Meet the Author:
Holly L. Niner
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Meet our May author of the month, Holly L. Niner! Holly is an award-winning children’s author and speech therapist. Her book No More Noisy Nights is the recipient of the Mom’s Choice Award Gold Winner, the Mississippi Magnolia Children’s Choice Award PreK-2 List, 2019, and is a Scholastic Book Club Selection. No More Noisy Nights is featured in Elephant Books subscriptions this month. We enjoyed speaking with Holly about her love of books, the inspiration behind her characters, and the importance of reading with children.
No More Noisy Nights is the story of Jackson, a little mole who has just moved into his underground home. Jackson soon discovers that he shares his new space with some noisy neighbors who keep him up at night. Still unpacking his belongings, this sleepy critter spends his days thoughtfully plotting how to best quell the unexpected “OOOEEEeeeOOOEEEeeeOOO!,” the “BOOGETY WOOGETY WOO!,” and the “Plink! Plunk! Plinks!”
You are not only an award-winning children’s author, but also a life-long book lover, Speech Therapist, parent, and grandmother. How have these different roles influenced your creative process and shaped the stories you share?
I love books! I have many early memories of being read to, of trips to the library, and of getting lost in a book. Stories are amazing. They are just words, but when put together in the right way, they make you feel and see things like you are there.
These same words are how we communicate our wants and needs; how we connect with people. That is what drew me to speech therapy. I think helping people communicate and learning how to understand a person who has no words made me more cognizant of the power of words-spoken and written. I think ideas about communication, understanding others, kindness, and empathy are threads woven into my stories.
The best role, the one I’m most proud of is my role as a mother and that is what led me to writing. Because I loved books our home was filled with books. We read several times a day. Extra books at bedtime were a reward. And I could always (and still can) be talked into buying a book for a child or grandchild. We always had a book we were reading together through middle school. So many wonderful conversations can come from books you read together. We are still all readers and we talk about and recommend books to each other. When I think about a story, I hope it appeals to the child and the adult. I want to help them create the wonderful memories that come from sharing a book.
It was wonderful to see our children love books too. When they would ask to read a book over and over again, I started thinking I’d like to write a book that a child would love! A story to make them laugh and learn and think and cuddle! But I didn’t really know how to begin. And then, my mother who fostered my love of reading, sent me information on a correspondence course on writing for children and the rest, as they say, is history.
Your book No More Noisy Nights introduces a gentle and determined protagonist in Jackson. He spends plenty of time pondering a solution to his noisy neighbor issue. What inspired this story about a new (and sleepy!) homeowner facing a challenge?
When I do school author visits, I talk to students about where they can get story ideas. Sometimes an idea comes from something in my life. Mr. Worry: A story about OCD was inspired by my son who has OCD. An idea might come from something I hear or see. The idea for The Day I Ran Away came from an America’s Funniest Home Video clip. The students love that!
No More Noisy nights came from a book I have for 1st-3rd grade teachers of writing prompts for their students. The prompt was-pretend there’s a monster living under your bed. Write a letter convincing it to move. The manuscript I submitted to Flashlight Press did have Jackson writing letters, but my wise editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, suggested that if we removed the letters it would allow the illustrations to tell more of the story. It involved a bit of rewriting, but as always, she was right!
The Ghost, the Boogey Man, and Piano Pixie are such fun and unique adaptations of the familiar “bedtime monster.” When did you first imagine the idea for a trio of noisy neighbors? Can you share more about your creative process when developing these characters?
For me some things in a story just come without much thought. If I’m going to write about bedtime fears there has to be a ghost. As a child we talked about the boogey monster in our basement and so he had to make an appearance. Funny thing about the piano pixie. In my original manuscript she was a mouse. She was a mouse because we actually had a mouse in our piano that announced his presence when I was vacuuming and he ran! Unfortunately for the mouse we weren’t as kind as Jackson, but a piano mouse stuck in my head. I loved giving our mouse a new life so to speak, however, Shari suggested that because the ghost and boogey monster were imaginary creatures it didn’t quite work to have a real creature like a mouse in the story. While I hated to see my mouse go, she was right!
The next question was how to keep these characters busy. I tried to think of quiet activities that would take time and that children might relate to. Children love puzzles and trains. Of course, the Pixie had to play the piano! The original manuscript also had a monster in the closet and Jackson gave him books to read, but he was cut because of the rule of three. This is the idea that people relate to and understand things better when presented in groups of three. So, three noisy nighttime guests were best!
Jackson approaches a cast of spooky characters in his new place with bravery and wit—working to solve his problems with the utmost thought and care. The story models the importance of problem solving and touches on themes of empathy and resourcefulness. What inspired you to share this message with your audience?
Picture books are a wonderful way to gently explore topics with children. But the author must keep in mind that children like to read about children solving problems, not adults. So, if the protagonist is an animal or other non-human, the reader can experience the conflict and resolution safely. A child could not move into a house alone, but a mole can! So, Jackson was always a non-human in my mind.
Bedtime fears are a universal issue for children, and for their parents. I wanted to model a calm, thoughtful reaction to something that might be scary. I also wanted to show that sometimes things aren’t what they seem; that we should try and understand others before we judge them. The ghost, boogey monster and piano pixie weren’t trying to scare Jackson or be unkind. They were just being themselves with problems of their own. I wanted Jackson to model the idea that taking time to think helps you make better decisions and choices. He didn’t get scared or angry. Instead, he found a solution that helped everyone. If only we could always model that as parents. If we could teach our children to look behind the behavior to the cause, maybe the world would be a calmer place.
We love the setting of No More Noisy Nights—an underground home full of nooks and crannies for the least expected neighbors to take up residence, and the book’s charming and quaint illustrations bring the story to life! What was it like collaborating with illustrator Guy Wolek on this book?
Guy did a wonderful job capturing Jackson, his noisy neighbors and his amazing home. It’s the cover and illustrations that draw a reader to a picture book. Even my family and friends always commented first on the illustrations when a book was published! So, the illustrator is very important. When I saw the first sketches of Jackson I was thrilled. He was the perfect mole for my story. I love illustrations with lots to see and Guy’s illustrations invite you to come and explore them!
For all my books I had nothing to do with choosing the illustrator and did not have contact with them until the book was finished. The editor was the person with a vision for how the book’s words and illustrations would combine to tell the story. I felt the editors were like a go-between as the book takes shape. Maybe that way no one’s feathers will get ruffled! But I did see sketches and make comments as the process moved along.
What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
The best thing is when a child’s eyes light up when we meet or a parent tells me how much a book has helped their child or when a child slips an I-love-you note in my hand after an author visit at a school!
As a child I read a lot of historical fiction and mysteries. I liked books in a series because I felt like I knew the characters, like they were friends. Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Brains Benton, Cherry Ames, Ginny and Geneva, Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and Johnny Tremain are books I still remember fondly. I also loved poetry! We had a set of Childcraft encyclopedias that had poetry and short stories for children. My dad would read the comic strips in the paper to me. I still love poetry and read the comics daily.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
When I was a child, we had three TV channels and a phone connected to the wall. Books filled hours and captured imaginations. My children had more TV channels (although we never had cable), a family-shared computer starting in elementary school, and a shared cell phone that went with the car depending on which one was driving. Books were part of their life throughout the day. Today’s parent has to worry about screens (they are everywhere!) and their content competing for children’s time. Studies show that attention spans are shrinking as children and adults consume just little bits of information at a time. Sports and other structured activities are filling family calendars leaving little time to read for pleasure, to imagine, or to just do nothing while your thoughts wander.
Added to that we have books being taken out of classrooms and libraries. Teachers and librarians are becoming guarded when they recommend books. Yet children can access inappropriate content on their screens. Books should be seen as an opportunity to express ideas, explore cultures and worlds that are different and to open dialogues. I don’t envy the parents of today.
Do you have any upcoming books we can look forward to reading?
I don’t have any upcoming books at this time but I never know when an idea seed might sprout in my brain’s story garden! And with a little nurturing…something just might grow!
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