Today, I’m excited to talk with Marsha Diane Arnold about why the theme of kindness is important in the books children read, her real-life May I Come In? moment, and what makes life magical.
Thank you, Celebrate Picture Books for inviting me to your blog. Random Acts of Kindness Day seems a perfect time to chat about my new book May I Come In? which demonstrates kindness in such a sweet way.
What inspired you to write May I Come In??
There really was nothing specific that inspired the story. If anything did influence it, it was the wildlife that lived around my home in California. During the time I wrote May I Come In? I was working on a number of stories with woodland animal characters. With these stories, my characters led the way for me. One of the stories was Waiting for Snow with Badger and Hedgehog as characters. Another is Badger’s Seeds, which is coming out from Sleeping Bear Press in 2019. And then there’s May I Come In? with sweet Raccoon searching for a friend to spend a scary night with.
When Hurricane Irma hit Florida this fall, you experienced May I Come In? in a personal way. Can you talk about that a little?
At the last minute, Hurricane Irma decided to come almost directly over our little town of Alva! In the photo below, it looks as if I’m inviting everyone into my house, just the way Rabbit did, but this was actually taken after the hurricane, as I was celebrating our house still standing. You may notice on the left that not all our trees did as well.
Although our storm was indeed frightening, it was heart-warming to see all the people who opened their doors to friends, family, and strangers who had to be evacuated from their homes. My husband and I had fourteen people—family, acquaintances, strangers—and two dogs under our roof. We learned, like the characters in May I Come In?, that it was comforting to be with others during a frightening time and that including everyone added to the camaraderie.
As a child you were surrounded by animals on your farm, you went on to help care for sick animals, and many of your books are written with animal characters. Do animals and their behavior inspire your writing? What animal qualities do you think resonate most with children?
Animals have always inspired and fascinated me. I could spend hours watching them, just being with them. They calm me. They make me laugh. They make me cry. Animals must inspire my writing because I write about them so often in my books, from my first book Heart of a Tiger to my newest, May I Come In?
Many animals have family groups and care for each other in similar ways to humans. Children understand and relate to this. In my two board books Baby Animals Take a Nap and Baby Animals Take a Bath my goal was to show very young children the similarities between animals and humans. We all nap. We all take baths.
When I write using animal characters, I’m really writing about children with human qualities. It’s a type of metaphor. Using animals as characters often allows children to identify more easily with certain perspectives.
What is something you love to do on a rainy day?
When I was growing up in Kansas, I actually enjoyed the lightning and the thunder!
Reading is always a lovely way to spend a rainy day. If there’s a warm fire to sit by, as in May I Come In? it’s even better.
The theme of May I Come In? revolves around the idea of inclusion and kindness. Can you speak a little bit on why it’s important for children’s books to portray these ideals? What changes have you seen over the years in children’s receptivity to these qualities?
Being inclusive is such an important quality, a foundation to living a kind and caring life. Because we humans are molded by our experiences when we are young, reading books that show inclusion and empathy are extremely important.
Even with the changes in our culture and technology, I think children are as receptive to these qualities as ever. But it’s vital we model them to children from their birth, through the first seven “magical” years, and onward. Good books with good messages are one way to do this.
One of the many things I love about May I Come In? is how each of Jennie Poh’s illustrations are so inviting, seeming to welcome the reader in.
Your readers love meeting you at their school, in libraries, in bookstores, and even through Skype. Do you have an anecdote from an event that you’d like to share?
I’ve had such fun over the years visiting schools. There are so many precious memories.
I’m quite an introvert, so I’m grateful when schools invite me to visit their students. It gets me out of my shell; meeting my readers inspires me to keep writing for them.
A wonderful memory is my being flown into a small town on the Kansas plains by the principal in his airplane! It was a long way from an airport. When I arrived at the school in the morning I was greeted by a huge tornado they’d constructed on top of their school, in honor of my book The Bravest of Us All. Inside the gymnasium was a smaller tornado, three students dressed as cows to celebrate Prancing, Dancing Lily, and so much more. A grand time.
A recent memory involves Walter Jackson Elementary School in Alabama. They’ve been celebrating The Pumpkin Runner for about five years now with their Pumpkin Run Day, which is filled with pumpkin-related activities and a one-mile run for the entire school community, in honor of my book and the surprising ultra-marathoner Cliff Young. Two years ago, I was honored to be invited to join in the festivities by their amazing librarian, Todd McDonald. I spent one day doing presentations and another day playing games and running three miles! Yes, three, as they divided the students into three class groupings. Great educators! Great school! Great fun!
You offer students writing workshops that you call “Funshops,” in which you present images, activities, and brainstorming to spark their imaginations and stories. Could you give an example of an image or activity that you use to fire up kids’ creativity? How do the kids react?
Hmmm. Should I share my favorite? Since it’s Random Acts of Kindness Day, I will!
The Alliteration Game is always a big hit with the students. In the Alliteration game, we take someone’s name and use lots of words that start with the same sound to make a fun sentence. First, we describe the person in a silly way. Then we think of an action word, a verb – like hopped or jumped. After that, depending on the age of students, we might use adverbs to describe how the person does the action – “joyfully jumped” or “happily hopped” – and choose a setting. What’s really fun is that students can then use these sentences as starting places for a funny fiction story. Here’s an example, using my name.
Marsha, the magnificent moose, munched marshmallows in a museum in Manchuria.
Your work has been called “magical” by reviewers, and you also use the word to describe your work, your home in California, and other experiences. What does “magical” mean to you? Where is magic found and what can it do?
I like this definition of “magic” from the Oxford dictionary: “Beautiful or delightful in a way that seems removed from everyday life.”
To me something “magical” is uplifting, something that takes us somewhere else for a moment. But magic can be found almost everywhere, if we open our eyes and ears. It can sneak up on us and take us by surprise or it can sit beside us and spread its arms around us. I found lots of magic at my home in California where I lived for 35 years – forests, good neighbors, barn owls. Now I’m finding magic in Florida – sandhill cranes, sunsets, ponies down the road.
A journalist once called me “a magician of literary innovations.” I loved that. To me, the best stories have always been magical, taking us away from the house cleaning or the 9-5 job, for a bit of beauty and delight. So, I took the phrase and ran with it. I used it as the name of my blog Storymagician (inactive at the moment), and I created a Storymagician chant that I share with students when I visit schools. I think all of us can create and use stories to bring a little magic into our lives.
What’s up next for you?
At the moment, I’m doing final editing on my fall 2018 book, Gálapagos Girl with Lee & Low. This is a story inspired by Valentina Cruz who grew up in the Gálapagos Islands.
Also in the fall Mine. Yours. will be out from Kids Can Press, a Canadian company. I’m so honored to be working with them as they usually only publish Canadian authors. Qin Leng is illustrating. I’ve seen some of the early sketches and am so looking forward to the final artwork. Her style is perfect for my story.
Both of these books will be 40 pages long, my first ever 40-page long picture books. As many of you know, most picture books are 32 pages long. It’s interesting to me because Gálapagos Girl is a 500-plus-word story with an author note and back matter and Mine. Yours. is only 25 words! Yet, both editors felt the stories deserved 40 pages.
Another first for me is that Gálapagos Girl is going to be a bilingual book. So much to look forward too!
Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking a few questions about holidays, so…
What holiday do you enjoy most?
I can’t choose just one!
I love decorating the house for Christmas – all the lights!
I really enjoy Halloween and Easter too. We rarely had candy in our house when my children were young, so trick-or-treating was a big deal. They always made their own costumes, with whatever they could find around the house. There were some pretty interesting ones!
Easter was wondrous. When my children were small we would cut a small branch from one of the manzanita trees in our little forest and bring it into the house to decorate with Easter eggs and treasured objects. We always looked for the Easter bunny in the field behind our house, where many rabbits lived. We spotted him several times over the years.
Then there’s Valentine’s Day, the day we just celebrated. I love the red and pink! When my children were young, we always designed and made our own Valentine’s cards. It’s fitting I’m sharing about May I Come In? during Valentine’s week as both are about holding others close, including them in our hearts and our lives.
Has a holiday ever influenced your writing?
I’ve never really written a story about a holiday, but there’s a Halloween story I started over ten years ago that I never finished. Yet, it keeps tapping me on the shoulder. I plan to take another look at it next month. Writers often return to work that’s been collecting dust for years in the hope that this time new ideas will come to them and the story will be completed and ready for the world.
Where can readers find out more about you, your books, and your school visits?
My website is being updated, but you can find out about all those things at www.marshadianearnold.com. And if you want to learn how to follow your characters through a story, as I mentioned in the first question, you may check out my Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books at http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.html.
Now, let’s all go out and do a random act of kindness!
Thanks, Marsha, for chatting with me today! I wish you all the best with May I Come In? and all of your books!
Random Acts of Kindness Day Review
About the Holiday
Are you a RAKtivist? You know—a Random Acts of Kindness Activist! Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It is! And all it takes to be a RAKtivist is to do nice things—kind things—for everyone and anyone. These things don’t have to be big, or hard, or expensive, either. In fact, the best kindness acts are free! If you see someone having a bad day, give them a smile. Is someone struggling with a box, a bag or keeping their stuff in their locker? Give them a hand. Does someone always eat lunch alone? Offer to sit with them and have a conversation. You’re also encouraged to give others a card to brighten their day. You’ll find some to print out at the end of this post!
There are as many ways to be a RAKtivist as there are people on the planet. Right now, there are 17,009 registered RAKtivists from ages 14 to 89 in 87 countries! You can join them and learn more about this uplifting holiday on the Random Acts of Kindness Website!
May I Come In?
Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Jennie Poh
Outside, the rain poured down, and “Raccoon shivered. When “thunder roared, Raccoon quivered.” And the flashes of lightening were just too scary to watch. Raccoon did not like being alone on such a stormy night, so he “grabbed his umbrella and hurried out the door.” Raccoon made his way through muddy Thistle Hollow to his old friend Possum’s tree-trunk den.
There he found Possum nice and dry under his canopy. Raccoon asked, “‘Possum old friend, may I come in?’ / ‘What bad luck,’ Possum replied. ‘My den’s too small for one your size.’” Raccoon climbed down and with a “swish, plish” walked “all the way to Quail’s brambles.” As the wind whipped Raccoon’s scarf, he asked Quail if he could come in. But Quail said her brambles were formed too tight, and Raccoon was too wide to fit inside.
Next, Raccoon swish, plished to Woodchuck’s hole. Dug into a hill near an old broken tree and lit by a small candle lamp, Woodchuck’s hole looked cozy. But when Raccoon asked his old friend if he could come in, Woodchuck said, “‘What bad luck. I’ve only room for one to hide.’” Raccoon went away sadly and “stood shaking in the rain. His umbrella blew inside out, His fur felt wet and spongy.” He really did not want to spend the night alone.
There was one more house to try. Raccoon saw a light glowing in the distance. He hurried nearer and nearer and nearer. He knocked at the door and when Rabbit answered, Raccoon could see all of her little rabbits behind her as they “hopped and bopped to the raindrops.” Raccoon hesitantly asked his question then almost immediately took it back. After all, her house was so full. But Rabbit swung the door open wider. “‘What good luck,’ said Rabbit. ‘Come right in. There’s always room for a good friend.’” Rabbit gave Raccoon a comfortable chair to sit in and brought him a cup of tea.
As the storm raged on, Raccoon hummed and smiled happily, smelling the aroma of carrot stew that filled Rabbit’s home. Soon, there was another knock on Rabbit’s door and three voices rang out: “‘being alone on a night like tonight is scary.’” When Rabbit opened the door this time, there stood Possum, Quail, and Woodchuck. The ten little rabbits just kept hopping and bobbing.
Rabbit and Raccoon gazed at each other knowingly. “‘What good luck,’ they said. ‘Come right in. There’s always room for all our friends.’”
From the very first page, young readers will be engrossed in Marsha Diane Arnold’s sweet story of a raccoon who’s looking for company and comfort on a stormy night. As Raccoon swish, plishes through his neighborhood, knocking on door after door only to be met by excuses for why he can’t come in, children will empathize with him and be cheered when Rabbit joyfully invites him in. Readers will understand that they are sometimes like Raccoon, needing a bit of help or support. They will also see that they can always be like Rabbit, offering kindness and inclusion. Arnold’s lyrical language and repeated phrases invite children to read along, offering another sense of camaraderie during story time.
Jennie Poh’s Thistle Hollow is as cute as its name with cozy dens, brambles, and homes carved into hills and trees and adorable woodland neighbors. The lovely smoky blue-grays and dusky greens enhance the beautiful scenery as raindrops plink, plonk and the wind whips Raccoon’s scarf and umbrella. Alert readers may notice that a single owl watches Raccoon as he makes his way from Possum’s den to Quail’s brambles, but as he approaches Rabbit’s inviting home, a pair of birds snuggle against the wind in a hollow tree. Rabbit’s home is warm, snug, and relaxed as the ten bunnies hop and bop, enjoying some fun with their siblings and guests.
May I Come In? would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and school libraries to open discussions of kindness, inclusion, and helpfulness for children. The story could easily be adaptable to acting out for a classroom or children’s program to highlight the lesson of inclusion and make it more personal.
Ages 4 – 8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363940
Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of May I Come In? to check out. All opinions are my own.
You’re invited to download the May I Come In? Activity Pages here or from Sleeping Bear Press.
Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.
To learn more about Jennie Poh, her books, and her art work, visit her blog.
Random Acts of Kindness Day Activity
Random Acts of Kindness Cards
Here are some cheery cards that are sure to make the recipient’s day happier! Give them to a friend, a family member, your teacher, or your bus driver to show them that you care and that they mean a lot to you!
You can find May I Come In? at these booksellers:
Marsha Diane Arnold will be reading and signing books at MacIntosh Books in March. If you live or will be near Sanibel Island, check out their event calendar for March to attend an event with Marsha Diane Arnold!
You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on:
Picture Book Review