Welcome to Picture Book Builders, author Sarah Nelson. And welcome to the world of readers,
Today is publication day for Sarah’s new picture book, illustrated by Ellen Rooney. I love celebrating book birthdays and am so happy that Picture Book Builders gets to toot the party horn today!🎉
Congratulations, Sarah, on your beautiful book and thank you for being here today. A PARK CONNECTS US is lyrically written. You mention all the ways that a park is used, needed, and appreciated. At the back you discuss in your author’s note that parks were not always an essential part of our communities and landscapes, reiterating the importance of green spaces in our environment. The illustrations are brimming with color and inclusivity. It’s absolutely stunning!
Jennifer~ I’m assuming that parks must be important to you. Can you tell us where the idea came from and why you wrote this book?
Sarah~ Thank you for this warm welcome, Jennifer! Yes, I love our parks. I spend lots of time meandering the trails of my favorite parks, saying hello to neighbors, reveling in the wonders of each season, breathing in fresh perspective… and sometimes even spotting new story ideas!
Some book ideas strike like lightning, but A PARK CONNECTS US was more like a slow glow. For several years before writing this book, while visiting my city’s parks, I often wondered, “How did these beautiful parks even happen?” I wanted to write something to celebrate how very lucky we are that parks did happen—that we have these shared, green places in which to frolic, fly kites, and connect with nature and community. I also wanted to investigate my genuine questions about city park history. Once I began that research, I was even more excited and inspired to create a picture book tribute to parks. They are some of our most democratic and inclusive institutions—places that belong to all of us and where we all belong… whoever we are.
Jennifer~ Your writing style is so captivating. I enjoyed your word choices and the fact that it would also sound fabulous read out loud. Do you read your manuscript out loud as you write? Could you tell us about your writing regime?
Sarah~ Oh, this is so nice to hear. Thank you! Word choices and the sounds and rhythms of language are some of my favorite things about writing picture books. While I’m revising and fine tuning a manuscript, I read my lines and paragraphs aloud many times—sometimes hundreds of times (just ask my husband!). Since picture books are meant to be said, not silently read, I love trying to make my words a joy to say and to hear. I aim for what I call “musical read-aloud-ability.” I’m also a verb enthusiast. I love how the perfect verb can convey so much.
I don’t write every single day—I’m a part-time writer, part time teacher—but when I’m working on a project, I’m at least thinking about it every single day, dashing off quick notes, mulling over problems, reimagining scenes or sentences, or reading… some projects require lots of reading. And when I’m able—I write or revise in longer blocks of uninterrupted time when I can really immerse myself and focus deeply.
Jennifer~ What kind of research did you do for your book?
Sarah~ A PARK CONNECTS US was one of these projects that required a lot of reading and research. The main text of the book is light and lyrical, but the back matter shares city park history. Before writing, I read books, watched documentaries, and listened to some great TED Talks. I usually like to see and understand the big picture before settling on which smaller pieces of the picture will be intriguing and important for children. In this case, I learned lots about the urban parks movement of the late 1800s, and especially about iconic landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed hundreds of our most beloved city parks and championed a vision for parks, and for cities designed around parks, which benefits us still today. Quite serendipitously, this year is the Olmsted Bicentennial. You can read A PARK CONNECTS US and then join park celebrations in dozens of cities across the U.S. this spring. How fabulous!
Jennifer~ As someone who illustrates for authors, I always like to know if there was a particular image that surprised you in the book.
Sarah~ What a wonderful question. I wouldn’t say that anything surprised me when I first saw Ellen Rooney’s sketches, but a great many things delighted me. Ellen’s illustrations, as you can see, are stunning—so colorful, playful, and apt. I love how the words and art work together in our book. I love how Ellen and the fabulous team at Owlkids Books embraced and built upon my vision for an inclusive park filled with diverse people and blooming, zooming plants and wildlife. Turning the pages of A PARK CONNECTS US is like going on a joyous excursion through a glorious city park with friends, family, and neighbors. Amazing!
Jennifer~ Any last things you’d like readers to know about the genesis of this story?
Sarah~ Thanks so much for asking, Jennifer. As you know, it takes a while to make a picture book… I primarily researched and wrote this book four years ago, in 2018. Back then, it felt very timely. It felt like I was not only writing a love letter to city parks, but also a love letter to America… and to a more hopeful chapter of our story that is important to remember, celebrate, protect, and carry on. In 2022, the message of A PARK CONNECTS US feels even more timely and important. After all the heartbreak and separation of the last several years, we need kind, peaceful places to be together—places where everyone can gather, meander, and play.
I hope that little and big readers will feel the welcoming spirit of A PARK CONNECTS US on each and every page and be pulled outdoors to explore and enjoy community and nature in our shared parks.
Share this post to facebook or twitter and post a comment below for a chance to win a copy of A PARK CONNECTS US! Sarah will pick a winner and I will announce them on my next blogpost, April 16.
Thanks for visiting and celebrating with us!