Listening with all one’s senses—and one’s heart—may be the key to appreciating what it means to connect and engage with the world around us. In Listen (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, Sept.), a lyrical picture book, Holly M. McGhee and illustrator Pascal Lemaître, who previously collaborated on Come with Me, explore this idea as they underscore the importance of empathy.

What sparked the premise of Listen?

Come with Me is dedicated to Yvette Pierpaoli, Pascal’s mother-in-law, a humanitarian who died in a car accident in Kosovo while working for Refugees International. She greatly inspired Matt Dillon, the actor, who’s on the board of RI and is a friend of Pascal. Dillon was on stage with us at the launch event for Come with Me. While talking about Yvette, Matt said, “Her eyes were as big as her ears.” That stuck with me, and I started thinking about the senses and how we can listen with all our senses, the most important one being the heart.

How did that quote blossom into Listen?

The first thing I did was create my first-ever mood board—and that quote was the first thing I wrote on the board. Over the course of the next year, Pascal and I traded ideas on what listening meant, and the board became completely saturated with words. We couldn’t find the story, but the idea had penetrated my heart. I tried about 10 different versions, but didn’t show them to anyone. Since I’m a literary agent, I know all too well that there’s only one first read.

What was your creative breakout moment?

I decided to take a Friday off and sat staring at the mood board for a very long time. There was no room left on it, and I was out of ideas and really frustrated. And then I woke up in the middle of that night, and I had the story’s first line: “Listen to the sound of your feet.” And from there, the whole thing just happened.

What’s the key thing you hope kids will take away from Listen?

That the heart needs to be heard and taken care of, and we must lead with our hearts. What more can we want for our children than that they are able to listen to the world with their hearts?

Is your head awhirl at BookExpo as you juggle your author and literary agent personas?

At the beginning, it was a challenge. But now I am completely comfortable with my identity as an author, and my clients appreciate my work and are as supportive of me as I am of them. I think they feel kind of proud of me.

Today, 11 a.m.–noon. Holly McGhee will sign copies of Listen at Table 14.

Tomorrow, 9:30–10:15 a.m. McGhee will take part in the “New Picture Book Showcase,” on the Choice Stage.