The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kathy Bostrom and Review of Will You Be Friends With Me?
Kathleen Long Bostrom has been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1983 (now honorably retired). She and her husband, Greg, live in Carlsbad, California, where she writes full-time in an office looking out over a grove of eucalyptus trees. They have three grown children, all in the film business. Kathy enjoys reading, swimming, watching Rafael Nadal play tennis, and snuggling with her little empty-nest dog, Ellie.
She is the author of over fifty books, most of them for children. Who is Jesus? was a finalist for the 2000 Gold Medallion Award, which is given to the outstanding books in Christian publishing, and What About Heaven? was nominated for the People's Choice Award. Her children’s books include: The Worst Christmas Ever (2019), Hooray! It's Easter Day! (VeggieTales)(2017), Stories from the Bible: 17 Treasured Tales from the World's Greatest Book (2016), The View at the Zoo (2015/2019), Easter Stories and Prayers (2015), Rufus And Ryan Go to Church (2014), Bedtime Stories and Prayers (2013), What Is the Bible? (2009), Questions from Little Hearts (2009), Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent Calendar (Traditions of Faith from Around the World)(2006), and When Pete's Dad Got Sick: A Book about Chronic Illness (2004).
Her newest board book, Will You Be Friends With Me? releases July 7th.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
KATHY: I’ve always liked writing and kept journals growing up. A friend and I wrote a novel in 6th grade about two girls living on an island with talking animals. I still have the manuscript! We also wrote a radio show just for fun.
I didn’t start writing with intention until 1991 when our children were very young and both Greg and I were serving as co-pastors at a small church in northern Illinois. I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia the year before and suffered a lot of muscle pain, so I started walking in the morning before anyone was up. I observed nature and began to ponder how to describe the bark of a tree, for instance. Once home, I began writing short devotions based on my observations, just for my own sake.
When our youngest was three, I began to write for children, hoping to write and publish something that parents and children would treasure together not just for the book, but for the loving and bonding experience of reading it together.
That is one of the best aspects of picture books. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Also, I don’t have a belly button, the result of multiple abdominal surgeries. Greg and I have decided to tell our one-day grandchildren that I am an alien!
I'd love to know if they buy it. What was your inspiration for Will You Be Friends with Me?
I love writing board books for the youngest readers. The challenge of telling a story in such a short amount of words, with appropriate vocabulary, and in rhyme (whenever possible) makes my imagination come alive and my heart leap with joy. In this case, I wanted to write about friendship with people who are different. My goal was to show how differences enrich friendships and make life far more fun.
I think you and Jo succeeded in doing just that. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Thankfully, I grew up when Dick and Jane were going by the wayside and Dr. Seuss was big. The Cat in the Hat was my favorite. I loved the humor, the rhyme, the playfulness, and the story! I imagine that’s one reason I like to write rhyming picture books, remembering what joy they brought me.
I also read lots of books by Newbery authors, not realizing anything about the Newbery Medal until I began writing for kids myself. I ended up writing a book of biographies of all the Newbery medalists through 2000 (Winning Authors: Profiles of the Newbery Medalists) and while doing so, interviewed, met, and have stayed connected with many of the Newbery winners, all of whom are amazing people as well as being gifted writers. My dream is to be a Newbery winning author, although I don’t write middle grade. Yet.
What a treat that must have been. It's cool you're still friends with many. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Will You Be Friends With Me?
Pay close attention to the illustrations! Much of the diversity is shown through the art, and the artist, Jo de Ruiter, has connected the illustrations from one page to the next in a subtle but brilliant way that might be missed with a quick read through. I’m so thrilled with what she’s done!
I like the way she connected the spreads and the children. What was the most surprising thing for you about creating Will You Be Friends with Me? Perhaps something in the illustrations or something you learned about yourself.
The final book is totally different from the original drafts. In the beginning, I tried to have the differences blend together into something special. For instance, one child likes orange and one likes pink. In the second part of the book, the two blend into a sunset sky. I loved the image, but I ultimately ended up having to drop it when I turned to showing how the differences are good without being blended into something else.
I really like that the book touts that it's okay to be different. Is it easier, or harder, write board books?
Easier or harder than what? I think the shorter the book, the harder to get just right, but I also think writing a novel that’s not only beautifully written but a great page-turner would have its own challenges and difficulties.
For me, writing in the genres I love (young children) brings me joy, so in that way, not as hard as if I were forced to write something to which I wasn’t as drawn. I am not good at writing academic pieces for journals and books although I’ve done a lot of that over the years to challenge myself.
Will You Be Friends with Me? and The View at the Zoo are more secular books. Did you find these harder or easier to write than your other books?
I actually started out writing secular picture books, lullabies, and animal stories, but didn’t get my foot in the door. Once I started writing books which incorporated aspects of faith, the door to publishing finally opened.
The View at the Zoo was published after 15 years of rejections in the secular publishing field. Will You Be Friends with Me? is only my second secular book, although I will say that the concept is based on my faith which calls me to love people who aren’t like me.
Interesting means of breaking through. I've heard a number of authors using work for hire to get a foot in the door. What has been your biggest surprise, for any of your book(s), when you first got to see the illustrations? Good or bad.
I had to learn a lot about picture books when I was first published. It was a surprise to find out that the author has no say in choosing the illustrator. Sometimes, after having a manuscript accepted, I didn’t see the finished book with art until my author copy arrived in the mail two years later. Now, being a veteran author, I am often asked for my input on the art beforehand but I keep my comments to a bare minimum. I trust the illustrators to do their job, and in the 50+ books I’ve had published only once have I been disappointed.
That's a great record! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)
Children! My own, the ones in the congregations I’ve served, and myself. A children’s writer must get in touch with their own feelings from childhood; that’s what makes a story that feels authentic. I heard that from the Newbery authors when I interviewed them, and it’s so very true. It’s also one of the joys: the recalling of memories, feelings, and stories from my own life.
I totally agree with you. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I'm in the midst of writing another board book that I hope will be a sequel to Will You Be Friends with Me? Also, I need to get back to a memoir I haven’t worked on for nearly three years and a YA novel I wrote twenty years ago that’s sat in a box for far too long. Oh, and a middle grade book I started way too many years ago that is inspired by my mother’s growing up as one of twelve kids, in West Virginia, during the Depression. And. . .
We'll have to keep our eyes peeled. Do you have any advice on surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors or illustrators?
I started writing for the joy of it. Then I became obsessed with getting published. I amassed over 250 rejections in four years and became frustrated. I had to remind myself that I began writing for the joy it brought me, even if I never got published. After I made that decision, the offers came. Lesson learned!
I'm impressed with your determination to stick with it. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are currently enamored with. Why?
Beagles, rescue dogs, and service dogs. Our first dog as a family was a beagle from a rescue organization. Our second was a purebred beagle from a pet shop who unfortunately died around a year old, three weeks after the older beagle. My grief led us to a charming rescue beagle-mix we named Ellie. We brought her home when she was about a year old, and she just turned fourteen. She is my constant companion!
I also love great blue herons. I first saw one on the lake near our home in Illinois, and now I see them all over southern California. Even though I grew up in the LA area, I never remember seeing a heron until I lived in the Midwest!
Thank you, Kathleen for participating in this interview. I enjoyed the chance to get to know you better.
Thank you for the interview, I enjoyed thinking through and writing the answers! And I’m always happy to hear from my readers.
For more information about Kathleen Long Bostrom, or to contact her:
Review of Will You Be Friends With Me?
This cute and touching board book was the Perfect Picture Book Friday choice of Susanna Hill on June 12th (here). Lyrical and timely, this board book focuses on a philosophy which our country desperately needs to hear and practice. The acceptance, tolerance, and appreciation of differences that EACH of us have. None of us are exactly like each other. Even identical siblings have small differences. And these differences are what makes us so strong, creative, and resilient. We should all strive to be a friend.
Will You Be Friends With Me?
Author: Kathleen Long Bostrom
Illustrator: Jo de Ruiter
Publisher: Worthy Kids (2020)
Friendship, differences, and acceptance.
Celebrate the differences that make life richer and more interesting with this inclusive board book about a budding friendship.
Making friends is something all children do, but sometimes it can feel scary. They might worry that no one will like them or that they are too different to find a friend. In this sweet board book, the narrator lists all the ways children can be different from a prospective friend. Instead of worrying that these differences will make friendship impossible, the narrator decides that the differences make life more fun.
Perfect for children heading to school or any child in a new situation trying to make friends, this encouraging book reassures readers that diversity is what makes friendship--and life--so interesting.
"I wake early.
You sleep late.
My hair's curly.
Yours is straight.
I say, 'Now!'
You say, 'Wait?'
Will you be friends with me?
What I liked about this book:
Featuring a diverse cast of adorable, engaging kids,
Text © Kathy Long Bostrom, 2020. Image © Jo de Ruiter, 2020.
sparse, smoothly rhyming text,
Text © Kathy Long Bostrom, 2020. Image © Jo de Ruiter, 2020.
and a wonderful refrain, this tender board book follows a group of kids through their day examining the differences that matter to young kids - such as hair texture, favorite colors or foods, and neatness - and showing that differences are normal and they make life fun.
Text © Kathy Long Bostrom, 2020. Image © Jo de Ruiter, 2020.
As Kathy alluded to above, Jo de Ruiter did a wonderful job of tying each spread and set of kids together throughout the illustrations. Kids will enjoy guessing which child will appear on the next spread. Jo also did a great job of incorporating ethnic, physical, and sensory diversity within the illustrations. The subtle twist on the refrain at the end wraps it all up with a warm, snuggly ending.
It's a fun to read board book full of enticing images. This is a great choice for toddlers, and perhaps, even their older siblings. Definitely a message that our country needs right now. I hope it finds its way into many libraries.
- write a list, or draw a picture, of what makes a good friend.
- make a friendship bracelet with a special message (https://www.projectswithkids.com/beaded-friendship-bracelets-kids/).
- make a friendship wreath or color a friend's cut out (http://www.everythingpreschool.com/themes/friendship/art.htm).
- check out the free activity sheets (https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/kathleen-long-bostrom/will-you-be-friends-with-me/9781546033806/).