If you haven’t heard of Nicole D. Collier’s debut middle grade novel, Just Right Jillian, you need to get ahold of a copy! Kirkus Reviews describes it as, “A heartwarming novel about developing the courage to stop hiding.” As someone who was very shy as a child, a straight-A student with self-esteem issues, and had my share of run-ins with bullies in elementary school, I connected with Jillian right away. I hope Just Right Jillian finds her way onto many bookshelves, and into the hands of young readers everywhere, because she will be your readers’ new best friend.
Nicole will be presenting Just Right Jillian at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in the Friendships & Feelings author panel with Hena Khan (Zara’s Rules for Ground-Breaking Fun) and Angela Dominguez (Stella Diaz to the Rescue) on May 21st in the Jim Henson Pavilion 4:15-5:05pm (immediately followed by author signing.)
I hope that you enjoy my interview with Nicole D. Collier, Ph.D.
What is your writing space like?
I write wherever I feel most comfortable. Sometimes I’m curled up on the floor, other times I’m sitting up tall at a desk, and still others, I may be sitting outdoors with my notebook or laptop on my lap or a nearby table. Whenever possible, I write by the light of the sun. Thankfully, Georgia is sunny year around, so you’ll usually catch me near windows if I’m indoors.
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
I hope librarians will share this book with everyone. It’s great for shy readers who will see their struggles so plainly on the page. It’s wonderful for kids who love real life stories – these characters could be your classmates and neighbors. It’s a sweet book for people who enjoy reading about friendships. Friends and allies can come from unexpected places, and first impressions aren’t always right. And, I’ve had many non-shy readers tell me they’ve developed so much empathy for their shyer, quieter friends.
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
Many of us have this one big thing that stops us from living the lives we want to live. For Jillian that ‘one thing’ is a lack of confidence in herself. Ultimately, she decides to go after her goal, in the face of her doubts. I hope readers will see themselves in Jillian, and decide to pursue their dreams, even if doing so feels scary.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.
I’m writing for the reader with a big secret (smile). In all honesty, all kids have interior lives they keep hidden to all but their closest friends. Sometimes even their friends don’t know the deep down truth. When you’re growing up, there’s always something to figure out on your own. You’re trying to decide who you are, what you want to do and be, and how to bridge the gap. I write stories in the gap. I’m writing for the kids who don’t have it all together, who haven’t figured it out yet. They’re not sure what to do, or who to ask, but they are relieved to see they are not alone.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
I came to writing after years of procrastination, fear, and whatever else keeps you from pursuing your dreams. Even though I’ve known since elementary school that I wanted to be a children’s author, I found a million ways to avoid it. I understand what it’s like to grapple with the truth and feel as if you can’t let it out. I think about this all the time – the struggle to be authentic. I’m writing from a place of compassion and love. I hope it shines through.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
One of my friends exclaimed when she first saw the cover saying, “Wow! That looks just like my daughter.” I pulled up a picture of the little girl and she was absolutely right. I love the cover because so many young readers can see themselves in Jillian – from her Afro puffs to her wide, curious eyes. I also love that she is so big and prominent holding a newly hatching chick. This story is all about Jillian taking center stage in her own life and learning to break free from her shell. You can see all of it in just one glance.
(Kitt Thomas is the illustrator of this beautiful book cover. Kitt also created the illustrations for Stacey Abrams’ bestseller, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words and Sheela Chari’s middle grade novel Karthik Delivers – Sheela is also presenting at Gaithersburg Book Festival.)
What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
I spent a long time with the characters before I began writing, so nothing really surprised me, but I do think readers are often surprised by the layers they each have. There’s always more than meets the eye!
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
I treasure all of the book reviews I’ve received thus far. There’s no guarantee that readers in general, nor reviewers in particular, will “get” your book. I’m so grateful that many have written so thoughtfully and warmly of Jillian. I also deeply appreciate being featured alongside other Black middle grade authors in Horn Book and Kirkus for writing books simply about daily life. I love observing and writing about everyday experiences, so it means a lot to me to see this valued by others.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
As a debut author, this will be my first festival! I’m excited to meet new readers, meet fellow authors, and be inspired to get back to work!
Nicole D. Collier, Ph.D., was born and raised just south of Atlanta. She has spent the past two decades teaching. Originally an elementary school teacher, she’s now a partner in an executive training, coaching and consulting firm. Nicole writes for all ages, but her first love is middle grade contemporary fiction. Young people are trying to discern who they are vs. who they want to be, and how to bridge the gap between the two. Nicole’s stories are in that gap. A self-proclaimed ever-victorious woman, Nicole has been known to run, dance, and turn cartwheels on sunny days. She will be presenting “Just Right Jillian” at the Festival.