Today I'm happy to share an interview with author Sue Lowell Gallion. Her newest book, Our World, came out last week and is a sweet and unique text to share with young readers as an opportunity to explore the world around us.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, about Our World, and what led you to writing this book?
Sue Lowell Gallion: I was lucky enough to have had a grandmother who taught 4th grade and loved books. I majored in journalism and worked as a writer, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I decided to take my childhood dream of writing books for kids seriously. Our World brings together many of my passions: world travel, nature, geography, the environment, connection. My favorite trips as a child and with my own family have been to national parks – seeing the cloud clearing over Denali, snowshoeing in Yellowstone, exploring tide pools in Acadia.
I was at a children’s writing conference workshop when I thought of writing a board book shaped like a globe. It seemed like a wonderful way to introduce kids to the wonders of this world through words, illustration, and the physical format.
Our World is a combination of text that runs throughout the book like a story and short nonfiction pieces about the Earth. What did your process look like as these two types of texts emerged or came together?
Sue Lowell Gallion: The initial concept was a globe-shaped board book with brief rhyming text, introducing young kids to some of the different habitats, landforms, and water features of the earth. When my literary agent submitted the manuscript and concept to Phaidon Press, they were interested in expanding the book to reach older audiences. That’s when I began doing additional research and writing drafts of the secondary text. Our goal was to encourage interaction and conversation. We hope the book invites readers to dream of exploring other parts of the world that are different from where they live.
This book was a hugely collaborative process between me, the editor, art director, and illustrator, Lisk Feng. I like to say picture books are a team sport, but that was even more true with this novelty nonfiction board book. Plus, the Phaidon team had to figure out how to make this globe-shaped book work. For example, they tested all kinds of options to make the front and back cover connect so it would stand up like a globe.
As far as my process, as the illustrations developed, I revised the expository text to make it complement the illustrations along with the rhyming stanzas. We did a lot of revisions on both the illustrations and the text! From the original 21-line poem (just 56 words long) came a 967-word book. Only four stanzas stayed exactly the same.
I believe people, places, and experiences shape us. What are some ways you hope readers are inspired to think and hopefully write about their connections to our world after reading Our World?
Sue Lowell Gallion: I hope Our World encourages curiosity and exploration. That can be in a park near your home or anywhere! The first spread of Our World reads:
“Many places to explore,
From mountain peaks to ocean floor.
Look around you, step outside . . . “
This stanza is illustrated by a mom and her child snorkeling in a fantastic ocean setting. I hope all readers imagine themselves in that illustration and in every spread that follows. Every time I look at Lisk Feng’s illustrations I see new details. The concept of “noticing,” both in books and in the natural world, is something that I would love to see students write about. Everyone’s perspective is unique and interesting.
What is the best writing advice you have received and what advice would you give to developing writers?
Sue Lowell Gallion: If you want to write for children, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.com.) That’s the single best piece of advice I received and the advice I give over and over. SCBWI’s conferences, resources, and the people I’ve met through the organization have been essential to my writing career and have enriched my life.
There are no shortcuts, at least in my experience. And if you want to write for kids, know that you have more than one book in you. Don’t think you’re going to write just one story and it will be published. That doesn’t happen very often. Everything you write is a stepping stone to the next thing you’ll write. It takes heart and craft. And perseverance.
In this time of COVID, there aren’t the usual in-person opportunities to attend workshops, but there’s great content online. Along with SCBWI, some other excellent resources are the Highlights Foundation and the Writing Barn.
Jen Vincent: What are you reading and loving right now (or recently)? What are some ways what you have read influences your own writing?
Sue Lowell Gallion: Some of the books I’ve read recently: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, a new biography of Winston Churchill; Midsummer’s Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, a terrific MG debut, Dear Mrs. Byrd by A.J. Pearce, an endearing debut novel set in World War II England; and The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, examining how the American church has helped to create and maintain racism.
I read picture books constantly, fiction and nonfiction. I learn so much from enjoying and studying the work of other authors and illustrators. I’m really taken with two 2020 releases that I think would be great companions to Our World. My Friend Earth, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna, is simply stunning, both as a read-aloud and visually. It’s A Great Big Colorful World by Tom Schamp is another title for all ages. Looking for a creativity boost for you or your students? Here you go.
In everything I do, I'm all about promoting the love of reading and writing. How would you finish the statements: “Reading is…” and “Writing is…”
Sue Lowell Gallion: Reading is world-expanding. Writing is hard but worth the work.
A big thank you to Sue Lowell Gallion for stopping by to answer these questions and give us some great insight into Our World!