The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Annette Bay Pimentel and Giveaway
Annette Bay Pimentel is the fifth child of a fifth child of a fifth child. She married a fifth child. And they have 5 + 1 children. Annette lives in northern Idaho. As a child, she didn’t like nonfiction. Now, she writes true stories about real people for young readers.
She’s the award-winning author of fifteen books, including Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories, illustrated by Magy Morales (2021), All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything, illustrated by Nabi Ali, foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins (2020), Girl Running. illustrated by Micha Archer (2018), Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans and Helped Cook up the National Park Service, illustrated by Rich Lo (2016), and twelve books in the Do You Really Want to Meet…a Dinosaur? Series, illustrated by Daniele Fabbri. [Two pictured]
Her newest picture book, Before Music: Where Instruments Come From, illustrated by Madison Safer, releases June 20th.
Welcome Annette, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your newest book and your writing.
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’ve been writing since I was a girl but didn’t start seriously submitting my writing until my youngest child started kindergarten. I do something related to writing every day—reading, researching, drafting, revising, meeting with a critique group, or promoting books.
A few years ago I rigged up parts of an old Ikea desk to put over the top of a discarded treadmill I had dragged home. Ever since I’ve happily worked on a treadmill desk. I’m on my fourth treadmill (but I think the only reason I’ve gone through so many is that I adopt other people’s castaways rather than buying them new.) Now I can’t imagine how I ever used to write without walking.
That definitely sounds like a fun way to write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I couldn’t listen to music while I worked on this book. It distracted me too much.
Where did you get the inspiration for Before Music: Where Instruments Come From?
I have six children and they all learned to play musical instruments. One of our violin teachers talked a lot about the materials our daughter’s violin was made from; she even had planted a flame maple tree in her yard so kids could see where violin wood came from. I was fascinated by all she had to say.
Many years later, I left a nonfiction writing conference in New York inspired by all the different topics and forms kids’ nonfiction could take. On the plane ride home, brainstorming topics, I thought about that violin teacher. Between eating peanuts and sipping 7-Up I wrote a rough draft in verse about how violins’ connect to the natural world. I liked the idea, but what I had written felt too slight for a whole book.
Years after that, I attended a National Council of Social Studies Teachers conference. I had found my people! Teachers who explore how culture and society became what they are. On the plane ride home from that conference, I brainstormed social studies topics I could make into books. I thought about that verse draft from years before and realized that what I had thought of as a music idea actually was, at its core, an idea from geography: people use the materials around them to make music.
That felt like an important idea, and I was sure I could make a book out of it. With the help of many other people, I did!
It's interesting how many elements came together to inspire this book. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
When I was a child, I loved reading stories of people’s lives (I still do!). Some of the books I read would today be considered historical fiction rather than nonfiction—I loved The Childhood of Great Americans series, for example. But I was also a big fan of The Story of My Life by Helen Keller—a book that I plowed through while I was still in elementary school—and The Story of the Trapp Family Singers and Cheaper by the Dozen and all the books in the All Creatures Great and Small series. I loved reading fiction, too, but there was something particularly compelling to me in knowing that a story I read had actually happened.
Despite that, if you had asked me, I would have told you I didn’t like nonfiction.
That's funny. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Before Music?
It is a human habit to adopt a system and then to fit the world into that system. My critique partners all unanimously suggested I organize this book by the sections of the orchestra—strings, woodwinds, brass, etc. I couldn’t think of any other organization system either, until I started reading about the ways other cultures think about their musical instruments. I was surprised to discover that different cultures have come up with many different ways to categorize musical instruments.
I hope that as they read Before Music readers will delight in exploring alternative categories for musical instruments. I hope it will also lead them to think critically about what other cultural systems they might have reflexively adopted.
The organization definitely intrigued me. How many revisions did Before Music take from first draft to publication? How long did it take to develop the format?
As I mentioned, the earliest draft lay fallow in my computer files for many years. But once I understood what the book was really about, it went through about fifteen revisions before I had a version I loved. It was a very brief picture book text—just over 100 words—with a lot of back matter.
Editor Courtney Code of Abrams loved the idea but she pitched to me the idea of making the back matter into a large, oversized 80 page book. I found the back matter fascinating, but I didn’t want to lose the through line of the simple story. Courtney and I talked about how we could shape the book to include both. We worked out the format together and depended heavily on Abrams’ excellent art and design department to figure out how to make it clear to the reader how the different parts of the book fit together. They did a bang-up job! It was a satisfying and fun process to figure out with a team how to make the book work!
All books require a team, but this one in particular really sounds like it needed one. What was the toughest aspect of researching and/or writing the book? How did you track down the information on some of the lesser known instruments?
I was sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of musical instruments to choose from! I spent a lot of time in the libraries of the two universities near me, University of Idaho and Washington State University, as well as with the online musical instrument collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Grinnell College. I am filled with awe at human resourcefulness and artistry in creating music from the materials at hand!
People do find ways to create music from some unexpected things. Which instrument, and similar instruments, was the easiest portion to write?
Going into the book, I knew the most about the stringed instruments of the Western European orchestra. Writing about them was mostly a matter of confirming what I thought I knew.
Were there many instruments which you discovered which didn’t end up in the book?
I guess it's up to us to see if we can figure out what wasn't included. When you first saw Madison Safer’s illustrations in Before Music, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Annette Bay Pimentel, 2022. Image © Madison Safer, 2022.
The book starts “Music doesn’t come out of nowhere. It always starts somewhere, with something, with someone.” Madison gets the “someone” part. She fully imagines idiosyncratic individuals throughout the book! I love her drawing of someone playing a shell horn, surrounded by a herd of llamas.
I love the llama faces! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
The sequel to Before Music is Before Colors, all about the ways people use the materials around them to make dyes and pigments. I’ve been looking at Madison Safer’s drawings for this book, and it is going to be spectacular! It should be coming in 2023.
Ooh, I can't wait for that one. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I live only a few hours from Glacier National Park, but I’ve never been there. We’re planning a visit in September, though!
It's an amazing park; I hope you enjoy your visit. Thank you, Annette for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to get to know you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Before Music: Where Instruments Come From.
To find out more about Annette Bay Pimentel, or contact her:
Before Music: Where Instruments Come From - Giveaway
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