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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine

It's 2023! I'm sending you all wishes for an amazing and happiness-filled year! I'm so excited that I get to kick off this new year of interviews with my friend Matt (and my #PPBF reviews with his stunning new picture book - Everyone Counts).

Matt Forrest Esenwine is a poet, author, voice actor, a professional radio broadcaster, and commercial producer. While numerous adult-oriented poems have been published in various journals and books, it's Matt’s love of children's poetry - writing it and teaching it - that truly motivates him.

He’s the author of

A Beginner's Guide to Being Human, illustrated by André Ceolin (Beaming Books, 2022), I Am Today, illustrated by Patricia Pessoa (POW! Kids, 2022), Once Upon Another Time, with Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Andrés F. Landazábal (Beaming Books 2021), Elliot the Heart-Shaped Frog, illustrated by Anna Kubaszewska (Rainstorm, 2021), Don't Ask a Dinosaur, illustrated by Louie Chin (POW! Kids, 2018), Flashlight Night, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), and has children’s poems in several anthologies including Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Construction People, illustrated by Ellen Shi (Wordsong 2020), School People, illustrated by Ellen Shi (Wordsong 2018), J. Patrick Lewis’ The Poetry of US and The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children's Books, 2018/2015), and Highlights for Children' magazine.


For additional information about Matt or some of his books see earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).


His newest picture book Everybody Counts, released January 1st.


Welcome back Matt! What was the inspiration for Everybody Counts?

Hard to believe, but I wrote the first draft of this book back in June 2013 - just a few months after Deborah Bruss and I had begun revisions on our manuscript for Don't Ask a Dinosaur and a full year before I wrote Flashlight Night! I don’t recall what initially inspired me, although I think it may have simply been the phrase, “everybody counts” that got stuck in my head and I wondered how I could use that as a double-entendre.


I really do like the double meaning of the phrase/title. And the way you threaded numbers and food through a number of countries. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for this book? Was this similar to your other books?


When I first began this book I had no idea the amount of research I'd end up needing to do; not only learning numbers, but how to write them, and how to pronounce them. I’m talking MONTHS of researching cultures and popular foods, watching videos on how to pronounce the numbers, and making sure I was using cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3, et al) and not ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.).


I also created phonetic pronunciations for all the numbers. The publisher, which specializes in multilingual books, decided to keep phonetics out because there was just so much information in the book, and instead opted to encourage parents and other readers to go to their website for more info and links. But even though all my pronunciation efforts didn’t make it into the book, the research still helped me in understanding what I was writing!


Although a lot of work, it sounds like fun research! What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?

That’s a difficult question to answer because although I may be inspired by anything or anyone, anywhere, I write all my manuscripts in my office. I will say the fact that a book like Flashlight Night, which received a Kirkus star and is on Encyclopedia Britannica’s list of “11 Children’s Books that Inspire Imagination,” was conceived on a late-night drive while staring at my headlights, is pretty cool to consider.


Ooh, one of my favorite books. Thank you for sharing the fun spark of inspiration for it! What's something you want your readers to know about Everybody Counts?


That they know how much I hope they’ll try learning to count in the different languages!


It is fun to be able to count to 10 in multiple languages; you never know when it will come in handy. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Emma Graham’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2023. Image © Emma Graham, 2023.


I loved how vibrant and energetic they were! Not only is each animal important to the country it represents, but Emma also includes lots of little references to the individual animals’ countries, too. And it may seem funny, but I think my favorite spread is actually the interior title page spread which features concentric circles of designs representative of the different nations. It’s just so cool!


It's beautiful and also lots of fun to spot these designs throughout the book. As it’s a combination of foreign language counting and a festival of food, what was the hardest, or most challenging, part of researching or writing Everybody Counts?


Without question, the hardest part was learning the pronunciations – which, as I mentioned earlier, the editor ended up omitting, ha! It was difficult researching the numbers, making sure they were correct, making sure they were cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) and not ordinal (first, second, third) numbers, confirming what they looked like. But with so many dialects and regional accents in the world, coming up with standard pronunciations was by far the most exhausting part of the process.


Hard to imagine that numbers would be so difficult! What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for this book? Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?


The Little Fig, LLC has reached out to several multilingual booksellers who are eager to carry the book, and I recently learned it’s available to order through Target! I’ll also be sharing the book with several schools on World Read Aloud Day coming up Feb, 1 as well as UNESCO’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on May 21.


How awesome to have it in Target and being able to share it with UNESCO! Congrats! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have quite a few, actually! My next picture book, The Thing to Remember about Stargazing (Tilbury House), will be coming out this fall (we hope!) and I’m also hoping to see a new board book come out in either late spring or summer. I also have a couple of poetry projects I’m eager to share with the world, but I can’t say anything yet!


Sounds intriguing. I can't wait to see the cover of this one! And we'll have to keep our eyes open for the others. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?


Give yourself grace. We all seem to be living our lives at light speed these days – working, working, working, giving, giving, giving. And as hard a worker as I am and as much a giver as I am, I still forget to stop and give myself a break. I’m so quick to help others, support others, forgive others – yet I often neglect to do the same for myself. And it’s important we do so.

Such great advice, especially as we all look to "do better" as this new year starts. I think I'll post this above my computer!


Thank you Matt for stopping back by to share with us your newest picture book.


Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Everybody Counts!


To find out more about Matt Forrest Esenwine, or to contact him:

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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