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Author Interviews

Author Interview: Blue Sky, White Stars

#DiverseKidLit, Author Interviews, Diverse Books Club

When I picked up Blue Sky, White Stars on a whim this summer, I was so taken by its representation of the American experience. The words of Sarvinder Naberhaus and the illustrations of Kadir Nelson included so much of what we love about our country. From the Grand Canyon to an old front porch, we can find pieces of America everywhere. In the young boy who goes to a baseball game and in the woman who stands on a graduation stage. In the story of Betsy Ross and the history of Abraham Lincoln. There is so much to celebrate about who we are and who we can be as a nation.

This month, the Diverse Books Club read Blue Sky, White Stars. When both adults and children submitted questions, author Sarvinder Naberhaus generously agreed to do an interview. We find hope and inspiration in her words, and we know you will, too!


Did you have an intended audience for Blue Sky, White Stars? Who do you hope will read the book?

Great question! My original intended audience is always picture book age children. However, when this book was finished, I also felt it was just as much for adults. I always feel picture books are appropriate for all ages. Everybody loves reading picture books. I think they are for all ages, don’t you?

Do you have a favorite page in the book?

Yes, I love Abraham Lincoln’s face with each worry and burden, every fallen soldier etched in the lines of his face.

What inspired you to write about freedom when there are so many topics to write about? -Alexa, Age 11, 6th Grade

I don’t always get to pick my ideas. They come to me, and I usually like them, but I can’t always make them work for the length of a picture book. I was able to come up with enough ideas to make this 32 pages. I feel my ideas pick me.

It’s so important to represent diversity in a book about America. I feel that it was done exceptionally well in Blue Sky, White Stars. Did you carefully place specific characters on particular pages or leave it all in the hands of the illustrator Kadir Nelson? – DBC Member Jeanell

The nice thing about having Kadir Nelson as an illustrator is that you don’t have to tell him to represent diverse people. That being said, when I pictured the illustrations, I did picture different groups of people. I had revised it to include Sacagawea but I was too late in sending to my editor, so maybe she will have to be in my next book. I also wanted to include George Washington and the farmers of the Dust Bowl. I did try to represent a diverse group of people since that is who makes up America and I did write it with that in mind.

What does this book mean to you personally? – Miguel, Age 11, 6th Grade

It means a lot of different things to me. As an American, it represents freedom and the height that freedom can take us (to the moon). As a writer, it means that all my hard work and dedication was worth the years of toil and trouble.

What was going through your mind and how did you feel while you were writing Blue Sky, White Stars? – Aricin, Age 12, 6th Grade

When you write something, you have no idea if it will get published. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have an agent when I wrote it, and it got a few rejections until my editor took interest. So you never write it expecting it will get published or that anybody will ever see it but you. At the time you are writing, you are just thinking about the story and trying to write it all down as fast as you can so you don’t forget it. I thought it was a pretty neat idea when it came to me, but the words were so few, I knew I would have to include a lot of illustration notes so people would understand what I was talking about. I wrote the illustration notes right along with the words.

What effect do you think it would have if every classroom read this book? – Alexandria, Age 11, 6th Grade

I do hope every class will read this book. I hope they enjoy it. I hope it stirs something within them – whatever their America means to them. My hope would be that we could heal as a nation and come together and love one another. I actually want to ask you that same question. What effect do you think it would have?


To connect with Sarvinder online, you can visit her blog at http://sarvinderauthor.blogspot.com/ or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SarvinderN. Thank you so much, Sarvinder, for sharing your thoughts with us!

Author Interview: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Author Interviews, Books We Love

This past January, one of my students came into school clutching Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Telling bedtime stories of inspirational women throughout history, this book re-invents the definition of a fairy tale. The stories and illustrations leapt off the page, bringing history alive for young readers.

I was amazed to learn the backstory behind the book itself. In 2016, the book topped one million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Now, the authors are back with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, due out later this year, as well as a Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast! The Kickstarter campaign for the new projects has already raised over $417,000.

There are so many things that make this book a must-read for students. So many of the stories readers encounter in this book aren’t being taught in history class. In Rebel Girls, students can learn about Ada Lovelace, the Brontë sisters, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and more. Any child can find a role model within the pages of this book.

To celebrate the success of Rebel Girls and the release of Rebel Girls 2, I interviewed authorsElena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. I knew they would have lots to say about the impact these stories can have on the world!

 

With so many incredible stories out there, how do you decide which ones to include in your books?
 

The first women we researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra and nobody has ever heard of, and Maria Sibylla Merian, the German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. These are the first two stories that we tested with our Timbuktu newsletter, in the months leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. We are particularly fond of them not only because they are wonderful, unknown stories, but also because they helped us understand we were onto something really big. Our readers responded enthusiastically to those stories, asking for more.

We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.

 
In an interview with The Bookseller, Francesca said that “children are citizens of the present.” Instead of waiting until they are adults, how can kids begin to change the world today?
 

There are so many ways that kids can change the world now without waiting until they get older.  We get messages from kids and their families about different things they are doing to change the world already. Some are helping to start Rebel Girls clubs to promote these strong women and help others learn about them. Others are using the book as inspiration to write their own Rebel Girls stories-about their lives or about the lives of others and share it with their families and friends. Outside of the book, we hear about readers volunteering their time, raising money for great causes, or working to be inclusive to classmates at school. We’re also proud and excited to hear about the positive things kids are doing.

 
 
What makes 2017 the perfect time for Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2?
 

The position of women has significantly improved over time in our society, but there is definitely still lots to do. Especially because no accomplishment, no matter how big, can ever be given for granted.

In 2017, Children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. These are stories about real women, which is different than a lot of goodnight stories about fictional characters. We wanted to feature painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, and political leaders-rebel girls whose actions have changed the course of history.

How do you think adding Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to family bookshelves can change the experiences of young girls?
 

Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offered them a very narrow representation of who they can be. The illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look like. This reflects in a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.


For more on Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, you can check out the Rebel Girls website.