When a boy flying a kite notices that the moon looks sad, he sends up kites to comfort her and promises he will visit someday. The premise of A Kite for Moon (Zonderkidz, Apr.) by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Matt Phelan and dedicated to Neil Armstrong, has particular resonance this year. In a conversation with PW, the mother-daughter authors explained how their book went through several phases before lift-off.
What sparked A Kite for Moon?
JY: I’m a space travel junkie, and I’ve written space-themed books for early readers, YA readers, and adults, so writing a space-travel picture book wasn’t that much of a stretch. However, when I started this book, it was more of a kite-flying book. My father was a champion kite flyer, and I’d written a number of books about kites early in my career, but A Kite for Moon morphed into space travel as it went along.
When did Heidi become involved in the project?
JY: After I wrote the first drafts, my agent and I liked the story enough to send it out to editors, but nobody bought it.
HS: Eventually, it went in the “rejected” drawer. After a few years, my mom asked me to get it out and send it back out for consideration. But I thought it needed some work. I mean a lot of work. So I asked her if I could take a whack at it. The bones of the story were good, but it was too long and overly sentimental. It promised a great ending but didn’t deliver. With her permission, I lopped off sections, tightened up the storyline, and compressed the text. I played around with the language and gave it the ending it deserved.
JY: Heidi is one smart editor and critic. When she finished with the story, I said, “This is sensational. Now it’s not just my book, but our book.” It sold to the first editor who saw it, Margot Wallace at Zonderkidz.
In what way did Neil Armstrong inspire your story, and what do you hope children will take away from it?
HS: The paired themes of the kite and the moon and astronaut were there before I stepped into the project. But as I read it that first time, I kept thinking of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing, with the whole world watching and listening in. That was the emotional ending I wanted.
JY: I remember watching the moon landing as it happened—on a very, very, very small TV set. Heidi was about two at the time. I hope kids are inspired by the book enough to study the moon and stars.
HS: We also hope readers relate to the boy in this book making his dream a reality through hard work. Then, hopefully, they will see themselves in the child pictured on the last page, watching Neil Armstrong’s achievement and planning her own journey—be it a literal journey or a metaphoric one.