While I was gone on my trip, Father’s day arrived. My dad passed away in 2018 and every year that day hits hard. Grief strikes us all in different ways. Today’s picture book interview with author Amanda Davis talks about that and much more.
Amanda Davis has visited my blog before to talk about her debut picture book (30,000 STITCHES). She is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at her website or follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.
MOONLIGHT MEMORIES is the sweet story of a little girl who is really struggling with the loss of her mother. Her dad gives her a telescope and this manages to change everything. I don’t want to give away too much as this is a really surprising solution to grief. I found this story utterly refreshing in its approach to the loss of a loved one. There is even back matter from a family therapist with advice to help those who are struggling with just such a tragedy. This is a book you won’t want to miss.
Welcome back Amanda!
Me: It sounds like this book is very personal to you. What gave you the idea to turn your own childhood grief into a story for young readers?
Amanda: Yes, the book is very personal to me. It’s bittersweet because it is based on the experience of losing my father at a young age and using art and writing to heal and process. Of course, I didn’t know it was helping me in that way at the time but I did know it provided me with an escape and a place of comfort and calm. I decided to turn my own grief into a story for young readers because I wish I had stories like Moonlight Memories to turn to after my father died.
After his death, I don’t remember anyone talking to me about it or offering me resources such as books to help me process and feel like I’m not alone in my thoughts and emotions. I wrote Moonlight Memories for that reason. I hope it reminds readers that they’re not alone and that they’ll carry their loved ones with them always. I hope it encourages readers to seek their own outlets to help heal and comfort. I also hope it gives parents and caregivers an entry point to open-up dialogue around the topic of death with children. To normalize it and to help them process their own (and the child’s) feelings around it.
Me: Your main character, Piper, lost her mother. Yet you lost your father. What other aspects of this story are different than in your own?
Amanda: I thought about that difference while writing the story. At one point, I thought about Piper losing her father but it felt too close to home for me. I hope that despite this difference, the book can still be used as a resource for all parent loss. Another difference is the element of the sky in the book. There were times where I would look up to the sky and remember my father but it was often the ocean that was (and still is) my safe place. The element of the sky came to me when I thought about the stars and constellations-how we can see and imagine images amongst the stars. This felt like a perfect place to expand the fictitious elements of the story. The sky and stars are also an element in nature that are accessible to everyone. Not everyone has access to the ocean but everyone does have access to the night sky and stars so I felt this was more universal just like the concept of loss.
Me: I love that. When I try to write about a subject that is close to me that I have strong feelings about, I sometimes struggle to get it onto the page or turned into fiction. What about for you? How long did it take you to write this manuscript? How many revisions did it undergo?
Amanda: This one actually flowed pretty easily. As mentioned, art and writing have always been a place of healing for me so writing about the topic of loss although difficult, felt freeing in a way. Whenever it gets hard, I also try to remember my WHY for writing it. I remind myself that I need to keep going so my words and art can get out into the world and hopefully have a positive impact on readers. I recently took a workshop with poet Victoria Erikson where she reminded us that once we release our creations into the world, they are no longer our stories but become the stories of others. I love that idea, and I think anytime we’re feeling stuck in the process, it’s a good reminder to help us keep going.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Amanda: Writing this story reminded me of the importance of art in my own life. After having my daughter a year and a half ago, I’ve struggled to get back into making art. For various reasons, I’ve also struggled emotionally postpartum. When I got my first author copy of Moonlight Memories, I read the story to my daughter and said to myself, “you know what, I need to make some art to help myself heal!” I know I feel my best when creating so I signed up for one of Vanessa Brantley Newton’s collage classes through Storyteller Academy. It felt so good to create without pressure and get into that creative flow state. I was an art educator for over a decade and saw first-hand the power of the arts to process and heal. Sometimes, in the midst of struggles, we can lose sight of the things that help us feel our best. It took me reading my own story to my daughter to remind myself of that! I’ve even started formal art therapy, which I’m excited about! There’s a really cool book that recently released called, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, which offers scientific evidence of how our bodies and brains transform for the better when we participate in the arts. It’s a truly powerful medium for our physical and mental health! I’m glad I was reminded of this when I needed it. 🙂
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Amanda: I wish I could say I’m very structured and disciplined in my process but I’m not, ha! I create when feeling inspired. I do best when I have deadlines and enroll in classes where I have the accountability of a group. I love my critique groups for this reason and started to do anchor meetings again with one of my crit groups. We meet for an hour virtually and have a specific task to work on. At the end of the hour, we check in to see how we did. This keeps me focused. Similarly, I was recently introduced to the London Writers’ Salon’s Writers’ Hour. It’s a free working meeting held virtually each weekday morning at 8am across four timezones. Pretty cool to start the day by connecting with so many creatives across the world!
I also have my daily practice of journaling my gratitude and a happy memory from the day. Before I sit down to create, I’ve begun centering myself. Taking a few deep breathes and trying to create from a place of feeling instead of getting caught up in my headspace. My ideas tend to flow best when my mind and body are relaxed so this has helped me tap into that state of being a bit more and give myself permission to play.
Me: I’ve read both of your books that have been published so far. I sense a theme in your work of healing from tragedy. Why is that such an important subject for you to share with young readers?
Amanda: As human beings, we all experience difficult times in our lives. Sometimes these difficult times can feel heavy, dark, and overwhelming. Hard to escape. Lonely. I’ve experienced all the above and a big part of what has gotten me through is reaching out for support and talking about what I’m going through. No one should ever have to go through difficult times and healing alone. Connecting with professionals and others who have walked similar paths is empowering. I think we’ve made progress with talking about mental health and topics such as death and dying but there is still a stigma attached to it.
I hope my stories can instill a sense of hope and empower readers to seek support and talk about their emotions. I realized from my own experience and especially when writing 30,000 Stitches that healing isn’t linear. Twenty plus years after 9/11, people are still on their healing journeys and probably will be forever. If we can help young readers understand these concepts early on, it might normalize it for them and make them more apt to reach out when in need. I have another unannounced nonfiction picture book releasing in 2024. The story is about the human/animal bond and has themes of loss, healing, and hope in it, too. Those themes have definitely been in the forefront for me in my first three books!
Me: The illustrations by Michelle Jing Chan are beautiful. I love the many ways she illustrated the night sky and Piper’s bedroom. Were there any illustration surprises for you? What was your favorite illustration?
Amanda: Michelle did an amazing job with the art! I love how she brought magic and light to the text. As mentioned, having hope during difficult times is so important and I think Michelle brought so much hope and light to the story, which invoke a sense of healing and remembrance. I think this was the biggest surprise for me. When you have a topic such as grief and loss which, some may consider a ‘tough’ topic for children, I always wonder how the illustrator is going to make it accessible. Michelle went above and beyond. She brought beauty to the idea that we will carry our loved ones with us always. She also truly captured the sweet relationship between Piper and Dad and how Dad was going through his own journey as well. I especially love the illustration towards the end that shows Piper and Dad embracing with all of Piper’s drawings of the memories of her and Mama swirling around them. The soft colors and the emotion of Piper and Dad are perfect! I’m so grateful to Michelle and the team at WorthyKids for believing in the story and bringing it to life!
Thank you for stopping by my blog today Amanda.
But wait, dear readers, there’s more. Amanda has graciously agreed to giveaway one signed copy of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES. You can enter the rafflecopter here. Good luck!