It’s another Simply 7 with Marsha Diane Arnold about her latest book “Mine. Yours.”
This is Marsha’s third visit to my blog and I’m delighted she is stopping by once again. If you aren’t familiar with her work, let me introduce you. Marsha Arnold is an award-winning children’s author with over one million books sold. Her titles include Waiting for Snow, Roar of a Snore, and The Bravest of Us All. Her honors include Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book Awards, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her latest book “Mine. Yours.” is another book with an astoundingly short word count, much like “Lost. Found.” This time, however, the story is set in Asia with Pandas, Pangolins and many other unique critters. The illustrations by Qin Leng are done in watercolors so beautiful my jaw dropped numerous times. The story follows one young panda through many hijinks and will undoubtedly create some great conversations between parents and young readers.
Welcome back Marsha!
Me: I’m going to start this interview with an unusual question. I remember interviewing you about “Waiting for Snow” and the characters in it back in 2016. I asked you then if you thought there would be sequels and you said no. But I was delighted to see “Badger’s Perfect Garden” came out earlier this spring and assumed it was the “seed” story you mentioned working on at that time. Is it? Can we hope to see a “searching for sunshine” story with him in the future as well? I’m just curious.
Marsha: You have a good memory, Jena! It’s true that I like writing about badgers and Badger’s Perfect Garden was the story about seeds that I mentioned. Our conversation was in November, 2016, and the contract for Badger’s Perfect Garden was signed in November, 2017. But our badger in Waiting for Snow’s main personality trait is impatience and our badger in Badger’s Perfect Garden is perfectionism. So, they’re not the same badger. Maybe they’re cousins!
I’ve put the “searching for sunshine” story away for awhile, but I may bring it back someday.
Me: I love Pandas! Were Pandas always what you had in mind for your protagonists in “Mine. Yours.” from the beginning?
Marsha: I love Pandas too! However, Pandas were not my original characters. Mine. Yours. was meant to be a follow-up to Lost. Found. so I first wrote it with most of the characters in Lost. Found. I also tried humans! I’m so happy I ended with Pandas and other Asian animals. Qin Leng’s illustrations imbue them with such spirit and personality.
Me: The choice of setting, as well as the other animals (very specific animals from Asia) is also fascinating. Was this your choice? Or was this where the illustrator interpreted your text into the final illustrations?
Marsha: It was my choice. I specifically named each animal in the illustrator notes and also shared this in my cover letter: “As kites are strongly associated with China, Marsha uses animals of China and games of China, enriching the story with a cultural overlay, yet sharing a universal theme all readers will enjoy.”
Here’s an example of an art note:
[Pangolin beats a small tanggu drum with his tail. Little Panda’s kite
drops on drum and Pangolin’s tail. Protectively, Pangolin covers the drum.]
Me: This story is deceptively simple in its limited text. Every time I see a text this sparse (only 25 words!) I wonder how it was written. I know a lot of other picture book writers also wonder how a text like this is formatted for submission. Can you give us a little insight into how you did this? Did you have any illustrator notes?
Marsha: For a minimal text manuscript like this, illustrator notes are essential. Just as in most picture book manuscripts, the writer determines the setting, the characters, and the plot. I even added information like Little Panda being an orphan. The reader may not be aware of this, but it likely influenced the book’s first pages.
My manuscript actually began with an illustrator note. Here are the first few lines of my manuscript:
[Art Note: An orphan baby, Little Panda, wanders through the forest, confused and sad. He comes upon Big Panda’s cave/tree hollow and crawls inside.]
[Big Panda wakes with a start, realizing someone is in his den.]
[Big Panda places Little Panda outside his den.]
To help with understanding, I added adjectives, words like “frowning” and “distressed.” It’s unusual to do this in illustrator notes, but for this manuscript it worked. Here’s an example:
[Distressed, River Otter points at kite.]
I also suggested using panels as in this art note and I really love how Qin used panels in the book.
[Wind grows blustery. Kite whips higher, dipping and rising, zigzagging, leading Little Panda back to clearing. A double spread could possibly be done in panels.]
Me: Wow! Thank you for that insight. It’s amazing seeing what Qin produced. This is a story about possession; these are your things and these are mine. I think this is a theme that any young child can relate to. They start being possessive of “stuff” very early. (Don’t get me started about the fights over pencils alone in my first grade classroom!) Is this an important theme for you? Or did you think about its universal appeal to children when you wrote it?
Marsha: Since the title is Mine. Yours. I knew the story would be about possession and sharing. My writing isn’t usually led by themes, though. The characters lead me through my stories. I follow them and see where they go, just as Little Panda followed his kite.
Me: As I know you love animals as much as I do, I have to ask: which of the fascinating animals in this book was your favorite?
Marsha: The pandas take center stage in the book and they also take center stage in my heart.
Thanks so much, Jena, for always opening your heart to my books and me, like Big Panda opened his heart and home to Little Panda in the end.
Me: Aww! You’re welcome. You’ve had quite a few books come out the last few years. Do you have any future projects we can look forward to as well?
I’ve been blessed with two books per year for the past three years. Next year I have one coming out from Creative Editions. I think they are the perfect publishers for Lights Out!, my book about light pollution and animals searching for the dark. I knew animals moving through nighttime light pollution into darkness would be challenging to illustrate, but Creative Editions does beautifully illustrated books and they found Susan Reagan, a brilliant, imaginative artist, to illustrate Lights Out! I’ve seen some early sketches and artwork and they are perfection.
Another secret. The original title of Lights Out! was Searching for the Dark. My characters may not find the sunshine, but maybe they’ll find the darkness. You’ll need to wait until 2020 to see.
I can’t wait to read it. Dear readers this is a book you must track down to read. And as a an added bonus, we are hosting a give away of this very book. Just enter at the Rafflecopter here. But wait, there’s more! There are also these MineYours_Activities that you can share with your children, your students, or even yourself (if you love coloring)!