The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Miranda & Baptiste Paul
Today, I get the privilege to interview not just one, but two amazingly talented authors. Each has published beautiful books, but tomorrow they welcome their first co-authored picture book - Adventures to School - into the world. Oh, and they just happen to be married.
Batiste Paul - whose debut PB published March 6th, is "a dad, a native of Saint Lucia, and a sports fan," who roasts his own coffee and chocolate and eats "anything [he] can grill." And yes, he truly has a personality to match that smile. See our previous interview here
Miranda Paul - "is an award-winning picture book author," who "loves when books successfully intersect the educational and trade markets because learning happens in ninja-like fashion." She's written eight fiction and nonfiction picture books, since 2015).
See our previous interview here.
Welcome back Miranda & Baptiste! I am so excited to be interviewing you both and am eagerly awaiting the release of your picture book Adventures to School - TOMORROW.
ME: How did the process of co-creating and publishing Adventures to School differ from that of your individually written books One Plastic Bag (or any other you wish to discuss) and The Field?
Miranda: One Plastic Bag has a long, meandering story behind its creation, so this work was a stark contrast in terms of a deadline to finish it. Secondly—Adventures to School doesn’t span one person’s story—it has thirteen stories plus sidebars! It was clear from the beginning of the project that this would be the only thing we worked on for months, and the research would be intense.
Baptiste: Although I reached out to family and friends while writing The Field, this new project was entirely different. Miranda and I reached out to hundreds of friends, dozens of colleagues, and even several people we didn’t know. We needed to get connected to people on the ground where these kids were going to school, since we weren’t given a budget to go to 13 countries (wouldn’t that have been nice?). Many people helped translate for us, take photographs, send videos, and answer our questions. We also asked many friends and sources to read the text and review illustrations before the final book was printed, to see if there were things we hadn’t considered (as outsiders).
Thank God for the internet; it has connected us to each other in so many interesting ways. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Miranda: I had some great moments as a kid, but also some rough moments in my tween and teen years. If I went back in time I’d tell myself that everything is going to turn out OK and to just keep doing what I’m doing—being that curious, nerdy kid who likes art, science, and helping people and animals.
Baptiste: I’d tell myself, “Moments of hardships are just that. They don’t define you. They’re just moments—they don’t last forever and you can overcome anything. Never stop trying.”
Excellent advice for those two kids and something everyone can apply right now in their own lives. What made you decide to write this jointly and how did you divide up the writing and research for Adventures to School?
Miranda: The amount of research made it obvious that there needed to be two people writing Adventures to School. Plus, we’d been writing several books together for years but had only sold one of them. We like working as a team, and this was a meaningful opportunity for us to do that again.
Baptiste: We literally split the potential stories up by country, did research in different rooms, and then had “meetings” to discuss what we’d found or who we had come in contact with. We brought that together and wrote it together over the course of several months.
Interesting that you split up the research and collaborated on the writing. This format obviously worked; the book is amazing. What was the inspiration for Adventures to School?
Miranda: Our editor suggested the idea by sending us an article about kids with dangerous treks to school. It reminded me of meeting some teens from a high school farther north of mine who drove snowmobiles places instead of cars, even at night. (Spoiler alert: I’ve ridden my fair share of snowmobiles on frozen waterways, too.) A few stories from the article also reminded me about my students in the Gambia, some of whom walked long ways or got creative in their treks to school.
Baptiste: I grew up in Saint Lucia, where I walked up a mountain road either barefoot or wearing cracked rubber shoes that got really hot in the sun. In some ways, I was each of these kids in the book. Although some kids face challenges or obstacles in their way of getting an education, like I did, the truth is that these kids are often happy and fun-loving. The journey is an adventure. When you’re a kid and don’t know differently, you’re not sad about it. School is often a wonderful place. At least I thought so! We wanted to honor that authentic experience for most of the kids around the world—that joy and happiness. We didn’t want a negative stereotype to pervade or distract from the sense of adventure.
Their determination to get to school, and joy in arriving, is very evident. Did you research more countries and journeys to school than the thirteen in the book? What was an unusual or interesting trek that didn’t make the book? (Might there someday be a “More Adventures to School”?)
Text © Baptiste Paul, Miranda Paul, 2018. Image © Isabel Muñoz, 2018.
Miranda: Yes! Take a look at the back matter. The section “A Safer Journey” explains some of the stories we pulled out of the book. The story from Indonesia is an incredible one—about six days after we finished the book, our source found out that a new bridge was being built and sent a photo. The only article about it was in the local language, so we’d never have known without his help.
Baptiste: When we began, we had almost 30 countries on the list. As we started our research, some got crossed off if we couldn’t reach sources on the ground or when we found out that conditions had changed in a particular area. Our research (including photographs) was plastered to the office walls and covered nearly every inch of space so we had a visual on where we were at on each one.
That would have been a wall to see! I sure hope you took pictures. What a great image to show kids during school visits. What is the hardest thing for each of you about writing children’s books?
Miranda: Research is hard, but deciding when to be finished is harder. I don’t think any of my books is ever done, and certainly not perfect. A book like this is never finished, because some of these kids’ experiences changed weekly or monthly with weather or political climate. An author can tinker forever, but then we’d never release any books.
Baptiste: I write my books for kids, and to honor kids. Sometimes, a grown-up reads a book (or reviews a book, censors a book, or recommends a book) with their adult lenses on. It’s a difficult balance because I just want to think of that kid like me when I write, not their parents or people in academia.
Agents, editors, and critique partners can be so helpful in finding that cut off point. Though there do always seem to be "gatekeepers," please keep writing these stories just this way Baptiste. What's something you want your readers to know about Adventures to School?
Miranda: These stories are a snapshot in time, based on specific stories. They aren’t representative of everyone in a country or region. A kind of book like this is an incredible opportunity to discuss ways in which cultures are different, but we also strove to demonstrate ways in which we are the same. Look for that sameness with your child or classroom.
Baptiste: Every journey matters. Don’t just rely on internet articles or videos for research. Having people on the ground in many countries can help validate the authenticity of your stories. We hope our readers will take a look at the front matter and back matter and realize these small but very important details.
We are all so much more alike and connected than we imagine. You do a great job advocating for the authentication of information in your back matter (especially for things discovered on the internet). Any projects you are working on now, individually or jointly, that you can share a tidbit with us?
Baptiste: Our joint book, I Am Farmer, (no cover yet) is almost complete! It releases February 1, 2019. In Spring 2019, we’re going on a nationwide tour with environmentalist Tantoh Nforba and would love to include your readers in our stops along the way. People can contact our assistant Judy now if they’d like information on booking an event.
Miranda: But that’s not all! I’ve got a new super-sweet (and funny) book for littles coming this October from Knopf Books for Young Readers. It’s called Mia Moves Out - and it’s perfect for anyone who’s ever had to share a room or wanted to find a space of their own. Here’s the cover, which shows off the cute artwork from Paige Kaiser.
If you can believe it (because I can’t!) I’ve also got three more upcoming books next year—including books with Caldecott-honoree Jason Chin and Pura Belpre winner John Parra.
How exciting! Congratulations to you both. I can't wait to see them. Having gone through a book release (or a couple) and associated readings and school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (What will you do/try differently this time?)
Miranda: I’ve learned not to stress out too much about a book launch. I do more of the things I like to, and fewer things that I dislike. One thing I’ve gotten better at is asking for the things I need to make the presentations more successful.
Baptiste: We’ve got an assistant! I’d recommend getting a person in charge of your publicity and/or bookings if you are someone pressed for time, like me.
Excellent advice, Miranda and Baptiste! Is there something you’ve wished an interviewer would have asked you?
Baptiste: Why does someone who grew up in St. Lucia decide to live in Green Bay Wisconsin?
Miranda: Why does someone who grew up in Green Bay still live there? (Especially since it snowed more than two feet this week — in April!)
Well now, those are fun questions. I think I would guess - Love! :-)
Thank you, Miranda and Baptiste for sharing your book and a bit of your journey with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you both.
Swing back by on May 4th for the Perfect Picture Book Friday post on Adventures to School.
To find out more about Miranda and Baptiste Paul, or get in touch with them (especially for a visit):