Q: How did you come up with the idea for Not Little, and for your character Dot?
A: My youngest daughter was very small as a young child, and a precocious reader. She was perpetually indignant that the school librarian wouldn’t let her check out big chapter books, and was often looked at skeptically when she would order (and polish off) a whole pizza in a restaurant.
My older girls, both tall, each had a close friend who appeared much younger than she was, and all these “little” kids seemed to make up for it with outsized spunk and determination.
When I wrote this story a few years ago, there was a new level of vitriol and unkindness flying around in the world, and I wanted to remind my own kids and others that anyone can fight back against cruelty without being cruel.
Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I knew what kind of kid Dot was, but I didn’t know exactly what she was going to do until I got to writing. Most of the book came out about as it is in the first draft, with some revisions based on feedback from my top critique partner (my husband).
I shared the manuscript with Neal Porter (my editor) soon after I wrote it, and at that time, he passed on the book. A few months later, one of my editorial clients was talking about bringing the end of a story back around to its beginning, and I realized that was what Not Little was missing. So I pulled it up and tweaked the ending, and that turned out to make it a book Neal wanted to publish.
Q: What do you think Hyewon Yum's illustrations add to the book?
A: When I first saw Hyewon’s sketches, it was like finally meeting Dot for the first time. She’s got all the fierceness I imagined for her, plus that amazing gigantic bun and a polka-dotted wardrobe I never imagined. Her expressions are so funny, and you can see her energy in every scene.
The soft rainbow palette Hyewon used from the cover through the last page makes the book feel friendly and happy, even when Dot is outraged.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I hope they feel empowered to speak up when they see that something isn’t right. Our hearts and voices are as big as we make them, regardless of the size of the body that contains them.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished revisions on the next book about Dot and Sam: Not Perfect (coming 2024 from Neal Porter Books). I’m also in the early stages of writing a first encyclopedia for National Geographic Kids.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I loved the big, blended family Hyewon created for Dot so much that they are all featured in Not Perfect.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb