Happy New Year!
Welcome back, dear readers! We are starting 2021 with a delightful double interview in the Chitchat series! So, get comfy and cozy, and get ready to read because you are undoubtedly getting a double dose of literary mood boost!
Lauren and Evelyn, take it away!
LHK: Captain Green is a perfect balance of being kid-like and a thoughtful hero kids can aspire to be. What writing techniques did you use to capture his voice and develop his personality?
EB: Thanks so much Lauren. First and foremost, it was important for me that the story entertain children and not be didactic, and that readers would feel inspired to do their bit to look after our planet, just like Captain Green and the children in the story.
In order to keep it light and fun, I looked for opportunities to show Captain Green as a lovable little guy with a good heart. I made use of lots of superhero language, powerful verbs and portrayed Captain Green as someone who is so eager to help animals but doesn't always go about it the best way, because he is still learning. When the story opens, Captain Green is happily working away, building a superhero invention, but he isn't quite sure what he will use it for. Then he is called to save one animal after another whose trees have been destroyed. Captain Green decides to use his invention to plant trees in a super-duper fast way (which ends in disaster!). I wanted to show that the main character doesn't have to know everything to make a difference, that it is ok to fail at first, and that we learn from our mistakes.
EB: Lauren, I'd love to ask about your adorable main character Calvin. From the very first spread, the emotion just jumps off the page and I felt myself rooting for this sweet but troubled boy. What techniques did you use to show readers what Calvin was going through?
LHK: First, I just love your answer. It is so important to show children that you don’t have to know everything or do things perfectly to make a difference. Learning from our mistakes is so important. Thank you for your kind words about Calvin. His story is a story from my therapist heart. I really forced myself to dig as deeply as possible into the work I did with children in the day treatment center preschool program I ran. I honed in on the juxtaposition so many of the children experienced—they wanted to be wanted, but also felt unworthy and untrusting as a result of past rejection. I wanted Calvin to be as authentic as possible so that readers would root for him. I’m so glad you did.
LHK: There is so much compassion and beauty built into your book. I particularly love the spreads where Captain Green rescues Orangutan. The art and the text are fabulous. What is your favorite spread in the book?
EB: Thanks so much Lauren. Danny Deeptown is an incredible illustrator and a joy to work with. He has done a truly outstanding job of portraying Captain Green's emotions towards the animals that are in danger. Danny's love of nature and wildlife shines through in the way he has illustrated both of the Captain Green books. I adore all of the illustrations, but my favorite is a double page spread where Captain Green has rescued all of the animals and they are safe again among some stunning rainforest. The character's emotions are shown so tenderly.
LHK: Yes! I couldn’t agree more. He really is so talented!
EB: Natalia Moore's illustrations in HOME FOR A WHILE are especially gorgeous. She's created a cozy, safe world for Calvin, and Maggie is the most wonderful foster parent. The love that grows between the two characters shines out in the art. I was struck by the very first image where Calvin, full of apprehension, climbs the stairs to a waiting Maggie. The separation between the two characters speaks to the distance in the relationship that eventually melts away as they get to know each other. Do you have a favorite illustration?
LHK: Thank you! Natalia truly brought this welcoming and inviting home to life. You know, it is so interesting to read your question. I never consciously thought about the ways in which Natalia shows the distance between them in that opening spread. I can’t believe I didn’t think about it that way, but I didn’t and that is why it works so incredibly well. My favorite spread is the one in which Calvin and Maggie are holding hands on a walk. The scene is so soothing and serene. I just love the feeling Natalia was able to evoke with her illustration. It matches the emotional transition Calvin is making so beautifully.
EB: Aw, that is such a lovely moment in the story and depicted so tenderly by Natalia.
LHK: I loved the first book in the Captain Green series as well. Both Captain Green and the Plastic Scene and Captain Green and the Tree Machine highlight the positive and negative ways we can/do impact our Earth. You provide such helpful strategies and ideas for all of us as we navigate repairing our world. What specific challenges did you face in writing a sequel? What were the positives associated with writing a sequel?
EB: Thanks Lauren! There were indeed challenges. I wanted to show that the main character, Captain Green had grown since his first eco adventure, but was still the same, lovable superhero who tries his best but often needs others to help him figure out the best path. I found it a challenge to decide what Captain Green's next eco mission should be. I had drafted a story focused on climate change, set in the Arctic. I batted with it for a long time, and then one day, decided to take elements from it (like Captain Green's FREEZE MACHINE) and use them in a new story about deforestation (now with a TREE MACHINE!). It is said that nothing is wasted in writing! The initial draft seemed to just write itself, and it felt right and more the story I wanted to tell.
I think there are a lot of positives to writing a sequel. I knew who Captain Green was and what he sounded like. I knew what he looked like. Having worked with Danny before, I could visualize his style of art while I wrote, and that helped me build scenes in my head. I knew that I wanted the book to have similarities to the first but to be able to stand on its own too, and for it not to be important whether or not readers had read the first one. So, there were a lot of elements to think about, but overall, it was very positive.
Would you say the same with writing your very fun series, ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE? Was it more positive than, say, 'challenging'?
LHK: Yes! I agree with what you said, nothing is wasted, even in writing. I pulled from the many sequels I’d begun to draft and played around with the strongest scenes. The fact that I could visualize Nate Wragg’s art style helped me so much as well! I really felt like I could imagine what he might do with scenes, which helped with the writing. It was fun to spend time with Rosie and Charlie again, especially since I knew them so well. If I were to ever write a sequel to Calvin’s story (which I hadn’t thought about until now), I feel like I would really know how he might react in different situations in a deeper way. I think my knowledge of him would enhance the sequel for sure.
LHK: I’d love to hear about what inspired you to write a story about deforestation.
EB: Trees and forests have always been special places for me. I played for hours in the trees at the back on our house growing up in Ireland. Thirty years ago, my father decided to grow a forest that is now maturing nicely. I love to visit it when I return home and learn about the different trees, plants and animals living within it. I am proud of this little green ‘lung’ that has been nurtured by my family. While living in Asia for 10 years, where I worked as an international school teacher, I had the opportunity to visit Borneo and other parts of Indonesia and witness some of the intense deforestation of ancient rainforest, often to make way for palm tree plantations or farm land. I experienced weeks of intense air pollution in Singapore when the burning of rainforest in the region prevented people from safely leaving their homes. So many aspects of my childhood and travels have fed into this story. Trees are vital to our survival and I hope this story will inspire more trees to be planted and protected. The back matter presents some simple facts on the topic and real ways that families can help.
EB: Lauren, I’d love to hear more about your inspiration for HOME FOR A WHILE and how your background as a social worker may have inspired it.
LHK: First, what a wonderful relationship you’ve had with trees. You’ve seen and experienced so much around the world. I love that your family has created their own beautiful green ‘lung.’ Thank you for asking that question. Children inspire me. They are resilient, strong, incredible beings. I worry that we as grownups spend too much time focusing on challenges, rather than reinforcing strengths. I wanted to pay homage to all of the children who let me walk beside them for a while. I have so many children with whom I’ve worked who will live in my heart forever. I also wanted to offer a story about the power of focusing on strengths. When we look through a strength-based lens and help others do the same, we can change their lives forever.
EB: That is a beautiful message Lauren and it shines through in HOME FOR A WHILE. In the story, Calvin learns to calm his thoughts and feelings through breathing. As a Special Educational Needs teacher, I encourage children to do the same. Is this a technique you have used with children as a social worker or as a parent?
LHK: I use so many strategies with children both as a parent and as a social worker. I try to match the intensity of emotion to the intensity of a strategy. Breathing is a wonderful way to decrease intensity, but it is only the beginning. I love how Maggie shifts Calvin’s attempts to manage his emotion into strategies that are more effective and adaptive. I would imagine you work with many students around emotion regulation in your work too. Captain Green also has to manage his emotions in order to find a solution. His line, “It seems easier to ruin a forest, than to grow one” is so poignant. What qualities do you see in Captain Green that help him be so resilient?
EB: Wow! What a super question Lauren. I would say that mostly it’s his passion for protecting our beautiful planet that inspires him to push through, no matter what.
EB: HOME FOR A WHILE ends with a beautiful scene as Calvin accepts his new home, and asks to be hugged. It is such a satisfying and heartfelt ending. I would love to know more about your decision to end the story showing Calvin settled, at last, but with his foster parent rather than reunited with his own mother, who we see in Calvin's drawing.
LHK: I am so happy to hear you found the ending satisfying and heartfelt. I must admit: I couldn’t read this book out loud without crying the first twenty or so times. I knew if I teared up, I’d hopefully achieved the level of resonance I wanted. I felt very strongly that I wanted Calvin’s emotional arc to be centered around Maggie and living in her house. I wanted him to learn to trust her in ways he hadn’t been able to before. In order to do this, I needed him to remain in this setting. Although reunification is always incredibly important, I felt the safety and security Maggie provided needed to be front and center. I felt the open-ended nature of this final spread was authentic and hopefully provided a satisfying resolution to Calvin’s emotional arc.
LHK: I have one final question for you, Evelyn. Captain Green offers such important ways to make a difference in the world. I would imagine this might spark wonderful classroom conversations (either in person or via video). As a teacher yourself, in what ways do you imagine a teacher might use this book in their classroom with their students?
EB: Thanks Lauren. I wanted the tips for saving forests to be things that classes or families could easily achieve in their day-to-day lives. As with the first Captain Green story (about ocean pollution), teachers can use this story as a fun introduction to a conservation topic. It’s a light-hearted ‘way in’ to the problem that should not overwhelm and offers a happy ending and positive solutions. I hope that classes will have lots of share with each other afterwards. I always love to look at the little faces in front of me as I read Captain Green to groups and watch the genuine concern as children follow along. They are usually buzzing with information to share on their own experiences afterwards. In the words of Jane Goodall, I believe that, “Children can change the world.”
LHK: YES! Children can most certainly change the world! Calvin and Captain Green are each superheroes in their own way! I love it! I think they’d most certainly be wonderful friends! Thank you for putting such wonderful books into the world!
EB: Two sweet boys with big hearts! Fantastic!
This has been fun Lauren. Thanks for the fantastic questions, sharing your thoughts so brilliantly, and for your wonderful stories.
LHK: And thank you, Evelyn! I’ve learned so much and had a wonderful time interviewing each other!
RJP: Lauren and Evelyn, thank you both -- what an amazing interview! It was a pleasure having you on KidLit Oasis and I hope you'll be back to share more of your wonderful books in the future!
>>>Click on the book covers to order your copies of Lauren's and Evelyn's books!<<<
Lauren Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who currently lives in Colorado with her husband, their two dragons...er, daughters, and their rescue dog. Lauren is the author of the Rosie the Dragon and Charlie picture book series (Illustrated by Nate Wragg/Two Lions). Her latest picture book, HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press) moves into shelves February 2, 2021. Lauren also writes books in her field. Lauren is one of the founders of #ReVISIONweek, a judge with Rate Your Story, runs a critique business, and is a long-time member of 12x12 and SCBWI. Her writing goals are simple. Read voraciously. Embrace feedback. Grow each day. Work hard. Be passionate. Write courageously. Touch children’s hearts. You can visit her at www.LaurenKerstein.net, and follow her on Twitter and Instragram (@LaurenKerstein) and FB (https://www.facebook.com/laurenkersteinauthor).
Evelyn Bookless grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland where she loved to make forts and play in the trees with her siblings. She is a nature lover, mum, teacher and writer. Evelyn spent ten wonderful years living in Asia but was saddened to see beautiful rainforests cut down during her travels around the region. She recently moved to the Netherlands, where she enjoys cycling her blue bike, Betty.
Sunday Rain will release very soon! If you'd like to add it to your child's library or donate to a teacher and support the book, you could also win a gift! Just drop me a line to let me know you pre-ordered the book and you'll be entered into a drawing for 1 of 3 swag packs (includes: crown, kitty notebook, bookmarks, postcard, signed bookplate, button). Ends 2/16/21, US only.
About Rosie J. Pova
Rosie J. Pova is a
award-winning children's author, speaker, and writing coach on a mission to inspire children not only to read and write more, but to use their creativity, follow their passions, dream big and believe in themselves.
Rosie visits schools and shares her inspirational journey as an immigrant from Bulgaria and how she became a published author, encouraging kids to persist, push through rejections, and hold a high vision for themselves.
Rosie's upcoming picture book, Sunday Rain, will be released in March 2021. It's a story that celebrates imagination, the love of books, and new friendships.
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jessica Schmeilder of Golden Wheat Literary.