Q: How much is The Noisy Classroom based on your own experiences?
A: One hundred percent! My classroom is definitely the noisy classroom. They were young kids. Even with the older kids, you can get crafty ways to make the classroom a fun place to learn.
Q: At what point did you decide to write the book?
A: It was always an idea in the back of my head. When I left the classroom in 2015, I had more free time. I was working as an educational consultant. I was able to sit down and write it out, and get the manuscript together.
A: They all have an equal piece of the puzzle for me. I’m always tweeting about injustices, and better practices in schools, and the writing realm is equally important for me. I’m a pie chart—I’m equally split between them. I never want to get out of any of these spaces. I want to make all of them fit into my adult life!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: This story has a two-fer. When I watched cartoons, there were always nuggets for adults. I want kids to see that a scary new situation can work out in the end. And also to understand that there’s no one set way to have a classroom. It’s a nod to teachers. It’s okay to have fun. If it gets a little loud, and you create a classroom community where that’s okay, it’s a space for kids to find their voice.
Especially now, going back to school is going to be scary, navigating everything.
Q: What do you see as the right approach for going back to the classroom?
A: We’re in a good place to adjust how we look at schools. There’s some rhetoric that parents need to go back to work so school it is. We should be having honest conversations with students, parents, and teachers about what they feel comfortable with, and weighing that with the science. We don’t want to have to homeschool kids; we have jobs. But we have to be safe. Just throwing kids back in is tricky.
The same way we bailed out big corporations, we need to funnel money in to schools and use creative solutions to keep teachers and students safe while trying to get parents back to normal.
Q: What do you think Alison Hawkins’ illustrations add to the book?
A: I love her. I was very nervous—I’m a visual learner and I was giving my baby over to someone. But she hit it out of the park. I wanted some sort of noise illustration—she made a rainbow of noise coming out of the classroom.
I wanted the facial expressions to be very expressive—they can say so much, and in Black culture, facial expressions are a nonverbal way of communicating. And she knocked that out of the park.
She took the book up another level. She’s my partner in bringing the book to life. She’s also a debut illustrator.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have When My Cousins Come to Town, which will be out in May 2021. It’s about Black cousin culture, and the rite of passage of earning a nickname. The girl in the book is the smallest in her family, and she doesn’t have a nickname. Her cousins come to New York City, and explore the city. Everyone has a nickname, and throughout the book she does a lot of pretending, adopting the names of her cousins.
Ultimately she learns that being yourself is a way to gain your nickname.
I just finished a manuscript for the Noisy Classroom sequel, The Noisy Classroom Goes to the Library. Ideally I would like this to be a picture book series with the Black Miss Frizzle [from The Magic School Bus], based on these kids getting into a bunch of crazy things.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb