Simply 7 with Sarah Bagley Steele & giveaway–THE HAPPIEST KID

I realize the last giveaway hasn’t ended yet, but it’s already time for another one!

SarahBagleySteele squareAfter a career producing theater, Sarah turned her attention to her own writing and fell in love with the wonder of children’s books.  Born and raised a California girl, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two children and rascal puppy.  She has degrees in English and Theater Studies from Duke University.  When not writing stories, she loves devising inventive activities and adventures for kids and sharing them on her Instagram feed.  You can learn more about her at her website.

The Happiest Kid COVERTHE HAPPIEST KID is her debut picture book which released just last week from Yeehoo Press.  It’s the story of little Sally who is always happy.  Until the day she wakes up with a cloud over her head.  She is embarrassed and tries to hide it, but as you can probably guess, that doesn’t work out so well.  This is an allegory that allows young readers to talk about their emotions and gives them permission to have a variety of them (even the negative ones) in a kind and gentle way.  This clever approach manages to avoid being preachy by focusing simply on the character.  It’s quite brilliant really.

Welcome Sarah!

Me: You previously had a career producing theater, with degrees in English and Theater Studies from Duke University.  What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?

Sarah: In the theater, I worked on the literary side of things, working with writers on their new plays. There was always part of me that wanted to take the plunge and write myself. I had stops and starts on a young adult novel but could never get enough momentum to complete it. I have always loved picture books, but it wasn’t until I had kids that I began reading a lot of them and considered writing them as an option.  They are not easy to write, but I can finish drafts more easily than with novels, which has allowed me to grow as a writer.

Me: Your story of a girl who is “always” happy until the day she wakes up with a cloud over her head is incredibly creative!  What inspired this story? 

Sarah: One day I was feeling sad about something, and I ran into a friend on the street. She asked how I was doing and, almost as a reflex, I immediately said that everything was great, even though it wasn’t. It made me question how often I do this, and whether my very upbeat daughter ever does the same. That was the original impulse for writing the story.

For the actual plot, I was inspired by a line I wrote in a college essay about “stuffing my pain in my pocket.” It was a single line from a school assignment long ago, but the image stuck with me, and I thought about it when struggling to activate Sally’s story. What if sadness where an object that she literally tries to stuff in her pocket?

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Me: That’s such a great image.  There aren’t a lot of books dealing with sadness or anxiety for children in such a concrete way.  Are these important topics to you personally?  Why do you think children need to hear about them?

Sarah: I think they are important topics to everyone. Everyone needs the space to have a bad day. When Sally hides the cloud, it grows bigger. I wanted to write a book that helps children process big feelings and know that everyone feels sad sometimes, and it’s okay.

Me: I love that.  What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?

Sarah: The story started working when I began closely tracking the cloud and its growth from page to page. This was not always something in the text, but it needed just as much attention as the words. The cloud became a kind of motor, propelling things forward. Writing this story made me think of what art might appear on each page turn, and the importance in picture books of a journey that can be actively visual. It’s something I’ve been more aware of in subsequent manuscripts as a result.

Me: What does your writing process look like? What habits have you created for yourself?

Sarah: I’m a planner, likely from all those years writing script notes! I make outlines and plot out how a character changes over the course of a story. There are always discoveries along the way but having a structure in place before I begin writing is helpful for me. I also like quiet spaces, which often means I write when everyone else is asleep.

Me: The illustrations by Elsa Pui Si Lo and Clarice Yunyi Cai are pitch perfect for your story.  I loved the textures and expressions of the characters! Were there any illustration surprises for you? 

Sarah: I loved how Elsa and Clarice made the cloud come alive, as a character in the story. I had not imagined the cloud would have any facial expressions, and I absolutely love the way they humanized it. One of my favorite spreads is when the cloud peeks over Sally’s shoulder and she take a moment to really look at it for the first time, and it looks back. The illustrations helped create a two-sided relationship, and the book is stronger for it.

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Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers?

Sarah: When I started writing picture books, I wrote several manuscripts that I thought kids would want to read. Things that were cute and sweet. This was the first story that came from my heart. It’s honest, and I think that’s why it resonated with people. Kids are smart – don’t underestimate them!

That is great advice.  Thank you for stopping by my blog Sarah.

Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it.  This story takes an abstract concept and turns into a physical representation in an allegory about emotions that many young readers need today.  That is quite a unique feat!

But wait! There’s more!  Sarah is also offering one copy of her book to one lucky winner.  You can enter the rafflecopter here.

7 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Sarah Bagley Steele & giveaway–THE HAPPIEST KID

  1. What a great way to show sadness. I also enjoyed reading this interview about how the stoy came to be and changed along the way.

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