Bonnie Clark loves books that make her laugh, cry, or think for a long time. She enjoys writing for children because she believes that childhood is the most important time in a person’s life–the time that shapes who we become as adults. When she isn’t writing, Bonnie does yoga, reads books, raises three adorable kids, and drinks lots of coffee. Bonnie lives in Canton, Georgia, with her husband, their children, and two French bulldogs.
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Taste Your Words.
Taste Your Words is a flavorfully fun picture book about speaking kind words. In the story, the main character exchanges mean names with her best friend and when she comes home upset, her mom gives her some advice: “Taste your words.” Through a series of yucky events, Amera discovers that unkind words taste gross—like spoiled milk and rotten eggs! When she finally realizes that it’s her poor choice of words that are leaving unpleasant tastes in her mouth, she makes an important choice to speak kindly. From then on, Amera decides to use her palatable power for good and make the world a sweeter place one kind word at a time.
Animator Todd Bright knocked the illustrations out of the park! Each imaginative and colorful spread pulls the reader/listener into the story and helps them feel and see what the main character is experiencing.
What age is the book written for? At what age did you start teaching your own children about tasting their words?
Everyone! Kidding. Sort of. The book is geared towards five-to-eight-year olds, but I’ve heard positive reviews from three-year-olds and twelve-year-olds! The concept of bad flavors being tied to unkind words and good flavors being tied to kind words is something that kids understand very quickly. There is also mention of adults tasting their words, too, which was important to me to include. We could all use the advice to “taste your words.”
The idea for Taste Your Words originated with my children when they were much smaller and learning how to use their words to communicate. Inspired by Proverbs 16:24, I would tell them to taste their words before they let them out of their mouth. The idea that we could taste our words was fun, and I was surprised at how quickly they understood the concept. There are few things that kids really understand, and one is food, especially sweet treats. It became a game in our home to politely encourage each other to taste our words. (The whole family needs reminding!) I thought that if my kids can get it, then other kids might also like the idea of tasting your words and choosing sweet kind ones.
How can using the sense of taste help parents teach kind speaking habits?
Taste is a primal sense that is developed very early in life—infancy, in fact. It is after the introduction of food (what we put in our mouth) that kids learn about using their words to communicate (what comes out of our mouth), so it is an easy and fun mental leap for a child to imagine that words can have a taste. A yucky taste from food elicits a strong negative response in the mind and body. A yucky word can have the same effect on the person to whom the unkind word is spoken as the person who is doing the speaking. Taste Your Words creatively demonstrates that the words that we speak nourish our souls in the same way the foods that we eat nourish our bodies.
This review that came from the parent of a “sensory seeking” child, really means a lot to me. “This book totally captivated the attention of my two-year-old and my four-year-old and caused them to laugh out loud during the yucky parts. [It was a] super helpful tool for my sensory-seeking/sensory-avoiding (SPD) son who lacks natural empathy towards others. All other books are pushing kids to imagine what the other children feel when a mean word is said, but this book uniquely turns the experience inward in a sensory-rich way which totally resonated with my son (FINALLY!). This book is a gift for parents. We’ve been using, “How did that word taste?” successfully in my household already, and we just got the book yesterday.”
The main character in the book, Amera, is named after one of your children. Is there a backstory about your own daughter that inspired the book?
Amera is my youngest daughter’s name, but there isn’t a backstory specifically involving her. However, I had no idea that the book character would necessarily look or act like my Amera. Lucky for me, my stepbrother is the illustrator, and although the main character is his creation, I think he intentionally illustrated her to resemble my daughter. It was a sweet surprise. Now when I read the story, I totally think of my Amera. She has a very spunky and expressive personality, and even her body type and face look like the character! How many second graders can come to school dressed as themselves for Book Character Day?
The concept of tasting our words is Biblical. Where can we find that idea in scripture?
Proverbs 16:24 (NLT) says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” This verse was a big inspiration when writing the manuscript for Taste Your Words because I loved the imagery of kind words tasting sweet!
I really wanted Proverbs 16:24 to show up subtly within the illustrations and not overtly in the text. In the spread when Amera is home sulking about her yucky day, there is a hand-lettered chalkboard hanging on the wall behind her with Proverbs 16:24 written on it. I hope it gets noticed by the readers, especially the adults. I actually have a chalkboard like that one hanging in our kitchen, and I hand-letter family verses often. This verse has made it “on the board” quite a few times.
While I chose that particular one as inspiration for the story, the Bible is full of verses about the power of words:
- Proverbs 18:20 – “Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction.”
- Proverbs 15:1 – “A gently answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger.”
- Proverbs 15:4 – “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
- Proverbs 18:4 – “A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”
- Proverbs 18:21 – “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”
- Proverbs 25:11 – “Like golden apples set in silver is a word spoken at the right time.”
- Ephesians 4:29 – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We can impact the world and be a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, beginning with the words that we speak to one another.
What important lessons does Amera learn about talking to friends and family, especially when having a hard day?
The biggest is kindness. We can never have too much discussion about being kind to each other, starting with our words. We may not be able to control our circumstances or what others say to us, but we can always choose to be kind and considerate.
One discussion point that I hope others will notice is the ripple effect of words. Amera has a bad day at school and, when she comes home, she takes it out on her little brother! Sometimes that happens. So, when someone says something unkind to you, it may just be that someone has recently (or repeatedly) been unkind to them! We can stop the cycle and choose our words carefully. The opposite is also true: Kindness is contagious!
How is the message of Taste Your Words relevant today in light of the current cultural climate?
I try to practice “social media distancing,” especially when it comes to controversial discussion and heated debate. I was already bracing myself for a stormy presidential election year because four years ago I had to get off all social media to stay sane. This year my first book debuted in the middle of COVID-19. I do have to be online to homeschool my three kids, sift through the news, and promote my book, but it’s hard to not see the hateful discourse.
While the book is a children’s book, the message has never been more relevant for adults as well: Taste Your Words. No matter your position or politics, choose your words carefully. Nothing is either/or. People are fearful about different things, and we should all be respectful. Listen and respond with love. That’s the only way we can possibly be the UNITED States. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful. Taste Your Words is my contribution to 2020.
Have you ever found yourself in a parenting experience where you had to take a moment to taste your words?
Yes! Just ask my kids! Seriously, this why I included the mom tasting her words in the story. The message is for all of us, perhaps adults especially! I get reminded as much as they do to taste my words. I think the close quarters of quarantine and navigating homeschool have certainly added to the family stress. But I do think that the idea of tasting our words has been a fun way to talk about and understand the importance of speaking kindly. I can definitely appreciate their teasing, and if I can dish it out, I can take it!
The illustrations for the book are fantastic. Can you tell us about the illustrator for the book, Todd Bright?
This is my favorite part of my story to publication. My illustrator is Todd Bright, who I mentioned is my stepbrother. My dad and his mom married about 12 years ago, so we didn’t grow up together, but I have always admired his work as an animator. He has worked for Disney/Pixar and others on ridiculously big animation projects such as Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Curious George and others. When I started writing picture books years ago, I had the crazy idea that Todd could illustrate a book for me. (I’m driven remember?)
First of all, I was unaware that that’s not how it works—you don’t get to pick the illustrator when you’re an author. Second, I was a newbie, and he was a seasoned vet. And third, the book I pitched to him wasn’t very good. He politely declined. I kept on writing new stories (because the whole driven thing) and was well into the process when somehow the subject of my latest project was brought up between he and my sister on a family beach trip. This time he expressed an interest in illustrating the story, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Is there a special reason why the family depicted in the book is a blended family?
Taste Your Words has become a special gift—a blended family collaborative since I was able to work on the book with Todd. The main character, Amera, has the likeness of my youngest daughter Amera. I didn’t make this request because I wanted him to have creative liberty to see the illustrations as he wanted them to be, but it was a sweet surprise. I named the little brother in the story Remy, which is Todd’s son’s name, and he looks like him too! I love that the family depicted in the story is a blended one. Amera and Remy have different skin tones in the illustrations and in real life! I hope children who are a part of a blended family pick up on this subtle story within the story.
What are your personal favorite and least favorite tastes?
Ah! I love chocolate of course, but my favorite flavor from the book is caramel. I can eat it on anything or just by itself! Actually, an interesting fact from a book creation aspect is that the initial manuscript was a little too sweet so to speak. There were a lot more candy flavors, and there was concern that that would not be well received by health-conscience parents and professionals. (A valid concern!) So, with that feedback, the team added in more fruit! After all, fruit is sweet, delicious and healthy! One example of a change that was made is in the caramel spread. Instead of ooey-gooey caramel blocks, dipped-apples and popcorn were added!
I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling to get my thoughts out of my head. I feel lighter and clearer after I’ve poured my heart out on paper. In high school, my favorite classes were always literature and writing. I have a business degree from Georgia Tech, but the only classes I remember enjoying were my English/writing classes and one on Shakespeare. I guess I didn’t pursue writing professionally because I didn’t think that was an adequate profession. So, I was over-educated and under-prepared for the toughest job of my life—stay at home mother to three kids (ages 3 and under).
My mom recently found the very first picture book I wrote and illustrated: The Lifeguard Who Couldn’t Swim. It was so fun coming across this and sharing it with my kids because truly the whisper of writing has followed me through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This should have been a clue over the years to pursue writing as a career! Having children of my own made me fall in love with picture books again and re-discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.
When I had my firstborn, I wrote another picture book, Sleepy Town and had it printed and bound just for him. As I had more children, and we would frequent the library, I started to wonder what it would look like to be a “serious” writer of picture books. I was in the throes of raising littles, but I also call this stage “research.” In 2015, I joined a kid lit critique group and my pursuit and dream of becoming a published author began.
It is my hope that children who read my books will see themselves somehow in the story, the illustrations or in the emotions and feelings that come up. I want my books to be a safe space to explore emotion, to feel encouraged to like who they are, and to be inspired to make the world a better place by being themselves.
Where can our audience find out more about you and your books?
You can find out more about me and my books on my website, bonnieclarkbooks.com.
There you can sign up for my newsletter to stay up-to-date on any book news and events. If you are an educator or parent, you will find color pages and activities that go along with Taste Your Words under the “Fun Stuff” tab. There are discussion questions, a kindness activity and even a Mad Lib.
I also created a YouTube channel for my readings of Taste Your Words, including the American Sign Language version and the #TasteYourWordsChallenge. Go to YouTube and search for Bonnie Clark Books.