Today I have a colorful picture book to share with you.
Nick Solis has visited my blog before. This is his second published picture book and he is also a teacher (like me). He has been writing all of his life, is a member of SCBWI and 12×12, and he’s a fellow at the Writing Barn. You can learn more about him at his website.
“The Color Collector” is an incredibly touching story told from the point of view of a young boy who sees a young girl who is new at his school. He recognizes her shy quietness as being similar to his own shyness, and simply notices her. That is how he observes her habit of picking up random bits of what seem like garbage to him. He sees her repeat this behavior until he can no longer keep his curiosity at bay and approaches her. What happens after that is incredibly touching, but this book is made all the more powerful by the illustrations. Illustrator Renia Metallinou chooses to use a very limited color pallette that slowly accumulates color, just as the girl collects them (and introduces them to the story). This choice transforms this story into an incredible piece of art. This is one you will have to see for yourself.
Welcome back Nick!
Me: “The Color Collector” is very different from your first picture book “The Staring Contest.” What gave you the idea?
Nick: I agree, this is completely different from my first book, but I think both represent me very well. I like to think that I’m a pretty funny guy, so The Staring Contest speaks to the goofy side of me. But I also feel like fitting in hasn’t always been the easiest thing for me to do. The Color Collector connects with a part of my childhood that was pretty difficult.
I originally got the idea for The Color Collector while looking at a piece of art. There was a little girl wearing black and white, collecting colorful leaves. What stood out was her extremely sad eyes. I found myself thinking about her life and why she was so sad. Bit by bit, I filled in her back story with aspects of my own life.
Me: This book is both beautiful and brilliant. It tells of a “new kid” who is lonely, but it’s told from the perspective of another child who notices and tries to connect. Is being the new kid an important topic to you? Why did you want to share this with young readers?
Nick: Being the “new kid” is extremely important to me, because I was the new kid. My parents divorced when I was very young, and that meant we moved quite a bit when I was growing up. The most difficult move was during the middle of 7th grade. Surviving junior high is hard enough, but when you pull a kid out in the middle of the year and place them in a new school, you might as well be putting them on another planet. I had no friends for the rest of the year, and I was beyond miserable. I was angry all the time and it was agreed that if I could make it through the next year in junior high, then I could move back with my dad for high school.
But then an amazing thing happened in 8th grade. A kid named Dylan said hi to me. That’s it! He said hi, and I said hi, and then his friends said hi, and before I knew it I was smiling and hanging out with some pretty cool people. It wasn’t all sleepovers and best friend adventures like you see in movies, but that simple act of kindness changed my life. I came out of my shell and became the funny one of the group. I was able to make more and more friends and talk to just about anyone about anything. I decided to stay with my mom so I could go to high school with my new friends, and I’m still friends with a lot of them 30 years later! All because one kid said hi to me. I want to share this book with those kids that are lonely so they know that it can always get better. And I want to share it with those kids that aren’t lonely so they know they can make a huge difference in someone’s life if they just reach out and say hi.
Me: I love that! Everything about this book, including your dedication, tells me that this is a story that is closer to your heart. Was it hard to write? How many revisions did it undergo?
Nick: The story wasn’t hard to write in the sense that I could feel what Violet was going through, so I knew what she was thinking from day one. My struggle came with how to deliver the story. My first few drafts were heavy with exposition and narrative. But it didn’t feel right. It felt too wordy and didn’t fit the character. But one night I woke up around 2am with the whole book in my head! But instead of a story, it came out more like a poem. Each stanza was short and sparse, which seemed to fit the mood of the book and Violet so much better. I wrote the whole thing in 30 minutes, while I was half asleep. Of course, many more revisions later (in the light of day), we get The Color Collector and I couldn’t be happier.
Me: I love how specific the character of Violet is and where she is from. She’s the only character with a name (as the main character remains “I” for the whole story). Was she based on anyone you know? What went into developing her character?
Nick: Violet is mostly me and a mix of students that I have taught over the years. Violet is a representation of the loneliness I felt growing up and of the longing a lot of my students have expressed for the homes they have left or the family members they can no longer see. The demographics have changed over the years, but a lot of my earlier students were born in the US, but their parents weren’t. I have sat through many ‘circle share times’ where my kids have talked about how they haven’t seen their dads, moms, sisters, or brothers in months and it will break your heart.
Me: The illustrations by Renia Metallinou are brilliant. Her use of a limited color palette that gradually collects colors (like the main character) as the story goes along is stunning! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Nick: Please go follow Renia’s instagram account right now! She is amazing and I am so glad that she was chosen to work on this project. I had no input when it came to the illustrations, so everything was a surprise to me! The way she uses sparse color at the beginning of the story but slowly adds color throughout, adds so much to the character arc of Violet. But I have to say that the page that blew my mind was the page where Violet first walks into her room. It is like the page actually glows! It is awesome!
Me: I agree! That scene is gorgeous. NO spoilers here though! Any other projects we can look forward to from you in the future?
Nick: My next book, My Town, Mi Pueblo, will be out in the fall with Nancy Paulsen Books. I am so excited for this book to come out! Two kids from opposite sides of the border visit each other’s towns. They discover amazing foods, fun celebrations, and awesome games! But as they explore, they begin to realize they aren’t very different from each other after all. Then why does a wall divide them? In this bilingual picture book readers are invited to explore two very different cultures and discover the similarities that connect us all.
Me: Wow! That sounds fantastic. What is your favorite color? Does it make an appearance in “The Color Collector”? If yes, what is your favorite use of this color in the book?
Nick: My favorite color is purple and it shows up throughout the book. From the main character’s name, Violet, to the hints of color at the beginning of the book and then the splashes of color at the end, purple plays a vital role in The Color Collector.
What a perfect name for the main character then! I love that. Thanks for stopping by again Nick.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, I cannot recommend it enough. This is a book that makes me tear up every time I’ve read it (and I’ve read it multiple times). It is bursting with heart and amazing illustration choices. You don’t want to miss this one.