The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kim Tomsic
Kim Tomsic was “made” in France, born on an American military base in Italy, and has lived in various parts of the United States. She has been the new-girl at many schools which is probably why she is now a declared extrovert and enjoys helping others connect. Although Kim admires nice shoes, she’s super-awkward in heels and can usually be found in flip-flops and on her way to a yoga class.
She is a reader, writer, dreamer, believer, exclamation point abuser, lover of peanut M&Ms, devourer of ling-hi-muis, and fan of all things children’s literature. She a member of the SCBWI and serves on the Board of Directors for the Friends of Haiti, a 501 (c) 3 charity organized to provide Haitian students the opportunity to go to school. Kim claims two super-powers: parallel parking and fierce loyalty. She has one husband, two children, and an adorable dog—all keep her laughing.
Kim is the author of Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid-Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World, illustrated by Brett Helquist (2019). As well as the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Winner, for the Southwest Region, middle grade novel The 11:11 Wish (2018) and the middle grade novel The 12th Candle (2019).
Her newest picture book, The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship, releases tomorrow!
Welcome Kim, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.
Hi, Maria! Thank you so much for inviting me to your beautiful blog.
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?)
KIM: I have been writing since I could spell. My mother purchased one of those black and white composition notebooks for me, and I wrote my first story—something about a cloud. 😊 After college I wrote a terribly didactic picture book about crossing the road and lesson-y type things—obviously, that never saw the light of a print run since kids don’t show up to books for lessons. Finally, when my son was in fourth grade, I joined the SCBWI and began my education on the craft and business of publishing. My favorite type of book to write is whatever the Big Magic muse delivers—I know. That sounds all “woo-woo” and artsy, but here’s the deal—when a character captivates me, whether that character is in a narrative nonfiction or fantasy, I follow and see where he/she/they take me!
Being open and willing to try new things makes the writing fun! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I hardly ever cry. Ugh—I wish I cried more, because I feel things deeply on the inside, but might look like a robot on the outside as I process—that’s my truth—my eyes usually stay dry. This particular fact is why when I heard about Lawrence Anthony and the elephants—and I cried several times (!!)—I knew I had to write this story.
Wow! It is definitely a poignant story. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My favorite picture book as a child was Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Man, I loved thinking about those little egg cups and slim slices of toast that Frances ate for breakfast.
Did your writing, research, or publishing experience with The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship differ from Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid-Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World? If so, how? Was one easier or particularly harder to write?
Oh, interesting question. Let’s see—for both, I reached out directly to intimate sources and had many conversations through email, phone calls, social media, DMs, etc. I urge anyone writing narrative nonfiction to have those real and hard conversations whenever possible.
For Guitar Genius, I spoke with Sue Baker from the Les Paul Foundation. Sue was one of Les Paul’s best friends during the last ten years of his life. She knew she would be in charge of his legacy, so she paid attention to every detail of every story he shared—she was a wealth of information and fact-checking! Sue and I shared dozens of phone calls and probably a hundred emails. When the book released, I flew to Waukesha, Wisconsin to celebrate the launch with Sue at the Les Paul Middle School, because she had turned into one of my favorite friends, too.
For The Elephants Come Home, my research began after I heard a quote in a yoga class about how we are all connected. I started by reading an article in the New York Times about Lawrence Anthony. My research continued with reading many other sources, and I continued down that route until I had the courage and understanding how to respectfully reach out to Françoise. Just like Sue, Françoise was very generous with information. It was important for me to honor Françoise and Lawrence’s story and get everything correct, so in April 2017 when my husband was in Africa rescuing rhinos, I asked him to fly to Zululand and capture one more interview with Françoise at Thula Thula. Françoise agreed to the meeting. My husband not only arrived armed with a list of my questions and photo requests, but he also brought a copy of the manuscript pages (text only) for her review. After she read it, she offered a few more details, photos, and even title suggestions!
Here is a NOT PROFESSIONAL photo my husband snapped of Nana while he was at Thula Thula. It’s important to know that Nana could have been anywhere on the 11,000 acres at Thula Thula and yet somehow she showed up to greet my husband!
[That's amazing! What a gift for him.]
The difference in researching both books lies in the differences in science: For Guitar Genius I had to amp up my engineering knowledge and the connection of how things work. For The Elephants Come Home I had to learn about biomes and elephant behaviors.
Although it sounds like a lot of work, it also sounds like a lot of fun! How long did The Elephants Come Home take from the idea to publication? How did this compare to the creation of Guitar Genius?
Hold on to your seat—The Elephants Come Home has been a labor of love since 2012—nine years later it will appear in bookstores across the United States, Germany, and Korea on May 18, 2021!
It was worth the wait. I sold the story in 2013, however I was a new writer when I created that first draft, so I’ve worked on it over the years to make sure every word did the job it needed to do to carry the story and deliver the accurate details—I kept working on it up until that final interview in 2017.
For Guitar Genius, I’ll first tell you about my inspiration—I was inspired to write this story after shopping at no less than 30 guitar stores with my son. I knew nothing about Les Paul except that the Gibson Les Paul guitars seemed to be the most expensive guitars in the stores, so I asked my son who this Les character was. He almost fell over, shocked that I didn’t know!
When I set out to write Guitar Genius I had been actively studying and practicing the craft of writing for seven years—that means I was working with critiquing groups, attending conferences, taking master classes, reading craft books, reading hundreds of books in the genre, and writing every day. Therefore, when this story came to me, it only took a handful of months to write the first draft. I still spent a year editing and working out the details with Sue and my editor and the fantastic team at Chronicle Books. Our goal with nonfiction is to get everything correct—as Sue says, there’s a lot of false information about Les Paul in the world both in books and on the internet—we wanted ours to be accurate!
Thank you so much for sharing these insights into the creation of these books. It's really eye-opening to see what it takes to get a book through to publication. Did anything surprise you when you first got to see Hadley Hooper’s illustrations for The Elephants Come Home? What is your favorite spread?
I was absolutely blown away when I saw the emotional depth of Hadley’s art. I love it so SO much! I didn’t know what to expect, so I was awed by Hadley’s care with the accuracy of everything from the birds to the biome. And I was surprised that Hadley’s art made me cry over the beauty of this story once again.
Text ©Kim Tomsic, 2021. Image © Hadley Hooper, 2021.
Favorite spread…you know I’m not going to answer with just one! I love the cover! I also love spread three, probably because you get to see Lawrence, Françoise, Max and the farmhouse.
I love spreads 9 and 11 which shows the nervous elephants headed to Thula Thula (9) and then when they arrive (11). I probably connect with these spreads because of the empathy I feel having moved from place to place as a child (I was a military brat)—very different experiences, and yet it’s a placeholder for my emotions.
Text ©Kim Tomsic, 2021. Image © Hadley Hooper, 2021.
I love spread 22 and the joy it shows, and…oh, I could go on and on, but then I’d be showing you every single page! 😊
Text ©Kim Tomsic, 2021. Image © Hadley Hooper, 2021.
Thank you for sharing these spreads and why they touch your heart. Is there something you want your readers to know about The Elephants Come Home?
There are a few things I hope for: I hope children fall in love with the elephants and become curious about the magic of these beautiful and wondrous creatures. I hope some children are sparked to investigate what it means to be an eco-warrior. I hope this is a story is a friend for those who have had to move or who have been displaced. And finally, I hope that children who need a bridge for conversation, discover that this story helps them talk about trust, friendship, or death.
I love that this book contains so many layers that it can appeal and befriend so many kids. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m currently CO-WRITING a highly illustrated novel with author/illustrator Mark Parisi called The Truth About 5th Grade and edited by Dave Linker at HarperCollins for release in summer 2023. Mark is so funny and such a talented illustrator, so you can expect both hilarity as well as fun comics in this he-said/she-said romp delivered in diary format. Naturally, my character is the one telling the truth about 5th grade—I SWEAR!
Sounds like a fun premise; we'll have to keep our eyes open for it. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with. Why?
Elephants and Whales because they are magical, but I’ll take a dog in my lap any day. I adore cats too, but since everyone in my family is allergic to them, we are a dog household.
Thank you, Kim for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship.
To find out more about Kim Tomsic, or get in touch with her: