Author Interview and GIVEAWAY with June Smalls about her newest picture book: She Leads

Hi Math is Everywhere readers,

Today we have one of the most wonderful writers I know, June Smalls!

She’s here today to talk about her next book, a beautiful tribute to elephants through lyrical nonfiction, She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch.

three elephants

Kaitlyn: Thanks so much for joining us today.

June: I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me!

Kaitlyn: It’s always a pleasure talking with you, my friend. Let’s jump into it! This beautiful story is interlaced with true facts, is there a name for this type of book? If so, what is it and what inspired you to write it in this format?

June: She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch is lyrical nonfiction. There is a short, lyrical story that tells the basics about the elephant matriarch. On each spread is an in-depth nonfiction sidebar. Sidebars don’t have to be in bars, but can be in various text boxes, bubbles, bars, even shapes and swirls on different spots on the page. They are separate from the primary narrative.

I had just finished some non-fiction work-for-hire, and sidebars were on my mind I guess.

Kaitlyn: That’s so awesome that one part of your writing influences another. I really enjoyed learning from the sidebars. Where did your fascination/love of animals come from?

June: When I was so young I don’t know how old I was, I had a stuffed kangaroo. We lived in an old house with Jungle Wallpaper in my room. It was already there when we moved in and I was surrounded by lions and hippos, tigers and colorful birds. I roamed the countryside with my dogs, and rescued injured bunnies, grounded baby birds, and any stray that came along. 

I still stop for turtles, injured birds, and to get snakes out of the road. I have never had a time in my life where I was not fascinated with animals and nature.

Kaitlyn: It sounds like you were always meant to be an advocate for animals. I love how that comes across in your book. How did you go about researching this title and making sure it was not only beautiful but also accurate?

June: I actually researched elephants for a chapter book series I am still working on. I even drove a few hours to a zoo to speak with an elephant curator and got to touch an elephant’s head. Her skin was as tough as a tractor tire!

When working on this idea I mostly just had to review from research I already had. All facts have a minimum of two sources and then I reached out to an Elephant Sanctuary in Africa and one of their employees was kind enough to vet the book before we sent it out to editors. 

And Math Is Everywhere. One of the coolest things I learned was how in perfect conditions, like at dusk when the temperature drops, the sounds elephants make can travel exponentially further than at other times. 

Kaitlyn: WHAT?! That is SO cool! Math is definitely everywhere. In She Leads, the art by Yumi Shimokawara is just stunning, how did you interact for this book? 

June: Familius was great from the beginning. I told them my vision was more realistic than whimsical. They agreed. Later they said they wanted to approach Yumi and asked what I thought of her portfolio. I sent a very professional email saying I thought she’d be perfect. Then I ran squealing to my agent and family about the fact that this amazing artist might be the illustrator for She Leads. 

We worked through the editors and there was lots of group collaboration. For example, when I saw her rough sketches, I asked if there could be ear tears because this is one way of identifying them in the wild. There were some other things where they asked my thoughts and opinions, but mostly I just gushed over Yumi’s talent.

Kaitlyn: That sounds like a wonderful experience, and I love that you went squealing to everyone about how amazing Yumi’s talent is! The ending to She Leads is absolutely perfect, did that come naturally or take a lot of work?

June: This whole book was the fastest and easiest I’ve ever written. Once I came up with the title, and from there the refrain, this flowed like a babbling brook. 

Really, it has made everything I’ve written since rather frustrating.

Kaitlyn: That’s amazing that it just came out of you; it must be this story needed to be told. Here’s hoping your other books are babbling brooks, too! Speaking of hopes, what is your hope for this book? 

June: I want kids to see that animals, while different than us, have important lives. They raise families, they teach offspring, they have struggles, and they have great effects on the ecosystem in which they live. I want kids to see the beauty and strength in these creatures. I want them to see that same potential in themselves.

Kaitlyn: That’s beautiful. I think you definitely convey this, and I hope all who read this feel it, too. What advice can you share with authors about the journey to publication?

June: Publishing is slow. There is always waiting, and delays. Live life while you wait. Write while you wait. Read while you wait. Always keep learning. I don’t think I could have written this book without all the books I wrote before it. All writing, practice or paid, builds you into a better writer. 

Kaitlyn: I totally agree, thanks for sharing such great advice. Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather fly a kite or sit by the fire with a cup of tea?

June: Well, I can sit by a fire any old time, so I’d love to fly a kite. 

Kaitlyn: YES! Count me in! Thanks so much again for your wonderful insight and for creating such a beautiful book.

June: Thank you for having me! I’m glad you enjoyed She Leads and I hope your readers do too.


Kaitlyn’s Review of She Leads

She leads by June Smalls is a beautiful and poignant story of elephant lives filled with true facts and underscored by the gorgeous art of Yumi Shimokawara. Children will enjoy the romping and feel the empathy of hard times while learning all about elephants. I believe they will also draw parallels to their lives and realize how similar elephants are to us as well. This is a story that kids and adults will want to re-read to enjoy the journey and the art again and again.


June’s bio

author photo of June

June Smalls has been making up stories since she only had pets and stuffed animals to share them with. With her first poem published in first grade June got the writing bug and never quit.

June is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a lover of literature. She resides in Northern Virginia with her hubby, The Kid, and an ever-growing assortment of animals.


Twitter: @June_Smalls



About She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch

three elephants

She is the Queen. The matriarch.

She leads her daughters and their daughters.

Inspiring text and striking illustrations follow the empowering journey of an elephant matriarch as she leads her family through the wilds of Africa. With facts about African elephants on every spread and a message that will encourage young girls to be the trailblazers of their generation, She Leads offers an incredible story and an unforgettable tribute to the strength of a true leader.

Open your eyes, princess. One day you will lead.


Pre-order your copy!

Giveaway Time!!

June is giving away an autographed copy of She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch (Continental US only)

How to get in on the Giveaway:

  1. Comment on this blog post
  2. Retweet the tweet about this post
  3. Pre-order She Leads and share in the comments that you did so.
  4. Request that your library order a copy of June’s Odd Animals ABC’s book.

Each one of the above gets you another entry into the giveaway!


Thank you all for joining us today to talk about June’s beautiful lyrical nonfiction story!



Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez

If you haven’t checked out the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest coming up on April 7th, we’ve got some AMAZING prizes that will connect winners with wonderful published authors, author-illustrators, agents, and editors, so hop to it! Check out all the info here.



33 thoughts on “Author Interview and GIVEAWAY with June Smalls about her newest picture book: She Leads

      1. Yes, Patty and I were in Debbie Ohi’s Retreat together. So amazing. They were there when I got to share that I signed the contract for SHE LEADS on day one of the retreat.
        And Thanks for the book love Patty!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This book looks absolutely incredible! Thank you for sharing how it came about and advice for the publication process. And love your description of the way an elephant’s head feels. Can’t wait to get my hands on this! Fantastic interview!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! I was equally enthralled by the touch of an elephant when I was a kid and the elephant I met had skinned knees, I was very sad for it. I remember it didn’t flinch when I touched the spots with missing skin though, so hopefully it didn’t hurt too much

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love a good story, and this looks like a great one! Thanks, Katilyn, for sharing it. Thanks to June for bringing a great story to life! Congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It is already in my Amazon cart! This was a great interview! Being new to Kidlit I learned a lot about writing and illustrations! Thank you everyone!


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