Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Q&A with Anthony DeStefano




Anthony DeStefano is the author of the new children's picture book Greenlee Is Growing. His many other books include OK, I Admit It, I'm Afraid. He lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write Greenlee Is Growing?


A: I have a precious 4-year-old goddaughter named Greenlee and she is growing up so fast—like every other child in the world. Last year I bought her a pair of sneakers in April and to accompany the gift I wrote a little poem called, “Springtime is Here!” all about how she was growing as quickly as the spring flowers.


Soon after that I got the idea to continue the poem through all four seasons of the year and have the character of Greenlee get older as the story progressed. I thought it would be a good way to show children the whole perspective of life— from childhood to old age.


Also, this idea came to me at the tail-end of the pandemic. I know so many families who lost older loved ones to the disease, and I wanted to write something that might console and comfort children.


I felt strongly that there should be a book showing children that old age is nothing to be afraid of; that you can have tremendous joy at every stage of life. The result was Greenlee is Growing.


Q: What do you think Louise A. Ellis’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Her illustrations added joy and life to the story!! My goodness, what a wonderful blessing it was to have Louise as the illustrator!


The story itself is slightly bittersweet, because in it we see Greenlee age from a little girl of 3 to an elderly lady. Because some people might find that a tiny bit sad, I wanted to make sure the illustration were full of happiness and fun.


I wanted children to be excited by the book—excited about ALL of Greenlee’s life. That’s really the point of the story: that life is an incredible gift that we should be grateful for. So, Louise’s illustrations—so colorful and full of animals and flowers and rainbows and life— achieve that goal in a marvelously effective way.


I think children will be absolutely captivated all the little details Louise has included in every illustration—especially by all the different kinds of animals—and I hope they will come away from the book more cheerful and inspired than they were before they read it.


Q: You’ve written for different age groups—do you have a preference?


A: Any success I’ve had as a writer is due to a paradox: I try to write all my adult nonfiction books in a style easy enough for non-scholars and young people to understand them, and I try to write all my children’s books with enough layers of meaning that even adults can appreciate them and get something out of them. In other words, I’m always trying to write simply but deeply at the same time.


Now, to answer your question, I would say that it’s definitely harder to write nonfiction books for adults, because of the need to make complex subjects as comprehensible as possible.


But if a reader sends me a letter or email and tells me that a book of mine changed their life or helped them to deal with the death of a loved one, I don’t think there’s any better feeling in the world. It sort of gives validation to my entire life.


On the other hand, writing children’s books is an absolute joy. It’s so much fun to come up with a story and cute rhymes and then collaborate with a brilliant illustrator. And of course, there’s no happier feeling than seeing a child’s face light up when he or she reads one of my books.


So it’s very hard to choose between the two. Writing for adults is more difficult but can be more gratifying. Writing for children is much more pleasant to do and can also give great satisfaction. That’s why my preference is to keep writing for both!  


Q: Can you say more about what you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I’d like them to be able to gain some perspective on life and realize that they are meant to grow and change in the same way that grass, trees and flowers do.


I’d also like them to see that the greatest joys in life are simple things that never change, no matter how much the world around us changes; like running outside in the sunshine, enjoying the beauty of animals and nature, watching fireworks at night, smelling the ocean breeze or a blazing bonfire, drinking hot cocoa on a chilly but cozy night, and spending time with loved ones during the holidays.


Most especially, I’d like children to see that in every season of life— even old age— there is potential for great joy. We are living in very pessimistic, almost desperate times. I’d like to be able to plant a seed in children’s minds that not everything is bad; that there is hope for the future.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m doing final revisions on an adult nonfiction book called: 30 Days to YourNew Life: A Guide to Transforming Yourself from Head to Soul. It will be coming out in June of this year.


As I said before, we are living in confusing times. I think people from every walk of life are looking for certainty and for some common-sense guidance on how to navigate through the murky waters of the early 21st century. I hope this book helps to do that.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just one other thought, though it might seem a bit cliché. The older I get, the more I appreciate the power of hope.


When I was younger, I used to think that people got through life by going from pleasure to pleasure. But now I realize I was wrong. In order for people to deal with the “whips and scorns of time” (as Shakespeare said), they live from hope to hope. Being able to look forward to something — even something small — is often enough to stave off serious depression in most people.


I think we need to remember that when we go about the job of educating children. We need to show them that no matter what happens to them or what pain they have to go through, there is always hope. As long as there’s life, there’s hope. That’s the message of Greenlee is Growing.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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