Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Runaway Shirt?
A: This story was inspired by a game my own toddler used to play: hiding in the laundry basket and pretending to be a shirt. I, of course, would play along and try to fold the shirt, which would always giggle madly while unfolding itself.
One of my favorite picture books is Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig, where the parents pretend that Pete is a pizza to cheer him up on a rainy day, and I always thought this story would lend itself to picture book treatment like that. Though my own little shirt is now a teenager, I hope other families will enjoy this playful story!
Q: What do you think Julia Castaño's illustrations add to the story?
A: I absolutely love Julia’s illustrations! They perfectly capture the playful and loving relationship between the parent and child. I teach parent-child classes on improving communication through American Sign Language, and every class incorporates play through stories, songs, games, and more.
Play is the work of a young child. It’s how they learn and develop relationships. So the mother in this story taking the time to enter into the child’s imaginative world and play along is so important. Play is not just keeping young children entertained – it’s teaching them about where they are in the world, how to relate to other people, and that they are valuable and worthy of attention.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope they will see themselves and their families and be inspired to use their imaginations to make everyday chores more fun! Related to that, I hope the story inspires parents to follow the imaginative instincts of young children, and maybe find the joy in routine tasks. Even folding laundry or setting the table can be a way to foster closer relationships!
Q: You've written for various age groups--do you have a preference?
A: I don’t think I have a preference overall, because every story has a different audience, and every writing category has its own pros and cons.
With picture books, for example, the writing and editing processes are much shorter than with novels, but so much of the publishing process is out of your hands. In many cases, the author has no contact with the illustrator at all! I am lucky in that Familius Press is amazing about this, and I did have input on the illustrations at certain points. Illustrator Julia Castaño and I have even done interviews for the book together.
Even so, with a picture book, there might be a year or more where work is being done on your book and you are not a part of it! With novels, obviously, that’s not the case. Everything takes longer, and it’s pretty much all you and the editor until the manuscript is finalized.
Different categories have different demands as far as time, promotion, and deadlines. But every project teaches me something new about myself as a writer or about the writing process, and those lessons apply to projects in other categories too. I guess I would have to say that what I like best is the variety!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The next book in the Little Hands Signing board book series will be gearing up for production soon, and I am also working on a young adult novel that has been a long time coming. It is about a 17-year-old playwright struggling with the ugliness curse on her family – and how her world turns upside-down when she meets her beautiful new stepsister, nicknamed Cinderella.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Signed and personalized copies of The Runaway Shirt and all of my books are available from the Deaf Camps, Inc. Online Bookstore, with all proceeds going toward scholarships to Deaf Camp.
Deaf Camps, Inc. is a wonderful nonprofit organization that provides accessible camps for deaf and hard of hearing children and children learning American Sign Language, and I have volunteered with them for almost 20 years now. Signed books make great gifts and purchasing through this link supports a great cause!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kathy MacMillan.