The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Susan Hughes and Giveaway
First things first - the winner of the giveaway of Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World is:
Now, onto today's post-
Susan Hughes is an award-winning writer of more than 30 children's books, including picture books, chapter books, young adult novels, non-fiction for all ages, and even a non-fiction graphic novel. Her books have received multiple nominations for the Forest of Reading awards, the TD Children's Literature Awards, and the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Literature.
She’s the author of over 30 books, including Lights Day and Night: The Science of How Light Works (2021), Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (2021), Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality (2021), Upsy-Daisy, Baby! (2019), Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs (2018), and Maggie McGillicuddy's Eye for Trouble (2016).
Susan’s newest picture book Same Here!: The Differences We Share, releases this Friday, April 15th.
Welcome Susan. Tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin writing?
I began writing as a child, probably because I loved reading books so much. Luckily, I had a few friends that also loved to write; when we were 8 and 9, we formed a writers’ club. We’d meet and exchange our poems and stories and give each other support and suggestions--a first critique group!
While at university, doing an English degree, I got an amazing summer job working for a local children’s publishing company. I had the opportunity to do research, write, edit, proofread … A true education in the highly collaborative publishing process.
That does sound amazing! And what happened after you graduated?
When I completed my BA, I was very keen to begin working—and I knew I wanted to be a writer and editor. I worked briefly in-house for an educational publisher but I quickly discovered I preferred working as a freelancer. For many years, I did editing, researching, and writing for educational publishers and more recently I’m also enjoying doing manuscript critiques and consulting for individual clients and businesses, as well as story coaching. I’ve been fortunate to be able to carve out time and space for my own writing of stories, both fiction and non-fiction, for a wide range of kid audiences!
You sound happily busy. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
When I was young, one of my best friends and I had dozens of imaginary horses and dogs. We pretended they lived in my friend’s garage, which was our stable. We groomed them and rode them on a rotating basis. We were very business-like about it! We also gave our friends riding lessons on our imaginary horses!
I remember doing that with my siblings, as well! Your most recent children’s book is Same Here!: The Differences We Share. What excites you most about your book?
I think many kids are fearful of differences in other people. They’re afraid they won’t understand them or won’t be able to figure them out. Differences make them hesitate to approach others who might not be like them. Differences can even become barriers to kids making friends with one another.
I believe Same Here! shows kids that, yes, all kids have differences, for example, the types of food we like best, what we like about our homes, or the languages we speak. Kids have different preferences and biases, different perspectives, and different attitudes. But they also share certain things and on a very fundamental level. They all have the same needs, for example, for food, for shelter, for ways to communicate, and so on.
I hope my book shows kids that exploring both similarities and differences can be way to learn about others and the connections they share.
That sounds like an excellent goal and something very needed, especially right now. How long did it take Same Here! to transform from an idea to a published book?
A very long time! I think of all my 30+ books, this one has taken the longest of all. I wrote the first iteration of the manuscript back in 2010. I signed the contract for Same Here in 2016. The editing and revising began, and in 2018, illustrator Sophie Casson came onto the project. The book was planned at 48 pages at first but was then extended to 64 pages, and the pub date was pushed back from 2020 to 2021.
Owl Kids decided to have a group of diversity-equity-inclusivity consultants review the manuscript, art, and design, and after their report was completed, time was needed to incorporate their recommendations. So the pub date was pushed back again, to spring 2022.
So, in total, the process took 12 years!
WOW! I can definitely understand why it took so long. What was the most challenging aspect of Same Here!? Why?
The book was challenging to write for many reasons. One challenge was coming up with a strong framework for exploring the concept of similarities and differences between kids around the world. When we hit on the idea of arranging the stories around the fundamental needs all kids share, the structure worked perfectly and the text all fell beautifully into place.
I love that each section focuses on what we ALL need. When you first saw Sophie Casson’s illustrations in Same Here, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you?
I was amazed at how Sophie was able to choose a detail or two from the text and build on it to create such evocative illustrations. There are so many illustrations in the book, some small, some large. She had to do so much research and take such care to represent children living in such a variety of circumstances in so many countries around the world—over 50, I believe!
Which is one of your favorite illustrations in the book?
Text © Susan Hughes 2022. Image © Sophie Casson, 2022.
One of my favorite illustrations is across the spread that begins the section called We All Need Community: How Do You Help Your Neighbors? The text is the narration of a boy, Jurrien, who likes going with his after-school club to a nearby retirement home.
The image shows a row of buildings in the Netherlands, including a retirement home. An interior image shows a boy walking beside an elder, who holds a cane with one hand and has her other hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. He is holding a board game—while the image also shows a boardgame set up with pieces unfolded beneath them. We see them from behind as they head off together. The handwritten caption says, “my friend Elsken.” It is so beautiful!
That is such a touching spread. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
As always, I’m writing several picture book manuscripts, some fiction and some non-fiction. I’m also very slowly working on a verse novel for YA readers—something quite new to me and so wonderfully exciting and challenging!
And I’m also delighted to be assisting so many writers on their own manuscripts, from picture books to YA, with critiques and as a story coach.
We'll have to watch for your next books. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
One of my favorite park-like places in Toronto is one very near my home. In fact, I run along the winding paths and roads there three or four times a week. It’s the beautiful 205-acre Mount Pleasant Cemetery. A National Historic Site of Canada, it has fountains, statues, botanical gardens, hundreds of varieties of trees, a wide variety of bird species, and as well, over the years, I’ve seen nesting hawks, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and even deer. I’m so lucky to be able to spend so much time there enjoying its beauty in every season.
Thank you Susan for sharing with us a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF Review of Same Here!: The Differences We Share.
To find out more about Susan Hughes, or to contact her:
Same Here!: The Differences We Share Giveaway
One lucky reader will win a copy of Same Here!: The Differences We Share.
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