Simply 7 with Susanna L. Hill: WHAT LITTLE BOYS/GIRLS ARE MADE OF

Susanna had two books coming out at the exact same time on a very similar topic: little boys and little girls.  Wait until you see what she does with that old nursery rhyme “what are little boys [or girls] made of.”

Susanna Leonard HillSusanna L. Hill has visited my blog a few times now.  She is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, including Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship, and the award-winning author of over twenty-five more books for children, including Punxsutawney PhyllisCan’t Sleep Without Sheep, and the popular When Your Lion Needs a Bath series. Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. She does frequent school and library visits, teaches picture book writing, and has a popular picture book blog. Susanna lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley where she practices the alphabet with her children and two rescue dogs.  You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

WLGAMo COVERWLBAMo COVERWHAT LITTLE BOYS ARE MADE OF and WHAT LITTLE GIRLS ARE MADE OF are both books that modernize the old nursery rhyme many of us have heard before.  The “things” boys and girls are made of include all sorts of wonderful things including SEL, growth mindset, and things we hope all little boys and girls will become.  These would be a wonderful gift for any child in one’s life.

Welcome back Susanna!

Me: The original nursery rhyme about what little boys and little girls are made of is quite old.  What gave you the idea to modernize it?

Susanna: I often go to nursery rhymes and fairy tales for inspiration.  There’s a lot to work with there. But in this case, the books were work-for-hire, so Sourcebooks asked me to write a modernized version of these two traditional rhymes.  They were specific that the new versions should also be in rhyme, but they didn’t necessarily have to be the same rhyme scheme as the originals, and they left it up to me to create the books in any way I wanted as long as I made them relevant. 🙂

Screen Shot 2022-12-04 at 12.07.39 PM

Me: Oh!  I see.  So how did you manage to take this concept and put it into two separate companion books: one for boys and one for girls?

Susanna: Essentially, I wanted to write empowering, encouraging, supportive rhymes that would give both girls and boys the vision, and the permission, to be whoever they want to be without stereotype or limiting expectation.  When the original rhymes were written, girls were thought to be (and encouraged to be) sweet, gentle and quiet, and boys were thought to be (and encouraged to be) strong, independent, and tough.  Girls were expected to grow up to be mothers and homemakers, and boys to head households and be the professionals in every field.  This is obviously an antiquated notion. 

Although those are wonderful things for girls or boys to choose, they are only a couple of the many paths that are available to them.  Both boys and girls should feel enabled and free to pursue their dreams, no matter what those dreams might look like, without fearing judgment for somehow not being what a girl or boy should be. There is no “should” (except for being a good person – we’d obviously all prefer that no one choose a life of crime :)). So I tried focus on those areas that boys or girls might feel unsure about.  Is it okay for boys to be sensitive, to cry?  Is it okay for girls to be powerful, to be leaders?  Ultimately, the point is that both girls and boys should be able to pursue anything, so from that standpoint the books could have been exactly the same. 🙂 But I tried to differentiate them by addressing those things that kids might not be quite so certain were okay for them.

Screen Shot 2022-12-04 at 12.07.55 PM

Me: I love that!  These books make a total of at least three books published this year alone.  What is the secret of your success?  How do you keep generating ideas?

Susanna: It’s funny you ask that about these three books in particular, because two of them were work-for-hire so the general idea was handed to me, and the other one I wrote in 2010 and it just took a long time to work its way to publication. 🙂 But in general, I find that ideas are everywhere if you are open to them, though they’re not all going to be picture book-worthy.  I try to look at the world the way kids do.  There is so much wonder to be found, so many questions to ask about so many interesting things.  There is so much to learn about how to be a person – how to love, how to hurt, how to manage and express feelings, how to be brave when you’re afraid.  And these things can be written into stories in so many ways. 

Me: I love how you hit on so many positive qualities for girls, as well as boys.  These books really are meant to build up the reader and encourage them to be the best little person they can be.  Why is this an important message for you?

Susanna: This message is important to me for a couple of reasons.

First, everyone needs encouragement.  It’s hard to be a little person (or a big one, for that matter :)), and we can all use affirmation, support, and the reminder that we can do whatever we set our minds to, whatever our hearts desire.  Not that it doesn’t take effort, but that we have the capability to make it happen.

Second, I don’t like the idea that any child might feel that they aren’t just right the way they are.  If a boy or a girl wants to be an astronaut or an artist, a construction worker or a doctor, bake or sew or wear a sparkly pink dress, or excavate fossils or examine cells under a microscope, wear a lab coat, or overalls and work boots, be a dreamer or a doer or both, why shouldn’t he or she?  It’s who that boy or girl is and that’s not just fine, it’s perfect.  All children should feel that they are loved and valued for who they are.

Screen Shot 2022-12-04 at 12.14.01 PM

Me: Aww!  I love that too.  Both books are written in wonderful rhyme.  What learning tools would you recommend to other writers interested in making stories with rhyme?

Susanna: I think the best thing I can recommend is Renee LaTuplippe’s Lyrical Language LabHer course is excellent, and you should take it if you can. Studying the work of gifted picture book rhymers is also a great way to get a feel for how rhyme works, and how it should flow in a picture book. I have to confess that I have not had any real training in rhyme.  I don’t know an anapest from a dactyl! 🙂 But a lot of rhyme is about meter, and meter is about feeling the beat. 

Have you ever seen Footloose (the original good movie, not the awful remake :))?  There’s a scene where Ren is trying to teach Willard to dance, and Willard has no sense of rhythm, so they walk and stomp and bang on the car dashboard together until Willard starts to understand.  There’s a lot to be said for that. 🙂 I often walk around while I’m working on rhymes. 

You have to be very careful not to put the accent, or the stress, on the wrong syllables just to make the words fit your meter, because it isn’t natural that way, so someone coming to it for the first time will read it wrong and will thereafter have to force it to make it read right.  If you would normally say an-y-one, with the accent/stress/weight on the first syllable, you can’t put it in a line of rhyme so you have to read it as an-y-one or an-y-one, with the accent on the second or third syllable, to make it work with the meter.  All that said, if you happen to be doing work-for-hire, the editor can make changes that don’t always work for your rhyme and rhythm, yet the editor has the final say.  So sometimes you have to be okay with changes you didn’t intend because that is the nature of the business.

Screen Shot 2022-12-04 at 12.14.26 PM

Me: The illustrations by Talitha Shipman (in GIRLS) and Natalie Vasilica (in BOYS) are wonderful.  Did you have any favorite illustrations?

Susanna: Oh, my goodness! You do like to ask impossible questions, Jena! 🙂  Let’s see.  If you’re making me pick, I think my favorite illustrations in LITTLE BOYS are the seashore page (“Little boys ask questions about everything they see”) and the kindness page (“Little boys are loving, ‘cause compassion is the way”).  In LITTLE GIRLS I love the slumber party page (“Little girls are goofy, quirky, silly – so much fun!) and the leaders page (”Little girls are leaders, not scared to use their voice”).

Me: I know you have at least one grand baby in your life that you adore.  What aspect highlighted in one of these books would you hope he or she would develop the most as they grow up?

Untitled design (7)Susanna: Hmm… again with the tough questions!  I currently have 3 granddaughters (no grandsons. . . yet :)) and I guess if you mean which quality I most hope they all develop, I would say I have to pick two: kindness and strength.  But in terms of what I most hope they develop overall, I hope they will all believe in themselves, feel good about who they are, and know that above all, no matter what, they are truly and unconditionally loved and valued for their own special, unique, and wonderful selves.

Your grandkids are so lucky to have you Susanna.  Thank you for stopping by my blog again today.

Dear readers, you will have to wait until 2023 to read these books as there has been an unforeseen delay.  But trust me when I say that they will be worth the wait!  These are books for every little boy and little girl to treasure.

4 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Susanna L. Hill: WHAT LITTLE BOYS/GIRLS ARE MADE OF

Leave a Reply