Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Q&A with Deborah Wiles



Photo by Sonya Sones


Deborah Wiles is the author of the new children's picture book We Are All Under One Wide Sky. Her other books include the YA novel Kent State. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.


Q: What inspired you to write We Are All Under One Wide Sky?


A: I've always believed that we are all interconnected on this planet, every living thing, and that we are more alike than we are different, so I wanted to write about that for young readers.


The way it came to be was a story about a day -- morning, noon, to night -- told in rhymed couplets, as a counting book, one through 10 and back again. It's simple, and yet its power lies in its simplicity.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "A work of understated beauty that will delight both children and the adults who read to them." What do you think of that description?


A: That review is just stellar, isn't it! We were all gobsmacked by it, and very grateful, as you are always glad when reviewers "get" what you're trying to accomplish.


I think the sentence you've selected here speaks as much (if not more) to Andrea Stegmaier's art as it does to the text. I so appreciate what she brought to my spare, lyrical text.


Q: Can you say more about what you think Andrea Stegmaier's illustrations add to the book?


A: Andrea tells multiple stories in the art that elevate the text, and I couldn't be more impressed with her accomplishment. There is so much to look at! It will take multiple reads to pore over all the wonderful stories.


We are all interconnected through her illustrations that are so diverse, so inclusive, and so beautiful, whimsical, timely, funny, and peace-filled. Which was a request I made when I sold the book to Sounds True. I wanted  the book to serve as a peace anthem, and so it is.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I hope young readers see themselves in these pages. The many children in these pages are from all walks of life, and all kinds of homes, countries, cultures, and geographies. And yet they are all living together in peace.


I hope adults see their children's hopes and dreams reflected in these pages and rededicate themselves to a peaceable future. It’s hard work to live together in harmony, and yet it's worthwhile work, as we come to understand and act on the fact that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect and every person's story is important.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a picture book about Robert F. Kennedy coming out next spring, published by Scholastic Press, which I'm very excited about as well.


I wanted to talk about one of my heroes, and about how even the most privileged among us can choose to work for the good of every one of us. Most of us have some sort of privilege in our lives. How do we use it for good?


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I find that I've been writing and publishing long enough now that I can see the themes in the trajectory of what I write, which is all about social justice and equality, community and family in all its forms, and connection, connection, connection, from my first books, Freedom Summer and Love, Ruby Lavender (which are 20 years old this year and still beloved) to the Sixties Trilogy and Kent State, for young adults... and now We Are All Under One Wide Sky.


I love how this youngest picture book encapsulates these themes for the youngest readers. Thanks very much for letting me share it here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Wiles.

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