I'm Emily Reynolds.
I'm Emily Reynolds.
ER: Hi, Andrea! As a busy mom of four active kids, how did you find time to write Joshua Little and the Leaves? And was there an incident with one of your own children that inspired the story?
AC: Joshua Little and the leaves was not inspired by any incidents with my own children. In fact, it was written before any of them were born.
Ever since moving out to Utah for school, I had lived close to my sister, Melanie. And when her twins were born I would bike to their house by the Provo Temple after my last class on BYU campus to help out with the babies. Consequently, their children James and Joshua were a big part of my life.
My nephew, Joshua, was about 3 at the time that I wrote the book. He had discovered how fun it was to play in the leaves and...my sister...had bought a new camera and taken lots of pictures of [him]. They were darling photos and I have a tender spot in my heart for Fall because of my years growing up in Maine, and...my birthday is in October. So pictures of my nephew in vibrant piles of leaves combined with my love of Fall is how it all started.
Joshua has grown up every bit as creative and resourceful as the character in my book though. Even as a very young child he would ask questions like “do turkeys have ears?” He has also always been a doer and a builder. One year for Christmas his parents just gave him lumber. Now, even Though he is still only fifteen years-old, he's already worked on a framing crew and builds everything from sheds, outhouses, and horse jumps, to dirt bikes..."
ER: What did you study in school, and how did that influence your interest for writing children's picture books?
AC: I majored in English and minored in German. I also worked in the publication lab at Brigham Young University where local authors would bring in their work and we would help them research markets for their writing and the submission process.
As a result I read and wrote a ton in college. And I saw everyday people writing and submitting their work for publication. It was encouraging. One time I also met with a local children’s book author, Rick Walton, to learn about how he got started. I discovered that he wrote a lot of stuff other than picture books to support his family.
These experiences made me think it was possible to write and publish my own work, but I would say my upbringing also had a hand in influencing me. [My] mom read to us every day. There were plenty of books at home and library trips were frequent. I enjoy many kinds of literature (novels, poetry, plays, philosophy, short stories, essays) but picture books have always been special to me. I never outgrew them.
...Even in high school my mom subscribed to "Cricket Magazine" which was filled with illustrated short stories. In college, when school got especially stressful, sometimes I would go to the library or the bookstore on campus and just plop down for ten to twenty minutes to de-stress with a pile of picture books.
Sometimes that was my date choice when looking for someone to marry. And even now, I mostly check picture books out of the library. I don’t think I will ever get tired of them. And my kids will probably be the same way. When I sit down to read to my toddler, it isn’t long before all three older ones crowd around to listen and see the pictures too :-)
ER: Do you have much time for writing at all now that your hands are so full?
AC: Life has only gotten busier and more demanding the more children I have. Ironically, even though we aren’t running around to appointments or sports or school, it feels even more so with COVID 19 since they are all home all the time and I am now the home school teacher too :-)
Sometimes I am able to spend time writing, but It is really rare. I simply don’t have much free time at all any more since so much of it goes to meeting [my kids'] needs and helping them develop their talents now or simply giving them my time to show them how much I love them.
The most important things in your life are what get your time. For me that includes scriptures, family meals, practicing instruments, reading, one-on-one snuggles at bedtime and all the necessary things that get put in between all that like house hold chores, school and work. Consequently, a lot of things that I really love (like writing, art, quilting etc.) are just on hold at the moment.
I look forward to the day when I have a bit more of my own time back, but for now I am trying to enjoy all the little ones around me while they are home 24/7.
In fact, without Jake (my husband) Joshua Little and the Leaves might never have gone from being a manuscript to a published book.
ER: Thanks, Andrea, for sharing your fabulous story! One ending note of interest for our readers...Andrea mentioned on the phone that if it hadn't been for her husband coming across her old manuscript in a desk drawer, the book wouldn't be in children's hands and on library shelves today.
So kudos to Jake Cluff, for saying, "Hey, Andrea, what about that old manuscript of yours, do you want to publish it, or what?" Supportive spouses make the world a happier place, one writer, one picture book at a time. Thanks to my own good husband, Matthew, for encouraging me to write... instead of going crazy.
As there's nothing quite like the contentment that comes from working a "bit of earth" (as Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary from The Secret Garden calls it), I'm sharing six books this month about the pleasure of gardening. I think we could all use an escape from cabin fever about now...
1) Joshua Little and the Leaves,
Written by Andrea Cluff,
Illustrated by Evgeniya Pautova
When I set this book--atop a stack of others--on my youngest daughter's bed, she jumped up (no exaggeration), and said, "OOOOH! I love that book! It's so funny! Can we read it right now?!"
Wow! Impressive that one "little" story made such an indelible mark on my child's book-loving soul.
So we did read it. And she was right. It's charming! Yes, I know it's not the right season to share a book about leaves falling when the buds are just starting to push up. But the whole point of Joshua Little and the Leaves, is that change can be enjoyed--through every season of life. Even when at first we don't understand, or even like it!
And so fitting a story for little people who don't quite understand why life is changing as it has, from whatever this crazy virus has thrown at them. This book can be a great segue into a conversation about how life alters--when we least expect it. But there are some things we can do to prepare, or to cope. Like play with those we love. (As depicted by Joshua and his mama below...)
Beyond all the serious talk, this book is simple, but graceful. The flow of the text's rhythm and fresh, computer-generated illustrations remind me of Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline...but with a cool 2.0 retro nod.
The illustrations are not overworked. Evgeniya Pautova, how did you make such a lovable little mop-of-a-Scottie dog with so few strokes? And Andrea Cluff, thanks for making the world a better place with one sweet "Little" story.
Readers, check back in one week, on Friday May 8th, to enjoy a mini-interview with author
Andrea Cluff as she answers questions about the inspiration behind her book and the road to self-publishing Joshua Little and the Leaves!
2)Anna's Garden Songs,
Poems by Mary Q. Steele,
Illustrations by Lena Anderson
So I happily stumbled upon this golden treasure at our local GoodWill last summer. Where has this book been all of my life?!! It was published forever ago, apparently! How is it not more widely printed? Painted by the same illustrator as Linnea in Monet's Garden, these watercolors are magic.
If you have a green thumb, these illustrations--paired with cleverly-silly poems--are a dream for every vegetable-pushing parent. See for yourself...
That poem is almost as sweet as a crunchy June pea right off a June vine. Now if only our chickens didn't eat all of ours! Argh! Not so much free-ranging this summer, I'm thinking...(The garden-ravaging stinkers!)
Unfortunately, my kids will completely empathize with this cheeky rhyme:
"I do not think I'll eat
Two of my kids chose potatoes for their "vegetable-to-plant-and-weed" last summer. Not so much happened on the weeding end. But the kids sure went wild when it was time to dig for buried treasure! The happy painting above by Ms. Anderson exactly depict that satisfaction of digging up these "apples of the earth" (as the French call them).
One child was excited for the harvest, the other thought it was work--until he hit gold, rather fuchsia--himself!