Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Q&A with June Smalls




June Smalls is the author of the new children's picture book He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, the Gentle Giant. Her other books include She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch. She lives in Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to focus on the mountain gorilla in your new book?


A: I wrote a book called She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch. This book that started as a lyrical journey to learn about the African elephant quickly became a story about leadership.


When that solo book had the opportunity to become a series I had to choose my next animals carefully for their cool factor and their leadership skills.


Gorillas are known for their ferocious power. Big canine teeth. Loud chest beats. But we don’t always see how good they are at avoiding confrontation. How goofy and playful they are. How gentle and shy they can be.


After preliminary research on a few different male-led groups of animals I couldn’t help but fall for these amazing creatures. Thus, He Leads was born.


Q: How do you see this book relating to She Leads?


A: He Leads continues the style of She Leads with a short lyrical story that guides you through the importance and the life of the silverback, which leads and cares for his troop, with nonfiction sidebars on each spread.


Like She Leads, you learn basic facts on the animals as well as having a great conversation starter about what makes a good leader.


If teachers and caregivers were to compare the two, kids could observe why different leadership styles work so well in different habitats, situations, and family structures.


Q: You worked again with illustrator Yumi Shimokawara--what do you think her illustrations added to this book?


A: Yumi Shimokawara has the most amazing style. The realistic gorillas are powerful; you can see the intelligence in their eyes. They are set off by soft hues and even negative space that really lets them be the star of the show.


Her art takes the text to a higher level.


Q: What are some surprising facts about mountain gorillas?


A: Some fun facts that I share with readers, but couldn’t add to the lyrical story: how gassy gorillas are. They are herbivores that eat very dense vegetation which causes some noisy consequences.


Also, recent studies have shown that the chest beats of the male gorilla may show everyone who is the largest male. This may be why so many confrontations end with chest beats. The smaller ape knows he isn’t a match, and it isn’t worth trying to fight.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I recently got to see the art for my next picture book, Hear Them Roar, a novelty sound book about endangered animals around the world.


I’m also working on more in the Leads series. Just wait until you see Yumi’s art for They Lead, about the wolf pack.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: When researching for a book or essay or class project, keep track of your bibliography as you go! Once I started doing this my world became just a little bit easier.


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

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