As I end my school year with students bickering over every little thing this year, I’m desperate for picture books about kindness. The book we get a peek at today is a beautiful example.
Marsha Diane Arnold has visited my blog several times over the years. She is an award-winning children’s author with over one million books sold. Some of her books’ honors include Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book Awards, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. You can learn more about her at her website.
ONE SMALL THING is a wonderful story of a community that comes together through acts of kindness when they discover that Racoon has lost his house to a fire. Each character (without talking to the others) decides to do one small thing to help. The way each animal helps will surprise and warm reader’s hearts. In very few words, Marsha is able to convey a sense of togetherness, caring, and elicit emotional connections. The illustrations by Laura Watkins are soft and alluring (though there are a few dark and appropriately scary ones too), fitting the story perfectly. I think that this is a story you will want to check out.
Welcome back Marsha!
Me: You have an incredible ability to create a sense of community in so few words. How do you do that? How do you create such distinctive characters in a big cast? Is there a special trick you use?
Marsha: Thank you, Jena. I fear I have no special trick. I don’t do character studies and I don’t think about my characters a great deal before I write my story. Of course, my talented illustrators always do a masterful job of bringing my characters to life.
I do like my characters, though, and I’m fairly well-informed about wildlife and domestic animals. I study them more if I’m writing about them, even if they are fictitious. For One Small Thing, I already knew quite a bit about real badgers, raccoons, mice, beavers, rabbits, and squirrels and learned more as I wrote.
Raccoon was originally a Bear. I thought it would be sweet if the smaller animals were caring for a big animal. However, my publisher had too many Bear stories so they asked me to change my main character. At first, this concerned me, but it’s sweet to take care of Raccoon too. Perhaps any animal would have done.
Me: I love how the characters all have different reactions to raccoon’s situation and yet they ultimately want to be kind and do one small thing. What gave you the idea for this story?
Marsha: I often have a story idea tumble around at the back of my mind for months or years! The actual beginning may have been in 2017. That was the year of Hurricane Irma here in Florida. It was also the year of the Tubbs wildfire in Sonoma County where my family had lived for 35 years. So, those disasters may have been tumbling around in my head for a couple of years. Then 2019 came with the Australian wildfires and my concern over the wildlife and koalas there. I applauded the firefighters and rescue dogs traveling from around the world to help. The 2019 fires were my impetus. Finally, the tumbling stopped and I began to write.
Me: I don’t think there can be enough books about being kind, especially in a situation like this fictional one. It’s easy to ignore tragedy as “something that happened to someone else” when we don’t know how to help. I love how your characters respond. Why is this an important message you want to share with young readers?
Marsha: When Mouse learns Raccoon’s home has been destroyed by fire, he says, “It’s such a BIG catastrophe! And we’re so small.” We all might feel this way in the face of disaster, but children might especially feel this way. It’s important for them to know they can do something, even if it’s just a hug. It will also be important for parents and teachers to have conversations about feelings and helping, after reading One Small Thing.
Me: I think my favorite character was Badger who was both grumpy and on a bit of a mysterious mission. What gave you the idea to create a dark part of the forest in such a warm environment, let alone a grumpy character? Why were they necessary additions to your story?
Marsha: I like badgers and I seem to write about them quite a bit. There’s Badger’s Perfect Garden and Waiting for Snow and now One Small Thing. One badger is a perfectionist, one is impatient, and one is grumpy. They are all a bit persnickety.
In One Small Thing, Badger was meant to be a bit of comic relief. He is a contrast to the other characters as is the dark forest to the bright wood. And what better place for Cricket to hide? Badger was also meant to show that even those who are grumpy or focused on something other than the main concern can help in their own way.
Me: I love that. I find it fascinating that the raccoon who has the problem in this story isn’t the main character. In fact, we don’t see him until two thirds of the way through the book. Yet it works wonderfully well here! Did you receive any push back about that from critique partners or editors? How many revisions did it take to get this manuscript this tight?
Marsha: It is interesting, isn’t it? I can’t recall any push back from critique partners or editors, but I was a bit worried. Ha!
I have had this challenge, of my main character not acting like most main characters, before in my writing. In a few of my stories, I have quite a few characters and they all are part of a community involved in solving a problem. Sometimes, they are part of the problem before solving it! I don’t necessarily have a main hero character. I guess I like teamwork.
I suppose, if we consider, it is Raccoon with the biggest physical issue, but each of the characters has a problem, even though they may not realize it at first. It’s the problem of what they can do to help Raccoon.
How many revisions? I’m constantly revising and usually have lots of drafts, but this story came together fairly quickly, in only a few drafts. I was asked to make a few minor changes by my editor. For one thing, I had used speech bubbles, but in the end, my editor and I decided against those.
Me: The illustrations by Laura Watkins are delightful. They feel so full of light (even in the creepy dark part of the woods). Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorite illustrations?
Marsha: They are indeed delightful. Aren’t the animals’ expressions adorable?
There really weren’t any big surprises. I had my own personal set of illustrations in my mind as I wrote the story. I often do. Although there were small differences, Laura’s illustrations reflected my vision well.
People often want to know my favorite illustration. For One Small Thing, I’ve chosen two. I love the spread of Badger searching for Cricket in the dark part of Brightly Wood and the spread of Beaver and Raccoon sitting by the river. The sadness on Raccoon’s face and Beaver’s sweet expression of caring bring the reader right onto the riverbank with them.
Me: Do you have any future books or projects that we can look forward to?
Marsha: Thank you for asking. Armando’s Island, which revolves around animals of the rainforest and threats to them, is coming out August 8th.
I’m also excited to share that I sold a new manuscript in January, but it hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t tell more. Oh, maybe just a hint. ChugaChuga…Whoooo-Whoo.
Ohh! That sounds fun. Congratulations Marsha and thank you for stopping back by my blog today.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read ONE SMALL THING, I highly recommend it. It’s a sweet story of how even the tiniest of us can do something to help when events in life go terribly wrong. This is a story that you won’t want to miss.
One thought on “Simply 7 with Marsha Diane Arnold: ONE SMALL THING”
This is such a lovely book. Sometimes we do ignore tragedies. But I think lots of times, we just don’t know how to help. The problem feels way too big for little me to do anything about. I love how the tiny kindnesses of the characters add up to something big. Thanks for this great interview :>)