Tell us a little about your new book, Will You Be Friends with Me?
Will You Be Friends with Me? is my new board book, a simple but important story about friendship. One by one, the children in the book reach to other children who are different in some way, and ask, “Will you be friends with me?” Together, they decide that the differences are what make life fun!
What age is the book written for? At what age did you start teaching kindness and friendship to your children?
The book is written for preschoolers, although I do believe it’s a good message for every age. My husband and I served together as pastors for 30 years before I began writing full-time (he still serves as a pastor of a church) and our children were showered with love and kindness from the very start by both of our congregations. They learned to be kind and gracious to people of various ages and to treat everyone with respect, which we emphasized at home, too. The world needs more kind people, and surrounding children with acceptance and teaching them to reach out to others is imperative. Through the church, the children—not only ours but all the children in the congregation—learned about caring for the hungry and the homeless as well as the people who live next door. The world is big and wide and full of a variety of people, and we need to teach our children that everything doesn’t revolve around them and the immediate world they know.
We also taught our children respect: for each other, for others, for people of different cultures and places. I believe that respect is the foundation for kindness and open-mindedness.
Where did you get the idea for this book? Is it based on any real-life experiences of your own?
I love writing board books and in rhyme, so when my agent had a request from an editor for a book for preschool age children, I dove right in! I brainstormed possible topics for books and the one that most intrigued me was a book about friendship that showed how children are different. Originally, I was going to have the differences blend together into something wonderful. For instance, in the first drafts, one child liked orange and one liked pink. I wrote a stanza that started with, “Pink and orange? A sunset sky!” and went on to pull together other differences between the children and how they worked together.
I struggled with blending the differences into single images. I brought the manuscript to my critique group who liked the original idea of the book. However, through the course of rewrites and conversations, we came to the conclusion that it would be better to keep the differences between the kids and show how it’s good to be different, that we can be friends because our differences make life more fun. Once I went in that direction, I only had to rewrite it about a dozen more times (and was able to keep the stanza about orange and pink). I sent the finished manuscript to my agent. She sent it around to a few editors and Peggy Schaefer at WorthyKids snatched it right up! I’ve never had a book manuscript accepted so quickly. It’s an author’s dream to have a manuscript grab an editor’s attention like that. I knew my book had found the right home!
Making friends is something all children do, but sometimes it can feel scary. How does your book encourage and reassure children?
I am an off-the-chart introvert, and reaching out to someone new has always been difficult for me, except when I served as a pastor and knew how important it was to do so. I always made wonderful friends but taking that first step could be intimidating. I kept this in mind as I figured out a basis for the book. I wanted there to be a bit of that in the story, one child reaching out to another asking to be a friend and not really knowing how the other child will react.
I hope the book shows that it’s worth reaching out to another person who might be shy, too. We only have to try one person at a time! And making a new friend is worth the risk!
Your book creatively shows some of the ways kids can be different yet still be friends. Can you share some of those differences you describe in your book? Why did you feel it was important to highlight that aspect of friendship?
I wrote about children liking different colors (a subtle way of saying being different colors is good), having different physical characteristics (“My hair’s curly, yours is straight”) and personalities (“I wake early, you wake late”) so that the focus was on various concepts and not just one. I tried to use images (like the straight or curly hair) that would also work well as illustrations, something I always keep in mind when writing for children. I wanted the art to show the usual differences (hair, physicality, personality) portrayed in children of different ethnicity and ability. The artist, Jo de Ruiter, did a great job of adding extra layers to the story.
What advice do you have to children struggling to finding and being good friends?
Just be yourself! Don’t change who you are because you “think” that’s the way someone else will like you. Find the people who like you just the way you are. Be a good friend: listen and work things out when you disagree. Have fun!