According to her website, June Smalls has “swam with sharks, fed tigers, bears, giraffes, stingrays and sea turtles, met an elephant, rode a camel, come face-to-face with a wild skunk, and was bitten by an emu … twice.” Sounds like that is all in a day’s work for a nonfiction children’s book author! She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch and He Leads: Mountain Gorilla are both beautifully illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara – an illustrator, picture book writer, and animal lover living in Japan. Yumi’s illustrations are delicately detailed and the colors are muted and gorgeous – the generous white spaces on each spread help us to focus on the beautiful animals and their habitats.
June will be presenting her new book, He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, The Gentle Giant along with Timothy Young (P Is for Puffin: The ABCs of Uncommon Animals) on May 21, 2022, at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.
Author Presentation: 11:15-12:05 in the Jim Henson Pavilion (immediately followed by a book signing).
I hope you will enjoy the interview with the lovely June Smalls!
What is your writing space like?
I have a small home office with art from picture books and typically at least one pet begging for attention, though I’ll write anywhere and on anything when an idea strikes. That may be texting myself in the middle of the night or writing on post-it notes I have everywhere.
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
I hope with the LEADS series, She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch and He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, The Gentle Giant, that librarians share them for their not just their lyrical style that works across age levels, but as a conversation starter on leadership, family dynamics, and different social structures.
(The LEADS series will also have educational guides to support student learning … visit June’s website here). June has also shared with me the He Leads teacher guide here, and a more detailed She Leads teacher guide will be added to her website in the near future.
What do you love most about writing non-fiction books for kids?
Kids want the truth. They are curious and capable. I love how kids absorb everything from the beautiful birth of a baby animal, to the interesting adaptations that help those animals survive, and even how they absorb the truth about the circle of life. They are always ready to learn and share their own knowledge as well.
How do you choose the animals for your books?
Mostly my own curiosity. I love animals and have put my favorites in my books (like turtles, fossa, and of course the elephant) but for HE LEADS I needed to find a social animal with a male leader that was deeper than just the biggest or strongest. I wanted one that we as humans could also understand and learn from.
What is the most important thing you want your readers to learn about in He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, The Gentle Giant?
Every big and powerful leader was once tiny and helpless. Great leaders in the animal kingdom have many attributes such as patience, knowledge, and a protective nature in addition to strength and stamina. I want young readers to know they can learn and grow and make good leaders themselves.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.
The child that is curious about animals and the natural world. I want those kids who ask, “Why?” at every opportunity to pick up my books and then say, “This is cool. Where are the other books so I can learn more?”
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
Readers should know that I’m a reader too. I love animals and want to share that with readers and classrooms. I love researching these amazing animals and, whenever possible, meeting the creatures I’ve researched. I hope to help build a generation of kids who appreciate the wonders of nature near and far.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
Yumi Shimokawara is amazing. Her cover art feels like the silverback is staring into your eyes. I absolutely adore her use of negative space in the interior art as well. It keeps the focus on the gorillas while giving the art such a unique feel.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
SHE LEADS earned a Kirkus starred review, which was amazing. But a stranger’s child in the library snagging my book, hugging it, and saying it was her favorite (even though she didn’t realize I wrote the book) about brought me to tears. While that isn’t a review I’ll find online, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Funny enough, she wasn’t impressed that I was the author. Just told me okapi’s were her favorite animal and went off to add to her book stack.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
I can’t wait to talk to other authors, artists, and book lovers. I’ve missed having the opportunity to share my books with people the last few years. Plus, I’m excited to discover some new books myself. Always gotta add to my To Be Read pile!
Would you like to learn more about June and He Leads? Kathy Temean has an interview with June on her blog, Writing and Illustrating.
I hope you will enjoy meeting June Smalls in person at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st.
June Smalls has been making up stories since she only had pets and stuffed animals to share them with. She is the author of fiction and non-fiction picture books, such as “He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, a Gentle Giant” and “Odd Animal ABC’s,” as well as books for the educational market. June is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and resides in Northern Virginia with her family and an ever-growing assortment of animals.