Today I am delighted to welcome one of my first critique partners, Michelle Lord, for an interview to celebrate the release of her recent picture book THE MESS THAT WE MADE, published by Flashlight Press and gorgeously illustrated by Julia Blattman. I spotted her book at the ALA Mid Winter Meeting this past January and not only snapped this picture, but also enjoyed savoring every word and illustration. Written in flawless rhyme, echoing the traditional “This is the House that Jack Made,” Michelles’ story offers teachers, librarians and caregivers a wonderful way to engage children in issues of preservation- specifically relating to the world’s oceans. Now for the interview, with my questions in bold.
Welcome, Michelle. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. Have you always been a writer?
As a child, I loved to read and escaped into a book whenever I could. I wrote and illustrated my first book, Freddy the Fly, at age five. I returned to writing when my own children were young. I read many picture books in those days (and still do), and admired the artful combination of words and pictures. I decided to give it a try…
I joined SCBWI, took classes, went on retreats, and learned as much as I could about writing for children. Lee & Low Books published my first book in 2006. I belong to a critique group of wonderful women who help take my writing to the next level. My kids are now all in their twenties, and I’m still working to find the right combination of words to tell a good story.
Congratulations on the release of your beautiful new picture book with Flashlight Press. What inspired you to write THE MESS THAT WE MADE?
Thank you! Kids inspired me to write this book. I feel terrible that they will inherit such a mess! The ocean is vital to all of our lives. Humans depend on the ocean for the air we breathe—it produces more than half of the world’s oxygen. Millions of plants and animals make their home in the ocean and provide us with needed food and medicine. Besides, who doesn’t love splashing through the surf or listening to waves crash ashore at sundown? We must appreciate and take care this precious resource—the ocean.
Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?
My editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, and I had various back-and-forth emails regarding the type of illustration that would best fit my story. An illustration style that wasn’t too cartoony was important to me because of the subject matter. Shari wanted to find an illustrator who had a mastery of light. When Shari sent samples of Julia Blattman’s work, I agreed that her style art complimented my text. When I finally saw the completed illustrations, I was amazed by the beautiful illustrations Julia created! The images really moved me from sadness to triumph as the characters work their way through the story. Art is powerful.
One of my favorite illustrations in THE MESS THAT WE MADE shows seals swimming around their plastic-free environment after the characters have cleaned up the mess that we made. The text reads, “We protest the boat of welded steel, collect the nets and free the seal, that eats the fish…” This image gives me hope.
Your book stunningly brings into focus the pressing need to protect our seas. Can you offer any advice for teachers/parents for how they can use this book to spark meaningful conversation and action with their kids?
Some people may think that children are too young to learn about the devastation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I believe children should learn the reality of plastic pollution. Most of us don’t think about how our daily choices impact the planet—that the plastic bag from the grocery store could end up in the ocean. I hope my book gives children a glimpse of the harm plastic causes for sea life. If THE MESS THAT WE MADE can start conversations about environmentalism and inspire people to create change, I’ve accomplished my goal. Children have the power to make a difference in their world. Julia’s illustrations alone motivated me to think more about plastic use in my own life.
The backmatter contains calls to action, things kids and families can do to fight ocean pollution. One suggestion is cut down on single-use plastics. Children, parents, and educators can also look up the locations of ocean garbage patches on the map provided, or discover how long it takes for common things we use to decompose.
Plastics that are used one time before being discarded are called single-use plastics. Items like water bottles, grocery bags, and food baggies are single-use plastics and compose approximately 40% of ocean trash. If each of us enacted a few changes, we could make a big difference. We can help save our oceans if we forgo straws, drink from reusable water bottles, and pack snacks in reusable containers.
During this time when many of us around the world are wearing disposable masks and gloves, please dispose of these in the trash instead of on the ground. Reusable masks with or without a filter create less waste. Stay well!
Thank you, Michelle! And now for a final treat, enjoy listening to this recording from the publisher of the author herself reading the book!
About the author: Michelle Lord is the author of several books for children including Paterson Prize Honor Book A Song For Cambodia, Nature Recycles, and Animal School: What Class Are You? She lives with her family in New Braunfels, TX. Find her on the web at https://michellelordbooks.com.