It is almost an annual tradition now for the past couple of years that Miranda Paul has stopped by my blog towards the end of August or beginning of September. There must be some magic in the air that makes that happen!
Miranda Paul has written several award winning picture books. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her latest book, “Mia Moves Out,” is a story about siblings and the need for one’s own space. But this one has a unique twist as Mia is adopted. Yet this isn’t the focus of the book at all. Only a mature reader might be able to figure this out (as it isn’t mentioned in the text or anywhere on the cover flaps, etc.).
Welcome back Miranda!
Me: In the beginning of the book, Mia moves in with her parents already grown. Was it your intention that she was adopted? Is adoption a topic near and dear to your heart?
Miranda: It was my intention that she was adopted, but not to focus the story on the adoption per se. Adoptees need to see themselves in picture books realistically and confidentially finding a sense of belonging in similar ways any other kid might navigate a big move or change.
Estimates are that each year, nearly a hundred thousand children in the US are waiting to move in with relatives, foster parents or an adoptive family. People in my extended family have taken in foster children, and those individuals have become a part of the family. A topic very near and dear to my heart is all children being able to see themselves represented in a book, even in seemingly small details. The “issue” books are important, but so are these casual representations of children just being, well…children.
Me: Wonderfully put! This book is also about the struggle of dealing with another sibling. How many siblings did you have growing up? Did you share a room?
Miranda: I have two siblings, and yes, I shared a room—and a bed—up until my tween/teen years. Now as a parent of two children (who has also been a host mom for nine international students over the past decade) I see the quest for independence and finding a quiet space of one’s own as a relatable experience for most children.
Me: I think every child can relate to “moving out” over one frustration or another at some point. I know I had a pillow case packed full of toys at one point (just in case) when I was younger. Did you ever “move out” when you were young?
Miranda: I don’t remember specifically running away as a toddler, but I should probably ask my parents! As I got older, let’s just say I grew into a fiercely independent young woman. I also had friends who tried running away, which is a serious issue that warrants a discussion in another venue. In this book, I wanted to honor children’s feelings of anger and frustration as valid. Adults often think kids are unjustified in their tantrums, but their emotions are real. In Mia Moves Out, her new parents don’t try to fight Mia on her attempt to solve her own problem. They give her practical advice—and a stuffed friend—and keep a distant eye on her while she figures things out for herself. In some ways, they’re the opposite of helicopter parents.
Me: Or was this story inspired by experiences with your own children? Have they ever tried to “move out” at some point or another? What gave you the idea for this story?
Miranda: My own kids have both run away at very young ages—my daughter stomped all the way to the end of the sidewalk (two houses down), and my son moved in to our neighbor’s bushes. It took me quite awhile to find him, actually! My own children were definitely an inspiration for this story. But I must also mention my little cousin Mikey. He would constantly yell, “I do it my own!” if you tried to tie his shoe or zip his coat. We still tease him about his strong desire for independence more than twenty years later.
Me: The illustrations in this book by Paige Keiser are absolutely adorable! I love that toy fox! Were there any illustration surprises for you when you saw the completed book?
Miranda: I’ve never met Paige, but her art is both whimsical and cozy. Although I never directly talked to her about it, I love that Brandon and Mia don’t look exactly like each other—not all siblings do, especially when they’re not biologically related. And the parents are an interracial couple as well, which my kids like to point out and are happy to see. Other lovely illustration surprises include the heart-patterned undies (undies are always hilarious) and the fox’s fainting-from-ickiness posture on the page where Mom intrudes Mia’s new “bathroom” lair.
My favorite page of all, however, might be the one where Mia takes Brandon’s hand and gets her best idea of all. It’s just so darn. . . cute!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Miranda: I can’t say it was entirely a surprise, but fiction picture books are HARD! This book was originally about a much older, spunkier girl named Dolores and included her moving out to a castle, a gated community, and a high-rise condo. It was clever and punny, and although it’s still basically the same story, my editor helped me see that I’d overwritten it. I tied up every loose end in narrative perfection—but then realized that perfection is not real life. In the end, Mia and Brandon’s room is still messy, leaving an unresolved problem. But I think most parents and kids would agree—the issue of an untidy room is never truly resolved in a shared space. In this way, I honor all real families who struggle with daily problems. By leaving the ending as is, I didn’t sugar coat the experience of sharing with siblings for the sake of a perfect-but-unrealistic ending that wins favor in the critic’s eye but leaves kids wondering why solving problems is so much quicker and easier in books.
Me: I love that! What is one thing you learned while writing this book that might translate to advice for new picture book writers?
Miranda: During the multi-year process of writing Mia Moves Out, I learned that clever and entertaining writing does not equal remarkable, memorable, or relatable writing. Since I’d been working on mostly nonfiction and poetic/rhyming texts previous to this one, I’d almost forgotten how deceptively difficult writing a simple and sweet prose fiction picture book was. I will never come close to making that mistake again.
Writing is hard no matter how many books you’ve written. In fact, the more you write, the more difficult writing becomes because you push yourself harder. With every book you write, you grow—but so do your expectations of yourself and your work. It’s a neverending game of cat-and-mouse so you’d better enjoy honing your craft or it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Absolutely. Great advice! Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this picture book, you must track it down. It’s a sweet story and worth a read.