Welcome back to the Oasis!
Oh, do I have a double treat for you this week! Two awesome authors are chatting about their new books, sharing the ideas that prompted them to write those stories, what's hidden in the illustrations of one of the books, and talk about their collaborations with their illustrators plus much more!
Ready to dive in? Here are Chana and Kathy in conversation. . .
Kathy Doherty: LET LIBERTY RISE! HOW AMERICA’S SCHOOLCHILDREN HELPED SAVE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY has received wonderful write-ups from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly...and a starred reviewed from School Library Journal. How did you get the idea to write this story?
Chana Stiefel: Thanks so much Kathy. As authors we are trained to keep our eyes and ears open for a good story. And to paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic, when inspiration comes, you need to grab it by the tail and hang on to it before it runs away. In 2014, I invited my author friends Jackie Glasthal and Sue Macy to my home for Friday night dinner. Jackie shared that she had published a middle grade novel called Liberty on 23rd Street. The setting for that book is lower Manhattan in the late 1800s, when the Statue of Liberty was under construction. Jackie shared this little-known slice of history—that children contributed their hard-earned pennies to the pedestal fund to build the statue. Hearing that story, I knew that it had to become a picture book. After years of research, writing, and revising, it’s finally here!
Congrats to you, Kathy, on the launch of THE THINGITY-JIG, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Foreword Reviews! How did you dream up this delightful story about a bear that discovers a fun, springy thing, but needs his friends to help haul it home?
KD: Chana, all your hard work paid off!...And thank you for your kind words about my book. As an author I love to play “what if.” So when I saw a discarded couch in my neighborhood, I wondered what if a bear cub found it...and what if he wanted to take it back to the forest and jump on it with his friends. I used intertextuality to combine aspects of the folktale The Little Red Hen and my own ideas to tell a brand new story.
Chana, your book’s illustrations are fabulous. Did you have any input in choosing the illustrator or in the art itself? And what do you like best about the illustrations?
CS: Thank you, Kathy! Scholastic chose Chuck Groenink as the illustrator, and I couldn’t be happier. I love the sweet faces of all of the children and the clothing of the time period. He did lots of research to capture Manhattan in the late 1800s, including the buildings, the ships, the printing press, and the red mailbox. He also hid two famous paintings from the late 1800s within the illustrations. (See if you can find them!) And there’s a lovely golden copper hue that shines throughout the book, which emanates from the Statue of Liberty’s original copper color.
Your book also has a beautiful glow, Kathy! What was your reaction when you first saw Kristyna Litten’s illustrations? Were you able to give feedback during the process? What is your favorite spread and why?
KD: It was love at first sight! Kristyna’s illustrations were as whimsical as my text. I only gave a minor suggestion or two along the way. I wanted Kristyna to have free range. The spread I love most is when Bear starts bouncing on the couch for the first time. Bingity! Bing! Boing!
In doing research, what were you most surprised to learn?
CS: There were so many surprises! First was the realization that although France sent America this glorious gift, America didn’t want her. Some people said they should send her back to France! Can you imagine? I was also surprised to learn about the many fundraisers to build the pedestal. Pulitzer’s campaign was the first crowd-sourcing campaign. He said that if anyone sent a penny for the pedestal, he would print their name in his newspaper. Other fundraisers included an art auction, which included Emma Lazarus’s infamous poem, “The New Colossus.” In addition, people could pay to take a ferry to Bedloe’s Island and see the statue in crates, or they could purchase a small model. In 1876, at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Liberty’s arm was on display. People could pay 50 cents to climb up to the torch. Many of these details didn’t make it into the text but can be found in the backmatter.
What were some of the challenges in writing your story? Did you go through many revisions? What’s one takeaway you learned from the writing process?
KD: One challenge was the ending. It wasn’t quite right at first. But a few revisions later, and my editor and I nailed it.
Besides learning about history, what do you hope kids will take away from your book?
CS: The major theme of the book is that when we work together, we can accomplish great things that have a lasting impact. One little girl sent in 60 cents. She wrote, “I wish I could make it $60,000, but drops make an ocean.” I hope kids (and adults) learn that even though we sometimes feel powerless, every little bit helps. Every contribution and action, no matter how small, can make a big difference.
I love the way Bear sees the world (and the cast-off sofa) differently from others. Beyond the giggles, what are some takeaways from THE THING-ITY JIG?
KD: I’d love kids to realize they can do hard things...and that they should never give up. I’d like to encourage them to find a way to make it happen. Good things happen to those who don’t give up.
When did you see the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and what were your thoughts?
CS: I have a vague memory of visiting the Statue of Liberty as a child. I grew up in Miami, so we probably visited the statue when we came up to New York to visit cousins. I have a much greater appreciation for it as an adult—from the perspective of understanding how my three immigrant grandparents arrived here, knowing what a colossal project the building was, admiring the engineering feat, and loving the story of children contributing to the pedestal. Now that I’ve written LET LIBERTY RISE, I see the Statue of Liberty everywhere. (Check out the trailer that my daughter made for me! https://youtu.be/ZNlN3eWEUnE) She’s such an icon!
Has writing THE THING-ITY JIG changed the way you look at found objects? How so?
KD: Yes! I wonder if there’s a story there. I’m always looking for writing ideas.
What’s next for you?
My editor has challenged me to write a story in which one of Bear’s friends goes into people town and finds something dazzling. I’ve only written a rough draft, so the story hasn’t taken shape yet.
CS: Awesome! Good Luck!
Thanks, Rosie, for featuring our new books!
You're very welcome! These questions were fantastic and I learned so much fun and interesting tidbits-- I know my readers will enjoy this chitchat a lot! What a pleasure to have you both as my guests! I hope you'll be back in the future to share your upcoming projects with us, too.
Readers, please support our featured authors/illustrators by following them on Twitter, requesting their book through your local library, posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and of course, purchasing their books.
I hope you enjoyed this post — comments and shares are appreciated. Thank you!
Kathy Doherty is a Reading Specialist and holds an Ed.S. Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s written standardized test items for Pearson Inc. and her love of learning has led her to graduate from four different universities. A former teacher of elementary school for over 30 years, Kathy’s work has appeared in numerous magazines. She lives in Indiana.
Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. She hails from sunny South Florida and now lives in New Jersey, just a ferry ride away from the Statue of Liberty. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries as well as sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She earned a master's degree in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. To learn more, visit Chana at chanastiefel.com.
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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 picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and Parents magazine, and her upcoming one, The School of Failure: A Story About Success, will be released in May 2022 in the U.S. and China.
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary.