Booksellers, said Today Show co-host and Children’s Book & Author Breakfast host Savannah Guthrie, “are putting magic and wonder and inspiration into children’s hands every day”—but at Friday morning’s BookExpo breakfast, a lot of magic, wonder, and inspiration came from the authors on the stage with Guthrie: Jennifer Weiner, Marieke Nijkamp, Jason Reynolds, and Isla Fisher, all emphasizing the importance of storytelling in people’s lives—including their own.
Saying that she was “seriously honored and intimidated” to share the stage with the four others, Guthrie introduced booksellers to Penelope Pineapple, the princess in Princesses Wear Pants (Abrams), the picture book she wrote with Allison Oppenheim, a clinical psychologist; the book was illustrated by Eva Byrne. The inspiration for Princesses Wear Pants came from a discussion between the co-authors about how “this princess thing is written in their daughters’ DNA.” Guthrie and Oppenheim created a princess “everyone could get behind,” Guthrie said, “Above all, she is a do-er. If she were a grown-up, she would drink triple espressos.”
After giving a shout-out to librarians “who like to party,” Weiner explained that she started writing children’s books because she did not want her daughters to read her adult fiction, and so decided to “write something that did not have blow jobs.” She also, she said, wanted to write novels for children who are at an age when they “can’t figure out their hair, [and] can’t figure out their bodies,” and feel like “a monster.” Weiner’s middle-grade novel, Little Bigfoot, Big City (S&S/Aladdin, Oct.) is a sequel to The Littlest Bigfoot. The Littlest Bigfoot, and is set in upstate New York where the three misfits, Alice, Millie, and Jeremy, live; Littlest Bigfoot, Big City is a mystery set in New York City.
Guthrie introduced Nijkamp, who lives in the Netherlands, as “a badass,” and Nijkamp demonstrated the truth of the description during her remarks. She is the author of the YA novel Before I Let Go (Sourcebooks, Jan. 2018), which is about a young woman’s investigation of her best friend’s mysterious death. Nijkamp recalled that she once lived in a group home for “disabled teens” and that she has always wanted to tell stories, to write books. “Stories are safety nets, are anchors,” she said, “Stories make us feel less alone. Stories taught me that there is always something worth fighting for.”
Nijkamp also issued a call for more diversity in books, pointing out how few novels portray characters with disabilities in a positive light. “We deserve to have stories written about us,” she said.
Jason Reynolds, Guthrie said in her introduction, “is crazy about stories.” Reynolds, who was at BEA promoting three YA novels—Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel (Marvel, Aug.), Long Way Down (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Oct.), and Patina (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Aug.), a sequel to his National Book Award finalist Ghost—recalled that when he was a child, his family would visit relatives in South Carolina. His cousins and he would play outside all day, and when the sun got too hot, they would sit below a large tree and eat pecans. He compared that memory to his desire to tell stories that “provide comfort” to readers—just as those pecans in the shade of the tree sustained him when the sun bore down. “What if I get to be the pecan tree?” he asked, adding, “You wanna go out and save the world, start with your own house.”
The morning’s final speaker, Isla Fisher, who is best known for her television and film credits, said that she wrote Marge in Charge (HarperCollins, Oct.) for her three children, as well as for emerging and reluctant readers to instill in them a love of reading. The two children in Marge in Charge are based upon her own children. “Laughter is so important,” she said, explaining that Marge “the naughty babysitter” does all the outrageous things that children “wish they could do.”
Disclosing that “stories were a huge part of my childhood” in Australia, Fisher recalled moving often and having to go to new schools during her youth. She “hid” in books, she said. “Because when you are lost in the world of books, you are never alone.” Books, she added, “save us from depression and ignorance.”