Thursday, March 14, 2024

Q&A with Beth Bacon




Beth Bacon is the author of the new children's picture book The Grandmother Effect. Her other books include Alphabuddies: G Is First!. She lives in the St. Louis area.


Q: What inspired you to write The Grandmother Effect?


A: As an author, I love to read the reviews and emails from my readers. My genre is picture books, so most of the reviewers are grown-ups who read to youngsters. (Though I sometimes get kid-written notes and videos which are treasures!) 


I noticed that a lot of the people who take the time to write to me are grandmothers. They often mention that in their notes and reviews. Grandmothers spend a lot of time and energy with their grandkids!


It got me thinking that I’d like to write a book to celebrate the relationships between grandmothers and grandkids. It really is a special bond.


Around the time I was mulling over this idea, I learned about a scientific hypothesis called the Grandmother Effect.


This hypothesis is academic and theoretical, but in simple terms, it states that over the course of human evolution, grandmothers have been influential in the development of our species. Grandmothers aren't just special to us personally -- they are valuable to the development of the whole human race!


I reached out to Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at University of Utah. Her scientific work is instrumental in the exploration of this hypothesis. Kristen and her teammates were very responsive in answering my questions and encouraging me to create a picture book that includes this complex issue. 


Q: What do you think Kat Bourek’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Kat’s illustration style is so charming and engaging! I love her design sense and color palette. There’s a sort of “folk art” quality to her work that adds a friendly, approachable, vintage effect that balances well with the scientific ideas that the book touches on. 


Kat and I worked on this project together. As a team, we presented it to the publisher. That is not the traditional process. Usually an author sends a publisher a written manuscript without any illustrations. So in this case, the illustrations don’t just add to the book… they are inextricably connected to the text.


This story relies on both the pictures and words. For example, in one spread the text contains the line: “an afternoon with your grandmother might be full of ups and downs.” That line takes on a richer, more enjoyable meaning when you see Kat’s illustration of a grandmother and grandson on a roller coaster. 


As Kat and I worked together over the course of a year, I had the opportunity to adjust the story to the images not just in terms of the scenes on the page, but also in terms of the tone and lyricism.


Actually, the draft that I thought was “final” had a tone that was relatively dry and unemotional. It seemed fine when the words were by themselves.


But once I put those original words together on the same page with the pictures, I decided to revise the text. The new text – the current text – has a slightly more sentimental mood and warm tone. 


Another note: Kat and I both live in the St. Louis area. In some of her images, Kat included touches of St. Louis architecture and other local details that mean a lot to us personally. And I appreciate the range of people and lifestyles that she depicted.


Q: What do you hope kids (and adults!) take away from The Grandmother Effect?


A: I wanted to honor the special experiences that grandmothers create when they spend time with their grandchildren.


My hope is that grandmothers and grandkids will feel a little boost of satisfaction and content—for doing little, everyday things like baking cookies, or doing laundry, or walking in the rain … or reading books together.


Kat dedicated this book to her two grandmothers. I dedicated it to my mom (who we call Gaga and is an amazing, dedicated grandmother) and her 10 grandkids, who as a group, we call “the grands.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I am working on a picture book about stargazing in the dark skies of Maine. I spent a month in Maine and met some wonderful people who are involved in Dark Sky Maine ( We decided to create a picture book together.


The project is just in the early stages but I hope to return to your blog soon to talk about that story. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Above, I mentioned that this story was inspired by the reviews and letters written by grandmothers who have read my other books. I would love readers to understand how much it means to authors to hear from our readers! Keep writing your emails and reviews. This feedback is so very important and authors value your input.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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