Let confetti fly! Pop those crackers! Pour that bubbly! Welcome 2022!
Oh, sure. It would be customary for me to make mushy wishes on your behalf, my little cinnamon scones. Instead, I intend to be more daring–times three!
I DAREYOU to finish the manuscript (or at least the chapter?) that left you quivering in a quandarous quagmire in 2021. (Preemo alliteration, eh?)
I DOUBLE FROG DAREYOU to return to the drawing, dummy or color palette that refused to please you in 2021. Let someone else take a look. Come at it in a fresh way. Be brave and start again, if need be. Bend it to your will!
And NOW, for the coup de grace!
I TRIPLE FROG DARE YOU to move that niggling idea (you know the one–because you can still hear its incessant yammering, can’t you) and nudge it from an annoyance to something tangible–some research, a sketch, a character interview, an outline, a synopsis, a diagram, a doodle, a crappy first draft–ANYTHING that moves it from a freeloading concept plopped on the couch of your cranium to a visible “thing” squinting and squirming in the light of day. Then, go ahead and amuse your muse!
(And in case you’re wondering: I am taking myself up on my own dare. Confession: I have a novel revision I’ve been “skillfully” avoiding for TWO years by working on other projects. I pacify myself by perpetuating the limp excuse that at least I’m productive. Sure. That’s true. But have I accomplished anything from my heart (the scary, vulnerable novel writing)? Have I faced my fear of the overwhelmingnessity of this particular revision? Noop. I know avoidance is futile. Creativity-leaching. And ultimately, well, dumb. I don’t want to be dumb. 2022 is my year to face the, uh, Frog!)
What say you, my little peppermint chocolate macrons? Will you join me?
Frog on a Dime looks forward to bringing you new guest interviews, inspiration and words of encouragement. Whatever this New Year brings, take heart. We will trudge and triumph through it together.
Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier. ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. ~ T.S. Eliot
We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce
Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot something growing in a ditch by the side of the road…watercress!
With an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail-covered plant as they can.
At first, it’s embarrassing. Why can’t her family get food at the grocery store?
But when her mother shares the story of her family’s life in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged.
Together, they make a new memory of watercress in this tender storyinspired by the author’s childhood memories and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Jason Chin.
(Description source: Jacket flap, WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang)
Here we are, Thanksgiving Week, and I am feeling so grateful for time to chat with my extra special guest–Andrea Wang!
Andrea is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster (APALA Honor, PW starred review) and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (JLG Gold Standard Selection, Sakura Medal, Freeman Book Award Honor, SLJ starred review). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, starred reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, PW, Horn Book); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.
Welcome, Andrea. Thank you for stopping by Frog on a Dime. I’m so excited! Let’s hop right in and talk about your latest picture book WATERCRESS . . .
I see you dedicated WATERCRESS in memory of your parents and described them as “immigrants and inspirations.” In what way did they inspire you?
It takes an enormous amount of courage to give up everyone and everything you’ve ever known to go live in a place where you don’t speak the language, all in pursuit of a better life for yourself and your family. Finally understanding the hardships and sacrifices my parents made inspired me to not only pursue my dream of writing, but also to be vulnerable and emotionally honest in my writing.
What do you feel is gained when parents and grandparents open up to their children/grandchildren about family history and memories?
I talk about this in my Author’s Note, so I thought I’d share that part of it here: “…it’s important, too, for children to understand their family history. Perhaps if I had known about the hardships they had faced, I would have been more compassionate as a child. Maybe I would have felt more empathy and less anger. More pride in my heritage and less shame. Memories have the power to inform, to inspire, and to heal.”
Those are great insights, Andrea. Thank you.
What do you hope young readers take away? What about parents? Teachers?
I hope all readers see that, no matter where you are from or how you identify, we all share a common humanity. You may not be a child of immigrants or have had to pick food from the wild, but everyone has felt embarrassment, shame, and the feeling of not belonging. The emotions in WATERCRESS are universal. We need to be kinder to each other, to reach for understanding rather than react out of ignorance.
No surprise, next I’d like to ask a few questions on behalf of my fellow writers, okay?
How long after you wrote WATERCRESS did you feel ready to share it with anyone?
In its current form, I think I shared the manuscript with a few critique partners right after I wrote it. Mostly, I wanted to get their feedback about what they thought it was–just a poem, or could it be a picture book? They thought I should send it to my agent immediately, so that’s what I did. But it took me about eight years to write this version of WATERCRESS and I did share those previous versions with critique partners, so it was an iterative process, like writing always is.
I’m so glad you persevered–and that you listened to your critique partners!
What was your approach to this autobiographical story compared to previous manuscripts?
I don’t know that I’d call it an “approach,” because that sounds like I went into this project with a plan and that’s not how it was at all. The first version of this story was in the form of a personal essay for adults, which I thought would be a good format since I was using my own memories as material. But that piece didn’t really work, so I rewrote it years later as a fictional picture book. That version was from a 3rd person POV and it was better, but too long and lacking an emotional heart. Several more years later, I found the perfect mentor text (A DIFFERENT POND by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui) and revised the manuscript again, returning to 1st person POV and paring away every single word that felt extraneous, so that it came out in free verse.
Your use of spare text meant you needed to lean on the illustrator, Jason Chin, to communicate for you at times, including one of the story’s most poignant scenes. That’s a challenge for many picture book writers. How did you reach to that level of trust?
While I was writing this free-verse version of Watercress, I honestly wasn’t thinking about the illustrator or the illustrations at all. I was writing for myself, and I knew exactly what I meant by each line. I did consciously add a couple of clues (“Mom never talks about her China family,” and “Mom never told us what happened to him.”) leading up to that scene you’re referring to, so the reader is primed for the reveal. I also went back and made sure that every description in the text conveyed character, emotion, and/or setting that was necessary to the story. Everything else got pared away. I would advise PB writers to write illustration notes in their first drafts, then go back to each note and ask if it’s really necessary to the story. Does it add depth to a character, convey emotion, or establish atmosphere? Would the story and the reader suffer if the information was omitted? If not, then delete! If yes, then try to work the information into the text using vivid verbs, metaphors, and adjectives. I always aim to not have any illustration notes in my manuscripts.
Thank you, Andrea. If I’m ever brave enough to attempt another picture book, I’m going to follow your brilliant advice!
And now, one last question, this time for my curious foodie friends . . .
Do you prepare watercress now for your family?
In WATERCRESS, the family eats the vegetable stir-fried, which is how I prefer it. I don’t follow a formal recipe since it’s so simple, but this is how I make it:
1-2 tsp cooking oil
1 bunch fresh watercress, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic, sliced
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high to high heat. Add garlic and stir quickly with a spatula.
After a few seconds, add the watercress and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes, until the watercress has changed color and the stems are tender.
If the bottom of the wok runs dry, a couple of tablespoons of water can be added to keep the vegetables from scorching.
Add salt to taste and transfer to a serving dish.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy!
Andrea, thank you so much. It’s been a delight and an honor to have you as a guest today.
A Bonus Thanksgiving Surprise! Win a Copy of WATERCRESS!
As an expression of thanks, Frog on a Dime invites you to enter for a chance to win your very own personalized copy of WATERCRESS, signed by both Andrea Wang and Caldecott honoree Jason Chin.
TO ENTER, simply leave a comment below.
The names of THREE lucky winners will be drawn at Noon on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25.
The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon. ~ Paulo Coelho
Oh what a pleasure it is to proclaim the winner of this year’s Summer Open House giveaway drawing.
Congratulations go to Lori McElrath-Eslick! You will receive your very own, one of a kind doodle, personalized with your initials or those of someone you love.
Please send me a message with your preference and mailing address, and I will get to doodling!
Heartfelt thanks go to everyone who entered the drawing. Your comments and kindness are most appreciated. I will think of you as I doodle more curlicues, spirals and paisley patterns. I hope you will doodle away the summer too!
Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. ~ Ray Bradbury
To taggle along with “What a Doodle Can Do for You,” I invite you to visit Frog on a Dime and enjoy taking a look around. Snoop all you like. (Yes, you can even look under the lily pads!) Read posts, check out the quote collection, the inspiration page for young writers and much more. It’s all yours to explore.
While you’re here, please leave a comment on whatever post speaks most to you.
Your comment is your ticket to entry into Frog on a Dime’s Annual (Virtual) Summer Open House giveaway!
You can win:
A swirly whirly one-of-a-kind doodle created with care by yours truly. If you choose, your doodle can be personalized with your initials or the initials of someone you love incorporated into the design.
To enter the 2021 Frog on a Dime Summer Open House Giveaway:
Simply leave a comment on any post–past or present, whatever suits your fancy!
Deadline to enter:
High Noon (EST) on Wednesday, August 11.
(And ahem, leave a comment on more than one post, and you’ll get an EXTRA chance to win!)
In spite of everything, I shall rise again; I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing. ~ Vincent Van Gogh
A strong visual imagination acts as a magnet to draw the visualised into reality. ~ Anupama Garg
And according to the article’s author Srini Pillay, MD, “Even American presidents have found themselves sketching away: 26 of 44 American Presidents doodled, from Theodore Roosevelt, who doodled animals and children, to Ronald Reagan, who doodled cowboys and football players, and John F. Kennedy, who doodled dominoes.”
A writer’s job doesn’t exactly involve executing laws, appointing federal officials or negotiating with Slovakia. So, why do I need to doodle? For me, doodling is a way to get out of my own way. If I’m writing and get stuck (more like, “when” I get stuck), I pause and pick up a pen. Mindlessly making swirls and random, unpredictable designs is a practice that calms me. It provides a chance to hush my harsh inner critic because doodling has no right or wrong. It just do.
Doodling can helps me puzzle out a plot predicament or conjure a more fitting name for a character I’ve become better acquainted with. It keeps the gnarly wheels in my noggin’ cranking, but in a more productive way versus self-sabotage.
Doodling can also be a delightful way to douse stress. Allowing yourself to get lost in an in-the-moment design can relieve tension by putting a distance between you and fret. Worries about your writing and whether you can move ahead are nudged to the margin while you push that pen. You can return to your project mentally replenished.
My Little Strawberry Rhubarb Tart, if you’ve never tried doodling as a companion to your creative process, I encourage you to give it a try. The only way you can go wrong is to think about what you are doodling whilst you do it. Pretend you’re giving the paper a side glance. It’s just there to catch the ink. And you don’t have to use fancy paper or snazzy pens. (If you take a look at the doodle below, you’ll notice I did it on nothing-fancy notebook paper.) You don’t have to worry about composition, what color to use or creating “art.” Just free your pen and the mental rest will follow.
She drew the things that stuck to her mind, the things that caught her attention and, specially, the things she wasn’t capable of understanding fully. But she hadn’t even realized it. Art had become her way of processing reality. ~ Zoe Haslie
Everybody has inner creativity that has been lost amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The small part of us that provides balance and calm, and releases our creative side, is smothered and in risk of dying completely. ~ Lana Karr
To say mathematics is not my thing is like saying cliff diving is not a giraffe’s thing.
And yet, I am compelled to confirm an important number, so I do the math.
2021 – 1963 = 58
Yep, there it is.
I’m turning 58 years old this year. Yeesh. I’ve never been so old.
And with every passing year, I feel the mounting pressure to be published. That pressure is entirely self-inflicted, along with the self-condemnation and self-doubt. I’m really quite self-sufficient that way.
Year marker 58 was anticipated to be much the same. And then, I heard a few simple words from a wise literary agent that hit a reset button I forgot I even had.
“Be gentle on yourself.”
It’s easy to be gentle on others, isn’t it. It’s no effort to remind them how genuinely talented they are, and easy to encourage them to look back at how far they’ve come.
Maybe I can give it a go with myself too. It will be a squabblesome, disorienting pursuit I’m certain. But being gentle on myself sure sounds like a welcome birthday gift.
Say, you’re having a birthday this year, aren’t you? Why not treat yourself to some gentleness too.
Be gentle on yourself. ~ Kirby Kim, literary agent with Janklow & Nesbit
Follow your compass, not your clock. ~ Alvina Ling, VP, Editor-in-Chief, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Learn to be kind to yourself. Let your mind free, close your eyes, breathe deeply and remain calm. Life is majestic and meaningful enough. ~ Shaa Zainol