3 Question Interview - MONI RITCHIE HADLEY
I'm delighted to feature my friend Moni Ritchie Hadley on the blog today. I'm so excited about Moni's upcoming debut picture book, THE STAR FESTIVAL (illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa, Albert Whitman & Company). She drew inspiration from her family history and childhood experiences, including a festival's origin story, when writing this beautiful book. Read on for Moni's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Moni!
1) STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
THE STAR FESTIVAL was inspired by the three generations of females living in my home. Caring for my elderly mother brought on certain parallels to the past, as well as currently being a mom with a toddler. There were numerous trips to see doctors, double checking bags before leaving the house (toddler: diapers, extra clothes, toys, snacks/mom: meds, blood glucose reader, phone, snacks), and worries about losing either of them in a crowd.
The setting at that point was nonspecific. When I changed it to Japan, I reinvented the story as well. Adding another piece of my childhood opened up possibilities for the plot, as well as illustrations.
The Japanese Tanabata Festival became the backdrop after researching the many celebrations I had attended as a child. Over 200,000 festivals take place every year. They vary according to geographic location and historical and cultural influence. The origins of the Tanabata Matsuri, two star-crossed lovers, Hikoboshi and Orihime, meeting only once a year, intrigued me. Also, I thought the colorful ornaments would make beautiful visuals. At that point, I made connections in the festival’s origin story with my own. I used techniques that I learned in the Children’s Book Academy to craft a new draft.
2) CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
Creativity keeps me sane.
As a writer, I look for unique perspectives and parallels, drawing connections between characters, situations, plots, and relationships.
As a former teacher, I tried to work beyond what was required and inspire my students’ creativity. I gave them recycled materials to build cities, governments, characters, habitats, anything to make connections to what they were reading about or studying. I was surprised at how many students initially thought they couldn’t do it or that it was silly. Many surprised themselves and felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work afterward. These assignments helped them access difficult content and subject matter.
Favorite memories as a child include singing and dancing with my sisters, putting on skits in second grade, and the smell of an art class. As an adult, there were periods of my life where I danced, acted, played music, and now I’m exploring illustration. I’m definitely guilty of having too many interests!
Lately, I’ve been exploring mixed media and procreate. I collect tons of junk and create textures with paint, ink, and tea. I layer acrylic, watercolors, magazine cuttings, doodles, and tea bags to make my own backgrounds, then scan and save all of it into a file. That provides me with tons of layers to work with in procreate. I post on Instagram, and I’ve designed worksheets available on my website for educators and parents to inspire kids to create stories of their own.
3) CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
Keiko, the main character in my book, embodies children’s innocence, creativity, hope, and enthusiasm. Young readers will identify with her independence and delight in her unique solution to finding her lost Oba.
I look forward to the management of the pandemic. Connecting with children has been a bit more challenging for me in the last year. Usually, I’d observe kids wherever I happened to be, grocery store, doctor’s office, the library, or park. Eavesdropping on kids’ conversations is fun! It’s more difficult now that most people are staying home, but I have discovered new avenues. People love to post videos of their kids online! In the future, I definitely would like to volunteer or work with kids again in some capacity, including doing author visits.
Connecting to other writers has been an unexpected high point to my career switch. I am blown away by the amount of support in the Kidlit community. I’ve managed to find a solid nook of friends through Twitter and Instagram who I depend on and who depend on me for help, support, and chitchat. Being a member of a debut picture book group is another way I stay connected. The authors of my "21 For the Books" group are a source of knowledge, inspiration, motivation, and support.
Moni Ritchie Hadley grew up in a military family and bounced back and forth from the USA to Japan. Daydreaming was a favorite pastime. She received a BA in Psychology at UCLA and later became a home/hospital teacher for the LAUSD, where she taught students with medical needs. Today she lives in Los Angeles, where she turns her sky-gazing daydreams into stories for children. Moni has also published in Highlights Magazine. THE STAR FESTIVAL is her picture book debut.
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