Author Annette Bay Pimentel shares about interviewing her inspiring living subject and the power of 8-year-olds in this #20questions post!
Throughout 2020, we conducted #20questions interviews with the authors and illustrators of #DiverseKidlitNF books. We thought it would be fun and fascinating to hear the diverse answers from our diverse creators, about our books’ diverse topics, using the same #20questions for each author and illustrator.
By the end of 2020, our blog will host a fabulous resource for educators, librarians, and conference organizers about creating high-quality, diverse nonfiction picture books, and what makes our #DiverseKidlitNF books and creators special.
Now, enjoy learning more about ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP and Annette Bay Pimentel!
1. Annette, what inspired you to write this book?
I read When the Beat was Born by Laban Carrick Hill, and my entire idea of appropriate topics for nonfiction picture books exploded: he was writing about a time period that I had lived, where I had vivid memories. What, I wondered, would I say had been the most important historical moments in my young adulthood?
I surprised myself by instantly knowing the answer: the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I remember being in college at Berkeley, trying to go with a classmate in a wheelchair to another event, and being stunned at the obstacles she encountered simply trying to cross campus.
A few years later I followed news coverage of the debates over the ADA, and once it passed, I watched the world around me transform—imperfectly but dramatically—to make room for people with disabilities. I wanted to celebrate with kids the idea of inclusion, and I couldn’t think of a better vehicle to do that than to show how a child helped make sure the ADA passed.
2. How did you approach the research for this book?
I read newspapers and magazine articles of the time, and I also read through the academic literature for disability studies. But I knew that I could only do the book I imagined if Jennifer Keelan was willing to do it with me. I searched for clues as to Jennifer’s whereabouts and eventually made contact with her. She was still deep in the throes of her university studies when I first reached out to her, but she was generous with her time and open to my inquiries. Both she and her mother have answered question after question over a period of years now, as we’ve worked on the book. I am thrilled that Jennifer’s writing is in the book, too, in the foreword.
3. What’s something that surprised you while researching this book?
On the positive side, I was surprised to see how the example of our country’s ADA has prompted changes worldwide. While I was working on this book, our family traveled in Costa Rica. At one national park we visited, areas were roped off. I asked a worker why and he explained that they were putting in new paths so people in wheelchairs could access the park. “Because the park is for everyone,” he said.
On the negative side, I have been surprised and alarmed at how the protections the ADA offers have been and continue to be nibbled away in our own country.
4. What was your favorite part about writing this book?
I loved interviewing Jennifer! I relish interviews where I can take people back to important moments in their lives and relive those moments with them. And while I started my first interview knowing lots of things about Jennifer that I had found through research, I learned much more about her and her family from the stories she told me. They’re wonderful people!
5. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
I struggled to write the scene where Jennifer climbs up the steps of the Capitol. From the beginning of the project I knew that would be the heart of the book, so I gathered lots of details. Jennifer patiently answered all of my weird questions (“What was under your feet?” “Were the steps gritty?”). I watched videos of Jennifer’s climb and read contemporary accounts. But I kept putting off actually writing the scene. I was intimidated because I knew how important that scene was to this story.
Finally, one day I set a timer and made myself start writing. It was hard to gather my courage to plunge in, but once I got that passage written, it stayed consistent while I revised like mad all around it.
6. Who is this book’s ideal reader, in your eyes?
An eight-year-old is this book’s ideal reader. Eight-year-olds can change the world and this is a book about one who did.
7. What do you want kids to know about this book?
I want kids to know that this is a true story and that it is absolutely true that kids have power to bring about change.
8. What do you want educators and librarians to know about this book?
I want educators and librarians to know that books about people with disabilities are not books about a niche topic. Around one in five people has a disability and most of us will, at some point in our lives, live with a disability, either temporary or permanent.
But I think I’m preaching to the choir here; educators and librarians have been very enthusiastic about this book.
9. Who is the publisher for this book?
10. When is the official release date for this book?
March 10, 2020.
11. What do you like most about writing children’s nonfiction books?
I love learning about everyday people who nudge the world in new directions.
12. What’s the biggest challenge in writing children’s nonfiction books?
The biggest challenge in writing nonfiction is ferreting out the accurate details that will make the story come alive. That requires finding really good sources. Often much of the research is digging up those sources. I do lots of reading around the topics I write about, trying to zero in on my very best sources.
13. How did you get into writing children’s nonfiction books?
I ended up in children’s nonfiction by happy accident. I had moved to a new town and wanted a critique group. The only one I could find was a nonfiction group. So I joined and started reading children’s nonfiction. As I read, I was startled to realize that many of the picture books I had loved reading to my children—stories like Snowflake Bentley and The Glorious Flight—were picture book biographies. I had just never realized that was a category. So I started writing what I liked to read.
14. Which other children’s nonfiction books inspire you?
From the beginning of this journey I loved books by Barbara Kerley, Jen Bryant, Candace Fleming, and Sue Macy. Recently it has been a great delight to see books by my writing friends come into the world: I love nonfiction books by Sophia M. Gholz, Lisa Kahn Schnell, Jennifer Swanson, Laurel Neme, Carole Lindstrom, and the other amazing members of #20TruePBs.
15. Do you have other jobs besides writing children’s books? (If so, what?)
I’m a trustee of our local library, which means that I help set library policy and make sure tax money is wisely spent. It’s an elected position but nobody ran against me, so I didn’t have to campaign! I also take care of my two children who are still home (the other four have flown the coop).
16. What’s something that surprised you about being a children’s book author?
I have been surprised at how long it takes to incubate ideas—years!—and at how many people work help create a book. My name and the illustrator’s name are on the cover, but the book wouldn’t be here without the editor, the copy editor, the art director, the book designer, and a slew of other people at the publishing house!
17. What’s something about you that would surprise kids to know?
When I was a kid my mother had a rule that we had to read one nonfiction book for every fiction book. I was usually meticulous about keeping rules, but not that one! I thought I didn’t like nonfiction. Of course that might have been because I did all I could to avoid reading it!
18. What do you think makes a great nonfiction writer?
Great nonfiction writers embrace the limitations that come with writing nonfiction—you can’t invent characters or dialogue or scenes—but nonetheless manage to tell stories with vivid, memorable voices.
19. Do you have any advice for kids who want to write children’s books?
Read, read, read! Reading has taught me more about writing than anything else.
20. Where can people find you online?
I have a website with information about my books and how to have me visit your school or library at www.annettebaypimentel.com and I tweet from time to time at @AnnettePimentel