The Picture Book Buzz - The Soaring 20's Spring Releases
The Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their kidlit books. Today I get to talk with four Soaring 20's authors with books releasing this spring.
Be sure to visit their website to “discover book talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or draw? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Amah Faraway (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 1/25/2022) - Hello! I've been writing for almost twelve years and write picture books exclusively for now--I'd love to expand my repertoire but am lacking time and good ideas. I started with picture books because while it can be tough to distill a full story into around 500 words or less, it seemed more doable while keeping up with two (now three) young children. I write anywhere I can find a bit of space. Some of my most productive writing sessions have been on the kitchen countertop while I cooked dinner!
NoNieqa Ramos – Beauty Woke (Versify, 2/15/2022) - I have been writing since I was five and I used to wrap marble composition notebooks in Christmas paper to make them look like fancy books covers. My prima Nicole and I “founded” N&N Book Company in elementary school. We sold bookmarks, paper dolls, and picture books in the cafeteria until a rival paper doll maker and I got into a brawl and the nuns shut our operations down.
In elementary school the librarian ran a contest to see who could read and write the most book reports. I could not win at volleyball or anything related to coordinating my body to hit objects in motion, but this I could do. I inhaled every anthology of Grimms and Hans Christian Anderson I could get my hands on. Like in my book Beauty Woke, I love harnessing the imagination of fairy tells and retelling them to empower children to find the magic within themselves and their communities.
Mindy Yuksel – One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University (HarperCollins, 2/22/2022) - Hi! I’m a picture book author, and a cook, chauffeur, nurse, tutor, and soccer mom to my three boys. I write in my home office when my kids are in school, or in the car while waiting for them during soccer practice. I’ve been honing my writing craft since 2017, when I attended my first SCBWI conference in NYC. Ever since, I’ve felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz because it’s been a wild ride, with a steep learning curve.
Prior to becoming an author, I was in the education field as an administrator, manager, and teacher for several years. My favorite types of books to write are profiles of little-known heroes, and diverse cultures.
Rajani LaRocca – I’ll Go and Come Back (Candlewick, 3/29/2022) - Hi! I’m a physician and author in the Boston area. I write middle grade and picture books. I write a mix of fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry.
I’ve always loved books, but I took a long hiatus from creative writing when I went to medical school and residency. I picked it back up again about nine years ago when I started taking online and then in-person classes and forming critique groups with fellow writers. As a working mom, I’ve learned to write in my living room, my bedroom, my kitchen, waiting for kids at piano lessons, in school parking lots, and dictating ideas on my phone in the car! As a doctor, STEM topics—especially science—are very dear to my heart.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Before having children, I used to do triathlons.
Mindy Yuksel – I played the violin in middle school and high school and loved performing in concerts.
Rajani LaRocca – In high school, I was in the Drama Club and the Mock Trial Team!
Now that we know more about each of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Amah Faraway (1/25/2022) - My story was inspired by my relationship with my grandmother. She lived in Taiwan while I lived in the U.S. and was the only grandparent that I knew growing up. I am shy so whenever we saw each other, there was always a period of warming up to her. I've been wanting to write this story since shortly after I began writing picture books, but I never knew how to do it until I rediscovered the reverse poem. The reverse poem is a poem where the regular read and reverse read have different meanings and opposite tones.
NoNieqa Ramos – Beauty Woke (2/15/2022) - The inspiration for Beauty Woke came from despair. In the original story of Sleeping Beauty, the parents love their daughter Aurora tremendously. But they don’t invite Maleficent to her christening, and she crashes the party to levy a curse. Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning needle and die on her sixteenth birthday. Her madrinas save her with a counter curse–that she will not die, but sleep, and that a prince can break the curse with a kiss. The King and Queen proceed to burn, destroy, and ban every spinning wheel in the land.
In Beauty Woke, Beauty’s family loves her tremendously. Despite their nurturing and care, they cannot burn all the spinning wheels. They cannot keep racism from entering their household. When Beauty listens to the news, she hears anti-immigrant rhetoric for the first time. She hears brown and Black people stereotyped and denigrated. But the story of Beauty Woke does not end in despair. My mission in writing this book was to provide validation, healing, and hope to children.
Mindy Yuksel – One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University (2/22/2022) - I first learned about Fatima al-Fihri in 2010 when I attended an exhibit in New York City. I was surprised I had never heard about this visionary, trailblazing woman who founded the oldest university in the world. But I wasn’t an author at the time and had no ambitions of becoming one. Fatima was a personal hero I kept tucked away in my heart and wished many more people knew about her.
When I started writing picture books several years later in 2017, my desire to write a biography about her surfaced. I wanted to share the important role Fatima al-Fihri played in the advancement of education and civilization over 1,200 years ago. Her schools’ influence was global and extended beyond Fez, Morocco, where it was located. We need more stories about women who have changed the world for the better, especially stories about underrepresented women who are often stereotyped, misunderstood, and maligned in our society.
Rajani LaRocca – I’ll Go and Come Back (3/29/2022) - I was at a local children’s literature conference standing in line to get lunch with friends when I suddenly got an idea for a story inspired by a sari. Often, the colors and patterns in a sari’s body are mirrored in the border, and colors and patterns from the border are reflected in the body. I sketched this in my notebook, and took notes on a “mirror story” of a girl and her grandmother visiting each other in India and the U.S. I thought about the similarities and differences in their experiences, and the story grew from there. I based the grandmother character on my own grandmother.
I love the diverse ways these stories originated. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – My favorite book as a child was Corduroy by Don Freeman. I was a sucker for stuffed animals, and I loved the idea of a teddy bear coming alive at night and exploring a department store!
NoNieqa Ramos – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was a book I held dear and reread many times. The protagonist Jo March was unusual, eccentric, and bold. She wasn’t beautiful; she was handsome, and her only beauty was her hair. Like me, she invented crafts, plays, and games for her siblings. She was an experimental writer with a deep longing for adventure. She would dress up as masculine antagonists in her plays. I think if Louisa were writing this now Jo would have been gender queer. In Jo’s Boys, she becomes a foster parent and invests her life in saving children.
Mindy Yuksel – One of my favorite books as a child was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I loved how funny and relatable it was.
Rajani LaRocca – My favorite book as a child was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I still can’t resist a fun story about smart kids solving puzzles!
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Which is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Margaret Chiu Greanias, 2022. Image © Tracy Subisak, 2022.
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Amah Faraway (1/25/2022) - The first banquet scene in Amah Faraway was inspired by when I took my kids (age 4 and 6 at the time) to Taiwan. My mom invited 14 tables of 12 relatives each to welcome us. Most of them we had never met before. My children ate... rice. Finally. We had arrived a day and half prior to the banquet, and I wondered what my children would eat for the remaining eight days we had left in our trip.
My favorite spread is the second banquet. In it, Kylie is devouring the food that she previously balked at eating, Amah is resting her chin in her hand while gazing lovingly at Kylie, and there is a festive lion dancer in the background for Lunar New Year.
Text © NoNieqa Ramos, 2022. Image © Paola Escobar, 2022.
NoNieqa Ramos – Beauty Woke (2/15/2022) - One of the things I love about Paola Escobar’s illustrations is how she balances a modern day representation of Puerto Ricans while honoring their ancestral roots. In addition to the ebullient color palette, the fluid motion, and exuberant emotion, I adore all the little details she created like the mundillo (lace) on Baby Beauty’s blanket, the Latinx books scattered on every page, the Boricua bracelet adorning a tía’s wrist. Every page is an invitation to pause, explore, and revel. Young readers can play I Spy! They can spy the book covers of the Puerto Rican super hero La Borinqueña and Paola’s Pura Belpre award winning book Planting Stories: The Life Of Librarian And Storyteller by Anika Aldamuy Denise.
One of my favorite spreads contains the stunning representation of the variety of Puerto Rican flags. Children can explore the meanings of the variety of flags and investigate their own cultural roots.
Text © Mindy Yuksel, 2022. Image © Mariam Quraishi, 2022.
Mindy Yuksel – One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University (2/22/2022) - Mariam Quraishi’s illustrations are stunning, inviting, and full of warmth. I love her ingenious use of the main character’s dress and hijab as a thread running through the pages of the book. I have many favorite illustrations, but if I were to name one, it’s the last spread showing students wearing the same fabric color and pattern as Fatima al-Fihri’s hijab, figuratively connecting the past and the future, and the influence her school continues to have.
Text © Rajani LaRocca, 2022. Image © Sara Palacios, 2022.
Rajani LaRocca – I’ll Go and Come Back (3/29/2022) - There are so many beautiful spreads in the book! Illustrator Sara Palacios did an incredible job depicting both the Indian and the American scenes in such a dynamic and tender way. One of my favorite spreads is the world’s most beautiful hopscotch design that the grandmother and granddaughter create. It calls back to the colors in a rangoli design earlier in the story, and just pops off the page!
Each of the illustrators definitely created some beautiful worlds in these books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – I'm kind of shy, so this question freaks me out a bit. But it would be cool to meet Beverly Cleary. I remember loving her books as a child. I would ask her how she made Ramona into an unforgettable character who jumps off the page.
NoNieqa Ramos – I would love to meet the Royal Family of the Bronx, led by three famous sisters called The Tres Hermanas, Evelina Lopez Antonetty, Lillian Lopez, and Elba Cabrera. Evelina, who has transitioned to the afterlife, was the Known as the “mother of the Bronx.” She was a fierce civil rights activist who fought for marginalized working class families to have access to quality food, housing, and education. Lillian Lopez, who has also transitioned, was a famous librarian who fought for bilingual staff and books in libraries. She actually worked with Pura Belpre to ensure the library expanded services to community centers and day care centers. Elba, who survives her sisters, is known as “La Madrina de los Artes” for all her work opening doors for artists of color. They believed that regardless of income and zip code, all families should be empowered to live their best lives. Their grandchildren are just as inspiring!
Mindy Yuksel – I would love to be transported in time to 9th century Fez, Morocco to meet Fatima al-Fihri. Just knowing about her remarkable legacy is inspiring and validating for me as a Muslim woman. Meeting her would be icing on the cake.
Rajani LaRocca – I would love to meet Mindy Kaling. Her writing is so incredible — a striking combination of hilarious and poignant. And she’s done so much to put South Asian characters into popular entertainment.
That would be quite the fun gathering! What was the hardest or most challenging part about writing your book?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Amah Faraway (1/25/2022) - The most challenging part of writing my book was writing within the reverse structure. Knowing exactly what I wanted to convey made it slightly easier. But I would write a few lines and then read them forwards and in reverse so I was essentially writing from the beginning and end of the book in towards the middle. When I got stuck, I would pore over other reverse poems so that I could get ideas of what kinds of sentence structures worked.
NoNieqa Ramos – Beauty Woke (2/15/2022) - Because Beauty Woke deals with such sensitive topics as racism with a young audience, I labored feverishly to ensure I was treating my future readers with tender loving care. While Your Mama was purely a work of joy and exultation, Beauty Woke was a labor of pain and joy. Both are messages of unconditional love to children.
Mindy Yuksel – One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University (2/22/2022) - The most challenging part about writing One Wish was finding and contacting scholars to help clarify and answer questions I had about my research topic. I did lots of research on my own but the deeper I dug, the more questions I had. So, I had to find experts on the topic of 9th century North Africa, Fatima al-Fihri, and education. Fortunately, I found not one but two scholars - Dr. Schumann at Princeton University, and Dr. Sadiqi at Fez University, both helped guide me through a myriad of questions over a period of three years.
Rajani LaRocca – I’ll Go and Come Back (3/29/2022) - This was one of the first picture books I ever wrote, and it took nearly fifty revisions before I found my agent and sold it. The core of this story was always the same, but I had to find the right words to express its heart perfectly. This was in fact the first book we every sold, way back in March 2018…so in many ways, the hardest part of this book journey has been the waiting!
Can you describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far.
Margaret Chiu Greanias – I'd always heard about how slow the publishing industry is, but now I feel like I've internalized it. I'm much more patient now; I'll take my time revising and not feel stressed out about getting things done by a self-imposed due date.
NoNieqa Ramos – One thing I’ve learned in my writing journey is the power of community and hope. I am constantly reminded of the gift and blessing of artists like my Soaring 20s sibs to change the world one book at a time.
Mindy Yuksel – It took me five years to write One Wish. During this period, I wanted to quit many times. Some days seemed like a bleak uphill climb, especially when I was receiving one rejection after another from agents, and then editors. But my passion for the project wouldn’t subside. I kept revising and submitting and continued putting one foot in front of the other on that uphill climb. What I’ve learned so far in my journey is that writing is a matter of perseverance and patience. Keep going. Don’t quit.
Rajani LaRocca – I’ve learned to write what I care about, what’s truly important and in my heart, because that shows on the page. My stories can be funny, silly, sweet, or sad — but when they express a part of my true self, others can feel it, and they want to read them.
Thank you all for sharing these discoveries. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Margaret Chiu Greanias – Yellowstone! Secretly, I would love to be a wildlife photographer. When I'm there, I'm always on the lookout for fur or feathers and have my camera ready!
NoNieqa Ramos – I would like to visit Crater Lake National Park is in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon. It’s known for its namesake Crater Lake, formed by the now-collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama. Wizard Island is a cinder cone near the western edge of the lake. The Rim Drive, a road surrounding the lake, offers views of the park’s volcanic formations.
Mindy Yuksel – My favorite national park is the Grand Canyon. I always wanted to visit what is considered one of the Wonders of the World and have been fortunate enough to visit it twice. Once to the North rim, and once to the South. Each visit has been breathtaking!
Rajani LaRocca – We went to in Utah several years ago, and it was breathtaking, from the hike through water-filled slot canyons to the exhilarating view at Angel’s Landing. I would love to go there again someday.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens @ https://www.soaring20spb.com/.