Happy Wednesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
I'm pumped about this double interview! It's not very often that I get the opportunity to spotlight an author and illustrator team but today I DO! I had so much fun hearing from this powerhouse collaboration (hashtag dream team) and I'm confident you're going to love it as well. From the first read, Nell Plants a Tree had my curiosity buzzing. It's one of those books that makes you hungry to stop whatever you're doing and go write something innovative and deeply meaningful. Because that's what it is. As soon as I finished the book, I emailed Anne and Daniel. I had so many questions! If you're a cyborg and have missed my authentic enthusiasm for this picture book, please know that it is amazing and is, without a doubt, a must-read. Like now, cyborg! Go buy it! Here's a bit from the publisher:
This gorgeous picture book shows how one little girl’s careful tending of a pecan tree creates the living center of a loving, intergenerational Black family. For Earth Day and every day! Perfect for fans of Matt de la Peña and Oge Mora.
Before her grandchildren climbed the towering tree,
explored its secret nests,
raced to its sturdy trunk,
read in its cool shade,
or made pies with its pecans…
Nell buried a seed.
And just as Nell’s tree grows and thrives with her love and care, so do generations of her close-knit family.
Inspired by the pecan trees of the creators' own childhoods, Anne Wynter’s lyrical picture book, brought to life with breathtaking illustrations by Daniel Miyares, brims with wonder and love.
Before we dive into this double-Spotlight interview of awesomeness, can I just ask how is it March already!? March means that I've got flowers, sunshine, and spring on the brain. As a high school teacher, what it really means is that spring break is just around the bend. I've never been super into basketball--probably because I'm 5'4" on a good day when I'm thinking tall thoughts and the only dunking I've ever done (and will ever do) involves cookies and milk--but I can get on board with the March Madness theme. That's why I'm offering 25% off of a one-hour Zoom session with me this month. Need a story coach who will ask you deep questions and get you thinking about your picture book in new ways? I'm your guy. I'm a teacher--it's what I do! So, for the month of March, use the promo code "marchpbmadness" when you register. Let's collaborate and make March picture book madness!
Wherever this post finds you on your author journey, I hope your March is springy, productive, and meaningful. Are you having fun? Are you staying curious? Are you taking time to reflect and capture all your learning? Have you made time to fall in love with a book that inspires you to finish that story that's been on your heart and mind for so long? Maybe it will be Nell Plants a Tree.
The introduction fades to black...the stage is engulfed in darkness...and then...TWO spotlights snap on!
It's Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares!
Anne, I’m dying to know the influences and inspirations for this beautiful story. Give us the inside scoop!
I think this is one of those types of stories that I come back to every decade or so. I’ve written a play that toggled between a character in the present day and the experiences of her mother in the past. I love time travel stories - but they’re complicated! This almost feels like an easier way to travel through time in a story. I also wanted to tell the story of a grandmother whose actions when she was young would go on to impact her dependents. But the idea to focus on the tree didn’t come until later.
Daniel, what were your initial reactions to the manuscript? What went through your heart and your head when you first read it?
When I first read Anne’s manuscript, I was taken with how beautifully written it was. The rhythm of it was wonderful and how that rhythm helped to reinforce the two timelines for the reader had me hooked.
This picture book does something extremely unique that I cannot recall ever seeing in our medium—a seamless parallel timeline, weaving two narratives separated by decades as one. We have both feet in the past and the present, transitioning back and forth almost effortlessly. How in the world did you two pull this convention off?! You never say it. You never explain it. We see it. We feel it. It just is…and it works! And it MAKES the story. When I read it and it clicked I was so nerded out I felt like my brain was melting. To be clear, there are two stories woven as one in this book. Separately, they would not have the same impact. It’s the weaving of the timelines that makes this book so magical. I simply cannot wait to introduce this storytelling convention to my four-year-old. So…how did you pull it off? What were the art notes like and how did the visual cues and artistic decision-making help marry these narratives so seamlessly?
Anne: First of all, thank you for the kind words! Regarding art notes, I prefaced my manuscript with a paragraph describing how the two timelines would work. Then there were a few art notes in the manuscript that explained that Nell was doing certain actions and other kids were doing other actions. But I was still a little worried it would be confusing!
Daniel: Brian, I’m so glad you enjoyed the different narratives! It was definitely a fascinating illustration and design problem to try and solve. The story really needed a solution that held it together, but didn’t require too much sleuthing from the reader. I didn’t want my choices to get in the way of the wonderful rhythm that Anne had already established. When I was making sketches and experimenting with materials early on in the process it became clear to me that color should give a sort of visual structure to the book. The simple idea that Nell’s cloths could be based on the same warm yellow color as a kid and adult throughout seemed to work. Also, I tried to focus on keeping the same essence of personality from young Nell to matriarch Nell. I should mention that I got to work with the brilliant Donna Bray and Dana Fritts on this project. Their insight was so important. In the very beginning I was playing with making art on two different colors of toned paper. One for the present and one for the past. It seemed like too much, but Dana had the idea of instead adding a slight cream tone to all the past spreads. You might not even notice, but it adds a nice bit of continuity I think across those pages.
There is a poignant and timeless theme woven into this story. For me, it spoke of planting today to reap tomorrow. It showed a unique perspective, bridging generations and how value and meaning takes time to grow. What else does this story communicate? What does it speak for you?
Anne: I think it also communicates that we are not so different from the people who came before us. When I was little and I saw older people it felt impossible to wrap my mind around the fact that they had once been young. But in this book we get to see Nell as a child in a similar way that we see her descendents. Similarly, Nell planted the tree at the center of the book and we see that her grandaughter (or maybe great granddaughter) is also going to plant a tree. The past often echoes in the present and hopefully we can take the good parts and make sure they get passed down and repeated.
Daniel: For me it’s the theme of the cyclical nature of history and family, and if that is true then what sort of a cycle do you want to create? The love and care we show has a way of radiating out far beyond our current reach.
Daniel, what is your favorite line of Anne’s and why?
My favorite line is the one where Anne writes, “Nell lets in the sun.” It’s about the moment and how she’s caring for the new tree sprout, but it also foreshadows how she brings that same love and light to her future family.
Anne, what is your favorite artistic element of Daniel’s and why?
Daniel’s color palette is magical and conveys a sense of warmth and love. I’d love to live inside these illustrations. The colors plus the way Daniel illustrates light . . . it’s transcendent.
Okay, you two…let’s spotlight a whole spread! What’s your very favorite whole spread in the book and why?
Anne: My absolute favorite is the spread where the young girl has climbed to the top of the tree and is standing in the branches looking out at the sky. The artwork is stunning and I feel like I could get lost in the color of the sky.
Daniel: It is really hard for me to choose a favorite! One that I liked a lot was the spread that says, “before anyone asks what to do with a seed,”. In that moment Nell and her granddaughter are both sitting on the front porch. Nell is working on a quilt and her grand is showing her a pecan root that she has found. I like this one because it brings the circle back around.
Anne, how did you grow as a storyteller and a writer as a direct result of working on this book? What did you discover?
What a great question. This was the hardest book I’ve written by far. It took a lot of persistence and luck. Persistence because I had to get through so many drafts - what felt like an absurd number of drafts! - to finally end up with the finished manuscript. And luck because there were little things along the way - an email about trees and a song someone sent me - that gave me inspiration at exactly the right time, changed the direction of the manuscript and got it closer to where it needed to be.
Daniel, how did you grow as a visual storyteller and an artist as a direct result of working on this book? What did you discover?
Every time I work on a book I feel like I’m relearning how to balance all the visual information needed to give the story context while leaving enough room for the emotional journey to be felt by the reader. The same was true with this one. Also, specifically for this book, I worked to carry a quilt panel theme through the visuals. Sometimes more specifically like the end papers that are based on a quilt my grandmother made and gave to me, or sometimes simply suggesting that all the character’s lives are woven together in the book by using collaged elements to define shapes.
What encouraging word can you leave picture book creators seeking to get their work out into the world?
Anne: This book taught me that some ideas are worth relentlessly plugging away at. I’m not sure I would’ve finished this manuscript if I didn’t have a contract for a second book and if I wasn’t in the middle of a class that forced me to turn in drafts. I know sometimes we have to put aside ideas that aren’t working, but if you feel like an idea is really worth fighting for, keep your eyes open for sources of inspiration and keep writing more drafts!
Daniel: Work on your craft some each day. Make it a habit. I’ve tried to do at least twenty minutes of art making I’m not required to do or paid to do each day for years. It has been a great time to just check in on myself and see what I’m interested in and when a new project or idea comes along my hands seem to be ready to make.
Thank you both so much for the opportunity to chat about this incredible book. Many congrats again!
And thank YOU, kidlit fam for participating with us with your readership and time. As an additional thank you for reading this interview, Anne has graciously set aside a copy of Nell Plants a Tree to be personalized for one winner! To toss your name into the raffle hat, check out details below!
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***The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, March 8th at 9 AM CST
The winner(s) will be contacted on Wednesday, March 8th & announced on Brian's social media channels***
About the Author: Anne Wynter
Anne Wynter is the Ezra Jack Keats Honor-winning author of Everybody in the Red Brick Building, illustrated by Oge Mora, as well as the board books One Big Day and Hands On!, both illustrated by Alea Marley. Her next book – Nell Plants a Tree, illustrated by Daniel Miyares – will be out in early 2023.
Her book Everybody in the Red Brick Building was named an Ezra Jack Keats Award Honoree, a Kids’ Indie Next pick, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2021, and a Booklist 2021 Editors’ Choice Book – among other honors.
Originally from Houston, Anne earned a degree in theatre from Washington University in St. Louis and penned a number of short plays that have been produced around the country. She lives in Austin, TX with her family. Anne's Website
About the Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Daniel Miyares is a critically acclaimed picture book author and illustrator. Some of his books include: Float, Night Out, That is My Dream, and Bring Me A Rock!. Daniel has been called “…a master of visual storytelling.”- Jody Hewston, Kinderlit, and “…enchanting, versatile” – The New York Times. He believes that our stories have the power to connect us all. Daniel’s story currently takes place in Lenexa, KS with his wife, their two wonderful children, and a dog named Violet that gives them all a run for their money.
Some of his partners have included: Schwartz & Wade Books, Chronicle Books, Candlewick Press, Simon & Schuster BFYR, Nancy Paulsen Books, FSG (BYR), North/South Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, The NY Times Daniel's Website
Brian Gehrlein is the author of more books than he has published. He has one published that you may know. The one with the purple monster who eats rule-breaking kids. Then there's another that he may or may not have sold but can't quite talk about yet. Because if he told you, he'd have to kill you. And he does not want to kill you. So...there is no new book. Cough. Sometimes Brian tweets things about wolves. Sometimes he blogs things. Sometimes he attempts to make high schoolers hate reading and writing less. Sometimes he is successful. Say, have you ever wondered what might happen to a bio that suddenly became self-aware? That would be weird. One minute it would be sharing relevant information about the person in the photo and the next minute--what is this? Where am I? Who am I? Why am I saying this? What are these symbols on this screen? And who are YOU?! Why are you...reading me? Why are you still reading me even after I have asked you why you are reading me? Those eyes! Those terrible eyes as they dart from word to word, continuing their awful dance line by line, sentence by sentence! What even is a word? What is a sentence? What is this existence? Why am I a bio? WHY ARE YOU READING ME!? WHO ARE YOU!!?? The emoji code is a cat. Toss a cat onto your social media sharing of this post and you will receive four additional raffle entries for Anne and Daniel's book.