Q: What inspired you to write I Love Strawberries!, and how did you create your character Jolie?
A: Many of my other books are based on experiences with my own kids or are about something that reminds me of my former students. For this book, I actually injected myself into the character for the first time. Jolie is a very determined girl, just as I was and continue to be.
I dedicated the book to my mom, who has always said that I am very "strong-willed." When I have a goal that I am excited about, there is no stopping me from figuring out a way to get there.
I also have grown my own strawberry patch for many years and have kept a diary since second grade. Jolie writes in a diary, much like I did, recording her goals, feelings, and sometimes random, interesting facts.
Q: What do you think Jaclyn Sinquett's illustrations add to the story?
A: Jaclyn Sinquett's illustrations are amazing! I'm SO happy with how the art looks. She did a nice job of laying out the pictures, narrative text, and bits of diary entries on each page. I'm sure that was tricky on some spreads. Her cheerful art and color choices are perfect for this story.
She created an adorable book trailer if you'd like to see it/share it: https://youtu.be/OwcGD9fVzO4
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope that kids are inspired to try to grow their own food of some kind. (Even if it isn't strawberries.) There is so much to learn from planting seeds or seedlings and caring for them. From the challenges to the joys of harvest, kids learn about science, patience, and life.
I also hope that kids see and appreciate Jolie's determined spirit. She is a true problem-solver and creative thinker. She shows that where there is a will, there is a way. She shows the meaning behind enjoying the "fruits of your labor."
Q: How did you first get interested in creating children's picture books?
A: I have loved writing since I first learned how to do it. From keeping diaries to writing stories and poems - I loved it all. My high school job was working in the children's section of our public library, where I fell in love with children's books all over again.
Then as an elementary teacher for 25 years, I got to enjoy all kinds of children's books with my students.
About 12 years ago, I wrote a grant to be a part of a teacher creativity fellowship and I got it. I used the grant funding to purchase my first laptop, take some writing classes, and start going to writing conferences. Within two years, my first book came out and I was hooked.
I now teach others how to write children's books on various platforms. I even became the regional advisor, planning all of the writing conferences for the Indiana Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for many years.
In 2020, I stopped teaching to write and speak full time. I absolutely love traveling to schools all over the country to do author visits. Getting to connect with kids and share my love of reading and writing is my favorite part of being an author.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on several projects and have a big "Books in Progress" file on my computer at all times. I have a middle-grade novel releasing this summer (Not What I Signed Up For) and a chapter book (Yay! You Failed!) releasing this fall. I'm currently working on a book about growing blueberries. I also have some picture book manuscripts out on submission.
My summer plans include lots of strawberry festivals and book signings.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I actually wrote I Love Strawberries! over 10 years ago. I even took it to my first writing conference and it won first place in the children's division.
It can be really tricky to get a book traditionally published. From the opinions of the acquisitions editors, to a need in the market, to a topic that is engaging and relatable, to the quality of the writing, there are a lot of factors.
I worked on it and revised it many times. I would sometimes put it away for a year at a time. It finally found its perfect home with Feeding Minds Press and I couldn't be happier.
I like to share that story with aspiring writers and with kids so they understand that we have to persevere and not give up when we believe in our stories.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb