The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Kelly Cooper & Daniel Miyares and Review of Midnight and Moon
Kelly Cooper teaches art and writes poetry, short fiction, and books for children. Her first picture book, If a Horse Had Words (Tundra, 2018), won the Alice Kitts Memorial Award for Excellence in Children’s Writing. She has written for radio, and her poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction have been published in a number of Canadian literary journals and several anthologies. Kelly grew up on the Saskatchewan prairie and now lives on a dairy farm in New Brunswick with her husband, her daughters, a hundred cows, a silly dog and a six-toed cat. She started her relationship with horses at age two, when she fed a pail of oats to a large horse named King.
Daniel Miyares is a critically acclaimed picture book author and illustrator. He grew up in the foothills of South Carolina before studying at Ringling College of Art and Design. After graduating with a BFA in illustration he headed west to Kansas City where he now lives with his wife, their two children, and a dog named Violet, who gives them all a run for their money. He believes stories have the power to connect us all.
He is the author/illustrator of Hope at Sea: An Adventure Story (2021), Night Out (2018), That Neighbor Kid (2017), Bring Me a Rock! (2016), Float (2015), and Pardon Me! (2014). And the illustrator of Night Walk to the Sea: A Story About Rachel Carson, Earth's Protector by Deborah Wiles (2020), The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer (2020), Come Next Season by Kim Norman (2019), Bambino and Mr. Twain by P.I. Maltbie (2019), A Chip Off the Old Block by Jody Jensen Shaffer (2018), Little Fox in the Snow by Jonathan London (2018), That Is My Dream!: A picture book of Langston Hughes's "Dream Variation" by Langston Hughes (2017), Surf's Up by Kwame Alexander (2016), and Waking Up Is Hard to Do lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (2010).
Their newest picture book Midnight & Moon, releases February 8th.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )
KELLY - The first time my writing was recognized was when I was in Grade One, and the teacher read my illustrated story to the class because I was too shy to read it myself. I loved books as a child and do to this day, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I thought of writing one myself. I began by writing short stories for adults, progressed to publishing in literary journals, and eventually published my own collection (Eyehill, Goose Lane Editions, 2004). I also published poetry and creative non-fiction prior to writing children’s books. It is my experience that the idea chooses its form and for me, these past five or six years, the form has been picture books. I loved them as a child and was able to re-enter that world when I had children. I had my children when I was older, and we snuggled on the couch several times a day to read together (and so I could catch my breath!).
I have been an art teacher most of my working life, but I was privileged to teach Kindergarten for a few years around the time I was working on my first picture book (If A Horse Had Words, Tundra, 2018). That experience reminded me of the power of stories, how they can help children connect with each other, how the right book at the right time can really make a difference.
I am a visual person, and one of the things I love about picture books is seeing how talented illustrators like Daniel tell the story in their own way, with colour and line and light.
DANIEL - Well, I’ve been making pictures since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I just formalized it when I went to art school. After school I moved to Kansas City and began working at Hallmark Cards, Inc. as an artist. I also started taking on freelance jobs at about the same time. That was in 2002. I fell into a gig with the Kansas City Star newspaper where I illustrated four different serial books that they published one chapter at a time. So for about four years I was getting an education in book illustration, but I didn’t realize it. A friend of mine introduced me to my current artist reps at Studio Goodwin Sturges. That is when the light actually went on that maybe I could make picture books. They saw something in me that I didn’t. I love when that happens. In my personal experience, the “We” is usually much smarter than the “Me.”
As far as writing is concerned, I was always a closet poet. I would write poems and stories but just stash them. I didn’t feel like I had the permission or license to put that part of me out there. Kristin Ostby was an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers when I was shopping my first concept as author/illustrator, Pardon Me!. She and Justin Chanda took a chance on me. Things kind of started rolling from there. I followed up quickly with Float and Bring Me A Rock!. That officially made me a professional writer I suppose.
Now I work on my books everyday in my home studio. Stories are always on my mind. It’s hard to turn it off. Some days it’s a positive driving force, but other days it’s a temptation I have to fight in order to live a balanced life. I can get pretty obsessive. Over the years I’ve truly attempted to take on projects based on that idea. I think that has yielded a variety of stories and subject matter.
If I had to pick some reoccurring themes I’d have to say loneliness, friendship, belonging, and adventure crop up often. I also tend to like stories with “breathing room” – those quiet moments in a story that allow you to think and connect dots. This might be a better question for readers to answer about me. I like to think I’m self-aware, but I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m not.
Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
KELLY - I grew up in a very small prairie community. Our village didn’t have a library. In my childhood, books didn’t come from authors, they came from the post office. Once a month, a Dr. Suess book arrived in the mail. My parents also ordered a set of wildlife encyclopedia and my brother and I would share those books in a big chair together.
DANIEL - Growing up, I absolutely loved Shel Silverstein. I had a teacher in elementary school introduce me to his poems and drawings. He would stand in front of the class and perform all the poems with such conviction. That moved me. My gears were turning.
Those are both great authors. Kelly, it’s clear you have an understanding and deep affinity for horses. What was your inspiration for Midnight and Moon?
KELLY - My family has always had horses. My grandfather had a team he used to feed his cows in the winter and my father travelled by horse into town when he was dating my mother. My parents have a picture of me trying to feed a pail of oats to our big horse, King, when I was a toddler. I learned to ride, of course, but I actually prefer just standing and being with horses, watching them move and listening to the sounds they make. At this time in his life, my father has a large herd of bucking horses and one spring, several white foals were born. These foals have poor vision, and spending time with them led me to wonder what it might be like to experience the world that way. One of the privileges of being a teacher is that you meet all sorts of students with all sorts of ways of being in the world, and those relationships are inspiring.
What an amazing experience. Daniel, you once told me, “I like to work on projects where there’s room for discoveries to be made.” What about the Midnight and Moon manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator and/or what discoveries did you make?
DANIEL - When I first read Kelly’s manuscript I was overwhelmed with how tender the story was. The chance to try and share the story of these friendships was something I didn’t want to pass up. As for discoveries, I would have to say I learned a lot about how it’s easy to make assumptions about others when you don’t really know them…also I learned a lot about painting horses!
You did a wonderful job giving them personalities and depth. Kelly, you have two story threads running through Midnight and Moon, one about a horse and one about a girl both a little different from their peers and each needing an understanding friend. How many drafts did it take for you to meld these two threads?
KELLY - I worked on several drafts over a number of months. The challenge was to tell both stories within the word count appropriate for a picture book (about 1200 words) and to have them unfold in as natural a way as possible, taking into account the school year and the changing seasons.
Daniel, I really liked how you played with loosely penciled images and interesting perspectives. How many revisions did it take to create the illustrations for Midnight and Moon?
DANIEL - The team at Tundra Books was wonderful to work with. After I had my loose sketches in place I just tried to explore all the different moments in a variety of ways. Drawing with the paint brush was one of the things that felt right for some parts of the story. Elizabeth Kribs and Kelly Hill are brilliant and I really valued their trust and input on the artwork. I made revisions here and there, but it didn’t feel like much compared to some of my other projects.
Well your work definitely paid off in the gorgeous illustrations & touching text. Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from, Midnight and Moon?
KELLY - I was a painfully shy child and spoke very little during my first year of school but I had an amazing teacher who supported my quiet way of being in the world. She taught me to read and I think that all the different voices I experienced through books helped me, in my own time, to find my voice. So, thank-you, thank-you, Mrs. Shoesmith. I was thinking a lot about friendship when I wrote the story, about how sometimes we need a friend who is very different from us and how important it is to be open to that.
DANIEL - My hope is that readers take away the idea that we all have something unique to offer and friendships are special things.
That's a great takeaway to remember. Daniel, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Midnight and Moon? Could you share one or more with us?
DANIEL - I don’t know if everyone will consider this a treasure, but it is to me. On the show and tell page there is a ring of items that the students have brought in to share. The blue stuffed animal is a painting of my childhood stuffed animal that I carried around everywhere with me (while sucking my thumb). I called it Blue Doggy and I still have it here in my studio.
I'd definitely say that is a treasure. Kelly, what is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing children’s books? How about for Midnight and Moon in particular?
KELLY - Both of my children’s books deal with some of the same themes as the stories I write for adults: loss and memory and yearning, joyful reunions, loneliness and difference and friendship. I’ve sometimes asked my editor, “Is this a book for children? Are these the right words?” I depend on her guidance. The word count is always challenging.
While I was writing Midnight and Moon, a dear friend of mine (a generous extrovert who extended a hand to this introvert) was never far from my thoughts, so that was a pleasure, the fact that writing the story made me feel close to her.
Well, I love the structure and the delicacy with which you tackled these topics in this book. Daniel, what was the hardest part about illustrating Midnight and Moon?
DANIEL - Definitely painting so many horses! I have a new appreciation for illustrations of herds of horses.
*Smiling* Kelly, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Daniel’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
KELLY – Daniel’s first set of illustrations were in black and white on brown paper and they were amazing just as they were, but the coloured versions that came later were even more beautiful. I write “fox den” for readers, and Daniel gives them the fox. I write about ice spreading over a pond and he gives them the reflection of stars. I write “home” and Daniel’s image illustrates the love that word can hold. These are some of my favourites.
Text © Kelly Cooper, 2022. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2022.
Daniel, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?
DANIEL - One that really stuck with me is the final spread where it just says, “Home.” I was trying to sum up Clara’s connection with Moon just with the way she touches her forehead to his nose.
It's interesting that you both point to the same spread as your favorite. How are you, or have you been, staying creative these days?
KELLY – Teaching is so fluid and unpredictable in 2022, that my job requires extra creativity. As I write this, my students have just finished three weeks of on-line learning and will be returning to the classroom in a few days. Interacting with them on-line is different than in person, and teaching art to students who don’t have materials on hand is challenging. We’ve had fun creating portraits from household objects and painting with coffee and cotton swabs. As far a writing goes, if I have an idea for a story, I try to start it right away. I might not get back to it for several weeks, but I never abandon it. I try to go on writing retreats when I can, and summer allows me time to develop ideas I have during the school year.
DANIEL - It’s been extremely challenging for sure. I am grateful that I have had contracted projects to draw me out when I needed to be. I’ve also been trying to make small pockets of time to just make things that I’m not required to make. That tends to build creative momentum I think.
Exploring and experimenting with items can definitely spark creativity. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
KELLY – I am working on a couple of rhyming books right now, which is a change for me. Finding a word that rhymes, maintains the rhythm, and advances the plot is challenging and fun.
DANIEL - Sure! After Midnight & Moon my next book to release is called Big and Small and In-between and it’s written by the amazing Carter Higgins and published by Chronicle Books. It comes out in April and is available for preorder now. I am also just finishing up the artwork for a book written by the fabulous Anne Wynter called Nell Plants a Tree. It will be published by Balzer + Bray.
Good luck Kelly. And I wil be keeping my eye out for these books, Daniel. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
KELLY – There are many beautiful parks in Canada and one that I’d like to visit again is Batchawana Bay on the shore of Lake Superior. A few years ago, we stopped there briefly on a cross-Canada drive and the water looked so beautiful, but there wasn’t time to swim, so I’d like to go back.
DANIEL – Elephant Rocks State Park is a fantastic park in Missouri that me and my family spent some time at on our way to St. Louis. It looks like the kind of place that existed when the dinosaurs were roaming around the Earth. We got to climb all over and in-between the giant rock structures. It’s a gorgeous place.
Thank you Kelly & Daniel for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your newest picture book.
To find out more about Kelly Cooper, or to contact her:
To find out more about Daniel Miyares, or contact him:
Review of Midnight & Moon
So, I ADORE horses. I still fondly remember the few years I owned a sweet and spirited half Arabian. This book reminded of the relationship I had with him and his total acceptance of me. I fell in love when I saw this cover. I was excited to find it was a dual story of Moon and Clara each finding acceptance and friendship. This book is stunning, both in its illustrations and its subtle, emotionally powerful text.
Midnight & Moon
Author: Kelly Cooper
Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Tundra Books (2022)
Horses, fitting-in, differences, individuality, acceptance, trust, and friendship.
A girl who doesn't fit in befriends a blind horse who also struggles to find his place in the herd. A beautiful picture book that helps readers celebrate the qualities that challenge us and make us different.
Moon cannot see but he hears sounds that other horses ignore: the eggshell crack of a meadow lark hatching. The glide of a salamander into the pond. Clara does not speak but she hears sounds that other children ignore: the hum of the oven when her mother bakes muffins. The sound of the cat's paws on the kitchen floor.
Both the foal and the little girl live with challenges. Both also have special qualities, which are recognized by friends who are open to seeing them. Midnight and Moon is about the rare and wonderful friendship that can form between opposites, a friendship that enriches both. This story shows us that our differences are positives, that the world needs both Claras and Jacks, Midnights and Moons.
The girl spots the white foal,
tucked into the shadows of the polar trees,
like one of winters' last snowdrifts.
She tugs at her mother's sleeve.
They watch the little horse get up. Its nose
butts into a tree trunk. It stumbles over a stone.
What I LOVED about this book:
This is beautiful story with two interweaving narratives - the first of a blind horse and the second of a girl who hasn't chosen to speak - and the friendships these two special individuals develop.
With soft, slightly muted illustrations and tender text, Kelly Cooper and Daniel Miyares introduce a blind, white foal and the black foal who helps lead it from the woods to the herd. Then we meet Clara - a curious, attentive girl who likes to draw and informs her mother (in writing) that the new foals should be called Midnight & Moon.
Text © Kelly Cooper, 2022. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2022.
Kelly uses wonderfully lyrical sensory details to demonstrate Moon's special ability to hear the smallest sounds. And explain how he relies on Midnight to be his eyes - Midnight "sings him into the shade of the willow tree....She nickers horse songs that keep him safe." And show that Clara too hears small, often ignored sounds, like "The whisper of cat paws on the kitchen floor." I adore Daniel's line drawings on these two spreads and how he combines them with full color distinct images of Midnight & Moon and Clara & her mother within interesting perspectives (like the prominent pattern of the flooring tiles).
Text © Kelly Cooper, 2022. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2022.
In school, the other kids don't understand Clara, leaving her on the fringes. Until Jack decides to reach out and make a friend. Likewise the other horses don't understand Moon, often leaving him when they gallop across the field and crowding him out of the feeding trough. But Moon's ability to hear Clara's quick breath & soft giggle, and her gentle thoughtfulness to create a separate pile of oats, cements a special friendship between the two of them.
Like a DNA strand, the book starts with Clara spotting the white foal. Then it separates into their individual narratives on alternating spreads until their narratives rejoin when she feeds Moon oats. Once again the two narratives diverge as Moon and the herd sense and face an oncoming winter storm and Clara faces the challenge of show and tell at school. Though they all deal with the blizzard, the individual narratives continue to alternate back and forth, until Clara whispers, her words like "four snowflakes swept away by the wind. come, Midnight...come, Moon"
Text © Kelly Cooper, 2022. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2022.
While I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite illustration. This is definitely one of them. I love the lyrical, tender text, the four individually distinct snowflakes floating among the cleared trail of her words. It's simply magical. I also love the way the two narratives move even closer and then again rejoin. I'll leave you to discover this ending yourself. But I think you'll agree that it is gorgeous, heartwarming, creative, and fulfilling.
Brief craft note: In a stroke of genius, Daniel Miyares places a wordless spot illustration on the dedication page that provides the perfect wrap to Clara and Jack's part of the story. Especially, as it allowed for the last spread (look at again in the interview) with Clara and Moon to be so poignant and powerful. Additionally, the front end page, an intriguing total white-out blizzard, has a wonderful, subtle matching back end page that totally bookends the story.
This is a terrific book about accepting our differences and those of others and a celebration of the compassion and trust between true friends.
- make your own Midnight and Moon paper bag puppets and act out the story. Or create a herd of different horses and create a new story (https://www.simpleeverydaymom.com/paper-bag-horse-craft/).
- do you get scared of thunderstorms? What do you do during a storm? If you don't get scared, how do (or could) you help others who do?
- look around you when you're at your school, clubs, teams, etc. Try to be friend to everyone, not just the main group (or herd). Did you discover something you didn't know?
- read the Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, Invisible Jerry by Adam Wallace, and Be A Friend by Salina Yoon, how do these kids deal with being different? How do they each find a friend?