Today, I'm featuring my dear friend, and one of my critique partners, Ellen Leventhal. Her new book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, illustrated by Blythe Russo (Worthy Kids - Hachette Book Group), is a beautiful and important story. Ellen shares how she was inspired by her own experiences with devastating floods, and she takes us behind the scenes with her writing process. Read on for Ellen's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Ellen!
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
First of all, Melissa, thank you for having me on your blog. These questions really made me think!
I get inspiration in different ways. When I do school visits, I always tell the kids that we are not just one thing. So just like they are students, friends, siblings, etc., I feel like I wear several hats, and often my ideas come from the particular one on my head at the time. I get a lot of ideas from real life, as I did for my latest book, A Flood of Kindness. The short story here is that after my house flooded, I was surrounded by kindness from both friends and strangers. I also found that one of the things that helped me was returning that kindness. If I wrote something about that, I thought it might help children navigate difficult situations and realize that they have power through kindness.
Once I write a serious book, I sometimes want to write a silly and fun story. One day, I was with my grandson, who noticed something unusual, and we started brainstorming all the funny things it could be. I began writing a story, changed it more times than I can count, and although it’s been a few years, I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet. Getting something to where you want it can take a LONG time!
The process for my 2023 release is a little more straightforward. Since it’s a picture book bio, I didn’t change the story, but I changed how I chose to tell it MANY times. My inspiration came from hearing children sing a song in both Hebrew and English. I thought about the person who wrote it and began to research. I wrote the story several times, but I still felt like it was a list of facts. It wasn’t until I put my notes away and crafted a story that flowed from my own head and heart that I think I really was able to drill down on what was important. All the extraneous things went into the back matter, and then I sliced and diced that until I got what I felt was important for kids to know.
2. CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
Ha! As far as non-writing pursuits, I am not crafty nor artistic in any way! I’m the one who got her fingers fused together with a glue gun! (True story!) I am in awe of illustrators who make words come alive. I wish I could draw, at least a little bit. But, I do keep my creative side going by writing just for fun (not with the goal of publication), writing poems and songs for people, and playing with words to see where they take me.
3. CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
Before I can connect with kids through my writing, I feel like I need to connect with kids themselves. Up until this past year, I was able to do that through my teaching. Without teaching and in-person school visits, it has become a bit harder. However, I do have four little readers in my life, and I like to see what they are reading, watch their responses, and definitely garner ideas from them. How I connect with young readers through my writing is different. I hope that my stories reflect some part of their lives, even if it’s a silly book with inanimate or animal characters. I try to keep my characters childlike and imbue them with feelings that children can relate to. In my opinion, when a child reads about someone who is jealous, who gets angry easily, or who is sad and can think, “I’m sometimes like that,” I’ve done my job. And if I can entertain at the same time, I’ve hit the jackpot!
Connecting to the KidLit community has been my lifesaver! I try to stay connected by being active in online communities, participating in SCBWI events, and supporting my critique buddies and anyone else in this business (published or pre-published). I feel like support can come in many ways from buying books and writing reviews to just being there to say, “Yep…it’s hard. I’ve been there.” By staying connected, I've made so many friends, both virtual and in real life (of course, including the lovely Melissa Stoller 😊 ). I hope I have been able to encourage others, just as I've been encouraged by the KidLit community.
Ellen Leventhal is a Houston author and educator. Although she has written in some capacity most of her life, her passion for writing children’s books came later in life. It was only after many years teaching when she decided that perhaps she could merge her two loves and write as well as teach. She hopes her books inspire and excite her readers by sparking their curiosity and opening their world to new possibilities. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with children as they garner a love of literacy, laughter, and kindness together. www.Ellenleventhal.com
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