Today I’m excited to share yet another Simply 7 with picture book author Charlotte Offsay.
Charlotte Offsay first visited my blog last February with her picture book author debut. It was a book she hoped would help to change the world. Then she visited again in September with a book she hoped would make kids laugh. Today we get to see her latest picture book which is an homage to grandma’s everywhere. Her career so far has been full of a variety of writing subjects, and I for one cannot wait to see what will come next. You can learn more about her at her website.
A GRANDMA’S MAGIC is a touching collection of special moments with grandmas of all shapes and sizes. The book reads like a poem with such sparse text and it takes you through a variety of situations (beach, garden, kitchen, etc.) where young readers most likely enjoy bonding with their own grandma. I won’t spoil the ending, but it also deals with the emotional gamut that kiddos experience with grandma, not just the happy moments. It’s sweet and I guarantee that it’s bound to be a bestseller in gifts for grandmas (or from grandmas). I can’t recall anything quite like it in the market and I think it’s found a perfect niche to occupy!
Welcome back Charlotte!
Me: The only picture book I’ve seen written oh-so-successfully for the grandma gift market is the brilliant “How to Babysit a Grandma.” But I think your book will give that one a run for its money! What gave you the idea of honoring grandmas in such a magical way?
Charlotte: Wow, what a lovely compliment, thank you! I adore How to Babysit a Grandma and can’t get through it without giggling. I wrote A Grandma’s Magic to similarly celebrate the grandma-grandchild bond. My hope is that the lyrical text will encourage littles to snuggle up with their grandmas and cherish the magic of their relationships reflected in Asa Gilland’s heart-squeezing illustrations.
I first began writing A Grandma’s Magic when I was taking Mira Reisberg’s picture book class through The Children’s Book Academy. Mira asked us to brainstorm story ideas based on the things we cared most about or from our own childhood memories. I had just gotten back from a visit with my own grandma who lives overseas and who I don’t get to see as often as I like. No matter how old I get, saying goodbye to her never gets any easier, so I decided to write a book celebrating her magic.
I wrote a humor-filled classic narrative arc story about a little girl who is convinced her grandma has magic powers and wants to be just like her. I submitted what was then called Gram’s Got the Magic Touch to SCBWI LA Writer’s Day in 2018 for critique and was lucky enough to get feedback from an editor I had long admired – Frances Gilbert of Doubleday Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House. Frances encouraged me to eliminate my overly complicated plot and focus on the heart of my story – the “magic” of grandmas. Her critique inspired a major rewrite. After countless drafts, help from my critique partners, and my fabulous agent Nicole Geiger, my wildest dreams came true. A Grandma’s Magic was sold to Frances and Penguin Random House!
Frances helped me pull out the heart of what I wanted to say and to make it the focus of my book – I truly believe that the simple moments with our grandmas are the magic that shapes us, and that magic stays with us even when they can’t be by our sides.
Me: Your text is so beautifully sparse. What was the final word count? Was it always this tight, or did you have to revise it a lot?
Charlotte: The final word count is 213 words and it took quite a lot of drafts and encouragement from my agent Nicole to get the word count so low. After I received that pivotal critique from Frances Gilbert I wrote about a single magical grandma following a day with her and her grandchild. There are over 50 drafts of A Grandma’s Magic where Nicole, Frances and my critique partners helped me to pare the text back and reflect every grandma rather than just my own. I am thrilled with how it has turned out and hope that children will find themselves and their own grandma relationships reflected in the pages.
Me: You left plenty of room for the illustrator to work (and boy, did she!). Did you have any illustration notes? Or did the illustrator take your story and run with it?
Charlotte: Asa Gilland is a dream illustrator and she has taken my text further than I ever could have imagined. That said, I had A LOT of illustration notes. Since the text is so sparse, it relies heavily on illustrations and I needed the illustration notes in order to communicate the entire story. The illustration notes that I included were general suggestions, however, in order to allow the illustrator to add her own vision. For example, one illustration note read:
[Art: Scene could be grandma helping child ride tricycle, collecting shells along seashore, hiking, or any outside activity that involves unscheduled wandering]
For this spread, Asa took my suggestion of collecting shells along the seashore but in other spreads she took the general concept and completely surprised me!
Me: That is one of my favorite spreads. Asa Gilland’s illustrations are perfect! I especially loved the color palette, but the way she was able to create characters and a continuing story? Brilliant! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Charlotte: I am so glad you love Asa’s illustrations as much as I do! There were quite a number of surprises for me throughout the book as Asa’s sweet details leave so many nuggets to keep discovering through repeated readings. One of my favorite surprises was the illustration of the grandma and grandchild on a ladder picking apples from an apple tree – my grandma used to have an apple tree in her back yard and when I first saw the illustration it was though she had taken a snapshot from my childhood memory! Another favorite surprise is how she depicts disaster striking but I will have to let readers see for themselves how Asa illustrated that one. 😉
Me: That is a brilliant scene too. What is your favorite illustration in the book?
Charlotte: Oh goodness this is a hard question! I honestly adore every single page! If I had to pick though it would probably be the very last spread showing each of the children throughout the book and how they have taken their grandma’s magic with them as they grow, and how it is now part of them. For example, one of the children who was shown baking with grandma earlier in the book, is depicted on this last spread having made her grandma’s apple crumble on her own.
For me this is the heart of the book – our grandma’s magic shapes us and becomes part of us even when they can’t be by our side. My own grandma lives overseas and while I don’t get to bake with her as often as I wish I could, I believe that her magic in the kitchen is the source of my own love of baking. I like to think that her magic is with me as I bake at home and pass along all I have learned from her to my own children.
Me: Aww! I love that. I saw the beautiful picture of you and your family, including your grandma, on the cover flap for the book. Can you tell us a little bit about your own grandma? Will she get to see this book too?
Charlotte: My grandma lives in England and I can’t wait to share this book with her. The photo on the cover of the flap shows her with my mom and my daughter at my daughter’s baby naming ceremony. My grandma had flown over for the occasion and it is one of my favorite pictures of us all together.
My grandma is a truly magical woman. She is loving, warm, kind and strong. I moved from England to the states when I was nine years old and used to go back every summer to stay with her and my grandpa. Some of my fondest childhood memories are baking with her in her kitchen, teaching her the lyrics to every Spice Girls song under the sun, learning to knit and playing hide and seek in her backyard. The simplest moments with her were always filled with magic and still are. It is hard to live so far away from her, but I am fortunate to see her most years (when COVID doesn’t get in the way) and we email and Skype often. I wrote A Grandma’s Magic after she and my grandpa met us on holiday in Scotland one year. I gave her the text of the book recently as a birthday present and look forward to being able to put a physical copy in her hands and read it together.
Me: Oh how wonderful! The ending of your book almost brought me to tears. Not all kiddos get to keep their grandmas forever and that last page is perfect in subtly addressing that (or not). Was that important to you to share with young readers?
Charlotte: I have to admit that I can’t make it to the end of the book without my eyes filling with tears. Asa beautifully captured the heart of the book for me – the reassurance that at the end of grandma’s visit the love and tenderness never really leave, a grandma’s magic lives inside of us and becomes part of who we are. It was important to me to reassure children and adults like me that distance doesn’t mean our loved ones are apart from us. COVID has made this message even more important to me as I haven’t been able to visit my grandma in a couple of years and I take comfort in the fact that her magic is always with me even if we can’t be together in person.
Absolutely! So true. Thank you for stopping by my blog again Charlotte. I look forward to what you will have in store for us next.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet (released just last week on April 5th!), don’t miss it. This is one you will have to read to quite get just how wonderful it is. The text is simple and sparse (leaving plenty of room for the illustrations to blossom–and they do!) and yet somehow manages to deliver an emotional wallop. That is not easily achieved, especially in 213 words!