Sometimes events seem out of control in the world and they work against your book release. That wasn’t the case for today’s picture book which feels like it could have been a product of the pandemic (but it wasn’t!).
Diana Murray has visited my blog so many times, I’ve lost count. In fact, she was just here not too long ago with Luke Flowers talking about UNICORN NIGHT. She is now the author of over a dozen books for children and her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider, as well as many poetry anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a motley crew of pets. You can learn more about her at her website.
HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME is a hilarious book I think every parent can relate to right now. Many of us have gotten a taste of working from home with children either ourselves OR vicariously through news anchors who have gone viral when their child barges into the room. This book is written for all of us, but it’s especially for the kiddos as it’s told from the child’s point of view. It’s a great reminder for some of us who are desperately worn out from child care that kids never mean ill (they actually think they’re helping). Even better, the illustrations by the fantastic Cori Doerrfeld add more laughs. There are so many great moments here!
Welcome back Diana!
Me: “Help Mom Work From Home” is a timely picture book. Were you inspired to write this story before the pandemic? Or did the pandemic have anything to do with your idea for this story?
Diana: No, it wasn’t inspired by the pandemic, although that did make it timely. I had wanted to write some type of “instructional” text for a while. I had tried out other approaches and topics, and this one just struck the biggest chord for me. I wrote out some test stanzas and liked them so I just went with it.
The main inspiration came from my own experience working from home for many years. Here is a photo I took years ago that kind of summed up what it was like. When I posted the photo on social media, it seemed that a lot of other moms related.
Here is a second, more chaotic photo, too.
Me: Hee! Those are excellent illustrations. This is such a sweet story about a child “helping” their mom work from home and their bonding time. It is SO humorous with the illustrations by Cori Doerrfeld doing the opposite of some of the text. I have to ask, did you have art notes to indicate what was going on in some scenes? Or did you let Cori develop her own storyline for this one?
Diana: The way the text and the art interact in this story is very important. So I did put art notes in some areas, just to clarify. But they were pretty general. For example:
“Have meetings, take notes, [illo: meeting with stuffies, fake phone, multitasking]
make some calls, be persistent.
If Mom needs more help…
you can hire an assistant!” [illo: cat]
“Give Mom that big bonus
you wanted to share.” [illo: hug]
Me: I particularly love the scene where the kiddo is gathering important supplies and lining them up according to size. What did you imagine this scene to look like? I think Cori’s illustration is hilarious (and so accurate!). How did it measure up to what you were thinking when you wrote those lines?
Diana: Yes, I love that scene, too! I did not put any note there and just trusted Cori to come up with something fitting. It’s way funnier than what I pictured in my mind! And yes, so accurate to real life.
Me: Talking about Cori’s wonderful illustrations in this book, did you have any favorites? I adore the labeling folders vignette. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Diana: Probably the “gather important supplies” scene mentioned above. It was so funny and surprising that the kid was gathering and organizing dinosaurs and blocks as “important”. Cori added so many amazing little touches throughout the book. Like the way the tie on the teddy bear gets put on the cat! And I love how she has the kid looking over Mom’s shoulder while eating a bag of chips. All those touches really made me smile. Also, Cori is so incredible at capturing expressions.
Me: I agree! I once again bow down to your rhyme powers. The text just flows effortlessly here, as usual. What learning tools would you recommend to other writers interested in making such gorgeous rhyme?
Diana: Thank you so much! The most important thing is to read, read, read. Getting into a critique group with other rhymers is also essential. I’ve belonged to the Poets’ Garage for over a decade and it’s been great. There are also lots of helpful books on craft, such as “All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing” by Timothy Steele. A portion of that book can be read for free here. And for beginners, I find this article from Dori Chaconas to be super useful. Renee LaTulippe (who used to be in my critique group) has an absolutely fantastic free video series (Lyrical Language Lab) that I always recommend. Finally, I did an intensive on writing at rhyme for Storyteller Academy.
Me: Wow! Those are great resources. This is a wonderful book for all the working parents out there and their helpful kiddos. I notice you never once say that the kid is being annoying or needs to be put in time out. This is an incredibly loving story. Why is finding such a wonderful work/life balance an important theme for you to share with young readers?
Diana: I remember very clearly that when my kids were little and “helping” me work from home, it was a time that was mixed with frustration, laughs, and love. Sometimes a kid’s attempt to help is hilariously unhelpful. It can be frustrating in the moment, but you also can’t help but smile at how adorable they are and you know it’s a moment you’ll remember and even miss one day.
When my daughter was about three years old (she’s 16 now!) she was helping me take some mail to the mailbox a few blocks away. We were holding hands and I let her carry the large, yellow envelope I was mailing. It was one of my first submissions to a publisher! When she handed me the envelope, I noticed an indented half circle across the top. I realized it was a bite mark. What the heck? It turned out…she had been pretending to be a puppy carrying it to the mailbox, and so, was carrying it in her mouth. It was so frustrating because I had worked really hard on getting that submission together and I didn’t want to send it out with bite marks on it! What would they think of me? But it was also…freaking hilarious. Even at the time, I thought it was so funny. And now, it’s one of my fondest memories. So what did I do? I just went ahead and stuck it in the mailbox. Oh well.
I wouldn’t give a kid a time out for trying to help.
Me: I saw some of your favorites in the book: tea, yoga, and pets. How much of your own experiences made it into this story?
Diana: Um, a lot. Haha! it’s a very personal story. I hope readers can relate, as well. I also hope kids will be inspired to do some activities that keep them nice and busy! And “helping” is a great way to build their self-esteem and skills. It’s a win-win situation!
That is SO true. Thank you for stopping by my blog again Diana.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this book, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a hilarious approach to the “how to” format, as well as a touching story of how to make it all work when working from home. Trust me when I say that this is a story that shouldn’t be missed.