Hi Math is Everywhere readers,
Are you ready… ?
Are you set … ?
Because we’re about to go!
It’s a cover reveal day! And this one is with our incredible friend and wonderful human being Matt Forrest Esenwine for his newest picture book that is beautiful and empowering, and that I think you’re all going to just melt for: I AM TODAY, illustrated by Patricia Pessoa from POW! Books.
From the publisher (edited): A young girl realizes she doesn’t have to wait until she’s grown-up to stand up for what is right and make a big impact. Children are used to being told they are “The Future” – but this girl knows there is so much she can do today to help. Written in spare and evocative poetry, “I Am Today” is an empowering story for children who want to be the change the world needs.
There’s an extra fun layer in the post today, where little hints are hiding in my questions in italics.
Kaitlyn: This book is so beautiful and needed, Matt, thank you for sharing it with the world. Let’s dive right in, I have to know, what was your reaction when you finally got a glimpse of your book’s cover?
Matt: I loved it! The colors, the imagery, the concept of water & time…it was so simple, yet so meaningful to the story and subject.
Kaitlyn: Without giving the whole cover away, can you breeze into your favorite part(s) of the cover?
Matt: I love the symbolism – water, wind, the movement of time. It’s serene yet there’s motion, and the colors and just so bright and earthy!
Kaitlyn: Okay, for the anticipation fun. Give us three buckets full of hints so we can guess what the cover looks like.
Matt: I think I’d like to give just two: reflection…and reflection. (How’s that for poetic ambiguity?)
Kailtyn: Haha, I’d expect nothing less from you, and I love it. Okay, I think it’s time, dear readers!
Here it comes…
Wait for it…
Here’s the cover of Matt Forrest Esenwine’s picture book I AM TODAY, illustrated by Patricia Pessoa.
Kaitlyn: Wow! What a beautiful cover! Can you share what you love most about this cover?
Matt: I have to say, I loved the idea of water flowing – it’s such a universal symbol of life, of change, of time – and it fits beautifully with the narrative that Patricia creates, using my text as a foundation. As a beach-lover myself, the setting couldn’t be more perfect.
Kaitlyn: I love how somehow illustrators know just what to Do. Can you share how this wonderful story came to be?
Matt: I began by thinking up the title, actually! It was August 2020 and we were in the middle of the pandemic. Knowing how the quarantine life was affecting my kids and their friends, I wondered what I could write that might help them feel better about the situation and give them a sense of empowerment. I needed a story, though; it couldn’t be didactic or preachy. Being a poetry guy as well as a former advertising/marketing guy, I started the process by trying to come up with an unusual title, using words in some sort of way that wouldn’t normally be used – perhaps something oddly ear-catching or noticeably ungrammatical. I knew adults are always telling kids they are “the future,” so when I reversed that concept and put the words “I am today” together, I had my title…and my story!
Kaitlyn: Yes yes yes! Such an important and powerful message that our children need. Can you share how the illustrator was chosen for this story?
Matt: Editor Jordan Neilsen, with whom I had also worked on “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur,” came up with a list of potential illustrators she wanted to contact. She sent me their links and asked if I had a preference. – for which I was grateful, because not all authors have that privilege. When I told her I thought Patricia’s style was perfect for the tone we were going for, she agreed and said Patricia was her first choice, too!
Interestingly, the cover image was originally reversed – a mirror image, so to speak, with the girl facing left and the water flowing in the opposite direction. As wonderful as the cover was, something didn’t seem right, and I realized that the girl, and the current, should be facing left-to-right, like the flow of a timeline. Jordan and Patricia agreed, they flipped the image, and here we have it, fully realized!
Kaitlyn: Love that she asked your opinion, and you’re right, not everyone gets that privilege, but I love that you had the same instincts! Speaking of the illustrator, one beautiful thing about picture books is that the art is half of the the story. Can you share what you think Patricia’s art brings/adds to the story?
Matt: She actually creates the story! I love writing loose narratives, not only because they are just naturally more poetic but because I love allowing illustrators to take control and see where they can go. Look at what Fred Koehler did with “Flashlight Night,” or what Andres Landazabal did with “Once Upon Another Time!” I simply set up a structure, a narrative, that goes from a young child wondering why he/she needs to wait to make a difference in the world, to recognizing that he/she has the capacity to be caring and responsible, to deciding to take action, to wanting to do more.
Just as in those other books, there’s no “Billy did this” or “Sally said that” – my text is simply a skeleton, the structure upon which an illustrator can create a more fully-realized plot. Great picture books are a symbiosis of both text and visuals, greater than the sum of their parts – and it’s my hope that these are the types of books I’m helping to create.
Kaitlyn: You definitely are, and I adore how poetic your view is in this and totally agree that when authors give bones for illustrators, something truly great comes to be. Can you share some advice you like to give to writers?
Matt: There are so many tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years, but I think one of the best is the classic, tried-and-true axiom, “If you want to be better at something, surround yourself with others who are better than you.” That’s what I did eleven years ago when I joined my first SCBWI critique group and started connecting online with folks whose names are synonymous with children’s literature: Jane Yolen, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charles Ghigna, Nikki Grimes, David Harrison, and many others. These folks all supported me, guided me, and educated me – whether they know it or not – and I’m proud to be able to call them friends, as well as mentors.
Kaitlyn: Absolutely beautiful. We are so lucky to have such a giving Kidlit community, and you’ve done an impeccable job growing and creating beautiful works. Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather go outside and fly a kite or sit by a fire with tea?
Matt: I’d love to go kite-flying with Tomie dePaola – it’s so sad we lost him. He lived in the town next door, and we’d see each other in the local grocery store or at conferences, but never had a chance to chat for more than 15-20 minutes at a time.
Kaitlyn: Such a huge loss, but I’m so glad you got to meet him and have such great memories with him. I’d love to join you both! Thank you so much for joining me today on the Math is Everywhere blog and for sharing your gorgeous cover with us! I can’t wait to get a copy for my daughter!
Matt: Thank YOU, Kaitlyn! I hope you both enjoy it.
Author Bio and Links
Before he found his calling as a children’s author, Matt Forrest Esenwine spent a good part of his life writing poetry, which was published in various national journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). Then his debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), received a Kirkus starred review and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017 – and he never slowed down! Matt has 11 other books to his credit, and his children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National GeographicChildren’s Books, 2015) and Construction People (Wordsong, 2020), chosen by Kirkus as one of the Best Picture Books of the Year, as well as “Highlights for Children” magazine. Connect with Matt and order personally-signed books at MattForrest.com.
Kaitlyn’s Review of I AM TODAY
This book is the kind that every kid, every parent, every person needs to read. Kids taking control of their lives in the most beautiful way possible and inspiring others to do so. With Matt’s beautiful language and Patricia’s beautiful artwork, this book will be treasured for generation to come!
TWO lucky winners will be selected. One will receive a copy of “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” AND a copy of “I Am Today” and another winner will receive a rhyming PB critique from Matt!
Four ways to enter the random drawing (each one counts as an extra entry)
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added I AM TODAY to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you pre-ordered a copy of I AM TODAY
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag a friend, a librarian, a teacher, and your favorite indie bookstore.
Link to pre-order: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781576879948
Thank you all for joining us today and supporting wonderful creators like Matt and Patricia! If you haven’t headed over to Kidlit Zombie Week today, the discussion is up and the pitch event is tonight! For anyone who didn’t get the link, please DM 6and_MANuscript or Sarah Heaton. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez