The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Annemarie Riley Guertin and Review of ABC Rise Up and Be!
Annemarie Guertin works as a High School Early Education CTE teacher in Methuen, MA. She lives in Haverhill, MA, with her husband Michael and their two children. She’s the author of Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves(2019) and How the Finch Got His Colors (2018).
For basic information about Annemarie, see our earlier interview (here).
Her newest book, ABC, Rise Up and Be!: An Empowering Alphabet for Changing the World, releases May 4th.
Welcome back Annemarie!
Hello, Maria, thanks for having me back!
What was your inspiration for ABC, Rise Up and Be! ?
I wrote ABC, Rise Up and Be! last May when this country was going through a rough patch. One night at dinner, my husband and I were having a discussion, and he said, “All parents just want to raise good humans. You should write a book about that.” That comment got me thinking about what values we wanted to instill in our children. The following day for whatever reason, I started making an alphabetical list of character traits. I figured I would use that list to help me craft a story, but I liked how it took shape and decided to make it an alphabet book.
If we're open. inspiration can sometimes come from the most unusual places. How did the process of creating and publishing ABC, Rise Up and Be! differ from that of Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves and How the Finch Got His Colors?
ABC, Rise Up, and Be! was a lot easier to craft because this story was my own idea. I wasn’t recreating a retelling as I had done with the previous two books. It is much harder to take a preexisting storyline and put your creative spin on it while keeping the original version's integrity. That is no easy feat.
Having worked with two different illustrators, did you have any “ah-ha” moments that will help you in creating future books? What is your favorite spread in ABC, Rise Up and Be!?
In my experience, I haven’t been able to “work” with the illustrator per se. Most publishers don’t even tell you who they are until every spread is completed or; at least that is how it’s been in my experience. I have been asked about my visions for each book at the time of signing and, on occasion, have been asked my opinion on a few spreads the publisher was unsure about, but that’s it in terms of “working” with them. So far, all of my illustrator experiences have been wonderful. Both Sandie and Helena have exceeded my expectations.
Text © Annemarie Riley Guertin, 2021. Image © Sandie Sonke, 2021.
My favorite spread in ABC Rise Up and Be! has to be the one with Walt Disney in it. I am a Disney person; it’s my favorite place on earth. Getting a little piece of that into one of my books has been fantastic. I smile every time I see it.
Thank you for your candor. What was the most challenging part of writing ABC, Rise Up and Be! ? How long did it take from the first draft to publication?
The hardest part of creating this book was finding a balance between getting my ideas across and not being too “didactic.” David, my publisher, and I worked together to find that balance. He had a great vision for this book and helped me execute it.
The first draft was sent in June 2020, and it was finalized in December. It will be released in May, so this book was completed 11 months from idea to finished product. As soon as I sent David my idea, he wrote me back and got an illustrator to draw the cover design even before I signed the contract. He really loved the idea and wanted to fast-track it.
I think you managed to tread that rather thin line. What's something you want your readers to know about ABC, Rise Up and Be!?
I want my readers to know that every single one of us has the power to create positive change. Many people paved the road before us, and if we continue to work together, we can make the world a better place.
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I was offered four contracts in the first part of this year. So, I will potentially have four more books releasing in the future, 2023 and 2024. Two of the stories are Halloween-themed (my favorite), one is a counting book and the other is a picture book about nighttime.
As for projects, I am working on a series of board books that my agent will pitch when they are completed. I also have several other projects in their beginning stages.
Congratulations! We'll have to keep our eyes open for these. Having gone through two book releases and associated readings and school visits (plus the joy of 2020), do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (What will you do/try differently this time?)
As for advice, continue to network. Networking is an essential part of this business. I am continuing to grow my networking skills. I tend to be on the shy side, so putting myself out there can be a challenge, but I find the more that I do it, the less “scary” it is. Publishing and networking go hand in hand, so it’s important to make as many connections as possible.
Great advice, Annemarie. What are you doing to stay creative these days?
I stay creative by doing a lot of reading and starting story ideas and abandoning them, LOL. I have a lot of project ideas that I have yet to see through. I can’t force myself to write, so I wait for the lightning to strike and revisit the ideas. I have a folder dedicated to abandoned ideas, and a few of them have turned into polished manuscripts years after I jotted down my original thoughts. I also stay creative by looking at the editor’s wish lists to see if there is an idea that sparks and by participating in events like Storystorm. Anything that can get the creative juices flowing is worth pursuing.
Aside from that, I took on a new teaching position last year during the height of the pandemic, so I have been very busy this past year building the curriculum for it. That is mainly where my creative energy has been focused. Now that I have it built, I can get back to creative writing again.
Hooray for Storystorm! I know it helped a lot of people this year. Thank you, Annemarie, for stopping back by. It was wonderful to chat with you again.
Thanks for having me!
To find out more about Annemarie Guertin, or get in touch with her:
Review of ABC Rise Up and Be!:
An Empowering Alphabet for Changing the World
I get to offer you a sneak peek at Annemarie's book:
ABC Rise Up and Be!: An Empowering Alphabet for Changing the World
Author: Annemarie Riley Guertin
Illustrator: Sandie Sonke
Publisher: Bushel & Peck Books (2021)
Alphabet, activism, and empowerment.
In this empowering alphabet to inspire kids to become their best selves, readers will discover traits like humble, just, mindful, persistent, and twenty-two other character-building words with thought-provoking advice designed to empower and encourage. Each page includes an adorable illustration of kids with famous heroes who have exemplified each of these traits: kind like Mother Teresa, generous like Clara Barton, encouraging like Anne Frank, respectful like the Dalai Lama, and more!
In a world where you can be anything, be . . .
Accepting: A rising leaf doesn’t cause others to fall. Be the wind that helps everyone soar to new heights.
Big-hearted: A big heart embraces life and all of its beauty and marvels.
Courageous: Courage is a whisper from inside that says, “You can do this.” Fighting for what is right will never be wrong.
What I Liked about this book:
This double concept book - alphabet and inspirational empowerment - not only has an interesting format, but sneaks in a little bit of biography about 25 heroes and heroines.
Text © Annemarie Riley Guertin, 2021. Image © Sandie Sonke, 2021.
Annemarie Riley Guertin and Sandie Sonke team up to take a diverse group of seven kids and the reader through cotton candy colored illustrations and a stylized listing of characteristics we should all try to emulate.
After encouraging the reader to be "Accepting" (helping others instead of putting them down), the pastel, flower-filled pages each list a characteristic - such as "Big-hearted" - show one or two of the children interacting with the featured heroine or hero (chosen to embody the characteristic), and then expands on the concept - "A big heart embraces life and all of its beauty and marvels." On this "B" page Jane Goodall (a dedicated environmentalist and conservationist) helps a child recycle items.
While the inspirational phrases on each page aren't direct quotations from the famous figures, either the phrase or the illustration try to provide hints as to the children's companions. For instance, one of Jane's beloved chimpanzees peeks out from behind the bushes.
Text © Annemarie Riley Guertin, 2021. Image © Sandie Sonke, 2021
With "Courageous," the Cleveland Ave bus and "fighting for what is right" provide hints to Rosa Parks. While "Daring" shows a ballerina and encourages one to "choreograph your dreams" in an obvious reference to Misty Copeland. I appreciated that it is a boy dancing with her.
For some, their quintessential clothing, Mother Teresa's habit, Malala Yousafzai's headscarf, and Mahatma Gandhi's wrap and glasses provides great hints. While for other less well known personalities, such as Chinese artist/architect Ai Weiwei, or Mollie Beattie (the first woman to head the US Fish and Wildlife Service), or others that are harder to guess, the end pages include brief biographical bit of information for each.
Although it does only list 25 activists, the book successfully navigates the trickier letters "q" and "x" and offers kids an alphabet soup of admirable character traits and inspiration. It might encourage discussions or research into the lives and actions of this collection of diverse individuals. Positive and encouraging, this book holds nuggets of truth that could inspire kids and adults to treat themselves, others, and our world with respect.
- can you think of ways to model these traits in your family, school, or community? Draw a picture or make a list of ways you could demonstrate each trait.
- make a "circle of kindness" (here) or a "kindness cootie-catcher" (here)
can you use them to practice the A-Z traits in the book?