Delicate, light-filled art paired equally in charm by the words, ‘A Little More Beautiful’ is a new story told in the spirit of children’s favorites of old, and is sure to warm the hearts of its readers.
– Eliza Wheeler
A sweet tale, true to life, and wrapped up in watercolors as fresh as a garden in spring.
– Ben Hatke
A powerful story about courage and what it means to add beauty to this world.
– Karina Yan Glaser
It’s really special to host Sarah on the blog today. I’ve been a guest author several times over at her wildly successful Read-Aloud Revival. Several years ago she contacted me for a picture book critique, and I’ve gone on to read a half dozen marvelous manuscripts for her — including this one. Read on!
Please tell us about your book.
A Little More Beautiful: The Story of a Garden is a picture book about Lou Alice, an old woman who is sly as a fox, swift as a bird, and determined to leave each day a little more beautiful than she found it. When Lou Alice is moved away from her little house in town, no one notices she’s gone. No one, that is, except a little girl, who sets out to carry on Lou Alice’s work. But doing so is not enough. The girl must find a way of her own to make the world a little more beautiful.
It’s a story about seeing and being seen for readers who love Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney or The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small.
What inspired you to write this story?
I was having breakfast at a restaurant with two of my daughters and Jeanne Birdsall, author of The Penderwicks, when Jeanne asked if we might like to walk to her house to see her gardens. As we walked through town, she pointed to the side of a government building where a lovely garden was growing. Jeanne said that garden hadn’t always been there—not too long ago, the side of the building was ratty and neglected, so she decided to plant a garden there and tend it as her own.
I didn’t realize a story was forming in my mind that day, but a seed had been planted! A Little More Beautiful features a woman who decides to leave her town a little more beautiful by planting gardens under the cover of darkness, even when she goes without notice or accolades.
Could you share a few interesting tidbits you learned while writing?
I’ve learned so much on this journey—both in the writing of this picture book, and in the creation of a publishing house. There’s something new to learn every step of the way!
One thing I learned as we made this book is how interdependent text and pictures are in a truly wonderful picture book. The art director I worked with (Cara Llewellyn, who art directed Kadir Nelson’s 2022 Caldecott Award winner, Unspeakable) told me that if we take away the words, we shouldn’t be able to understand what’s going on. Likewise, if we take away the illustrations, the story shouldn’t make sense. The best picture books require both to get the full impact of the story. That interplay between text and illustrations creates a third dimension for the reader… and it’s something I hope will inform all of my future picture book writing!
What are some special challenges associated with launching your first picture book while also launching a brand new publishing house?
Jumping into a task I’m not sure how to tackle seems to be one of my favorite past-times, and this may be my biggest leap yet…at least professionally!
My work at Read-Aloud Revival® has shaped how I read and think about picture books, and in recent years, I discovered that in addition to writing picture books, I also wanted to have a hand in the whole creative process. I’m a big believer in the collaborative nature of picture-book-making, so the decision to create a publishing house meant I also wanted to bring on a world-class team to do it well.
The whole project has introduced unique challenges, of course, including a myriad of responsibilities that come with the business side of publishing, including product development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, publicity… the list goes on!
I think what’s helped most is having a learner mentality. It turns out most things are figure-out-able, and I’m here for the ride of figuring them out!
Another piece that has been challenging in creating this particular release is balancing my role as Publisher with the role of author. I’m excited to see how that shifts and changes as we publish books I haven’t authored myself, but for this particular book, it required a lot of hat-switching, as well as a heavy reliance on professionals who can make hard decisions to ensure a book is as good as it can be.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The book connects easily to lessons on gardens, flowers, and botany, as well as to conversations about kindness and generosity.
Everyone who pre-orders the book on Kickstarter will also get a free 23-page Book Club Guide with ideas for connecting the book to lessons in literary devices (simile, refrain), poetry, art, and nature study.