When I read the description of Jennifer’s newest book, A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE, illustrated by Gillian Whiting and published last month by Church Publishing, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
“In this beautiful book for children, a child tells her story of losing a beloved neighbor and friend. A young girl remembers playing with her neighbor’s cat, stories that her neighbor told her, and the special mementos her friend kept on a shelf above her kitchen sink, including a little blue bottle she kept to remind her of Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” A Little Blue Bottle doesn’t provide pat answers or heavy-handed messages about life or death, but allows the grieving child to articulate her loss and her love for the deceased friend, while wondering how God is near when we suffer. A gentle and insightful resource for children who are grieving, and for those who care for them.”
Wow! I sure could have used a book like this when my mother passed away a few years ago and we all, including my then 9 year old daughter and 13 year old son, were grieving. In the special connection department, I have on my window sill the little collection of blue bottles that my mother kept on her window sill. So you see, interviewing Jennifer was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer! And now, the interview with my questions in bottle blue.
First off, congratulations. A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE released on September 3oth! How has the launch been with the pandemic in full swing?
Thank you! I’m glad it is finally out! Launching a book in 2020, of course, has been very different from any of the other times I’ve released a book.
I have a few favorite independent bookstores, including Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, where I normally have book launch parties. The last one, for Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too (2019) was so much fun! My oldest and dearest friend came from out of state, my in-laws and mother from nearby, and many others were there to celebrate the book coming into the world. When I was in 7th grade, I had a special teacher who encouraged me in my writing; we’ve stayed in touch and she always comes to book launch parties in the Chicago area, which means the world to me. But this year, no launch parties…
My husband offered to set up something on Zoom, but after attending my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s college graduation, and birthday parties—including my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration—via Zoom, I just didn’t have the heart for it.
As you know, one of the delightful things about writing for kids is reading to them—it’s been strange just having the book slip out into the world and not to experience it with children, in person.
Yes, I know what you mean. Virtual is better than not at all, but there’s nothing as special as in-person connecting through reading.
You write for both adults and children. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.
I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. In college, I took all the creative writing classes I could and then went on to grad school, studying English and Creative Writing. The kind of winding path of my career has always involved writing. I’ve written annual reports, white papers, newspaper features and columns, blog posts, articles, and books. It’s been over the past 4-5 years when I’ve turned my attention toward children’s literature.
I’m so glad you did! What inspired you to write A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE?
A friend of mine lives near Newtown, CT, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I asked her whether she was finding good picture books about grief or death to read with her young children, some of whom knew kids who were murdered at their school. She said she hadn’t found anything she wanted to share with them during that time. That planted a seed in my mind; I thought it would be an honor to write a story that might offer comfort to grieving kids. The main character of Mrs. Wednesday (the older woman who dies in the book) is based on a few real-life older neighbors I’ve had, both as a child and when I was raising my kids. Certain details, like the cat hiding under the bed, are taken from real experiences with older women I’ve known. Intergenerational friendships can be so rich; I wanted to celebrate them in this book, too.
What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book? What other resources are available for extending the reading?
I thought for a long time before writing the dedication to A Little Blue Bottle. I think it answers your question, and it reads: “For all who grieve—may your loneliness be eased and your hope reawakened.”
The publisher also made some downloadable activity pages related to the story. You can find them at: https://www.churchpublishing.org/littlebluebottle.
That’s a beautiful dedication for a much-needed book. Just lovely.
Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
I’m currently working on two projects, and both of them will be released in Fall 2021.
One is a book for adults, from Broadleaf Books, called Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder. It’s a book of 20 readings about things in nature (things as ordinary as dandelions and as ornate as starling murmurations). Each short chapter tells a story, includes scientific information on the topic at hand, and ends with some poetry or a part of Scripture, and then a prompt for sleep. The idea is to change up the way we end the day—rather than doom-scrolling through the news headlines or social media, feeling a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world to relax before sleep.
The other book I’m working on is a picture book, and, again, I’m collaborating with the amazing artist Gillian Whiting, who illustrated A Little Blue Bottle. It’s a story I wrote early on in the pandemic and tells the story, for young children, about what has happened, how things have changed, and more about this time. Gillian is using a very different style in these illustrations. They’re powerful.
People can find my books online wherever they buy books or at bookshop.org, a wonderful way to purchase books and benefit independent bookstores. My writing guild, INK: A Creative Collective, has a bookshop store: https://bookshop.org/shop/INKcreativecollective.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jennifer. Best wishes with this and all your upcoming projects.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Grant is the author of five books for adults and several for children, including the award-winning picture book Maybe God is Like That Too. A former newspaper columnist and the mother of four young adult children, she lives with her bicycle-obsessed husband and rescue dog Scarlett in the Chicago area. More at jennifergrant.com or find her on Twitter @jennifercgrant.