Today we get to take a sneek peak at a book that comes out next week.
Sandra V. Feder is the author of six acclaimed and beloved books, including three picture books and three early chapter books. Sandra is an MFA candidate in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a graduate of Stanford University. When she’s not writing, she’s busy practicing her roundhouse kicks (she’s a blackbelt in Taekwondo), sampling the darkest chocolate she can find (she has a sweet tooth), and painting the beautiful Northern California landscape (where she lives with her husband). You can learn more about her at her website.
ANGRY ME is a picture book focusing on a very young girl who struggles with anger. She gets angry for many different reasons and learns how to deal with it through several different coping techniques. This is an incredibly powerful topic for young readers and not very frequently addressed. I think it’s safe to say that this is an especially important book to put out in the world right now when kids are dealing with so many different emotions and not sure what to do with them. Social Emotional Learning (or SEL) is incredibly important in the classroom (in my humble opinion). Teachers who work with young children (like myself) help teach students how to deal with their emotions in a positive way.
I was really drawn in to the depictions of different types of anger and how this particular child deals with such a strong emotion. The illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell really bring this little girl and her frustrations to life. They are so vibrant and compelling. I fully intend to get a copy of this book for my classroom shelf.
Me: You have built a career as a public relations communications officer. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Sandra: I’ve been a writer my whole life — first as a newspaper reporter, then as a newspaper columnist writing about motherhood, as a children’s book author, and as a writer and editor for Stanford University. I love telling stories in all forms, whether it’s about research at the university level or stories for children. I am currently focusing full-time on my children’s writing and I’m getting an MFA in writing for children through the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I first became interested in telling stories for children when my own three daughters were young and provided a lot of inspiration. I learned the craft of writing for children through a wonderful group of fellow writers and my first book, an early chapter book, was published 10 years ago.
Picture books have always had a special place in my heart. I remember so many tender moments reading them with my three daughters and having important conversations about feelings, fears, and perceptions of the world.
Me: Your story of a girl who struggles with anger is very powerful. It is so hard to teach children that being angry is okay, while also teaching them appropriate ways of dealing with it. What gave you the idea to write this book?
Sandra: One of my three daughters had easier access to her anger than the other two. When she was 4 and misbehaved, I sent her to her room and told her to think about what she had done. She put her little hands on her hips and said, “You think about it, Mommy!” I wanted to giggle and give her a high five — way to stick up for yourself little person — but I also knew I had to be clear about the rules in our home.
After more battles, a wise friend told me something that was one of the inspirations for this book. She said: The thing that can be hardest for you as a parent may be one of your child’s greatest strengths. So true! My child, who did not go quietly and contritely to her room, was a challenge. But her anger has served her well — she sticks up for herself and can’t turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world. I love that about her.
Me: Aww! I love that! There aren’t a lot of books out there dealing with anger for children in such a concrete way. Is this an important topic to you personally? Why do you think children need to hear this?
Sandra: This is a very important topic for me personally because I think children need to hear that all of their emotions are real and are a part of who they are. As a parent myself, it was important for me to both honor difficult emotions and help my children learn coping strategies. We want out children to be socialized and function well in the world, so they do need to develop skills for controlling anger. But pretending it doesn’t exist is not a strategy that will be successful for us as parents or for our children.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Sandra: When I started to remember what life felt like as a young child and to remember my own kids at those young ages, I was surprised by how many things feel out of one’s control. You often are taken places, whether you want to go or not, many decisions seem arbitrary and unfair, and no parent or teacher has the wherewithal to explain every choice and every decision. So, I was surprised that when I started thinking about the underlying emotions that might erupt in anger that there were so many of them!
Me: You have a few other picture books out already. What does your writing process look like? What habits have you created for yourself to be so successful already?
Sandra: I am definitely a ‘when the muse strikes’ writer, rather than one who sits down for a set amount of time every day. But through my MFA program, I am finding deadlines to be really helpful in boosting my productivity.
I learned to write on a computer long ago and so I use my computer both for creating and editing my manuscripts. I usually try to write through a text before going back and editing. Because of my journalism background, I am a quick and fairly concise writer, so sometimes I have to go back and add in more descriptions and scenes after my first pass through.
I do like to keep a small notebook with me when I’m out-and-about in the world in case inspiration strikes. I find that the new and different settings I put myself in — whether I’m in an elementary school doing an author visit or taking a walk along a coastal trail — often influence my work and creativity.
Me: The illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell are absolutely perfect for your story. I loved the textures and expressions of the characters! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Sandra: When I write a text, I am naturally more focused on the words than the illustrations. What surprised me in Rahele’s beautiful and perfect illustrations are all the different ways the little angry protagonist’s body reflects her emotions, from clenched fists, to hunched shoulders, to pointing fingers. There’s no doubt she is angry!
Then in the second half of the book, when she tries to use her words and some of the anger starts to dissipate, I was so delighted to see again how Rahele used body language to reflect the softening and eventual passing of her angry feelings. My favorite spread is the final one, where the little girls is shown making angry scrawls on a piece of paper and then delightedly dripping paint for a new artwork, once her anger has passed. Art is a great way to release emotions of all kinds.
Me: I loved that scene too. Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Sandra: My advice is read, read, read. Study picture books you loved as a child and new ones and analyze what it is the authors do. Picture books are deceptively difficult to write. They are short and compact, so many people assume they’re easy to knock out. But because they are so short, they’re much like a poem, in that each word serves a function. Creating a compelling character and clear story arc in so few words is an exciting challenge.
I would also suggest joining your local SCBWI chapter to learn more about craft techniques and the ins-and-outs of publishing.
Great advice Sandra. Thank you for stopping by my blog.
Dear readers, keep an eye out for this book. If you know of a child who struggles with anger or you are a classroom teacher who works with young children, I can guarantee that this is a book you will want to track down. Young readers will identify with the main character who feels powerless in so many different ways. They may even recognize their own anger and learn some strategies to deal with it. What a powerful tool!