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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Talk w/Matt Forrest Esenwine + Review of A Beginner's Guide to Being Human

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 I Am Today illustrated by Patricia Pessoa (POW! Kids, 2022), Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books 3/2021), Elliot the Heart-Shaped Frog (Rainstorm, 1/2021), Don't Ask a Dinosaur (POW! Kids, 2018), and Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017).

Matt also

has children’s poems in the following anthologies - Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Construction People (Wordsong 2020), School People (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 more information about Matt Forrest Esenwine, check out our earlier interviews (here) and (here).

His newest picture book A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human, releases today!

What was the inspiration for A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human?

Naomi Krueger, my editor for Once Upon Another Time at Beaming Books! I had submitted a completely different manuscript to her which she didn't feel was a good fit for the publisher. But she really liked it, and told me about an idea she’d had for a different book, about introducing kids to various emotions and feelings, that would be written in sort of the same style. She asked if I'd be interested in writing that, using a similar title, and I said, sure! There was no guarantee she’d accept this new manuscript, but I did my best and she liked it. This is the first time I’ve ever written and published a book specifically requested by an editor!

Wow, how cool is that? What do you like to do outside?

Almost anything! We have a pretty big garden here, so summer mornings are spent watering and weeding for about an hour. I cut and split our firewood, too, and love playing with the kids – Frisbee, badminton, dinosaurs, whatever! It’s also nice to take walks along our dirt road, or along the wooded trail behind our house.

What's something you want your readers to know about A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human?

It’s hard for adults to wrestle with things like empathy, forgiveness, and self-control, so if young readers can come away with recognizing the importance of simple little acts of kindness and compassion, they can use the examples in the book as a springboard for incorporating these in their own lives.

It definitely is a subtle, yet very humorous, way to help learn just a bit of kindness and empathy! How long did it take A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human to travel from spark of idea to publication? Do you remember how many drafts or revisions were involved?

Well, like I said, Naomi gave me that idea spark, but it did take a while to figure out how to approach writing the book; prose creative nonfiction is a new genre to me, so it was intimidating not knowing if the loose narrative I’d constructed – a day in the life of several unconnected kids – would be enough to pull everything together. But I made a list of what I wanted to include (love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, etc.) and then started feeling my way around to create a cohesive and natural progression.

As for drafts, I can’t recall how many I went through myself, but once I submitted the completed manuscript to Naomi, she and my other editor, Andrea Hall, it took another seven revisions (often just little tweaks here and there) before it was final. Whew!

Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see André Ceolin’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2022. Image © André Ceolin, 2022.

I first saw some sketches before fully-realized illustrations, and was glad to see he was thinking about how to not only show the concepts I was introducing, but how to flesh out the loose narrative I'd had in mind - that of several children living their different lives within the structure of one day. His style is very straightforward and simple and keeps the reader’s focus on the kids and the various emotions and feelings they are experiencing.

I like the diversity and illustrative narrative he added to the story. If you could meet anyone real or imaginary who would that be and why?

Wow, there are so many. Jesus is at the top of the least, for obvious reasons. I’d also love to talk to author Isaac Asimov and pick his brain about narratives and plot twists. People think of him as a science fiction author, but his ability to construct plausible plots with unexpected turns was amazing. He also made some incredible predictions about our modern life, like the fact the humans would draw away from nature and use technology for self-gratification, that computers and robots would supplant humans in mundane manufacturing and service jobs, and that we’d eventually be able to converse with people and share documents and art via video screens was spot-on! He even predicted kids would be educated less at school and more at home on computers – imagine that!

Scary! But that could be quite a discussion. What was the most challenging part of writing A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human?

The most challenging part was the beginning, ha! I’d never been given an ‘assignment,’ so to speak, by an editor – and having previously worked with Beaming Books on Once Upon Another Time with Charles Ghigna, I felt pressure to show them I could not only pull off their request, but that I’m a diverse writer who is able to write more than just poetry.

I might be biased, but I think you succeeded! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Funny you should ask! My manuscript for A Beginner's Guide to Stargazing started out 9 years ago as a poem which didn't make it into the poetry anthology for which it had been written, so I revised it into a picture book manuscript. This was the manuscript I had sent to Naomi, who I mentioned earlier loved the premise of a "beginner's guide" but didn't want that particular manuscript – which is why she asked me to write A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human. Since the "beginner's guide" concept was now Beaming Books’, I re-titled my stargazing manuscript, The Thing to Remember about Stargazing – which then sold shortly after, and is coming out from a different publisher next fall! I always tell new authors to hang onto everything they write and always be willing and able to adjust your field game; just because a manuscript doesn’t make it with one editor, doesn’t mean it won’t find life elsewhere!

I have another picture book coming out this January titled Everybody Counts! (The Little Fig, 2023), and I’m also eager to share news about a big poetry project I’ve undertaken that will hopefully be out next year!

Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Well, the only National Park I’ve ever visited is the White Mountain National Forest here in New Hampshire, which is beautiful, but honestly I love visiting any place that has water, particularly the ocean. Hampton, Jenness, and Odiorne Point State Parks all fall into that category!

Thank you Matt for stopping back by to share a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.

Thank YOU so much, for inviting me back, Maria!

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

Review of A Beginner's Guide to Being Human

Matt Forrest Esenwine is an amazing poet and author, so I was excited to get a chance to review his newest picture book. It is a wonderfully humorous and poignant manual for everyone still learning how to be human.

A Beginner's Guide to Being Human

Author: Matt Forest Esenwine

Illustrator: André Ceolin

Publisher: Beaming Books (2022)

Age: 4-8



Empathy, emotions, compassion, humor, and family.


Being a human is a lot of work! Thankfully, humans experience many of the same feelings, situations, and challenges, so we don't have to figure it all out on our own—we can help each other navigate the ups and downs. Full of humor and heart, this engaging guide inspires kids to be humans who are kind, empathetic, and thoughtful. No matter what our day brings, we can choose to practice self-control, compassion, and forgiveness. Don't worry, young human, it's okay to make some mistakes along the way—just remember that it's love that keeps us all afloat at the end of the day.

Opening Lines:

Welcome to Humanity!

You're really going to enjoy it.

The human species has so much to offer:


Opposable thumbs.

And a tremendous amount of diversity.

What I LOVED about this book:

Okay, who didn't snicker at "opposable thumbs" as a key 'human' characteristic? Matt Forrest Esenwine immediately sets the tone for this "guide to humanity." In addition to addressing the reader - as if it's an interplanetary visitor or a new baby, perhaps - Matt skillfully allows a child reader to both feel addressed by the book or insert a little bit of distance by playing along with giving the "newbie" advice. Allowing the book to subtly bring up elements which ALL of us humans need to remember.

Text © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2022. Image © André Ceolin, 2022.

I love how André Ceolin's colorful opening spread immediately shows us the wonderful range of humans - age, ethnicity, ability, interests, but also dives right into the humor showing an exciting thumb war!

So, if you were doing an extra-terrestrial field scientist's evaluation of humans, where would you start? Why with their most common grouping - families. The book's definition - those who "love each other, disappoint each other, support each other, and get angry with each other, over and over - sometimes all in the same day. Weird, right?" - accompanied by four amazing vignettes of a family's day will have you both chuckling and sighing. Especially if you had siblings or multiple kids. Scattered throughout the book are "Pro Tips," nuggets of advice or poignant comments like "You don't even need to be related to be a family."

A delicate touch of humor weaves through the text and illustrations as the book explores why kindness, smiles, empathy, and compassion are important and how they make both your own life and those of others better. Offering a nod to the "Golden Rule, "which has produced excellent results for over two thousand years" and a wonderful collection of emotions. I can see this being a useful tool for teachers and parents to help kids learn to read faces and maybe help pinpoint their own (often jumbled) emotions. In addition to just being a great collection of expressions.

Text © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2022. Image © André Ceolin, 2022.

Against the backdrop of a fairground, ball game, and daily experiences, the book delves into a gambit of emotions and experiences of good days and bad days. Ultimately celebrating the friends and family that help us navigate this messy affair of being human. The penultimate spread again brings up the wonder of opposable thumbs, as it shows a wonderfully diverse community united by love and imagination to encourage the best out of each other. I really love the way André Ceolin captured not just the emotions, but the triumphs and hurts of a kid's daily life.

The second-person narrator, combined with the humorous text and illustrations, keeps this from being a pedantic book on how to behave properly. Wait until you see the great bookend opening and closing spreads encasing a day and welcoming the reader to humanity. It's perfect for a wide range of readers. A wonderful book for new 'elder' siblings, classrooms, parents, teachers, and caregivers working through emotions or just a really fun read.


- "Draw a variety of faces on plastic Easter eggs with the eyes on the top half and the mouth on the bottom half." What emotions can you create by swapping the tops and bottoms of the eggs? When would someone feel this emotion? Why?

- what do you think in the hardest part about being human? Write a story or draw a picture about how you would fix it.

- if you wrote a guide for a new kid in your town or an alien to earth, what instructions, advice, or key points would you include? Try writing a guide, making a list, or drawing a brochure welcoming someone to your town or earth.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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