Simply 7 with Marsha Diane Arnold: ARMANDO’S ISLAND

Today’s picture book is set in the Amazon and has a subtle strength hidden in its heart.

IMG_2660Marsha Diane Arnold has stopped by my blog numerous times over the years to discuss many of her picture books.  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.

_Armando cover2ARMANDO’S ISLAND is a story of a young Amazonian boy named Armando.  He is approached numerous times to sell his plot of rainforest and each time, with quiet wisdom, he turns them away. This is a story where the text alone can grab the reader’s heart without realizing it, but combined with the lush illustrations by Anne Yvonne Gilbert it pierces the soul.  Here, a variety of inhabitants look right at the reader and without words, without preaching or begging, ask for help.  It’s impossible to describe how all of this is achieved, but the effect is downright magical.

Welcome back Diane.

Me: This is a stunning book set in the Amazon.  It perfectly captures the decimation happening to them and puts a face on the loss.  What gave you the idea for this story?

Marsha: Thank you so much, Jena.  First, I must tell you that I wrote Armando’s Island over twenty years ago. So, my memory has faded.

All my adult life, and before, I’ve been involved with organizations that work to keep ecosystems and wildlife safe. My remembrance is that, at the time I wrote this manuscript, I was deeply concerned about rainforests around the world. My concern presented itself as this ode to the rainforest, its precious creatures, and those who bravely stand against its destruction.

Me: I haven’t seen any other stories quite like this one.  It pulls at my heart strings, capturing the grief associated with the loss of land and endangered animals all around the world.  Why is this an important subject you want to share with young readers?

Marsha: It breaks my heart to see the precious species we share this planet with lose their homes to habitat destruction.

I hope Armando’s Island will be one more small voice that brings awareness to the beauty and value of the world’s rainforests. If there are enough small voices, maybe more can be done to save our wildlife and plants. It’s so important for children and young people to appreciate and understand the natural world in which we live. Only then can they grow to care about it and to work to protect it.

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Me: I love how strong Armando is against all the developers and yet gentle with his responses.  I also love how the story has a message without being preachy.  How on earth did you do that?

Marsha: How did I do that? I try very hard to stay away from being preachy, Jena. But messages, subtle messages, and meaningful themes are important. The words and images that enter a child’s mind affect them and stay with them their whole life. Remember in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder version, of course!) when Charlie returns the Gobstopper to Willie Wonka and Wonka says, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” 

I think that’s what most of us writers would love readers to say about our books. “So shines a good book in a weary world.” But if we set out to write a good book, a book with a moralistic message, it won’t work. It will never shine.

Me: The manuscript is succinct and flows so well from page t page.  How many revisions did it take to get this manuscript this tight?

Marsha: How many revisions? Remember, I wrote the story over twenty years ago! There honestly wasn’t much on my computer about those years. Then, a few weeks ago, I searched through an old file cabinet and found an Armando file!

There were lots of research notes and copies of letters I’d written to those involved in rainforest preservation, as well as letters I’d received back. There was a 1993 letter from World Wildlife Fund. Another from the Rainforest Action Network. Letters, not emails! It was a long time ago.

Leafing through the papers, I saw quite a few notes and lyrical phrases that came to my mind while researching, phrases I might use in my manuscript. Once I started writing, the words came fairy easily, as I recall. There weren’t a lot of drafts, though I’m sure I refined the words each time I read through a draft.

Me: I have read many of your books.  There definitely seems to be a theme of caring for the world and others around you running through them all.  Why is that such an important theme to you to write about?

Marsha: Our natural world is such a miracle. We should be immensely grateful for the creatures and plants that share our planet. Sadly, I don’t think enough of us are. So, I write.

image005 bPlus, I grew up on a farm, surrounded by creeks and raccoons and dark night skies. I was always outside, when I wasn’t reading. It’s natural for me to want to write about nature.

Henry Beston in his The Outermost House: A Year on The Great Beach of Cape Cod writes so eloquently about nature. One of my favorite quotes from that book is when he speaks of animals. “They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Me: I love that.  The illustrations by Anne Yvonne Gilbert are gorgeous!  Armando feels like a real person!  And I love how she has the eyes of Armando and animals alike looking right at the reader, drawing you in.  Were there any illustration surprises for you?  Any favorite illustrations?

Marsha: The only surprise about Anne Yvonne’s illustrations was how spectacular they are. Even though I had seen some of her stunning work, I was simply astounded by the beauty of her illustrations. I was so lucky for her to agree to be Armando’s Island’s illustrator. I wanted to bring my readers intimately into Armando’s world, so I used as much sensory detail as I could. Anne Yvonne took my words and brought the reader even closer.

Anne Yvonne and I corresponded after the book had been sent to the printer. I asked her if I she might share two prints and she asked which ones. The two spreads I chose are my favorites. One is the first spread of the book, with the child Armando, in the hammock, looking directly at the reader. The other is with the jaguar at center stage across from the lines, “And the solitary jaguar joined the others as they fled, to the east, to Armando’s.” I love wild cats, especially big ones. I must say that I also love the final spread of the children, representing hope for the future. 

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Me:  What is your favorite Amazonian animal included in this story?  Why? 

Marsha: The beautiful jaguar. As I mentioned, I love wild cats – the way they move, the way their eyes seem to pierce through any falseness. 61ZmJQ5RHOLMy very first picture book, Heart of a Tiger, was about cats – a housecat and a magnificent Bengal Tiger.

I love dogs too! Dogs in the wild, like African Wild Dogs, and my own funny poodle, Sailor. There is a dog in the Amazon, the rare short-eared dog, seldom seen. Sadly, he is threatened due to shrinking habitats and vanishing prey. This breaks my heart. We lose species before we really know them. The short-eared or jungle dog didn’t make it into this book. Maybe next book.

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Jena. It’s always a pleasure.

Thank you for stopping by again Diane.

Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, I highly recommend it.  It’s a dazzling combination of text and illustrations with an indirect call to arms to protect the natural world around is.  You won’t want to miss how it accomplishes all that in one modest story.

6 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Marsha Diane Arnold: ARMANDO’S ISLAND

  1. I can’t wait to read this book! It’s gorgeous, and so meaningful. Plus I write from the same heart-place. And I grew up on a farm, too, LOL. Congrats on having this book out in the world soon! (after 20 years of waiting)

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