Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading. This week, an interview with author and illustrator Marianne Richmond.
This month, we had the privilege of getting to know Marianne Richmond, author of Be Brave, Little One. Marianne is passionate about connecting families through reading, so, naturally, we here at Elephant Books were excited to hear more about her story and her philosophy as an author.
Be Brave, Little One is a wonderful tale that explores what it means to be brave. It touches on the traditional definition—to explore new things and to reach outside of your comfort zone. It also, however, teaches children that sometimes being brave is saying hello to a new friend or to say that something is hard or frustrating.
What inspired you to write books for children?
I was recovering from brain surgery in my mid 20’s and had about 6 weeks recovery time, so I started hand-painting thank-you cards for the people who had given me gifts during my hospital stay. After I was back at work, I decided to print an inventory of cards and started selling them to some local gift shops. As this very small card business grew, I got hooked on the idea of helping people convey emotion and wrote my first book called The Gift of an Angel, for parents welcoming a new child. It is a story of how God picks out a guardian angel for every new child to watch over him/her. I loved the idea of people using my words to connect with their friends and family in a meaningful way and inspired me to keep writing more books.
You call yourself a “Chief Expression Officer.” What does this mean to you?
I am passionate about self-expression as a conduit for growth, learning and connection. So many of my books help give parents the words to communicate love and encouragement to their kids. I also give teachers ideas for creative projects around the themes of my books, inviting kids to put their ideas to paper — to help them see their creativity and imagination. This fall, I’ll be co- leading my second annual art and writing retreat for women called Awaken your Creative Soul. The weekend is all about making space for creative self-expression and to foster that spark we all have within.
The book encourages children to explore and be adventurous—how did this theme evolve?
The book encourages children to be brave in whatever ways connect with them. For some, this might be traveling far from home. For others, a trip across town may be the bravest part of their day. It’s all about stretching oneself in personal ways.
Why is it important to teach “little ones” to say hello, be scared, stomp and cry, etc?
It’s important for little ones to understand their interior worlds by expression the range of emotions we all have. So often we tell kids, “don’t be afraid” which negates their truth. I want kids and grown ups to hear that it’s okay to feel what you feel and to let it inspire a conversation about the why behind the feeling.
Your book describes what it means to be brave. How did you come up with this definition?
This book was inspired by a conversation I had with my then 11-year-old son, Will. I was asking him what it meant to be brave, given he had to change schools a couple of times with our moves. He said, “I think bravery is choice.” In other words, doing what you heart desires no matter what others might think. This helped me craft a text that was all about the many choices of bravery!
Your illustrations are perfect for the book—where did your drawing inspiration come from?
When I first began writing, I didn’t know how to go about finding someone to do my drawings, so I did them myself! Those first pictures looked as “beginner” as they felt! I simply practiced my style until it felt like me.
As an author-illustrator, which do you start with first—the words or the pictures?
Always the writing! Most picture books have 32 pages so I first write my story, then divide it into 32 pages, figuring out how many words per page. After my editor approves my text, then I start sketching out ideas for each page.
You say that one of your missions is to help people connect with their loved ones. How do you feel that Be Brave, Little One does this?
As grown ups, we want the kids in our life to be confident in who they are. A key part of this is teaching kids to listen to that still small voice inside that has the answers they need. When I talk to kids myself, I teach them how to recognize this voice that speaks through feelings — fear, peace, joy, excitement. By listening to ourselves, we are able to navigate a path of courage that helps us grow into the best version of us!
What message do you hope parents and children receive from your book?
That courage is a choice — and what feels brave to one person can be very different for another!
In what ways do you think you inspire your audience—parents and children alike—to express themselves?
I inspire kids and grown ups to own their thoughts, ideas and feelings and to accept that fear is part of the process of being more “known.” I help them create “fear strategies” for moving through stuck points as well as talk about the importance of a life team — knowing who we have in our corner to cheer us on. These things can make all the difference between stuck and succeeding.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges or opportunities to address?
There are many things competing for the attention of our kids — sports, video games, social media. Choosing to read is to say yes to immersing yourself in a story and saying no to those other things. I think as parents, we have to help kids carve out this time through designating “reading hour” or other creative ideas like family book club, mom and daughter book club (father/son, etc.). I also think we can expand our definition of reading to audio books, podcasts, reading online, etc. To me, I want to immerse kids in the power of storytelling and shared human experience and emotion.
So, what’s next? Are there any new books on the horizon?
Always! I’m working on a grandparent book at the moment. Grandparents are passionate about connecting with their grand kids and I want to give them ways to express this unique love and bond!
Thank you, Marianne, for sharing your story! We loved hearing about your philosophy of connecting families through reading. If you’d like to learn more about Marianne’s wonderful books and her intriguing journey as an author, you can visit her website here.