The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares
I have the privilege of interviewing the super talented author and illustrator duo of the ingenious picture book - nell plants a tree.
Anne Wynter is the Ezra Jack Keats Honor-winning author of Everybody in the Red Brick Building, illustrated by Oge Mora (2021). Anne earned a degree in theatre from Washington University in St. Louis and penned a number of short plays that have been produced around the country. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her family.
She’s also the author of Hands On! illustrated by Alea Marley (2022), and One Big Day illustrated by Alea Marley (2022).
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. Daniel has been called “…a master of visual storytelling.”- Jody Hewston, Kinderlit, and “…enchanting, versatile” – The New York Times. He believes that our stories have the power to connect us all. Daniel’s story currently takes place in Lenexa, KS with his wife, their two wonderful children, and a dog named Violet that gives them all a run for their money.
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 Big and Small and In-Between by Carter Higgins (2022), Midnight and Moon by Kelly Cooper (2022), 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).
For additional information on Daniel, see our earlier interviews (here), (here) and (here).
Their picture book, nell plants a tree, releases on January 31st.
Anne and Daniel, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your book, writing, and illustrating.
Anne let’s start with you. 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?)
ANNE - I’ve been writing since I was a kid - and I’ve tried a lot of different types of writing: short stories, novels, plays, poetry . . . but picture books, board books and short plays feel like the best fit for me (so far!).
Board books are my favorite to write! I like the challenge of having a super low word count and keeping the concepts simple, but also adding enough layers for the adult reader. Board books are wonderful.
I love your books and am excited to see what you'll explore next. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
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.
ANNE - I was also really into Shel Silverstein! My favorite picture book as a child was probably Me and Neesie by Eloise Greenfield. It was about a girl and her imaginary friend Neesie, who was always getting them into trouble. The book has a sad ending and I think that’s part of the reason I loved it.
Anne, what was your inspiration for nell plants a tree?
ANNE - I love time travel stories and I’ve always wanted to write one. And it just recently occurred to me that - in a way - Nell is almost a time travel story. I wanted to write about how someone’s actions impacted the lives of their descendants in a positive way.
But at first, everything felt too broad and the concept just wasn’t working. It took a while to come up with the idea to use a tree. I actually received an email from my husband’s aunt, encouraging us to plant more trees. Once I put a tree at the center of the story, things started to fall into place. I settled on using a pecan tree pretty soon afterwards because pecan trees were so common in my childhood.
One of the things I really like about the book, is the dual time-line/"time-travel" element. Daniel, what about the nell plants a tree manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator and/or offered you “room for discoveries to be made”?
DANIEL - Well, right away I noticed how beautifully the story was written. The rhythm of it and how that played into the multiple timelines made me think there would be a lot of unique illustration issues to work out and room to discover. Also I really liked the idea of exploring the family dynamic in the story. Not just a cast of characters, but relationships that grow over time like the majestic pecan tree.
I really enjoyed the family story and textures which you wove throughout the illustrations. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript or done an illustration?
ANNE - I’m not sure if I’ve written in any truly unusual places. But I do remember doing some writing while I rode the school bus in middle school.
DANIEL - Artists are always looking for ways to stay portable for various reasons. I normally am most happy making illustrations in my home studio, but that isn’t always possible. The deadline doesn’t seem to care where you’re at! I’ve made illustrations for books on airplanes, at the beach, in parks, relatives’ basements on Christmas Eve, as demos in front of hundreds of school children. I get a little nervous just listing those out.
Sorry Daniel. But I'd have loved to have been in the classroom that day! Anne, I love the combination of a verse poem and a modified “chronology” similar almost to Before She Was Harriett. How many drafts did it take to discover or create this narrative format for nell plants a tree? And how long did it take from your first draft to publication?
ANNE - The two timelines were there from the very beginning, but it took A LOT of drafts to make it work. I don’t have a specific number, but NELL had more drafts than any other book I’ve written. I’d write several drafts in a day without changing much about the story, but it just wasn’t feeling right until one day, when it finally did. My first draft of the book was in early 2018 - so from that date to publication it has been almost 5 years!
It is such a fun format and so lyrical. I'm glad you figured it out. Daniel, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in nell plants a tree? If so, could you share one or more with us?
DANIEL - I tried to let some of my treasured memories make their way into the art for the story. One thing that I was inspired by from the beginning was a quilt that my Grandmother made and gave to me when I was heading off to college. I wanted the feel of that quilt to make appearances throughout as a way to speak to the connection of the generations in the story. The endpapers, some borders, and even in the final spread in the trunk of the tree. Also, my Grandmother had an old creaky rocking chair that she always sat in. I used that chair for the rocking chair.
Thank you for sharing this! I had seen the tree trunk and wondered about that. Is there something you each want your readers to know about, or take away from, nell plants a tree?
ANNE - Of course I’d love for readers to be inspired to plant trees and other types of plants. But I’d also love it if Nell Plants a Tree leads people to consider how their actions - whether big or small - could have a significant impact on people (or animals, or the landscape) in the future. Even a tiny, kind gesture - for example - can stay with someone for years.
DANIEL - Like Anne said so well, I hope that readers are inspired to think about how their actions do have an impact on people in their lives. Love and care has a way of radiating out for a long time, but so does anger and hurt. Also, I really want readers to be inspired to appreciate their families. We have a tendency to take them for granted, especially our elders.
I think you will succeed with these hopes. Anne, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Daniel’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
ANNE – The first thing that wowed me was the color palette. It’s gorgeous and warm and feels perfect for a story about family and love. I also love that he connects past and present Nell with a yellow dress - it was such a smart choice and — as a bonus, yellow is my favorite color!
Text © Anne Wynter, 2023. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2023.
My favorite spread is the one where the young girl has climbed the tree and is standing in the branches, staring out at the sky. She’s bathed in this beautiful light and it just takes my breath away. I wish I could jump into the page and spend the day there.
Oh, how cool that he chose your favorite color! I'd join you in a second; it's been too long since I climbed a tree. Daniel, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Anne Wynter, 2023. Image © Daniel Miyares, 2023.
DANIEL - I have a lot of favorites! Not necessarily because of the illustrations, but because of Anne’s words. One is the spread where Nell is opening the curtain for her newly planted pecan sprout and it just says, “Nell lets in the sun.” I love it because I think Nell “lets in the sun” for her family for years throughout the book.
I love this one too. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
ANNE - I’m working on longer formats - chapter books and novels! - but long books are very much out of my comfort zone and I’m in awe of people who write them. I also have a picture book coming out in 2025 with Jerome Pumphrey. It’s called So Many Years and it’s about Juneteenth.
DANIEL - I’m currently working on my first graphic novel. It’s based on my father’s escape from Cuba in the early sixties.
Those all sound exciting! I can't wait to see them. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?
ANNE - Someone (maybe my brother?) once told me to do things on my own timeline, and that’s always been helpful. Even though I’ve always wanted to write children’s books, it took me a while to get here. I wound my way through several starts and stops and different careers, but none of it feels wasted. It all helped me get to where I am now.
DANIEL - I don’t know if I can say that any one thing was the best all time piece of advice. Things seem relevant at different times. I can share these two bits of advice that seem like they’re at odds, but I feel like life is a lot of navigating tension. When I had my first job in a restaurant kitchen at fourteen or fifteen, I was working on the line prepping plates and making sure they went out to the right table. It was a Friday night and an area general manager was in observing the operation. She leaned over to me while I was working and said, “Never lose your sense of urgency. It will serve you well.” But then again at another time, I was told by an artist coworker to always make room for play, and that has served me just as well.
Whether 'best all time' or not, that is all definitely great advice. Sometimes we all need to be reminded to - never forget to play and travel our own journeys!
Thank you Anne and Daniel for stopping back by to share with us about your collaboration and your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on nell plants a tree.
To find out more about Anne Wynter, or to contact her:
To find out more about Daniel Miyares, or contact him: