The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Janie Reinart and Review of When Water Makes Mud
Janie Reinart is a storyteller, educator, poet, and freelance writer. She seeks ways to give people a voice to tell their own stories through prose and poetry. Janie and her husband, Ed are grateful for their five children and their spouses and their sixteen grandchildren.
Janie’s chapter, "Boots to Ground," in the anthology Love You More Than You Know: Mothers' Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War won second place in the National Federation of Press Women's 2010 Communications Contest in the category of a chapter/essay in a nonfiction book.
Her debut picture book, When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children, released June 1, 2021.
Welcome Janie, thanks so much for stopping by to chat with us about your debut book and your writing.
Maria, I’ve had the lovely opportunity of meeting you in person at a conference and am blessed to see first-hand your joy and energy for life. Thank you for the interview.
I have very fond memories of that retreat. I hope we get to do it in person again, one day. Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing?)
It’s been 23 years since I was in the 1998 Summer Institute for the National Writing Project at Kent State University. I’m still writing, presenting virtual author visits, and passionate about encouraging emergent writers of all ages to find their voice, share their stories, and experience the sheer joy of writing. I can’t imagine not writing. I like to write when it is quiet in the morning and late at night. It gives me great pleasure to make that writer/reader connection—heart to heart.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I was once the tiniest baby in the nursery at Lake County Memorial Hospital in Painesville, Ohio. A preemie, I spent the first six weeks of my life in an incubator weighing only two and one-half pounds at birth. This was way before the modern NICUs (neonatal intensive care units) of today.
Wow! As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book?
My mom would take me and my siblings to Morley Library, and we would fill a crate with books weekly! I still don’t leave home without my library card. I read everything I could get my hands on. I especially loved D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Bobbsey Twins, and my favorite (still have a copy) Nurses Who Led the Way: Real Life Stories of Courageous Women in an Exciting Profession by Adele De Leeuw.
Such a fun and diverse group of books. What was your inspiration for When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children?
A National Geographic article about refugee children making their own toys from mud, paper and plastic caught my eye. The exquisite pictures in the article started the picture book story for me. I was inspired by the children and the complexity of the invented toys they made from found objects using their imagination, design, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
I watched videos and read more articles about the Bidibidi Settlement. I noticed Nora Lorek, the National Geographic photographer for the article, was on Instagram. I gathered my courage and contacted her to ask if she would consider confirming what animals might be found in the Bidibidi Settlement. Nora was gracious enough to give me her email and became my inspiration and resource.
So one tough question, did you get any push back in not being Ugandan or a refugee when you wrote this book?
There was no push back. When Water Makes Mud is a story with the universal themes of displacement, loss, courage, creativity, sibling relationships, and kindness. It is the celebration of the resilience of children who have no toys, but still play.
Nora asked to see my story when it was finished. She loved the story and said it reminded her of a photo. When I clicked on the link it was the very picture of Nora’s that started the story for me. I wanted that picture in the backmatter of my book. It was important to me for children to see that photo, and to empathize with children in other places in the world. Nora directed me to her agent in London and I purchased the photo. Publisher’s profits from the book are being donated to UNICEF Uganda.
I am do glad you were allowed to tell the story of your heart. What was the hardest part about writing When Water Makes Mud? The most fun part?
For me, the hardest part is always finding the way into the story. When I started working on the manuscript, I knew I wanted a playful structure to match the heart of my story—children playing with toys. A picture book that stuck with me and had the playfulness I was looking for became my mentor text—Miranda Paul’s, Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle illustrated by Janson Chin. I had fun figuring out how to show mirth—from a grin to a laugh. Poetry does the heavy lifting of capturing emotions. I enjoyed using animals the children see every day in similes.
It really made a great format for your book, too. Is there anything you want your readers to know about When Water Makes Mud?
I’m hoping When Water Makes Mud will inspire people to donate to UNICEF.
My goal with this story is for the reader to walk in the character’s footsteps. Social and emotional learning through stories helps us feel empathy, make caring decisions, and find out we are more alike than different.
Text © Janie Reinart, 2022. Image © Morgan Taylor, 2022.
You will enjoy the charming and talented Morgan Taylor, illustrator for When Water Makes Mud : A Story of Refugee Children, who tells stories though art, and promotes making the seemingly ordinary, beautiful. Morgan’s art carries so much emotion. Each spread is more lovely than the next. Her pictures make the story come alive.
They are amazing illustrations. How long did it take from first draft to publication for When Water Makes Mud? If you keep track of the number of revisions, how many revisions did it take?
I read the story about the children in the National Geographic article in December of 2018. After several drafts, I was ready to show my critique group and get their wonderful feedback. It is always a treat to work with Charlotte Dixion, Pamela Courtney, Melissa Rutigliano, Kathy Halsey, Marietta Apollonio, and Monique Morales Wakefield. When my 184-word story was polished (after a few more drafts), my CP’s gave me their blessing to send the story out.
I initially sent out twelve submissions of the story at once. I do not have an agent.
Sent submission to Alayne/Blue Whale Press—Feb. 3, 2019
Alayne emailed for a phone call on—Feb.10, 2019
Contract finalized—Feb.19, 2019
Release date—June 1, 2021
Although your debut released during the craziness of the pandemic, did you learn anything that will help in the launch or marketing of your next book?
It takes a village to market a book. I would like to thank my debut groups @thekidlitcrew and @readingfunin21, and my critique partners. The wonderful thing about the kid lit community is their generosity in sharing news about books on social media and interviews on blogs. I’ve found all you have to do is ask. Thank you again, Maria, for this interview. When we work together as writers, we are not alone, and the journey is spent in good company. Enjoy every moment of the journey.
That's so true. Are there any new projects you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us?
Currently, I’m working on a non-fiction graphic novel, a picture book for the Christian market, and a story inspired by my granddaughters.
Good luck and we'll keep our eyes open for future news. During these crazy times, how are you, or have you been, staying creative?
To get in the zone when words don’t come easily, I choose one of these activities:
· Take a walk
· Do a chore
· Read a book
· Step away from the computer—work on a different writing project using paper and pen.
· Check out this writing exercise using your superpower.
Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I am blessed to be able to walk to part of the Geauga Metroparks, Frohring Meadows in my neighborhood. The two-mile path in the woods is peaceful, cool, and filled with bird song. It feeds my soul.
Great photo Janie! Thank you so much Janie for participating in this chat.
To learn more about Janie Reinart, or contact her:
Review of When Water Makes Mud:
A Story of Refugee Children
Janie's debut picture book is a wonderful tribute to the indomitable spirit and imagination of children. And a touching story of the love shared by two refugee sisters.
When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children
Author: Janie Reinart
Illustrator: Morgan Taylor
Publisher: Blue Whale Press
Refugees, creativity, resourcefulness, resilience, compassion, and sisters.
When war forces two sisters to flee their home in South Sudan with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, Big Sister strives to help Little Sister smile again at the refugee settlement. But as quickly as Little Sister's smile appears, it disappears: that is until water makes mud. In the end, Big Sister's artistry and kindness brings hope to their situation.
This title is a tribute to the resourcefulness of children who have no toys, but continue to play and is dedicated to the 200,000 refugee children living at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda.
little sister and me,
with nothing . .
What I LIKED about this book:
The opening spread is both gripping and heart wrenching. The sisters, with only themselves and their clothes, face a refugee encampment. There is so much emotion in this image, but it is also understated. Allowing children to enter where they are emotionally ready. Morgan Taylor didn't need to show more than the girl's hung heads, solitariness, and a "faceless" camp spread before them. The reader is given a gap to fill in the emotions, based on what they've experienced and what they see.
Text © Janie Reinart, 2022. Image © Morgan Taylor, 2022.
Janie Reinart utilizes a fun refrain - "I make something from nothing for her." - as the older sister creatively and compassionately uses found items to try to entertain and help her little sister smile again. Then using Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Janson Chin as a mentor, she creatively explores each item - "A stick is a stick until..."
Text © Janie Reinart, 2022. Image © Morgan Taylor, 2022.
It sketches our story of home.
A grin skims
across my little
sister’s face like a butterfly .
The butterflies are dazzling, just like little sister's grin. Though an observant reader will notice the image of home includes parents who aren't here. And when the page turn brings the subsequent fading of the butterfly as it swoops past little sister's face and flies off the page trailing the similarly fading words - "It is gone" - it is not a surprise.
Again and again the big sister makes something from nothing. A puzzle from pebbles, a balloon from a plastic bag, a cardboard car, and finally something from mud. Each time, little sister's mood lightens a little. A smile for the puzzle, a giggle for the balloon, and a chuckle for the car. Each time, Janie uses a simile with an animal to explore little sister's reaction - "A chuckle catapults from my little sister like a grasshopper." But each change is fleeting and realty swoops in. The interactions between the sisters is precious and the older sister's determination to not just care for, but entertain and play with, her younger sister is endearing.
In the background, Morgan's stark landscape, cloudy grey skies, and a hike to a well for water is an ever-present reminder to the reader of the conditions these girls (and other refugees) are living in. Placing the reader for a moment in another's shoes. But even in these camps there is hope. Resilience. Creativity. And most importantly, love. When the older sister finally discovers the key to unlocking her little sister's joy, the sky and the camp shift as well. I love how the final spread also includes all the animals previously mentioned in the similes.
The photo that inspired the story and the author's note highlight both the plight and the creativity of the children in the Uganda refugee camp. A lyrical celebration of our ability to hope, imagine, and dream, this heartfelt picture book encourages both empathy and action. Note that the publisher's proceeds are being donated to UNICEF.
- find, or make, a mud puddle and try a couple of these art & construction projects.
- using your imagination, what can you create from recycled items or things you found outside? Create rock crafts, boats, a mobile, and more.
- pair this with Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, then make your own rock or stick friend. How does making a friend help little sister and Lubna?