From the moment I first read I am Yoga many years ago, I fell in love with Susan Verde’s books, and have used many of them in my school library media lessons over the years. The social emotional themes that flow through her books touch my readers, and me, in important ways. My students need to hear messages that affirm they are loved and celebrated just as they are – I am Me is a delightful, and much needed, book about authenticity.
When I teach a lesson based on a picture book, I teach from cover to cover, as described by Megan Dowd Lambert in the Reading Picture Books With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See . Can You SEE It? is a perfect book with which to use this method – and my students were thoroughly engaged in my recent lesson about it. Discussing the difference between looking and seeing, discovering the hidden gems in the illustrations, and also pulling off the dust jacket to reveal a completely different hardcover were all part of the lesson.
Susan Verde will be a featured presenter at the Gaithersburg Book Festival at Bohrer Park on May 20, 2023. She is presenting Can You SEE it? along with Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld (The Umbrella) at 12:15 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion, and I am Me: A Book of Authenticity with Carole Lindstrom (My Powerful Hair) at 3:15 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion.
Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author?
Before I was an author, I was a teacher, and as you can imagine, I read and used lots of picture books to help my kids manage feelings and see themselves and to start discussions about feelings and all kinds of topics. I think it was those authors and the kids I was teaching that really inspired me to want to write for young children. As I had more things written, but nothing published, there were two people who really encouraged my journey. One was Emma Walton Hamilton, who ran the Southampton Children’s literature conference and had me take her picture book writing class, wholeheartedly supporting my desire to write. The other was Peter H Reynolds. It was in his picture book writing workshop that I got the chance to share my work with him. He saw potential and asked to illustrate our very first book The Museum (this librarian is so very glad he did – it is delightful!). Being seen that way was a gift and motivated me to keep going. Along the way, I am constantly inspired by other book creators by the kids and educators I get to visit and buy my own children and the child within myself.
What is your writing space like?
I have a little office space I made for myself in my home, where my animals and kids can come hang out with me while I write and where I feel most creative. It has framed artwork on the walls that my kids made when they were little and a big photo of water which is soothing. I also have shelves behind me on which I keep my books and that too keeps me going.
What was your inspiration for Can You SEE It? and for I am Me: A Book of Authenticity?
I am always looking to find ways to encourage readers to slow down and really savor the beauty and wonder around them. I feel like we all are moving so fast, and we forget to be in our experiences and connect with ourselves and the world. It felt like taking a deeper mindful dive into our senses might be a wonderful way to find this connection. Can You SEE It? Is the first in the Sensing Your World series and explores the many ways we can be present and tune into others and ourselves. It is something I am always practicing myself.
Can you tell us about your essay collection, Say One Kind Thing? What was your inspiration for writing this nonfiction book for adults?
This book is really about my continuing journey to change my inner dialogue from negative and unkind to supportive and kind. I realized as I was talking to students and educators and parents about mindfulness and caring for ourselves that it might be important to share my own process and how I try to care for myself. I wanted to openly share my experiences without telling anyone what to do but rather express what has helped me and what I am still working on, in the hopes the reader will feel seen and supported.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current books?
I love the illustrators I get to work with. They are incredible and inspiring. The cover art from Can You SEE It? and that from I Am Me is quite different, but what it shares is magic. Juliana Perdomo’s cover art with a child and their big beautiful inquisitive eyes just brings me right into the moment and that sense of seeing. Peter H Reynolds’ covers always capture the essence of the story and make every child feel seen, and make me feel seen because our intentions are so aligned. Both of these covers fill me with joy!
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?
Librarians don’t need any guidance from me as they are brilliant and know best how to connect kids and books. That being said, I hope these books will be used to help students feel seen, feel connected and learn to embody empathy and compassion and a sense of wonder. They are great books to include in SEL curricula as well as mindfulness.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.
I really am writing for everyone. I know these are picture books geared towards a younger audience, but the magic of picture books is that they take big concepts and break them down so everyone can understand and explore them. I am writing for the reader who is interested in considering their inner and outer worlds which again, to me, is everyone.
What is something that you really want your readers to know about you?
All the things I talk about in my books are personal to me. I am practicing my own mindfulness; my own self-care and each book has a piece of my heart in it. Also, I was a kindergarten teacher for many years and feel very connected to educators and elementary students.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you? Although being a New York Times bestselling author is huge and incredibly meaningful, more than any award is the feedback I get from students and educators about how the books have helped or inspired or supported them. To see a librarian or teacher share the books means the most.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
I am so excited to be under the same roof as so many brilliant book creators and librarians. Being around book lovers and those who understand the importance of books and representation and self-expression are the BEST people to be around. I can’t wait!
What message do you have for your readers?
My message is to keep reading, whatever that looks like for you. Keep loving yourself and being and celebrating who you are. Know that your own story is important and that YOU are important.
Please visit https://www.susanverde.com/ to learn more about Susan and her books, and visit https://www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org/ to learn more about the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.
Additional book resources:
*Abrams Books For Young Readers: “I Am Me” Activity Sheets
*Abrams Books For Young Readers “I Am” Teaching Guide
*Author-Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ TLC Books & Resources
*Illustrator Juliana Perdomo’s Website
*Mindful Teachers: Q&A with Susan Verde
*The TeachingBooks Blog: Finding Peace in Books by Susan Verde