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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Lindsay Metcalf, Jeanette Bradley, and Keila Dawson

Today, I have the privilege of talking with the terrific trio who created No Voice Too Small about their individual and joint creativity and the creation of their newest poetry anthology, No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change.

Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist-turned-award-winning author of nonfiction picture books and poetry anthologies. Lindsay lives in Kansas with her husband, two sons, and a menagerie of pets.

She’s the author of Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (2020), No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (2020), and Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (2020).

For additional information on Lindsay, see our earlier interview (here)

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Now she writes, draws, and makes books for kids. Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife, kids, and very pampered feline studio assistant.

She’s the author/illustrator of Something Great (2022), No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (2020), and Love, Mama (2018). And she’s the illustrator of When the Babies Came to Stay, by Christine McDonnell (2020).

Keila V. Dawson writes fiction and nonfiction picture books. A New Orleans native, Dawson has also lived and worked in states across the U.S., and abroad in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

When Keila isn’t reading, writing, or visiting schools, she’s traveling or playing tennis, or digging in genealogical archives.

She’s the author of Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (2021), No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (2020), and The King Cake Baby, illustrated by Vernon Smith (2015).

Their newest picture book collaboration is the poetry anthology, No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change, which will release on March 14th.

Welcome Lindsay, Jeanette, & Keila,

Hi, Maria! Thanks so much for hosting us.

Let's start with you each telling us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

Lindsay – I am currently writing supine on my couch so my 17-week-old Cavalier King Charles puppy can use me as his pillow. My least favorite spot to write is my desk, so in the colder months I move between couch, armchair, dining room table, and bed. When it’s warm enough, I’ll move to our wraparound porch, where the backyard wildlife keep me inspired.

I’ve been writing children’s books since 2015, signed with a literary agent in 2017, and sold my first books in 2018. The first time I was paid to write was in 2001 at my first journalism job. I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism and a plan to change the world through newspaper writing and editing. I left my job at The Kansas City Star after having my second baby in seventeen months. It was through my children that I rediscovered a love of kidlit.

My favorite type of book to write is one that tells a little-known story from history in which I have to dive deep into primary sources to piece together a narrative. Lately I have been gravitating toward 19th-century women’s history and activism. I’ve spent the last year on a YA nonfiction-in-verse project about a little-known but hugely important person from that era.

Jeanette – I write and illustrate everywhere—I actually did everything from sketch dummy to much of the final art for my debut picture book Love, Mama on the pool bleachers at the YMCA. My favorite type of book is one that I feel fills a need or a gap in the literature.

Keila – I am definitely a late bloomer to this business of writing, and can’t express how thrilled I am to be part of the kidlit community.

I wrote my first story in 2013 and joined my local SCBWI chapter. Through the mentorship of established writers in that group and a bit of magic, that story became my debut picture book that was published in 2015.

I enjoy history, travel, and exploring cultures, so I’m drawn to nonfiction and untold stories, but I also love historical fiction. And stories that invite readers to learn something new about others. That’s why I get really excited about ideas where I’m able to share pre-America Louisiana with readers because so many people from different places have influenced our unique culture, traditions, and customs celebrated today that we and so many others enjoy.

I roam around my home and write in different places, including my kitchen where I’ve gotten inspiration for two of my books. I have a summer office and a winter office. I like to write in my solarium-turned office in the summer that overlooks our garden and write in my winter office, which is an unused bedroom, when it gets too cold. I swear I do my best writing at home in my head while in the shower or just as I fall asleep.

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

Lindsay – My earliest memory of a favorite book is of Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever. His whimsical illustration style combined with the lyricism of classic nursery rhymes captivated me so much that I memorized most of the nursery rhymes and learned to read them independently by age 4. My parents also supplied me with troves of books on tape—Roger Hargraves’ Little Miss and Little Mister stories, Disney stories, and more. Those, combined with the Sesame Street treasury titles we’d pick up once a month at our small town grocery store, plus most of the Berenstain Bears and Little Critter books, had me hooked on books for life. As farmers during the 1980s crisis we didn’t have a lot of money, so I will forever be grateful to my parents for investing in me in this way.

Jeanette – I loved Mary Blair’s The Color Kittens and anything by Arnold Lobel. I really loved the little world he built in Miss Suzy, and how his soft, rounded line created this coziness I wanted to climb into. When I was in elementary school, my librarian aunt gave me a signed copy of Mercer Meyer’s gorgeously illustrated version of Grimm’s fairy tales, which I reread frequently through adulthood. Keila reminded me of my own love of Mad Magazine and comics that I would read standing by the rack in the corner store.

Keila – When very young, I remember the classic nursery rhymes and fairytales read to me at home and in school. But the early readers in elementary were not so interesting and because I had an active imagination, I made up my own stories. As an independent reader, I loved short stories from HIGHLIGHTS magazines, and when older, I enjoyed the humor and satire of MAD Magazine. I also remember when the Nancy Drew mysteries were popular, but as an active child, I preferred to make my own adventures. And yes, I got into trouble now and then! In high school, I remember discovering Kurt Vonnegut and how much his books made me think about the world.

Let’s step back a moment, how did the three of you initially team up to create No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History?

Lindsay – We were all part of a Facebook group for the Kidlit Women initiative in 2018. Jeanette, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you posed a question to the group about whether anyone would be interested in collaborating on a book about young activists. At that time the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida were leading anti-gun-violence protests nationwide. I immediately messaged Jeanette, whom I’d never met but knew we were represented by the same agent. Keila also commented on the thread, and since I knew her through the kidlit community, I suggested we invite her to collaborate. None of us were published poets at that time, but we landed on poetry as the vehicle for telling the stories of these young activists because of the emotional weight poems carry in so few words. We also believed it was important to invite own-voices poets to tell their stories.

Keila – Yes, I remember that email invitation from Lindsay and my immediate response was YES! The poetry aspect seemed like a great vehicle for the message of activism. And from our collaboration, the product turned out so well; we did it again.

I'm glad you did. These are both great anthologies! And what was your inspiration to create No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change?

Lindsay – While making No Voice Too Small, we created a huge spreadsheet of young, contemporary activists we could potentially feature. We included a couple of climate and environmental activists in that book, but so many others were doing important work in that realm, and we knew the climate crisis weighed heavily on the minds of young people. “Climate anxiety” was a newly coined phrase, and the best way to combat it is through action. We wanted to give young people inspiration and tools to band together and make the greatest impact. With climate, collective action is key, yet so many of the books on the market focused on individual action. Taking readers’ mindsets from “me to we” was a huge reason for making No World Too Big.

Additionally, we wanted to showcase international activism; we wanted to show that there are many people working on this topic all over the world, using their unique talents to tackle different aspects of the problem. And Jeanette happened to be married to a climate scientist! This book seemed a natural topic of collaboration, and thankfully, our publisher, Charlesbridge, agreed.

Jeanette – It is true that I am married to an academic who studies climate change, but I also live in the Ocean State, only a couple dozen feet above sea level. The impact of climate change has been very obvious in our winter without a winter this year, and it has been very upsetting to my daughter who experiences deep climate anxiety. So this is a book full of hope that I am helping birth into the world to inspire others, but also to help myself and my own family.

Keila – Climate change literally hit home for me when Hurricane Katrina devastated my hometown of New Orleans. And the city continues to experience more powerful storms. Having felt the fear and loss of a catastrophic weather event, we set out to find youth who were speaking out and seeking solutions. It was difficult to witness this as an adult. Children felt the impact, too. It turned out our longlist included young people from all around the world. Because we all feel the impact of climate change where we live, the question is to what degree and in how many ways.

It is a big problem which will require everyone to tackle. I am so glad so many are taking action, though we will need MANY more to do so, if we are to save the earth and those who live on it. What did your collaboration look like for No World Too Big? Was this similar to the way you created No Voice Too Small?

Lindsay – Our collaboration process was similar for both books. The three of us communicate mostly through Slack, which archives our conversations by category, occasional video calls, and shared documents in Google Drive. We began with an initial spreadsheet of potential activists. Much like No Voice Too Small, we wanted to showcase diversity—cultural, ethnic, geographic, economic, and by type of activism. Once we all scouted names for the spreadsheet, we identified the pieces of the puzzle we wanted to fill in, pieces of the climate story we wanted to tell. We wanted someone who focused on tree planting, someone who focused on protesting, someone who focused on inventing and STEM, someone who represented the indigenous perspective, etc. Then we identified people we each wanted to contact and gain permissions from. Once we had a good idea of the activists to be featured, we began reaching out to poets who might want to write about them. Then we created a proposal and pitched it to Charlesbridge.

Working with international activists and poets proved to be more challenging but incredibly rewarding.

Jeanette – I got nothing.

Lindsay – 😆🤣

Keila – nailed it, I don’t think I need to add anything here.

So, you’ve each written a picture book on your own, is writing for and compiling an anthology easier or harder? How?

Collection © 2023 by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley

Illustration © 2023 Jeanette Bradley.

Lindsay – I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder, just different. It’s definitely more fun to have two other people whom you can conference with almost every day about your passion project. The anthologies required a lot of communication with activists and poets, which is a different type of work than the research-write-revise processes of my other books. With my other books, anytime I’ve had a research breakthrough that makes me jump up and down, my husband and kids may offer congratulations, but they just can’t relate. With No Voice Too Small and No World Too Big, Jeanette and Keila jumped up and down right along with me.

Collection © 2023 by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley

Illustration © 2023 Jeanette Bradley.

Jeanette – So often my work as an illustrator is just me alone in my basement, so I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with the incredibly smart and talented folks I’ve gotten to work with on these two books! I feel we have complimentary skill and knowledge sets—Lindsay has a background in journalism and taught us how to find and contact people who are hard to find, and also challenged and encouraged both Keila and I to try writing poetry. Keila has an educational and pedagogical perspective and an understanding of child development and how that connects to different ways of learning and thinking about big topics that shaped the way these books hang together conceptually. I bring the visual thinking.

Adding in the 12 other poets, plus the amazing crew at Charlesbridge, these two books are both the biggest group projects I’ve ever worked on, and the most varied and interesting groups of people I’ve had the privilege to work with.

Collection © 2023 by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley

Illustration © 2023 Jeanette Bradley.

Keila – There are definitely more moving parts to creating an anthology. This book is a companion title to No Voice Too Small, about young American activists, but we wanted to feature youth from around the world. We had to navigate time zones, languages, and culture. Since we figured the audience would be American and/or English-speaking children, there were a few lines in poems written by poets whose native language was not English so we had to clarify the poet’s words. I was just in awe of the poets who write in their native language and English. Working collaboratively with Lindsay and Jeanette has been a joy. Lindsay is a “word whisperer” and Jeanette targets “big picture” concepts with ease and proficiency.

I love each of your poems, as well as those of the other poets. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript? How about the most unusual place where you’ve painted or drawn an illustration?

Lindsay – Hmm… there have been so many strange places, since I tend to bring my laptop whenever I’m waiting on my kids to finish their activities. Perhaps in the car during piano lessons? Poolside, during swimming lessons? Biddy Ball basketball practice? At the wheat field while my kids ride the combine with their grandpa?

Jeanette – I started illustrating using Procreate for the iPad in large part because it was portable. I’ve illustrated poolside, on the sidelines of soccer and field hockey fields, in doctor’s office waiting rooms, in hotels, on trains, in restaurants, and on my couch.

Keila – I’m inspired to write when I am on vacation or on long flights when traveling overseas. There’s something about travel that inspires me to tell stories.

Definitely a collection of interesting places to write and illustrate manuscripts. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for No World Too Big?

Lindsay – I had to go back and look. We created the #sequel channel on Slack on December 19, 2019 (The Before Times) and had a first draft of our proposal by late April 2020. That’s pretty amazing to me, given that we were in the early stage of the pandemic, two of us with young children navigating virtual school at home, not to mention crippling anxiety and fear. Plus this was five months before the launch of No Voice Too Small, so we were putting together materials and plans for that, most of which changed because of the uncertainty of whether events could be held in person by the fall.

Short answer: about three years.

Keila – thanks for looking back on SLACK, Lindsay…nothing to add here.

A crazy time I doubt any of us really want to repeat. But it doesn't seem to have stymied your creativity and productivity. What's something you want your readers to know about No World Too Big?

Lindsay – The climate crisis is not their fault, but it’s solvable, and we must all work together to have real impact. And while kids are doing amazing things to call attention to and reverse climate change, the responsibility for acting does not rest on their shoulders alone. Everyone who calls Earth home must play a part.

Jeanette – Whatever feelings you have about climate change are valid, and you are not alone if you feel angry, worried, sad, or overwhelmed. It is important to acknowledge your feelings, but it is also important to know that taking action with other people is a way to get beyond feeling overwhelmed, powerless, or in despair. You do have the power to take small steps toward change, no matter how small you are. Even small changes help the planet, and can also help how you feel inside.

Keila – That No World Too Big is an acknowledgement and testament. We have an environmental problem and it’s important for youth to see others their age taking action. Today’s youth have a right to demand change because the stakes are highest for them and their future. And that we adults have a moral obligation to join them so they can have the future they want and deserve.

I love your universal call to action and offering of hope for even the smallest of actions taken to try and help. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Lindsay – Yes! I have two other STEM/nonfiction books under contract. Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (Astra Young Readers, spring 2024) explores the many ways farmers and scientists can grow food and other plants, from traditional multi-acre outdoor farms to indoor vertical farms where climatic conditions and nutrients are monitored by computers. It’s a spare rhyming text for the youngest picture book readers, illustrated by Xin Li.

Then in fall 2025, Calkins Creek/Astra will release Tomatoes on Trial: The Fruit Vs. Vegetable Showdown, about the 1893 Supreme Court case that established once and for all whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. I had so much fun writing about that “food fight,” and I’m eager to see how Edwin Fotheringham’s whimsical illustrations complement the text.

Jeanette – I’ve spent much of the last year working on We Are ALL Readers, a festival celebrating diverse books, creators, and readers here in Rhode Island. If you find yourself nearby on April 1, 2023, please stop on by!

Keila – My editor recently shared the cover of my Storytelling Math picture book, Yumbo Gumbo, coming out with Charlesbridge in 2024, illustrated by Katie Crumpton. The main character is excited about her first gumbo cooking lesson, but her family can’t agree on what kind to make. Voting keeps ending in a tie until she finds a solution. It’s spiced with a bit of sibling rivalry and mathematical problem solving. I am so excited to have another title that shares the joie de vivre of my Creole Louisiana culture and history of the state’s official dish.

We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. Good luck with the festival, Jeanette. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Lindsay – I have to go with Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I also loved Custer State Park in South Dakota (Needles Highway is spectacular). Living in the flat, open expanse of the Kansas prairie, I guess the mountains hold a special mystery for me. I’d love to see Glacier NP, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon someday soon.

Jeanette – I am so fortunate to live in the Ocean State, where we have gorgeous state beaches, as well as forested trails through the woods. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite among them, but I do love the rocky coastline at Beavertail State Park—a place I often head if I’m having a rough day.

© Loaded Landscapes

Keila – When my husband and I moved from Virginia to California, we drove and stopped at all the National Parks along the way. What a trip! And we always visit parks when abroad, but we haven’t visited many national parks in the Midwest region. Yellowstone is definitely on my bucket list.

Gorgeous Parks! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten—whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?

Lindsay – Always apply for that thing of your dreams. If you apply to that fellowship or submit that story, there’s a chance you will be accepted. What’s the worst that can happen? A no means you’re in the same place you started. Big deal. If you don’t try, you will still be in the same place you started, but with no chance to advance.

Jeanette – This is less great advice and more of an observation. Just keep swimming. There were more talented artists in my art school classes who aren’t illustrating now because they gave up or moved on to other things. Even if your progress is excruciatingly slow, it is still movement.

Keila – I seek critiques for my manuscripts but it’s important to stick to your vision of the story you want to tell. And when others share their opinions, consider what would work for your vision. Then put your manuscript aside for a while and revisit. This always helps with my revisions.

Thank you so much Lindsay, Jeanette, & Keila for stopping by and sharing about yourselves and your new book. It was wonderful to chat with the three of you.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on No World Too Big.

To find out more about Lindsay H. Metcalf, or contact her:

To find out more about Jeanette Bradley, or contact her:

To find more about Keila V. Dawson, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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