The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview of Maya Myers and Review of Not Little

Maya Myers writes books for kids. She’s also a freelance book editor and a former elementary school teacher. When she’s not wrangling words, you can probably find her cooking or digging in the garden while listening to a true-crime podcast.


Maya grew up playing in the woods on the coast of Maine, in a little town that is still almost thirty miles from a stoplight. Wanting to live somewhere warmer, she went to Duke University, and has lived in North Carolina ever since. She lives with her husband, Matt, three daughters, seven chickens, and a twenty-three-pound cat named Hoss.


She’s the author of the National Geographic Level 1 reader Llamas (2020) and Pre-reader Puffins (2019).

Her debut picture book, Not Little, released on July 6.


Welcome Maya, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.


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?)


I started writing picture books around the time my youngest daughter (now 13) started school. She said the funniest things, and one day I was sitting in the next room listening to her talk to my husband, and I decided to take a shot at preserving some of her childhood by writing about it.


I’ve written some nonfiction, which I enjoy because I love the research and the idea of making fascinating facts accessible for kids. But I get more excited when an idea for a picture book grabs me and demands to be written.


I usually write a full first draft and then show it to my husband, who is also an author (and illustrator) of children’s books. He’s great at helping me cut words and pointing out where illustrations can do the work. The hardest thing for me to learn is that it’s important to set a book aside when I’m really excited about it; if I can let it sit for a few weeks, I always find ways to tighten it up and make it better.


Taking that break to get a little emotional distance is so helpful. And so hard! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


I always put the same number of ice cubes into a glass. Eight is the perfect number.


Ha! What was your inspiration for Not Little?

My youngest daughter was very small as a young child, and a precocious reader. She was perpetually indignant that the school librarian wouldn’t let her check out big chapter books and was often looked at skeptically when she would order (and polish off) a whole pizza in a restaurant. My older girls, both tall, each had a close friend who appeared much younger than she was, and all these “little” kids seemed to make up for it with outsized spunk and determination.


When I wrote this story, in 2017, there was a new level of vitriol and unkindness flying around in the world, and I wanted to remind my own kids and others that anyone can fight back against cruelty without being cruel.


That's a great added layer to the story. Were your books Llamas and Puffins work-for-hire books? How did writing them compare to writing Not Little?


Yes, they were work-for-hire, and while I feel proud of the finished product, it doesn’t feel like it’s mine in the same way. Once the research and the first draft is done, it’s like I shift from author to being part of the editorial team: we’re all working to make the book a good fit with the series.


With Not Little, I crafted a story from an idea I hatched myself, so I feel more ownership—though I absolutely and happily share that with the illustrator and editor.


Interesting. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I could never choose just one! Some of my favorite picture books were the Frances books (she’s my kind of girl!) by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban; the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel; and The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel, for which Blair Lent won the Caldecott the same year I was born.


As I got older, I loved Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery. I was really into books: I think I was around ten when I decided to make my own personal library, with numbers on the spines and a card catalog and everything. I can’t say that anyone ever checked out a book, though!


I am not familiar with this book. I love discovering new books. So, Llamas and Puffins are natural science books. Do you feel Not Little is a big departure from these books?


They are definitely in a separate category, but I actually wrote Not Little before I started working with National Geographic Kids. Researching and writing nonfiction and leveled readers takes me back to my work as a kindergarten and literacy teacher, whereas writing stories about kids allows me to mine those years in the classroom for a different kind of gem.


Sounds like you might continue doing both for a while. How many drafts did it take from idea to acquisition?


I’m not sure how many drafts there were, but not many. This was one of those stories that just grabbed me, and it came out pretty well formed. After a little back-and-forth with my husband, I was ready to share it with Neal Porter, whom I’d met through Matt, and who’d been encouraging me to write for several years. As with other stories I’d shown him, he liked Not Little, but said it wasn’t quite right for him. I felt good about it anyway, so I submitted it to a couple of agents, but with no luck. About six months later, I shared a completely different type of book with Neal, and while he liked the writing, he said he just wanted a good, solid story from me. I asked if he remembered the story about the little girl who stands up to a bully, which I had recently revisited and tweaked the ending of. I still really loved it and told Neal I didn’t think I could do much better than that. He asked to see it again, and this time he said it was perfect and he wanted to publish it! I was shocked, and thrilled.


Wow, I'm glad you stuck up for the manuscript. It is a special book. When you first saw Hyewon Yum’s illustrations were you surprised? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Maya Myers, 2021. Image © Hyewon Yum, 2021.


Yes! I had never imagined Dot looking the way Hyewon created her, and yet I immediately could not imagine her looking any other way! She’s just perfect, as is her family and the rest of her world. Hyewon created such vibrant emotions with a few simple lines. The illustration where Dot is sidling up to Sam to try to see if she’s taller than he is makes me laugh out loud every time.


She is quite the character! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)


Kids. Kids are out there writing their own stories every day, learning how language works and how powerful it can be, figuring out how the world works and their place in it. I have always loved listening to kids and seeing the world through their eyes.


Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I’m excited to say that Dot and Sam will be back in a new book called Not Perfect! I was so tickled by the big, blended family that Hyewon created for Dot that they are all back in this second book too. Everyone she knows seems to be perfect at something, but Dot doesn’t feel like she’s perfect at anything.


Interesting. We'll have to keep our eyes open for this book. What have you been doing to stay creative? Anything in particular that “primes the well”?


I participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm this January, and it was great for forcing me to generate ideas. I often have ideas float in at the end of dream time, when I’m first waking up in the morning; unfortunately, that sometimes results in cryptic notes like “Biscuit Brain,” which I’m sure felt completely brilliant when I wrote it down.


That made me chuckle. I hope you figure out what it means one day. It is really funny! What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with. Why?


I think giraffes are the most beautiful, elegant things, with their long eyelashes and gigantic black tongues.


Thank you, Maya for stopping by. It was wonderful to chat with you.

To find out more about Maya Myers, or get in touch with her:

Website: https://ohmayaword.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mayamyersbooks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mayamyersbooks

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mayamyersbooks/



Review of Not Little


Oh man, being a kid and not looking your age - sucks. Whether that's because you're tall for your age, your face looks much younger, or you're smaller than other kids. Even though we aren't supposed to 'judge a book by its cover' everyone makes judgements daily about others based on their appearance. This book beautifully captures the constant frustration of a strong and confident child, who though she is small, is definitely not little.

Not Little


Author: Maya Myers


Illustrator: Hyewon Yum


Publisher: Neal Porter Books (2021)


Ages: 3-7


Themes:

Discrimination, friendship, standing up for what's right, and empowerment.


Synopsis:

Just because you're really small doesn't mean you can't have a big heart. When the diminutive Dot stands up to a bully on behalf of an even smaller friend, she proves how big she can truly be.


Dot is the smallest person in her family and at school; even her name is small! People often mistake her for being younger than she is, but not when she tells them the square root of sixty-four is eight, nor when she orders from the grown-up menu at restaurants or checks out the hard books at the library. She may be small, but she's not little.


When a new boy named Sam joins Dot's class, she wonders if he's even smaller than she is. But when she sees him getting bullied by a mean kid twice his size, she knows she has to do the big thing and stand up for him.


Maya Myers's debut picture book has a pitch-perfect voice that captures the inimitable Dot in all her fierceness, and Hyewon Yum's delightful pastel-hued artwork is its perfect complement.


Opening Lines:

I am the smallest person in my family.

Even my name is small: Dot.


Everybody thinks

I am too little to do things.


Everybody is wrong.


What I LIKED about this book:

Maya Myers and Hyewon Yum have created a spunky, indignant, kind-hearted girl in their main character, Dot. I adore her personality, high bun, and clothing choices. I certainly hope this isn't the last we've seen of her.


Nearly every kid will identify with being told, or feeling, they're too little. Not big enough to do so many things. Sometimes they are, if only temporarily. I love how Dot shows others that she may be "small," but she's NOT LITTLE.

Text © Maya Myers, 2021. Image © Hyewon Yum, 2021.


When she's confused for a preschooler, she rattles off "the square root of sixty-four" and "the capital of Indonesia." I love Maya's use of the refrain, calmly and confidently spoken here, "I'm not little." After too many adults mistake size for age, and as the last straw, the grocery clerk asks if she wants a sticker, Dot yells, "I'm not little!" Hyewon Yum's masterfully captures Dot's righteous indignation. Her colorful and emotive illustrations throughout are especially poignant at this moment. The frustration and anger just radiates from Dot.

Text © Maya Myers, 2021. Image © Hyewon Yum, 2021.


It's interesting how when a new boy, Sam, joins Dot's class, her first thought is - "He might even be smaller than I am." She doesn't seem to realize that her attempts to "surreptitiously" establish who's taller is causing concern and/or anxiety for poor Sam.

Text © Maya Myers, 2021. Image © Hyewon Yum, 2021.


But even though she'd love to be bigger than someone, she's not willing to let a bully pick on Sam. When Dot decides to intervene and tells the bully that he's being mean, he replies, "What are you gonna do about it, little girl?”


In a great series of illustrations, Dot screws up her courage (framed by a full page, multi-colored bullseye behind her) and releases her full frustration, with a loud battle cry in the middle of the cafeteria - "I'M. NOT. LITTLE!" She certainly got EVERYONE's attention. Although it is not addressed in the text - the story is about Dot and Sam, their shared height frustration and budding friendship after all - I was glad to see that Hyewon Yum added an illustrative 'footnote' showing the teacher talking with the mean boy. Wait until you see the final few spreads. Maya and Hyewon have created a beautiful, touching, and satisfying ending, with a final, playful tweak to the refrain and title.


This is a wonderful book that many kids will relate to - both from Dot and Sam's perspectives. An empowering story showing the irrelevance of size when battling a bully or building a friendship. This is sure to be a book which will be enjoyed again and again.


Resources:

- can you think of animals that are also small but mighty? What about a bee? Why do you think the bee is mighty? Is it stronger alone or as part of a hive? Can you think of others? Write a list or draw a picture of other animals who might be small but are strong or important.

- make a list or draw picture of some of the things you can do, even though some people might think you are too little to do them? Is there anything you are too big to do now?

- what can you do to help someone who is new to your class or team feel welcome? What about helping someone who is being bullied?

- read Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow, The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, and The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton. Compare the ways the kids in the stories helped themselves and others.

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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