Hello and welcome to an interview series by the Picture Bookstagang Crew, Picture Books & Justice is a series where we interview a creator from the picture book world and get to know them a little better. To us there’s nothing better than a beautiful spellbinding picture book that has social justice themes. The picture book world is a big beautiful place, and we are excited to hear different experiences and opinions in a shorter time frame than our full length picture bookstagang episodes. PB&J is your afternoon book snack, so let’s dig in!
0:29 K: Hello I’m Kelly and today we’re joined by Deborah Hopkinson, author of the new picture book “Butterflies Belong Here.” As well as editor Melissa Manlove, who also worked on the book.
Deborah is the author of over fifty different picture books for children of all ages and also wrote another favourite picture book of ours from last year, “Carter Reads the Newspaper.” Which won one of our “Best of 2019 awards” last year.
Melissa is a senior editor at Chronicle books and also worked on “Butterflies Belong Here” and many other wonderful picture books. Welcome, Melissa and Deborah, I’m so happy to chat with you.
1:00 : Thank you great to be here.
1:04 So before we begin I have to have a confession, I am a massive butterfly enthusiast, through the summer, if you watch our stories for our listeners you know I raise monarch caterpillars all summer long, we tag them we do the whole thing. My last two in the migratory generation right now are chomping away ready to go into their chrysalis. So I am very happy to be chatting with you both.
1:33 M: That is so cool haha
1:37 K: So perhaps each of you can give our listeners a little bit of background about yourselves get to know you and how you got into children’s literature and we’ll start with Deborah
1:48 D: Well I always wanted to be a writer. I went to college and I started working in fundraising for higher education, and I did a lot of writing for my job and so like many people I thought well if I Don’t have time to write the great American novel I’ll write a picture book, haha. And that didn’t quite work out right away, I sold some magazine stories and then eventually I did sell my first picture book but I have only been a full time writer since 2014 so I continued my career in advancement at colleges and universities for all those years in between.
2:24 K Excellent, how about you Melissa?
2:27 M: Well, I did not always want to be an editor, like a lot of people I didn’t know what an editor did for a long time. I got a degree in Classics which means I can translate Latin and Ancient Greek. Yes. Very very useful skills, haha, but, uh, while I was in College I started working at a children’s bookstore and found I loved it. I love recommending books to people I love sharing books with people so I did that for many years and then I was getting towards the end of my twenties and started thinking, man it would be great if I could find a job that had healthcare or a retirement plan.
3:06 K Both wonderful things
3:08 M: They are, and so then I started thinking about publishing and I interned at Chronicle and they hired me. It was a lot of hardwork but it was also a ton of luck.
3:20 K: Wonderful so I was hoping you can give us a little bit more background which is my next question. What does a typical day look like for each of you?
3:31 M: Well the truth is the average day for an editor is attending a lot of meetings and answering a lot of emails and by the end of a lot of days I sort of feel like throttling my computer. But interspersed lightly in between all that is editing books and that’s the magic part of it the part that makes it all worthwhile I mean don’t get me wrong the meetings are mostly with my colleagues and they’re great people I love the people at Chronicle it’s such a great organization full of smart kind creative people and the authors and illustrators I work with too it’s honestly and honour and a delight but yeah if you don’t have any stamina for email, you’re not going to make a great editor.
4:17 K: Haha fair enough. Deborah. Now that you are full time, writing books, what does a typical day look like for you?
4:33 D: Well my, as everyone has, my life has changed since the pandemic and I used to have sort of a regular annual calendar since I’ve been a full time author which would be a lot of travel in the spring to author visits and schools across the country and then I will have very intense times where I just write. So my dining room is my office. I’ve been looking at everyone from their home offices and I think that I definitely need to improve my Zoom office. So basically I work seven days a week and I do picture books and longer books. And I used to go to the gym but since I can’t do that so much anymore in the summertime I do get to go out and garden. So when I get really stuck I go out and dead head, and haha, then my garden looks really gorgeous this year. Like three years ago I think, I planted milkweed, I still haven’t seen a monarch in Oregan but I did see a red admiral for the first time this year so that was fun and I’ve tried to add more plants to make a monarch way station or at least a garden
5:37 K: A pollinator garden is still a very important addition for sure. I’m very fortunate that I’m in Ontario that in the summertime we get thousands of monarchs and when the migration begins that we’ll talk a little more about when we talk about the book, we’ll actually have trees completely filled as they stop overnight to go over lake Ontario so we can see in one tree thousands of monarchs just the end of my street. It’s amazing there’s nothing like it in the entire world.
6:03 M: How glorious
6:04 K: yeah it’s amazing yea there’s nothing like it in the entire world so let’s on that note talk more about the book “Butterflies Belong Here” I’m wondering why you decided to write the book maybe you can talk a little bit more about that Deborah
6:17 D: Melissa and I had done a book about Sea Turtles called “Follow the Moon Home.” Sea turtles, my son when he was in middleschool had got to Costa Rica to work with Sea turtles and I found when I shared that book with students all over the country they were so enthusiastic with Coustau who is an environmental activist. I also thought since As you just said monarchs have a wide range I wanted to find a book that was about environmental activism and community projects that would apply to more schools. Kids in North Carolina and South Carolina, Florida maybe know about sea turtles but in the middle of the country kids love sea turtles but they don’t get a chance to see them so that was sort of other brainstorm but I think it was really on the letters that I would have children write after I presented the book they would write because I’m fundraising, they would write to local businesses and ask for money for sea turtle. Consider another topic like that, with the theme of environmental activism
7:25 K: Love that and another dimension after this is I think you really harnessed the metaphor of migration because the character in the book you imply is an immigrant who feels that they don’t belong and it’s such an apt metaphor to use that you know? I’ve spoken to many people who are from Mexico and South American and they strongly identify with the monarch butterfly because of the migration pattern and things like that. So in the first few pages of the book I immediately identified that metaphor and I though that was really powerful that you used that as well, and then the fundraising aspect when the character presents her whole budget I was like yeahhh! It’s amazing! It was very thoughtful. So I really appreciated that. And maybe Melissa, because do you know this is the second in the series, maybe Melissa you could speak about how you collectively decided on the forma.t and i think it’s really unique that it switches from this narrative format which I think is really unique how it switches from the fiction to the non fiction portions of the story
8:33 M: Well that it was honestly Deborah, it came to me that way. It does make it a bit long, I think this is a longer book than “Follow The Moon Home”, but what we’ve found at Chronicle is that both books, well this one is just coming out, but “Follow The Moon Home” has done really well for us and part of it is this length. Because that length gives us a chance to really give kids a blueprint for the next steps they need to take if they want to be activists and it gives teachers a blueprint for the lesson that they’re going to teach about community activism and it’s just, it’s magic what what Deborah does in these books because suddenly kids realize that, they can make change right now, you know? They’re in third grade, fourth grade? They can start. And I mean, kids that age, they know that there are problems in the world but the problems in the world become infinitely less scary when you feel like you can do something.
9:40 K: Hundred percent I couldn’t possibly agree more and I think the power of raising monarchs and planting pollinator gardens is that it’s inexpensive it’s accessible raising monarchs you can find milkweed in a field if you live in an area and it’s completely free and you’re raising this little creature and setting it free who can go out and lay more eggs and increase a population of an endangered species that’s something so powerful that children can do. And it’s accessible. As long as you’re in the right area.
10:11 M Absolutely and if you’re making a garden that benefits monarchs then you’re making a garden and it’s lots of pollinators and you’re making a difference to the environment and not just to the environment, to the human species because we’re going to need those pollinators. Because we are going to run out of food if we keep killing them.
10:30 K: Bees and all types of butterflies I’ve had hummingbird moths in my garden. Hummingbirds are pollinators in fact as well so there’s so many different pollinators as well. We need pollinators to grow our food. We need places for honeybees to live and thrive.
All those things os it’s such am multifaceted important
10:53 M and theyr’e so delightful.
10:55 K: Yes of course
10:58 M: Did you know that my name means honey bee in Greek? And Deborah’s name mean’s honey bee in hebrew.
11:08 K That’s so wonderful I love that. What a special connection you two have I love that! What do you hope that kids and families and teachers are really taking away from this book, we kind of touched on this but maybe you can expand.
11:23 D: Well, I think Melissa said it well, just as Melissa didn’t know what an editor did , when I was going to college, and I have a degree in Asisan studies so I studied 13th century Japanese buddhism for a while. I didn’t know what fundraising was but if you look around a lot of the non profit sector, kids raise money for school trips or whatever, and as I talked about “Follow the Moon Home” with kids in school I asked them if they had ever done something for their community and most you know children have or teens. They’ve raised money for their church or they’ve done a canned food drive and yet when you look around that whole world that I was part of as a career isn’t something that you go to school and know that it even exists, as a career so again bringing sort of the tools of activism and the practicality along with that idea of being inspired to do something was really what I, What I hoped to do with this book, and I think of it as a hybrid a lot of people a lot of people, young writers get confused of whether to start with fiction or nonfiction and this is really a hybrid car. It’s like a car that will run on gas which I think of as fiction, and then on electricity is non fiction. Haha. But it has very clear, it has very clear, parts of it so we think of it as informational fiction.
12:44 K: That is a wonderful way to put it actually and that actually describes it quite well I was having trouble kind of categorizing it and I was thinking of it as a hybrid this nonfiction paired with narrative. But that informational fiction new word for me.
13:12 D: And then we did try to add resources at the back. If children are in school or even at home or a homeschooling group or a pod. Whatever might happen over the next few years with education. That there are things you can take away and adapt to whatever situation families are in.
13:27 K: my son is four years old and obviously very interested in monarchs so he had a capacity to sit and listen to this rather long book. One of our other hosts Alessandra who’s daughter is exactly the same age, it was a bit too long for her, so she read the book just the narrative parts and kind of skipped over the non fiction parts, but I thought that was nice because it adapts to the age and allows the book to grow with the child as well because it was cut and dry it wasn’t so interspersed you turned the page and found this was kind of your non fiction page and you could go to the next page and go back into the narrative so
14:02 D: And that was all Melissa and the wonderful illustrator that has nothing to do with me.
14:12 K well we enjoyed that part and I think it’s helpful and your point of homeschool and pods and things like that it also gives an opportunity to move through the book day by day as you explore the different concepts. If you’re doing a unit on insects or something like that or pollination or community activism there’s actually a lot of different ways you could use it in a homeschool curriculum or in a traditional classroom, that’s a huge benefit right now because we’re all exploring new ways to educate our children, so that’s a big right now. So Melissa sort of the same question what ‘s your hope for what kids and teachers are taking away from this book?
14:55 M: I think it’s empowerment I think it’s tremendously hopeful to see that, that the change you want is right in front of you and you can put your hands on it.
15: 07 K: I love that, that’s beautiful thank you. I’ll ask Melissa first, what’s your biggest advice to parents and caregivers and educators on how to build an inclusive book collection Chronicle actually has incredible offerings in terms of having a diverse range of characters and authors and all of those things, so maybe you could actually speak to what you are looking for when you are editing to help meat those g pals.
15:35 M: Oh gosh, we’re even ramping up our goals from what they have been and we’re trying hard to make our list even more diverse and especially in terms of creators. I think. My biggest advice for parents and caregivers and educators, especially if you are white, I think, I think parents and caregivers and teachers who are people of colour don’t really need this advice.
16:05 K: No.
16:08 M: to the people like me who are white I think it’s really easy to buy a lot of books by white creators without even realizing that you have. So my best advice is to give yourself a time period 6 months or a year, where you don’t buy anything unless it is at least partially by a creator of colour because that will do an amazing job of not just diversifying the books on your shelf but diversifying the way you think about books. And the narratives that are in your head. And after that it will become so much easier to not look at authors and then come home with a pile of books and look at them and think, oh hey, those are a quarter a half people of colour. Amazing. And that’s the change you’ve affected in yourself. It’s a kind of change we all need to work on, because white default is so easy, and our children deserve better. They’re growing up in a world that is widely diverse and is only getting more diverse and that’s a wonderful thing for them, it is a richer world because of it. And we can prepare them for it in this way.
17:25 K: I love that so much, just another way to speak on that, I love giving yourself six months where you really pay attention to the creators of the books and only buy books from BIPOC creators or Queer creators. That’s wonderful advice and something else to just add on to that is paying attention when you’re at the library.
17:45 K: If you allow your child to pick out as many books as they want but half of them have to be by people who don’t look like them, you would be so surprised to see what comes home from the library. And to hear those voices that are different than yours it’s incredibly powerful. So. That’s essentially how my account inclusive story time was born, so that’s where we are. So same question Deborah. What’s your biggest, like you have published some incredible historical fiction books that are widely diverse so I’m really wondering what your biggest piece of advice to parents caregivers and educators are on building an inclusive book collection
18:27 D: Well I think what Melissa said is great and I think it’s important to look at, some people their names are known, we know Mo Willems, but to really look at the author and illustrator and get to know their body of work and I think that’s very helpful then you start to recognize. I was very fortunate in my first picture book, part of James Ransom, and Uh, we did three books together so far, watching his body of work and then buying his books for my four year old grandson and my kids. Then you start to really, grow a community. And that’s very helpful. I lived in Hawaii for twenty years and my daughter is a middle school teacher in Vermont and is in charge of the, they have many challenges there, because Vermont is quiet as is a lot of parts of the country, quite white. But her early experience and I felt this way also just being in schools, her early experiences of elementary school and being the only caucasion in our Brownie troop and just being on volleyball team with other kids, she comes back to that again and again as the foundation of, of, the her perspective on the world, so I think it’s important and that’s what I love about the illustration in “Butterflies Belong Here” is how great and diverse the classroom is. And that’s what I miss the most about going on school visits because really in many parts of the country that you wouldn’t necessarily expect that I would present to, that was just full of just wonderful kids from all over, fourteen languages spoken in the school and we forget how important those nurturing communities are.
20:23 K No, the illustrations of the class were wonderfully inclusive and diverse and I loved that there was a Black male teacher which is just something that we need to see so much more of especially in picture books and in life. It did not go unnoticed for me, turning those pages because the whole bunch of those books about monarch butterflies and almost none of them have people who aren’t white in them. So it immediately stood out to me that those choices were made and I think it’s so important that when any child looks at a nonfiction book that they can still see themselves reflected back in some way because that’s what helps make it more accessible.
21:06 D: And I must say I don’t have, i mean I’m the child of second generation, but our son is adopted from Russia, so even though the character in the book is quite different that Dimitri’s experience that feeling that I sort of feel that we got him when he was six. So that feeling of coming in and not, not belonging is something that we experienced in a different way in our family.
21:30 K: in a different way but that’s still valid he would have spoken a different language I’m assuming,
D: He did
21:35 K: That’s a lot of challenges to go through as a six year old in school that feeling of fitting in and the incredibly caring and empathetic librarian in the story really touched my heart I, I, there’s actually, it’s such a big book there’s so many elements that really touched me that I think a lot of people will connect with different parts of the story in different ways there’s so many places. To touch on, on in those things and draw people in, so.
22:07 D: And you know when I wrote this I had no idea that my school visit on march third, might have been the last one that I would ever do. So I really wasn’t. It drew from going into schools all over the country and seeing a librarian and seeing the kinds of things they would do for their students is. It’s kind of sad.
22:32 K: I know, it’s tough this year, really tough this year. So Melissa is there anything else in the process of editing this book that was really special to you that you would like to share with us.
22:41M: Gosh I don’t know.
K: I know I put you on the spot
M: I did most of the editing for this book in the public library in Pacific Grove which you may not know is an over wintering ground for monarchs.
22:57 K: That’s wonderful!
22:58 M: It wasn’t deliberate I just needed some time away from the office to really focus on some books so I went down the coast and took Deborah’s MSS with me and found myself learning everything about monarchs right there. It’s, it was wonderful. Non-Fiction is never quite as easy to put together as fiction generally speaking but, on the whole this was a really easy book to put together because it came to me knowing what it was and Deborah’s vision for it absolutely made sense to me and we tweaked it a little bit and we sent it off to the illustrator. And uh, Maila’s such a pro and she’s so lovely I haven’t yet gotten to meet her in person but I would love to.
23:23 K: She’s overseas though. Right?
M: She lives in the Shetland islands
K 24:00: Yes. We tried to get her on, it was a bit of a challenge, which is too bad because I would have loved to have spoken with her. So as an editor and this is just my pure curiosity,
what is the process like working with the illustrator after the manuscript is done. Is there any back and forth at that point?
24:18 M: Oh. Absolutely, the illustrator will send us sketches. And the designer and I will look at them, and talk about them together and talk to each other about what the sketches are accomplishing. And how they’re serving the text. And where we might make suggestions but, editing, designing, and art direction they’re. They have to be very respectful. Ha. jobs to do. Because in the end, the author and the illustrator are the names that go on the cover of the book and they have to take responsibility for everything inside. So we try to make it a really collaborative process at Chronicle. And I’m happy to be argued with you know? Being argued with is an important part of the creative process. Like I suggest and idea and I love it when an author is ‘actually no I think that’s not what, that’s not the direction this is trying to go I would have gone in this direction.’ and that’s good to hear. That means that I can, I can better understand what their vision for the book is and I can tailor my feedback to that vision.
25:26 K: That’s wonderful it’s not every day that you find someone that’s happy to be argued with.
25:33 M: Well there are some arguments, were, it does feel like there are a lot of arguments going on in the world right now that if I had to have them in person I would end up just smacking a person.
25:45 K me too haha
25:47 M: But when it comes to books and the creative work of making a book, they’re , one of the wonderful things about it is that you can have two people with absolutely diametrically opposed views about it and both of them are right. Nobody is wrong. Both of those points of view are absolutely valid and, and so it really encourages everyone involved to, to remember that when you made a point of view that isn’t the same as yours to not think, that’s wrong, but think that’s interesting.
26:33 K: I love that, that’s wonderful. And if there’s anything else you’d like to add before I carry on to the final question, Deborah?
26:32: D; How warm they are and how she, the main character who does not have a name, and I didn’t make it very specific at all it was more just, that was up to Melissa and Maila to sort of give her even the gender wasn’t specified. So it could have been anyone, it could have been anyone.
256:55 K that’s lovely
26:57 D it’s kind of like having a baby, they come out and once they come out that’s just the way they’re supposed to be. I love the way they come out and someday when people are back in school full time. You know there’s lots of ideas here for people to take and run with I hope.
27:13 K we’re excited about it we’re taking it and running with it in our homeschool, remote learning this coming year and I know a lot of people who are gonna be excited for it as well. So a wrap up question tends to be, some version “What are the best books that you’ve read this year that aren’t your own.”
27:32 D: Well it is it has been a weird year for me reading wise, I’ve been reading a lot of books for grown ups about umm, race and anti-racism. But for for parents who are looking to build an inclusive book collection I would suggest they look at, uhh, “We are Water Protectors” by Carol Lindstrom, “Lift” by Min Lee. And Umm, “Magnificent Homespun Brown”by Samara Cole Doyanne.
28:08 K: Beautiful, beautiful choices, and what do you look for in a great picture book I realize I’m asking a big question to ask an editor.
28:15 D: it is a big question because I’ve published a lot of different kinds of books, I’ve published fiction and non fiction a lot of different types of voices and books that appeal to different moments in a kids life. So I guess it has to be kind of a big answer. I look for books that honour the emotional lives of children, and honour the intellectual lives of children, and honour the imaginative lives of children. I look for creators authors and illustrators who see children as whole people already even if they aren’t ready to be adults they’re not half formed. They are themselves and, they need books that honour that.
29:03 K I love that answer that’s beautiful you’re gonna make me cry that’s wonderful thank you for that Deborah. So some great books you’ve read this year arent’ your own and what do you look for in a picture book.
29:19 D Well I’ve been reading to my grandson Oliver and he’s in Vermont And I’m in Oregon and we’ve been reading the new and the older Ready to Read so they’re not exactly picture book…”The King and Kayla Series.” Not exactly picture books that works really well and he’s just four so we’ve been reading the series which is narrated by a dog which is really fun.
29:39 M I love that series I love the way it actually it builds a mystery where the clues are there for the reader to put together to do that’s hard in mystery and it’s super hard in a book and super hard in an early reader.
29:51 D: And then it’s actually not, it’s not a picture book, but I’ve reviewed for a book page a historical fiction novel in verse “All He Knew” by Helen Frost. Have you read it?The reason that it resonated with me is that It’s based on a family story where an uncle of her husband’s was actually institutionalized as a child because he had lost his hearing I think through an illness so much of it takes place through the boy’s point of view in the 1940’s within an institution that included children with Down Syndrome children, kids with cystic fibrosis. The other character in the story is also based on a real person that was a conscientious objector. So many of the themes, How do we act in society? How do we follow our values? And then in time and space.
I’m sure she wrote this long before the pandemic it’s a really beautiful book for older readers
31:56 K: Lovely I love that. And you know reading books right now, and even rereading books right now the context of the pandemic really changes how we think of things. It’s making me really nostalgic and miss things from before the pandemic. A lot of these picture books it’s like ‘friends getting together’ well we can’t read that anymore.’
D: It’s like disconnect when you see people on tv.
K:I think the years ahead, in publishing and tv, I think things are about to be really different the way that we tell stories. I’m kind of excited for it. Between the pandemic and the uprising I think there’s this massive shift in the publishing industry. And I think it’s going to benefit everyone. I hope. Fingers crossed. We need that big change.
M: Absolutely. God it’s hard to look even a week ahead sometimes.
32:15 K: Well and it’s part of why I wanted to ask that question about building an inclusive bookshelf. And talking about the publishing industry as a whole because I think people underestimate the power of their purchasing dollar in a capitalist industry. Like it really does matter that you’re physically purchasing books by BIPOC author because it encourages publishers to publish more books like that.
32:34 M: It goes all the way up a kind of river of books because it encourages booksellers to stock more books like that and that translates to wholesalers who stock more of the book and that goes further to publishers. A lot of people don’t realize how reactive the publishing industry has to be because we make a book but then it sits in our warehouse, until somebody a wholesaler or bookseller or librarian decides to spend money on it to put it out there and purchase it for normal people to see. So we really need you guys out there.
33:14 K: We need you guys out there requesting it for your library system to purchase it. Purchasing it yourself. Paying attention when you purchase gifts for other childrens and humans in your life and making sure that you’re making really thoughtful choices not just picking up that classic off the shelf every single time. Those are really things that allow us to shift the dial and allow again to just bring us all full circle, beautiful books like “Butterflies Belong Here.” to be published as well because they have these themes of social justice and things like that as well that empower children. We need new books we need fresh perspectives. And I think that this is a book that really does that.
33:55 M: And truthfully. There are books coming out that are new but they are new but they are new classics. Start looking for these books by people of colour and you will find things that absolutely hit you in the heart. They are ones for everyone.
34:15 K: My review pile has some incredible books that are releasing this fall I am blown away by some of the things that are coming out this fall. And I think at that we will be wrapping up!
M & D: Thank you so much!
34: 36 K: So thank you for joining in for some Picture books and Justice with Author Deborah Hopkinson and author Melissa Manlove, and myself Kelly.