The final day of the U.S. Book Show, May 27, PW freelance editor Natasha Gilmore moderated a sponsored author panel highlighting forthcoming picture books, including Ryan Higgins’s Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes He Did) (Disney-Hyperion); Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Strong (Roaring Brook); and Nabela Noor’s Beautifully Me (Simon & Schuster).
Starting with the author introductions, Noor brought in high energy, saying, “I’m so excited to be creating a picture book, my debut book, about self-love,” an excitement that was quickly mirrored by the rest of the panel. Gilmore jokingly said, “I think for picture books when you do your 17th one you get a free Subway sandwich,” after Higgins held up an impressive stack of his picture books. “I heard it was 18th,” he teased.
Asked about a book that impacted them in childhood, Noor fondly remembered heroines such as Junie B. Jones and Amelia Bedelia. “I want[ed] to create someone just as iconic but for girls who may not have seen themselves represented; especially as a child, I couldn’t find a book that I could pick up that resembled my family.”
“We didn’t have a lot of books in my actual house,” Miller mused, “but there was this book called When I Have a Little Girl and something about it fascinated me.” It led to a library trip and discovering many other books, and to the thought that “maybe I could make something like that.”
“The biggest influence on me was comic strips,” Higgins said. “My favorite literary thing of all time is Calvin and Hobbes.”
The conversation progressed to where they get their inspiration from and how they go about writing it all down. “[The idea for my story] really consisted of pulling inspiration from personal experiences and allowing it to be organic,” Noor stated. “I wanted it to feel authentic.”
“I wrote among dirty laundry and dirty socks and dirty dishes... all of the things you handle as a parent,” Miller said. “I would fit it in wherever I could.” She stressed how she likes to focus on emotions as topics for her stories and reading piles of picture books to stimulate creativity. “It’s amazing how inspired I get by cool work people do.”
Higgins jokingly began by detailing how he likes to hike up a mountain in a nearby town to meet an elephant holding a bucket of books he can take home. But then he turned serious, detailing the endearing back and forth of ideas between him and his wife. “When a flash of inspiration hits me,” he said, “I have to get to work.”
Higgins added, “For me I generally just like writing what is entertaining to me. I [also] think it’s important for kids to learn to [share their friends, and that change happens].”
Miller addressed her previous book Be Kind, and how she carried over a character, Tanisha, to her new book. “I wanted to give the girl who was having a bad day, Tanisha, a better day.”
The panel ended with targeted questions for the authors. Noor, in reference to how her book addresses love in a community, said, “Self-love isn’t just for ourselves, it’s to create a loving world around us.” She said she knew her book was needed “because I work in the self-love advocacy space. I had to help create a community of kids who will know from the beginning that they can define beauty for themselves.”
When asked why she writes for children, Miller responded, “Sometimes kids feel powerless. It’s about them realizing ‘I can make a difference,’ It might not be a big difference but it can contribute to a change. And I think a lot of adults [also] need that message.”
And in closing, Higgins talked about what voices he imagines his illustrations to have. “In my head Bruce sounds like Ron Swanson. Penelope Rex, to me she sounds like my daughter. When I was a kid, I was that kid who would roar when drawing dinosaurs.” And, in a quick afterthought, he added, “In my head my books are narrated by Anthony Hopkins.”