The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Amanda Davis
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness.
After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children's books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.
Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and her rescue pup, Cora.
Her debut picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, releases tomorrow.
Welcome Amanda, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.
Hi, Maria! Thank you so much for having me! I’m pumped to be here to chat about living the creative life and my debut picture book 30,000 Stitches! I can’t believe the book releases TOMORROW! What a journey it has been!
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’m an eleven-year high school art educator and of course a children’s book author-illustrator. In both my work as a teacher and creator, I want to empower people to learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them. Whether that’s through visual art, writing, or reading. I learned the power of the arts at a young age. After my dad passed away, I turned to art and writing to help me get through. This opened my eyes to the power of the arts and stuck with me ever since. This experience also reminded me that everyone is going through something. We all have stories to tell and stories to learn from others. I’m so grateful that I’m in a profession where I get to share my own stories, and help others do the same.
I tend to write and illustrate when the muse hits. Sometimes I feel more inclined to write and other times to draw. And sometimes, I don’t feel in a headspace to do either. Right now, my focus is picture books and poetry but I hope to expand one day and write a middle grade or YA novel in verse-maybe even write/illustrate a graphic novel down the line, too!
I love that you are using art and writing to empower others. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Here’s five fun facts others may not know about me:
1. I have a rescue dog named Cora who traveled on a truck from Missouri to get to us. That’s who you see in my bio pic! 2. I’m not much of a green thumb but do love nature.
3. I’ve been bitten by a wombat named, Rita while visiting Australia.
4. The ocean is my safe place.
5. I did a choreographed dance to Michael Franti’s “Life is Better with You” song at my wedding. We love Michael Franti’s music-and all live music for that matter!
Okay, the wombat was definitely a new one for me! What inspired you to write 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag?
I first learned about the story back in 2011 when I facilitated an art lesson around the story of the flag with my art students for the tenth remembrance of 9/11.
While browsing through some magazines, I came across a blurb about a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11 and later traveled across all fifty states to be fully restored touching many hearts and many hands along the way. Later, it returned to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity. I knew I found my lesson.
That year, students learned about the flag, and we created our own patchwork flag in remembrance. Years later, the story of the flag still lingered in my head, and I knew I needed to share it with more people. So, I decided to try my hand at crafting a manuscript for it. I have a background in journalism, so it was a delight getting to research and interview primary sources for the story. From the Ground Zero Superintendent to Flag Tour Staff, the people who I spoke to about the flag were incredible. I am honored to have spoken with such selfless, kind, and generous people whose dedication to helping America heal after 9/11 was inspiring.
To this day, they continue to give back and be of service to others, which is truly exceptional. I feel so honored and humbled that I’m able to tell the story of the flag and make it accessible to children so they can be inspired by the themes of strength, unity, hope, and healing, that are woven throughout the story.
What a great idea for an art lesson and a wonderful story. What was the hardest part of writing 30,000 Stitches? How long did it take to strike the right emotional balance?
I’d say the hardest part of writing 30,000 Stitches was making sure that it was accurate yet still accessible to children. Because of the difficult topic and the many people who were involved in the true story of the flag, I felt an additional weight to get the details of the story right. I also wanted it to be a meaningful depiction of the actual events and fully capture the many emotions that were involved in its restoration. My editor and I went through the art and text with a fine-tooth comb to check and recheck details as well as make sure the back matter was a place readers could go for a more in-depth look at the flag’s journey.
As you said, another challenge was striking that emotional balance. Before the story was acquired, I was getting varying feedback from agents and editors. Some wanted the text to remain lyrical and sparse, while others wanted additional factual information inserted into the main text. This made it difficult to know how to revise and how to keep the heart of the story while also making sure the facts were conveyed. In the end, I think the refrains and lyrical language helped strike a cohesive balance. I hope readers feel the same!
It can be so difficult to know which advice to implement. I think you, and your ultimate editor, did a great job. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Favorite childhood books…I was a huge fan of Jan Brett’s books, The Mitten, in particular. I always loved looking for a hidden story in the detailed borders of her illustrations. She is local to me here in Massachusetts, too. I also loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. I also loved all poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein. When I reached middle school, I must’ve transitioned into a creepy phase because the Scary Stories and Goosebumps series were some of my favs!
I am so glad you mention The Mitten. That book will always have a special place in my heart, as will all of Jan Brett's books. And I don't believe anyone's mentioned it yet. Is there something you want your readers to know about 30,000 Stitches?
Yes! I’d love for readers to know that I wrote the story for children because it’s so powerful and can serve as an entry point for many important discussions. With that said, although 30,000 Stitches was written for children, it’s a story for ALL people; people of all ages, in all parts of the country, and all over the world. Because at its core, the story is about humanity and shared experiences.
It’s no secret that this past year has been fraught with challenges. There is a great deal of tension amongst the American people, and this fills me with a slew of emotions. Above all, I feel sadness and at points, even a sense of hopelessness. Despite this, I truly believe that there is still much more good in this world than bad. There are still people helping people. People loving people. And people striving for change.
30,000 Stitches reminds us of the good of humanity. People came together to make the flag whole again and to help one another heal. Along the way, they shared their stories of pain, sorrow, suffering, and sacrifice. With each stitch, they helped heal the flag, while also helping heal each other’s hearts. Right now, I think everyone’s hearts could use some healing, and I hope that 30,000 Stitches reminds people that there is power in our shared stories, there is power in unity and that if we reach out our hands, we can help heal our hearts.
Did anything about Sally Wern Comport’s illustrations surprise you (when you first got to see them)? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Amanda Davis, 2021. Image © Sally Wern Comport, 2021.
I’ve loved Sally’s work since I saw it in Ada’s Violin, and I was beyond thrilled to learn that she was going to be illustrating the book. Wowzers! I’m so fortunate to have someone of her caliber paired with this story. She has experience illustrating other nonfiction picture books, which eased any of my concerns around the weight of depicting the specific people and places in the book, and her mixed media collage style was the perfect match for the torn and tattered nature of the flag. I knew how layered her artistic style was but I have to say, when I saw all the hidden details in her collage work, I was blown away. Another artist friend of mine likes to call these details the “meatballs” within the spaghetti. So, be on the lookout for the meatballs in her art.
This is one of my favorite spreads because of all the meatballs within the flag. I think it beautifully captures the journey of the flag as it is nearing the end of its travels in Joplin, Missouri and clearly conveys some of the different people who helped stitch the flag back together.
I agree that Sally did an amazing job. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?
I think the most frustrating period of time was not knowing if I would ever get published. I think we’ve all been there. I never gave up though, and I truly did feel that I could do it. I’m a firm believer that with hard work and persistence, we can do anything we put our minds to.
Writing and illustrating is a skill that CAN be learned and every published or agented author and illustrator was once an unpublished and unagented author-illustrator at some point. I’d always remind myself of this by saying, “If they can do it, I can do it, too!” It’s easy to compare ourselves to others in this industry and to do so in a way that can be toxic to our psyche and self-confidence, but if we can shift perspectives, and use comparison as a tool to motivate and inspire, we may find that extra boost we need to keep pressing on. I know, I know, easier said than done, but it’s a useful mindset to try and adopt.
Another little tidbit of advice, you are your own best advocate. If you’re looking to get published, take advantage of opportunities to get your work out into the world and to submit to agents and editors. My debut book came from a good ol’ fashioned snail mail submission that I sent on my own while I was unagented. I’ve also landed agents through both the slush and online pitch events. You never know what opportunity may be the golden one and no matter the outcome, with each risk you take, you will learn something new along the way.
“Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted.” – author, Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
It’s a win-win!
Great advice, even if, as you said, sometimes SO hard to follow and accept. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share with us?
I have a picture book I’m working on right now that is close to my heart. It is one that I hope to both write and illustrate and am currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on my dummy and sending off to my agent for feedback. It’s a story based-off a difficult childhood experience but I think it’s one that needs to be told and that hopefully many other children will benefit from.
I wish you luck with it and we'll definitely keep our eyes open for it. What have you been doing to stay inspired these days?
Going for walks, listening to music, and reading. Much of my time lately has been focused on gearing up for the launch of 30,000 Stitches. I’ve been learning so much about marketing and promotion and am thankful for my debut group - 21 For the Books - who’ve helped navigate this crazy and exciting time!
What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with right now. Why?
Dogs! Dogs! Dogs! They’re the best.
Thank you, Amanda for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Thanks for having me, Maria! I’m so happy you joined the Blog Tour and we were able to celebrate together!
Be Sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF post on 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag.
To find out more about Amanda Davis, or get in touch with her:
Amanda invites readers to follow along with the 30,000 Stitches Blog Tour and Virtual Events:
Easy links to Tour sites (here)
Easy Links to a few of these events:
Thursday, 5/6/21: Grubbie Debut Series w/Porter Square Books & Grubstreet Boston with Valerie Bolling, & special appearance by illustrator Sally Wern Comport.