Lately I’ve been more and more curious about the picture book process. I’ve met lots of picture book authors at conferences and such, but I don’t know much about how picture books get made (which you’ll see from my questions. LOL!).
Anyway, Sarvinder Naberhaus is one of the authors I met at the most recent SCBWI conference I went to. I drove her to the airport after the conference, and we talked for a long time (we bonded over stories of our awkwardness in social settings—she’s my kind of person!). I thought it would be nice to feature Sarvinder here on the blog.
Since it’s almost 4th of July, Sarvinder’s diverse, patriotic book Blue Sky White Stars is the perfect pick!
Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published by Dial Books on June 13, 2017
Genres: Picture Book, Contemporary
An inspiring and patriotic tribute to the beauty of the American flag, a symbol of America's history, landscape, and people, illustrated by New York Times bestselling and Caldecott-honor winning artist Kadir Nelson
Wonderfully spare, deceptively simple verses pair with richly evocative paintings to celebrate the iconic imagery of our nation, beginning with the American flag. Each spread, sumptuously illustrated by award-winning artist Kadir Nelson, depicts a stirring tableau, from the view of the Statue of Library at Ellis Island to civil rights marchers shoulder to shoulder, to a spacecraft at Cape Canaveral blasting off. This book is an ode to America then and now, from sea to shining sea.
This book seems simple at first glance, and yet quite a lot of meaning is packed into its pages.
For anyone like me who’s had a harder time stirring up patriotic feelings in recent years, this is the book to change that. I highly recommend you pick the book up and share it with a little one in your life this 4th of July. I guarantee it will spark conversation about what makes America truly beautiful.
Hello, Sarvinder! Welcome to Feed Your Fiction Addiction. I’m excited to introduce you to my readers.
Hi, Nicole, I’m excited to be here!
What inspired you to write this wonderfully patriotic and diverse book?
I read Karma Wilson’s How To Bake An American Pie one day, and all I can think is that somehow it stuck in my craw. The next day, these words and images just came to me. A lot of ideas come to me, but most of the time I can’t carry them through or come up with enough example to complete a picture book. This one I was able to carry through and finish.
(Nicole: Oh, I love that book! Another great 4th of July read!)
The words for this book are very simple, but each line has complex (often double) meanings that are conveyed mostly through the illustrations. Was it difficult to convey those meanings in illustration notes?
If you write picture books, you know it’s a BIG no-no to have illustration notes. But my words are so sparse, there’s no way you can understand the text without them. I think the word count for my illustration notes were over 450 words, while the actual text was only around 50 words. I did intentionally try to have double meanings for words or phrases. I did that with my book LINES as well. I feel it adds more depth, and a twist, and makes you have to really think and engage your mind while you’re reading my books.
(Nicole: I’m not surprised that you had to include lots of notes! I don’t see how you could convey your meaning to an illustrator without them. And I agree that the double meanings add an extra element to the book that makes it richer and more engaging.)
Can you describe the process of working with an illustrator? Was there much back and forth or did Kadir Nelson capture your vision right from the beginning? Did your vision change at all through the illustration process?
The process of working with an illustrator, at least in my experience, has been that you don’t get to work with the illustrator. I wish that wasn’t the case because two heads are better than one. The editor gets to pick the illustrator and work with them. The illustrator also works with the art director. I did get to meet Kadir Nelson last year (he just did the Marvin Gaye stamp that’s out) so I was excited about that. A lot of times you never meet your illustrator.
(Nicole: Oh, wow. I knew that an author didn’t have much say when it came to the illustrations, but I didn’t realize that there was basically no interaction. I suppose the editor understands your vision and works with the illustrator and art director to make it happen. See, I’m learning from this interview!)
The inclusion of the moon landing was a surprise element in this book (at least for me). What made you choose to include that aspect of our history?
I always wanted to be an astronaut and I’m fascinated with space. So whenever I can (which is waaay too often) I include space in my stories. It was a surprise ending for me as well. As I was revising the story for my editor, I asked myself this question: “Where else has the flag been?” And immediately “The moon!” was my answer, and I knew that was going to be the climax of my story. I always recommend asking yourself questions!
(Nicole: Seems like solid advice. Questions inspire creativity!)
I read on your website that you have a personal connection to the immigration aspects of this story. Can you tell us about that?
I guess this was a good story for me to write, since I am an immigrant. My great-grandfather boarded a ship to come to America, but then changed his mind and disembarked. It was always my dad’s dream to come to the U.S. which he eventually did on a Vet. Med. scholarship. We later joined him. My dad was my example of following your dreams.
(Nicole: What a wonderfully inspiring family legacy!)
Do you have any new projects coming up that you’d like to tell us about?
I have a poem in a picture book anthology called Thanku, which debuts this fall. I’m very excited to have my poetry included with all the other famous authors in that book.
(Nicole: I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for it!)
Thank you for sharing your story with us!
Thanks for having me, Nicole!
About Sarvinder Naberhaus
My favorite poem is “Every Time I Climb A Tree” because I spent my summers hidden in the leaves of our River Poplar, high up with the rooftops, TV antennas, birds and insects that busied themselves.
I have a Master’s in Education and was an elementary and social studies teacher as well as a media-librarian. I am also a mother of three, with two cats and one border collie who herds our chickens. My kids, however, have flown the coop.