Jean Reidy on Cozy Places, Cumulative Verses, and the Library She Loves

This is probably one of those no-introduction-needed situations.

Today author Jean Reidy stops by to guest-blog on Literary Friendships. You know Jean from her picture books TOO PURPLEY and TOO PICKLEY. Now get ready to know her in a new way as as she launches LIGHT UP THE NIGHT.

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT was inspired by every kid who threw a sheet over the kitchen table and called it a clubhouse. It’s for every kid who makes a fort out of couch cushions. And it’s especially for every kid who huddles down under a blanket at night ─ where safety and security reign, allowing imagination to blast off.

little Jean Reidy with a book

I was one of those kids. For me, my favorite space was my own bedroom in the house where I grew up. Well, it wasn’t really my own. I shared it with three sisters, with my grandmother just down the hall. My brothers commanded the first floor. But the “girls only” attic bedroom, which my dad fashioned out of knotty pine and oak parquet, had enough cubbies and closets to hold many “treasures.” From there, I embarked on some of my most amazing adventures. Most were in my head. Other times, I might have been holed up in our garden shed, or hidden between the fruit trees and the fence with friends, deciphering secret club codes or spying on squirrels. Every shrub became a hideout. Unfinished basements were canvases for kingdoms and castles.

My own four kids also cherished their special spaces and beloved security items. Corners and closets were much preferred to full blown playrooms. Tents were better than bedrooms. Beds were better bunked. And when we moved into a new home, my kids’ biggest concern was that their blankets and their “guys” (stuffed animals) moved with us. Security and a sense of place seem essential to childhood.

But unfortunately, as we know, not all children enjoy that security and sense of place. Over the past six years my family has developed strong connections to the country of Uganda and its people. And with that came my understanding of the plight of Uganda’s children. HIV/AIDS robs these kids of family and health. Past civil war threatened their security as many were kidnapped out of their beds to be child soldiers. And the warehouses and refugee camps where they currently seek security and safety are unimaginably inhumane.

So it was with both an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what we have and a deep sense of responsibility for those who have not, that I wrote LIGHT UP THE NIGHT.

During my musing on LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, I was drawn to the idea of the universe embracing the child with its many layers, like a nesting doll. I thought instantly of The House That Jack Built and settled on the cumulative verse which I thought kids would like. So while LIGHT UP THE NIGHT is my longest book thus far, weighing in at a whopping 650 words, it’s the repetition within the cumulative verse that raises that word count. Once I had the rhythm, the verses flowed fairly easily. I’m thrilled that my agent, Erin Murphy, and Disney Hyperion loved the story. I hope kids will too.

Folks often ask how much control I have over the art in my books. Writers frequently want to know what guidance I’ve given the illustrator in my text. My answer? Very little. And I prefer it that way. I like to leave room for the illustrator to not only complete my stories but take them to a whole new level. That’s exactly what the brilliant Caldecott Honor artist Margaret Chodos-Irvine did with LIGHT UP THE NIGHT. My only “Illustration Note” on the original text mentioned that the story zooms from out to in (duh!) and that the blanket should appear, in some form, on every page. I have a feeling Margaret understood that long before she read my note.

While considering a manuscript of mine, one of my editors once said, “In the hands of the right illustrator …” She didn’t need to finish that sentence because I knew what she was thinking. The right illustrator would get the vision she and I shared. And that editor ultimately bought that book.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this picture book process is a bit about trust ─ trusting your agent, your editor and your illustrator. And I do. Margaret proved to be not only the right illustrator, but the perfect illustrator for LIGHT UP THE NIGHT.

visiting Musana Children's Home in Uganda

The LIGHT UP THE NIGHT story ends in the sublime comfort of a kid’s cozy bed – so I’d like to close this post with some good news and hope. When I travelled to Uganda in the summer of 2010 (and Audrey, as you know, your Buffalo travelled with me!) I worked at the beautiful and joy-filled Musana Children’s Home in Iganga which provides a home and school to 80 children and education to an additional 120 day students. The Musana community was founded and is run by three young women from my hometown here in Colorado. In addition to dormitories and classrooms, the school has a small library badly in need of books. On November 7-18, I’m holding an online auction called Light Up the Library which, in coordination with Books for Africa, will provide funding for thousands of books for Musana’s library. I hope you will join me at the auction – I’ve got something for everyone ─  and reach beyond our borders to celebrate literacy and a love of reading ─ as well as earth, space and a kid’s sense of place.

For more information on Jean and her books, please visit her website. For information on Light Up the Library see http://lightupthelibrary.blogspot.com.

Jean’s on tour! Visit all her stops:

October 10-14: Rob Sanders’ Picture This

October 11: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s Sharing Our Notebooks

October 12: Tamson Weston Books

October 14: Julie Hedlund’s Write Up My Life

November 4: Tara Lazar’s Writing For Kids While Raising Them

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About Audrey Vernick

Audrey Vernick writes books for young readers.
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4 Responses to Jean Reidy on Cozy Places, Cumulative Verses, and the Library She Loves

  1. Amy LV says:

    What a beautiful post and behind-the-scenes look at Jean’s process, collaboration, and gratitude. Many thanks for this! A.

  2. olugbemisola says:

    This post brought back so many memories of the reading “tents” and “forts” my sister and I used to build…having that special time and space for just falling into a book really helped bring storyworlds to vivid life. Thank you, and thanks, Jean, for your work to light up many lives.

  3. Lovely!!! My bedroom tents and forts never looked quite that good, but I’m sure they had the same feelng inside!

  4. Jean Reidy says:

    Thanks for your kind thoughts, everyone. And thanks so much, Audrey, for hosting me.

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