character was a boy or a girl. LuEllen asked them: “Does it matter?”
And, after some more discussion, the universal answer was that, no, it did not. Because everyone could be kind.
Our question No. 3 was: Who is this book for?
It might seem like an odd question. Picture books are for kids, right? And, yes, they are. But picture books can have a broader scope than that. More and more middle school and high school teachers are reading picture books to their older students to introduce topics and start conversations and reintroduce the power and joy of story. And more and more adults are realizing that picture books can apply to them, too.
No book is ever for everyone. But I hope BE KIND has ideas and concepts that apply to people of all ages, and I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote.
If you’d like to know a little more about BE KIND, here’s a Pinterest board I made featuring other picture books about kindness.
And here’s a book trailer featuring some students talking about what being kind means: to them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2eZBM0uvIg
PAT ZIETLOW MILLER iis a former member of EMU’s Debuts. She has published seven picture books. Find her on Twitter at @PatZMiller or visit her website twww.patzietlowmiller.com.