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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lindsay Bonilla and The Storyteller

Lindsay Bonilla is a professional storyteller and children’s book author from North Canton, Ohio.

Author photo of Linday Bonilla

She lives with her husband, two wild and creative kids (who believe themselves to be a Komodo dragon and red panda, respectively), and her dog, Blitzen. While earning her bachelor’s degree in theatre and religion at Northwestern University, she fell in love with folktales and world travel.

 

Lindsay has performed interactive theatre, shared stories, and taught workshops all over the world. These experiences have made her passionate about building understanding and relationships across cultures while inspiring the imagination. When she’s not writing or performing, she can be found building Legos with her kids as they brainstorm her next book idea.

Collage of the covers of Lindsay Bonilla's three books

Lindsay is the author of The Note Who Faced the Music, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann (2023), I Love You with All My Hearts, illustrated by Eleonora Pace (2021), Polar Bear Island, illustrated by Cinta Villalobos (2018),

 

For more information on Lindsay Bonilla see our earlier interview (here) and (here).

 

Lindsay’s newest book, The Storyteller, was released on March 5th.

 

Lindsay, thank-you so much for stopping by again,

 

What was the inspiration or spark of interest for The Storyteller?

Book cover - grandmother telling stories to a boy, as they sit on lilly pads in a pond with a dragonfly overhead.

I really wanted to write a love letter to storytelling — to show how beautiful and magical it is. I’d been working as a professional storyteller for some years, visiting schools and libraries, and before a show would start, the kids would ask me, “What are you going to do today?” When I’d say, “I’m going to tell you a story,” their response was almost always the same — “You mean you’re going to read us a book?” I’d tap my forehead and say, “Nope, the story is up here.”

 

I had this conversation enough times to realize that most kids had no idea what storytelling was. The art of oral storytelling is often forgotten or overlooked. And while I love books, I wanted kids to know that even before they can read or write they are already storytellers. We are all storytellers.

 

That is so cool and sounds like an excellent story time. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

 

Earlier this year, I wrote the beginnings of a manuscript during some long car rides in La Llanada Grande, a remote area in the southern part of Chile with lots of unpaved roads. I was sandwiched between my two kids (one who gets terribly car sick!) in the backseat of my nephew’s girlfriend’s car, writing as we bumped along!

 

Umm. That sounds fun? It sounds adventurous (minus the car sick part). How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Storyteller?

 

I wrote the first draft of The Storyteller on July 30, 2018. (I can still clearly picture the coffee shop I started writing it in while in between storytelling performances for the library summer reading program!) It was originally slated to come out in 2022 but got pushed back. (Of course, the pandemic happened and that affected the timeline for a number of reasons.) So it’s been almost 6 years!

 

Crazy Covid. One of these days, hopefully, the pandemic won't be affecting releases. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Noar Lee Naggan’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Internal image - grandmother hugging grandson goodbye, as cloud dragons and giants watch and cry.

Text © Lindsay Bonilla, 2024. Image © Noar Lee Naggan, 2024.


I was amazed at how well Noar was able to capture the blending of the fairy tale and real worlds, beautifully showing how the line between the two is blurred. There is just so much to pore over and discover in his art. My favorite spread, which is a perfect example of this, is the one near the end with the fairy tale creatures crying from the clouds as Griffin and his grandmother share a final embrace.


I totally agree with you. It's poignant and stunning! What's something you want your readers to know about The Storyteller?

 

There’s a line in the book that says that Griffin’s favorite stories are family lore. That line is very significant to me. I’m always amazed at how much my kids light up, laugh, and even get emotional when I tell them stories from my childhood. They remember those stories just like I remember the stories my Grandma shared with me from her childhood. My hope is that the book will encourage families to share their stories with one another and realize what a strong bond that creates.

 

When I studied storytelling at Northwestern, my professor, Rives Collins, shared a quote from Lewis Carroll with us. “Stories are love gifts.” That quote has always stuck with me, and it’s really at the heart of this book.


I love that quote and I do hope families are encouraged to share stories and time together. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing The Storyteller? What was the most fun?

 

I think the hardest part was getting the ending right. I had a very simple ending to start. It wasn’t that different from the current ending in feel/tone, but it wasn’t worded nearly as well. Later in trying to improve upon it, I over-complicated it and added too much, weakening the emotional impact. Finally, I realized I needed to come back to my original intention but just find the right words.


The most fun was finding ways to bring moments from the fairy tale stories into Griffin’s world — how he sells his cow (a toy cow) like Jack for magic beans; but in this case the beans are jelly beans. And how his grandmother receives an invitation to the ball (like in Cinderella), but for Griffin, it’s really a symbol of how close she is to passing away and his acceptance of that.

 

It sounds like you had a lot of fun finding ways to weave the fairytale and reality together! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I’m actually working on a couple of middle grade books in addition to plenty of picture books. I’ve found it interesting transitioning into writing MG. I didn’t think I could do it. I mean, how do you go from writing 500 words to 40,000?! But I discovered I can do it, just not necessarily in chronological order! LOL I write whatever comes to me and figure out where it will fit later. One of my MG projects draws on some of my own life experiences — like being an only child for 10 years and then suddenly getting a sibling and also taking acting lessons from a young age.

 

Sounds interesting and fun. Good luck with these projects. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

I would love to visit Yellowstone to see the bison and the geysers. Closer to home, we have the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and I love running the trails and exploring the caves and waterfalls we have.

 

Thank you, Lindsay, for stopping by again. It was great to chat with you.

 

To find out more about Lindsay Bonilla, or contact her:


Review of The Storyteller


This book is both beautiful and heartwarming and so tough to read for me, as my family sets off down the bumpy road of dementia. As the stories drift away from our storyteller, I wish that jelly beans and a dose of magic could bring her peace and ease.


Book cover - grandmother telling stories to a boy, as they sit on lilly pads in a pond with a dragonfly overhead.

The Storyteller

Author: Lindsay Bonilla

Illustrator: Nor Lee Naggan

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers Group (2024)

Ages: 3-7

Fiction


Themes:

Fairytale, intergenerational, family, grief, and the power of stories.


Synopsis:

Featuring an evocative text and luminous paintings, this stunning book celebrates the power of stories—how they connect us, inspire us, and keep memories alive.


Griffin’s grandmother spins the most marvelous stories, from breathtaking fairy tales to fascinating family lore. These stories fuel his imagination and fill their days with magic. So when he sees her once-bright spark begin to fade, Griffin is scared to think of the future. Fortunately, though, he has her stories to guide him—and to remind him that he is braver than he could ever imagine.


Opening Lines:

When Griffin was born, he was wrapped

in a blanket and placed in the arms of the Storyteller.

She rocked him back and forth and whispered in his ear.

Griffin couldn't remember what she said, but he

remembered how he felt.


Warm. So warm.


What I LOVED about this book:

This opening spread is amazing! In setting up their relationship, the tone of the book, and the power of the spoken word. I also love the way Noar Lee Naggan uses the designs on the back of chair and the three moths, fluttering around the lamp at the beginning as part of the 'normal' world and and shows their shift into the magical at the end. And watch for the lamp to reappear near the end as well. The deep earth tones just exude the warmth baby Griffin is feeling.

Internal image - grandmother holding a new, swaddled baby and rocking in a rocking chair.

Text © Lindsay Bonilla, 2024. Image © Noar Lee Naggan, 2024.


Lindsay Bonilla does such a wonderful job wrapping well known "folktales, fairy tales, and legends" into the stories and relationship of Griffin and his Grandmother. Such as Puss 'N Boots and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Kids will have fun looking for Griffin's toy cow through the first two-thirds of the book. And might catch Griffin's foreshadowing question, "What's at the top of the beanstalk?"

Internal image - young boy lying on the floor surrounded by colored pencils, toy cow, boots, and small characters of grandma chasing off two bully boys.

Text © Lindsay Bonilla, 2024. Image © Noar Lee Naggan, 2024.


He couldn't believe

his grandmother once had

a talking cat for a best friend.


Or stood up to bullies who teased her

because her home looked like a shoe.


I love the relationship of Griffin and his grandmother. His rapt and curious expressions as she spins tales and wraps him in confidence, magic, and family lore. She is an artist, naturalist, and storyteller with a voice that "boomed, cackled, and squeaked. FEE-FI-FO-FUM!" And I love the subtle emotion and caring exuded by Grandma's large, long-lived calico cat.


Unfortunately, the day came that the storyteller started "fading away," but she had given Griffin a special gift. Stories - which ultimately help him know what to do. This is one of my favorite spreads. I love the varied memory vignettes of stories and the geese foreshadowing the answer. Griffin's emotions are so palpable and heart-breaking in this image.

Internal spread of a grieving young boy sitting on stars as spot illustrations of fairytales drift around him.

Text © Lindsay Bonilla, 2024. Image © Noar Lee Naggan, 2024.


I'm going to let you discover the inventive, magical, and loving solution that Griffin offers to his beloved grandmother. And the touching, full circle ending which Lindsay and Noar offer their readers. Look back at Lindsay Bonilla's favorite image in the interview for a hint. The magical, imaginative, and loving soul of this book gently encapsulates and offers an outlet for the emotions and memories of a lost loved one. It is a wonderful book of a boy and his grandmother enjoying nature, art, and the power of storytelling.


Resources:

Photo of four cute mini-books to make, with emoji-like faces on their covers..
  • make your own story books. Then listen and fill the books with stories from your family, friends, nature, or your imagination.


  • play with a fairytale, fable, or legend and put yourself or a family member into the story. How would you change it and why? Write down the new version or draw an image or cartoon of of your new story.



If you're in the area, here area a couple of Lindsay Bonilla's upcoming events:

Photo Banner by Warren-Trumball Library.

March 23, 2024 at 1 pm: Storytelling and Book Signing

Warren-Trumbull County Public Library,

44 Mahoning Ave NW, Warren, OH


[Note: Free Admission, Fun-filled day w/ Jason Reynolds at 11 am and Clifford the Big Red Dog at 2:30 pm]

 

 

May 18, 2024: Claire’s Day, Maumee, OH

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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