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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller


I'm delighted to feature three KidLit friends on my blog today: Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley. Their beautiful and important new poetry anthology, NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (edited by Lindsay, Keila, and Jeanette, and illustrated by Jeanette), releases from Charlesbridge on September 22, 2020. I loved learning about the inspiration behind this book and others. Read on for their thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Lindsay, Keila, and Jeanette.

STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

Lindsay: Most of my inspiration comes from reading widely, being present, and indulging curiosity. When I was a kid, my parents told me I asked too many questions. The ideas that become stories come from fundamental questions that won’t let me go.

NO VOICE TOO SMALL came from all of us asking, how can we help young readers find their voices and make a difference? Jeanette, Keila, and I began collaborating in spring 2018, just after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school ignited a nationwide wave of anti-gun violence protests. But young activists were using their voices, especially on social media, seeking change in many realms in ways that inspired us and gave us hope for the future. Poetry felt like a natural fit for capturing the energy, emotion, and power of their stories. My other books, BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST (Albert Whitman, September 2020) and FARMERS UNITE! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (Calkins Creek, November 2020), both came from sparks of ideas that became instant passions. For BEATRIX, I read a Brain Pickings article about her history with mycology. For FARMERS, I saw a picture of a local farmer’s antique tractor bearing the sign “Washington, DC, or BUSTed.” I had to know more about the thousands of farmers who drove their tractors cross-country and camped on the National Mall to protest low market prices.

Keila: The inspiration for my debut book came while baking and celebrating my culture. I had always wanted to write a children’s book but told a friend I didn’t have any ideas. In retrospect, I think it’s because I wasn’t looking for one. Another idea that turned into a book publishing next year came from the inspiration of taking part in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm idea challenge. I love adventure and thinking outside the box so I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate on NO VOICE TOO SMALL, a poetry anthology. And the idea of featuring young leaders doing the work I’ve done, that still needs doing, was something that I knew deserved my attention.

Jeanette: My daughter, who was at the time 6 years old, loved reading picture book biographies. One day she finished up a collection of biographies and said to me “I wish I was born in the past so that I could do things and make history.” I realized that the unintended consequence of her reading all these inspiring stories about famous people from the past was that she had developed an idea that she did not have the same power to influence the world as these other people had. The idea for NO VOICE TOO SMALL was sparked in talking with Lindsay and Keila about this need for books that showcased contemporary young people who were shaping our future.

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

Lindsay: With three books coming out this fall amid a pandemic, I’d be lying if I didn’t say my writing life has suffered. But I do try to find time to access the creative side of my brain through playing ukulele and piano and, this year, gardening. I think that counts, because like most creative pursuits, gardens must be nurtured from seed to harvest.

Keila: I write educational guides for my books and enjoy creating school visits for kids. I wrote songs and created recipes for my debut book. Outside of writing, I enjoy genealogical research. We family historians can get pretty creative in the search and documentation of our connections, ancestral records, and history that include dusty archives, charts, graphs, and travel.

Jeanette: I am both a writer and an illustrator, as well as a mom who has been juggling distance learning during the pandemic. Sometimes my need to create is at odds with my other obligations, and so I channel my creative energy into things that can be done alongside my kids, like using color, shape and texture in my garden, or arranging rocks on the beach or leaves in the yard into ephemeral nature art, inspired by Andy Goldsworthy.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

Lindsay: I have done Skypes and school visits, and lately I’ve been mailing personalized bookplates because book signings aren’t happening during the pandemic. And we have a host of resources for NO VOICE TOO SMALL that teachers can customize to their unique learning environments. I’m especially excited that Flipgrid has decided to highlight our NO VOICE TOO SMALL Book Club as a featured collection in their Discovery Library. The idea that kids all over the country will be interacting with the book in a deep way and considering how to apply the book’s activism strategies fills me with hope for the future. Check out the link here -

As for the kidlit community, Twitter is my favorite in our current all-virtual environment. I love celebrating fellow authors’ book news. I’m also a member of the Soaring ‘20s Picture Book Debuts, which has given me a world of support through a reciprocal review program, shared blog, social media signal-boosting, and even regular mental-health check-ins.

Keila: I enjoyed pre-pandemic school visits! And especially traveling to New Orleans during the Carnival season with THE KING CAKE BABY. But I am super-excited about what Lindsay, Jeanette, and I have planned to connect virtually using NO VOICE TOO SMALL with our readers on Flipgrid.

I’m active in my local SCBWI, enjoy going to conferences and sharing through presentations at conferences. I write monthly author studies for the Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) blog, and most recently for the Picture Book Summit, and review books for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day annual #ReadYourWorld campaign. Like most of us, I’m getting used to taking part in panels like nErDCamp and state library association’s virtual events.

Jeanette: I’m really excited about the asynchronous distance learning school visit that the three of us have created. We have pulled together video, text, and art into a multimedia exploration of poetry and social justice. I hope that young readers will be inspired by being able to watch these amazing poets read their own work and talk about their writing process, and also will be empowered to use their own voices by hearing the stories of other young people who have spoken up and made a difference in the world.

I stay connected to other kidlit creators through volunteering with my regional SCBWI, and participating in critique groups. It has also really been a wonderful experience to work in collaboration with Lindsay and Keila on this project. A lot of my time as illustrator is spent holed up in my art cave, so it is really nice to work as part of a team that is constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. I feel it has made my work a lot stronger to have their input.


Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books: Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020); Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (Calkins Creek, 2020); and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, a poetry anthology co-edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets.

Before becoming a children’s book author, Keila V. Dawson was a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs. She is co-editor of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020), the author of The King Cake Baby (Pelican Publishing), and the forthcoming Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt.

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book LOVE, MAMA was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2018. It contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love. She is also co-editor and illustrator of the forthcoming anthology NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 2020) and illustrator of WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY (Viking, 2020). Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. Jeanette is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt.


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