Hello and welcome to Kid Lit Village blog. I’m delighted to feature this adorable board book, LET’S BE FRIENDS by Violet Lemay, published by Harper Collins.
Synopsis: This lift-the-flap board book filled with warm and lively illustrations by Violet Lemay teaches toddlers all about friendship.
We’re different! We’re the same! Can we be friends? Of course we can!
Friends can come from anywhere. Friends can live in any kind of house. Friends can be different ages. Friends can look different. And friends can have different faiths.
This sweet board book celebrates friendship and the importance of embracing our differences. It joyfully shows diverse children from all over the world and teaches a valuable lesson: we are all just people and we are all worthy of friendship.
Welcome to the Kid Lit Village blog, Violet!
Tell us about the inspiration for your book or the story of how your book came to be.
My family and I moved from the US to New Zealand in 2015, where we lived for five years. This gorgeous, diverse, peaceful country was devastated by a mass shooting in a mosque in 2019. Guns are not an issue in New Zealand, it’s nothing like the US in this regard. There is no gun violence, at all. Mass shootings are unheard of. The event was so horrible and shocking that it sent the entire nation reeling.
I couldn’t stop wondering why our differences matter. Does it really matter that people look different, come from different places, worship differently? Aren’t we all ultimately the same? This swirl of questions became the inspiration for a proposed lift-the-flap board book, What Matters?, in which every spread showed people with different opinions, different life-styes, physical differences etc, and asked the question “Does it matter?”. Under the flap, the answer was always some form of “No!”. My agent pitched the idea to HarperCollins, where an amazing editor took an interest. She shared the proposal (which included a PDF dummy with complete color sketches) in a meeting, and apparently the project sparked conversation. My agent relayed their feedback: A person’s ethnicity, color, and religion do matter—they shape each person’s worldview! The agent asked me to pivot and send a revision. After a month of thinking and hand-wringing, I rewrote (and redrew) the book. The question changed from “Does it matter?” to “Can they be friends?”. I was very happy with the change. Not only did it make more sense, but the answer under the flap was always some version of YES, adding to what I hope is a loving, joyful, positive message.
I must share with you that as an educator of young children, I’ve had many classes with diverse make-ups. The differences are more obvious some years but they are always there, whether it is based on skin colour or favourite foods, temperament or family composition or something else. This book will be valuable to teachers everywhere!
Tell us how you build yourself up in the face of rejection.
I was lucky enough to work as an art director for a small independent publisher for five years (during which I was also writing and illustrating), which gave me an insider’s look at how manuscripts are selected. I learned that there are a million reasons why an idea can be rejected that have nothing to do with the book proposal or the skill of the author. This experience helps me keep some emotional distance from the success or failure of my projects. I try to think of rejection as redirection. If my book doesn’t fit the list of Publisher A for whatever reason, great! I can cross that one off the list and move on to Publisher B. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit, like dating. I also think it’s tremendously important to always be searching for new ideas to develop, so that you’re always busy pitching more than one idea. Perpetual idea development is part of my lifestyle. The more ideas you put out there, the greater the odds that one will get picked up! If I’m feeling particularly discouraged about a rejection, I focus my attention on a new idea, which generally cheers me right up. I think it’s very important to stay positive. If you’re feeling down about a particular rejection, focus on whatever makes you happy. Later, when you’re feeling more removed from the rejected project, you can look at it with fresh eyes and see if it needs some tinkering before sending it off to the next publisher on your list.
Picking up on your comment of looking at it with fresh eyes, I’ve been using that in my querying strategy. When I receive a rejection, I make sure I review it before sending out the next query. I do think it helps to do that at a time when you’re feeling less disappointed about the rejection.
What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
I hope that parents and children who read Let’s Be Friends will learn not to fear people or avoid people who are different to them, but will instead embrace and celebrate diversity. My hope for all of my books is that the children who interact with them will feel loved & accepted.
I think this could become a well-loved book in may preschool/kindergarten classrooms well and a great way of celebrating diversity!
Readers, thank you for stopping by Kid Lit Village this week!
Did you know, I’ve written a couple of books too?
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