1. When you were my age (10), did you have a book inspire or impact you?
There were several books that inspired me when I was young. One of them was Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. The book spoke to me because—believe it or not—Miranda was NOT a popular name where I lived in the 1980s. People always messed it up, misspelled it, or called me Amanda or Melinda (in fact…I got an email from a friend addressed “Dear Amanda” just last week). As a kid, I wanted to change my name so badly to Michelle or Kristen. Today, I wouldn’t give up my name for anything.
2. Have you read anything recently that inspired or impacted you?
On the kidlit side, I read two books that made me cry! One is called Hand in Hand by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, and the other is called A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang. I’m also a huge fan of anything written by Aisha Saeed and Jacqueline Woodson. On the adult side, I like to read nonfiction. I find myself impacted by true stories and facts. I’ve recently read books about genetics, astronomy, and people’s life journeys (called memoirs). I also read a book about how to deal with difficult people, and though it wasn’t my favorite, it did help me to think about how to be polite and kind but still address my concerns or needs. Speaking up was something that was hard for me as a shy kid, but I have grown up to become much better at communicating. In fact, I have a book coming out next year called SPEAK UP that is all about the ways we can find our voice and make a difference.
3. Can you share what your usual day as an author looks like?
That’s a tough one. My writing days don’t always look the same. I used to think that was a bad thing, and when I became a “real” writer I’d have a daily schedule and stick to it. Then I learned that when life has its ups and downs, its interruptions and moments of peace, I’m living my life rather than watching life pass by. Adventures and changes help keep me sharp physically and mentally, and because of those things, I’m a better person. When I’m a better person, I’m a better writer. If all I did were write, if I didn’t experience life or interact with people, what would I write about? Would my writing be ordinary or dull? I try to do a lot of writing in summer and winter, and I do more school visits and revising in spring and fall. When I’m home, I write more in the morning—I get tired pretty early at night. It’s a good thing to establish habits and routines, and some people need them to stay motivated or finish their work, but I guess I’ve mostly had enough passion and motivation to find ways to write on planes and trains and even in the shower.
4. Is there a newer or less know author you think kids should know about?
Oh, there are so many! There are several newer voices—especially Chrystal D. Giles, Sylvia Liu, and Carole Lindstrom—who have published a poem in a book I edited called Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. Marlena Myles illustrated it, and I think everyone should be on the lookout for more of her art. There are so many more I’d like to name, but this interview could get really long…
5. What is a cool thing about being an author?
Working in pajamas! Meeting kids (kids are pretty cool)! Getting to bring my cats to work! Getting letters from readers!
6. Is there anything hard about being an author? I know it is not rainbows, cupcakes, pens and a pot of gold.
There are cupcakes and pens, and occasionally rainbows. I haven’t yet found a pot of gold, but I’m holding on to hope. Seriously, though, there are tough things. It’s not always easy to make a living, even if your books sell well. There’s also a lot of hard work and rejection. Every book I’ve made has taken years, not months or weeks like some people think. Some authors really struggle with staying motivated to finish a project, because you often work alone and don’t get paid until you’re completely done.
7. Book access and diversity in books is a big topic. As an author what do you think your role is in this topic?
I’m a co-founding member of an organization called We Need Diverse Books (www.diversebooks.org). One of my upcoming books, Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, benefits the organization with every sale. I think everyone’s role is to think about diversity and try to be inclusive. We can examine our own thoughts, words, and actions. We can be readers, supporters, sharers, buyers, and even writers of books. I run a Mentorship Program for WNDB that pairs new or upcoming voices in children’s literature with an established mentor, usually an author, to help guide them. So far, I’ve been able to help pair 37 mentees with a mentor, and many have gone on to sign with agents or publish books. It’s satisfying to be a small part of the big work that needs to be done. But we can always do more.
8. If you could portal into any book which would it be?
Either IN THE CANYON by Liz Garton Scanlon and Ashley Wolff, or GRAND CANYON by Jason Chin. I loved my visit to the Grand Canyon a few years ago and I’d absolutely love to visit again.
If you wanted to ask about books coming up next, I’m extremely excited for an upcoming book called Little Libraries, Big Heroes. It’s about Little Free Library cofounder Todd Bol and how he spread his idea of sharing books all over the world. The book releases on September 3 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books) and is illustrated by the incredible John Parra. I hope everyone will check it out, and maybe put their copy inside a Little Free Library!