Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
With all the heat waves lately and all that we’ve been through with COVID, I think it’s high time we talk about A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, a beautiful new picture book by our guest wonderful guest Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Blythe Russo.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Ellen, thank you so much for joining us!
Ellen: Thank YOU for having me! I love reading your blog, and I’m excited to be part of it.
Kaitlyn: That’s the best! To jump right in I’d like to say thanks so much for sharing this powerful story with the world. Can you share what inspired it and a bit about its journey into the world?
Ellen: Thank YOU for asking. A FLOOD OF KINDNESS was born out of experience and emotion. Between 2015 and 2017, I experienced three major floods and all the emotions associated with them. However, I always knew that my experience was not unique. These were community events, and if we were to heal, we needed to do it as a community. The first flood occurred while I was away. I’m not going to lie; it was devastating to come home to a completely destroyed home. But I remembered Mr. Rogers’s call to “Look for the helpers.” So many people whose homes were still intact reached out to us, and it felt like a blanket of hope even as I watched letters, pictures and other memories float away in the muddy water. At that point, friends told me I should write a kid’s book about the flood, but I didn’t know what the thread would be. It didn’t dawn on me that I was staring it right in the face. Kindness! We rebuilt, and then 11 months later, we were hit again. It wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the third time in less than three years we lost everything, that I began to think about writing a story for kids about this shared experience. I was working with children at that time, many of whom were affected. We talked, we wrote, and we even laughed a bit. It turned out that many of the kids felt the same way I did. Passing on acts of kindness really does help you heal.
At that point, I began to write the manuscript, and the first draft flowed easily. I revised (a lot) and entered the manuscript in PB Party (thank you, Michelle Hauck and Mindy Alyse Weiss), and the rest is history. I signed with agent, Mary Cummings, and she sold it within six months. Of course, there were more revisions along the way, and I learned from each one.
Kaitlyn: I teared up reading this. I am so sorry about all these experiences, but I’m so glad that you, and the wonderful people around you, found such joy and hope from them. And, I’m so happy that Michelle and Mindy helped you find the right person to represent and sell this awesome story! The ending to this book is so powerful, and you lead up to it so well, without giving it away can you share a bit about how you found that ending?
Ellen: Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. Without giving it away, I always knew that I wanted to validate kids’ feelings as well as empower them with the knowledge that they can help. I knew that the last part didn’t happen overnight, so I tried to put myself in Charlotte’s shoes and explore what it would take to make that transition.
Kaitlyn: You did it incredibly well, and I have to tell you, not just kids, but also adults will feel empowered by this story and its ending – I know I am! You’ve had the great pleasure of working with multiple editors, can you talk a bit about your editors and share some insight about what it’s like working with different editors?
Ellen: My editors have been very different, but each one made the book better. I think, like any other relationship, it’s important to listen, have an open mind, and understand that there is more than one way to do something. Working with people who have different styles actually helped me grow as a writer. With each editor, there was a sense of mutual respect, which is important. As you know, the act of publishing a book is a collaborative effort.
Kaitlyn: Yes, mutual respect and an open mind are both so important; I’m so glad you’ve had such great success and such wonderful people supporint you and your stories. Now, can you share a bit about the experience you have with agents?
Ellen: Mary Cummings was my agent for A FLOOD OF KINDNESS. Mary was absolutely wonderful. She asked for a few changes before we signed, and then as we got comments back from editors, we talked about them and made decisions together on how to improve the manuscript. Mary was very supportive and continued to be after acquisitions were complete.
Because Mary was a “project by project” agent, I am now agentless, but I still connected with an agent through the slush pile, and recently signed a contract for a 2023 release. I honestly think this was a case of the right manuscript at the right time.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s so amazing, you just keep rocking it again and again! Can’t wait to hear more. Ellen, you have been matched up with some wonderful illustrators for your books. Can you share a bit about your experience with illustrators?
Ellen: My journey with illustrators has been wonderful and interesting. For DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (which was co-written with Ellen Rothberg) and LOLA CAN’T LEAP, my illustrators (Joel Cook and Noelle Shawa) happened to be local, and we did get to work together after the manuscripts were acquired. However, they had free rein on how they wanted to interpret the stories. I feel strongly that in picture books, the author has to let the illustrator do their work. On the other hand, Blythe Russo and I never met in person, and I didn’t even know who was illustrating A FLOOD OF KINDNESS until towards the end of the project. My editor would send me some rough sketches, and I could see the direction in which Blythe was going, and I really liked it. But we didn’t communicate at all until closer to the book’s launch. I love how all three of these talented people brought exciting new layers to my stories.
Kaitlyn: That’s the best, and I totally agree; illustrators are so amazing at bringing even more to the story. Can you share some advice you like to give to aspiring authors?
Ellen: I’m not sure that I have anything that they haven’t heard before, but I’ll reiterate a few things in no particular order.
- Always work on your craft. To me, it’s like professional development. I’m never done learning.
- Try to develop a thick skin and understand that rejections are not personal. Yes, I know, that’s a hard one. I’m pretty sensitive, so it was difficult in the beginning. But now, while rejections still sting, I know it’s part of the process, and I can usually shake it off. Usually.
- To go along with that, find a group of like minded friends who understand the process you’re going through. Being part of the Kid Lit community has kept me going when I’ve felt like giving up. Like anything else in life, it’s important to connect with people who understand your particular joys and struggles. Look for local groups, online groups, anywhere you can find them.
- And on that note still, find yourself a good critique group or several critique buddies who will encourage you, but be honest.
- And of course, if it’s your dream, persist and be patient. It will happen.
- Lastly, and maybe most importantly, write YOUR story. Although it’s important to understand the market, don’t strictly write to the hottest trends. Enjoy what you’re doing because the joy you feel will be evident in your writing.
Kaitlyn: So much great advice! I agree with all of this! Can you share how you and your team are marketing your book?
Ellen: I had a great marketing team for A FLOOD OF KINDNESS. The team at WorthyKids/ Hachette Book Group did a lot of behind the scenes marketing such as sending the work out to bloggers, setting the book up in library conferences (sadly, virtual), posting trailers, and more. As we got close to the launch date,they sent me a list of things they needed from me by a specific date, which was great. (I am definitely motivated by deadlines). It was a team effort, for sure, and the professionals were always open to my questions. Of course, there is a LOT of marketing that I have to do myself. I’m uncomfortable asking people to buy my book or talking about myself, but I know that it’s a part of the job. It’s still difficult, so thank you, Kaitlyn, for your help! Aside from the team at the publishers, I have to shout out to my two marketing groups, The Picture Book Scribblers and the 2021 Word Birds. Collaborative marketing is wonderful.
Kaitlyn: It can be so hard to market yourself, I think it’s so wonderful to have collaborative support to help with that, but also a mind-shift; you believe in this book and believe that those your talking to would benefit from having it, so share your joy and suggest it, and just see what happens. Now, can you share with us what’s next for you or what you’re working on now?
Ellen: I am working on a few picture books that I think are close to submission ready as well as playing around with a chapter book, which is a lot of fun. I have a picture book biography slated for publication in 2023 that I’m very excited about.
Kaitlyn: OoooOo, I can’t wait to hear more! Finally, if you could meet your favorite author, illustrator, historical figure, or mathematician would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?
Ellen: Well, since my husband is a mathematician, I’d have to say that I enjoy going on adventures with him! We’ve been doing it for a long time. 🙂 But aside from that, there are so many people I’d love to meet. I did have an evening with Patricia Pollacco many years ago when we were hosting her for a local book fair. She was wonderful, and I’d love to hang out with her again. Picture books have changed so much from when she was here last, and it would be fascinating talking about the changes with her.
Kaitlyn: Oh, those both sound awesome, please invite me on any of these adventures/talks! Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today, Ellen!
Ellen: Thank you for having me. I hope to someday sit down with you and chat in person!
Kaitlyn: Ditto; you’re always so kind and helpful. I feel like we would have some tea and talk the day away!
Book info and links
Because Ellen loves to support indie bookstores, here are links on Bookshop.org as well as Amazon.
A FLOOD OF KINDNESS (illustrated by Blythe Russo)
When rising flood waters force Charlotte and her family from their home, Charlotte finds herself surrounded by people she doesn’t know in a shelter that isn’t home. Waves of sadness and anger fill her, but when her community comes together to care for one another, Charlotte discovers an unexpected source of comfort–kindness.
DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (illustrated by Joel Cook)
Sue Ellen is a cow with a mind of her own who loves the taste of bluebonnets. When she gives into temptation and eats every yummy bluebonnet in the pasture, she must figure out how to get them back as she finally understands the importance of responsibility and good decision making.
LOLA CAN’T LEAP (illustrated by Noelle Shawa)
Lola comes from a long line of leapers. Can she carry on the family tradition? Join Lola as she trips, slips, and flips into a journey of self discovery.
Author Bio and links
Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, a 2017 Mighty Girls pick ( 2017 Clear Fork Publishing), the author of Lola Can’t Leap (2018 Clear Fork Publishing) and A Flood of Kindness, ( 2021 WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group). She has been published in magazines and newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen frequently presents at schools and has been featured on both TV and radio. When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com
A Flood of Kindness is an absolutely beautiful book that everyone should read; it gently addresses a hard time and shows us how to find hope within these situations. The art by Blythe Russo compliments Ellen Leventhal’s beautiful words, and this is a wonderful ending you won’t want to miss!
Giveaway – Winner’s Choice: signed copy of A FLOOD OF KINDNESS or an author Zoom visit with a class
To enter the random drawing, do any/all of the following options, then come back and write all of the things you did in ONE blog comment. (If you forget something, feel free to reply to your first comment ;))
- Share that you added A FLOOD OF KINDNESS to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share that you ordered a copy of A FLOOD OF KINDNESS
- Share that you did a purchase request for A FLOOD OF KINDNESS at your library
- Share that you retweeted or quote retweeted my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tagged some friends
- Share that you left a review on Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon for A FLOOD OF KINDNESS
Thank you all for spreading kindness by supporting Ellen and her beautiful book! I can’t wait to share our next Team Sanchez Cover Reveal. If you haven’t entered to win critiques from our first Team Sanchez cover reveal of HATTIE HATES HUGS, make sure to check it out here!