HOPE IS A HOP, interview with creators Katrina Moore and Melissa Iwai! + a GIVEAWAY!

As you all know by now, I’m a sucker for books with rhyme and lyrical language, great use of metaphor, and sweet, beautifully illustrated stories with a subtle message. HOPE IS A HOP by Katrina Moore, illustrated by Melissa Iwai, is all that (and a bag of chips! Hmm, think I may have dated myself right there. Lol). 

I’m so thrilled to welcome BOTH the author of this gorgeous book, Katrina Moore, AND the illustrator, Melissa Iwai, to Picture Book Builders!

First, my Interview with Katrina…

RGL: Katrina, in this book you masterfully weave together several different storylines as well as multiple themes — the comfort found in family, our ability to move through disappointment, welcoming and finding beauty and hope in the unexpected, and accepting change. Did this story come to you with all the story lines and layers already planted (pun intended) in your head or did they come to you gradually as you worked on the story over time?

KM: In short…yes, I had all the layers planted in my head. But I’ll give you the long version, too. This book, and it’s many story lines, sprouted from the deepest part of my heart, into what I needed to see, and feel, and fully experience at the moment. It was the summer of 2020, deep into the isolating time of the global pandemic, and on top of that, there were many devastating and out of my control things happening in my family. It was a really dark time, and I needed to find a way to spring out of it, and into the light. I was looking for magic. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl, is, 

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

So that’s what I did during this dark time. I ventured out into the world (aka our backyard!) for sunshine, for fresh air, for something unexpected. And what a surprise we found! A nest of baby bunnies was burrowed in our backyard. How unlikely and joyous! I immediately felt lighter. Lilted. Less heavy, and more . . . hopeful. Immediately, I wrote a poem about the experience of finding the “BABY BUNNIES.”  The beginning of that poem reads

“BABY BUNNIES

By Katrina Moore, 7/22/20

Today’s blessing was

baby bunnies

in our backyard

that we discovered

when the dogs

barked

and sniffed 

something new…”

That was when the prominent story line was planted. I wanted to write about a child growing a garden—literally in an attempt to sprout hope (and flowers) for her family, and a bothersome bunny that gets in her way, until she’s able to see her problem through a perspective that’s unexpected and joyous. As I wove the words together, I began to feel the beat and rhythm that would root this story. It would literally begin with HOPE, and that would be the through line – carrying us from page to page, encompassing all the ways she and her family may need and find hope through trying times. I did want to weave a lot into it, from the hope of a family attempting to grow (and the challenges along the way), to a girl growing a garden and planting her wish for her family into the “deserted and dry” dirt, hoping to sprout something magical. Not being the illustrator, but having a vision for how the narrative would play out to accompany the spare and poetic verse, I wrote out art notes throughout. It turned out there was too much that I was imagining visually, and the narrative storyline needed simplifying—but the essence of what I hoped to plant in this story remained, and turned out more beautiful than I could have imagined through Melissa bringing her own vision and gorgeous artistry to our story.

RGL: In addition to the perfect rhyme, your use of lyrical language is so beautiful. One of my favorite lines is “Hope is a whisper you say to your heart./It’s a hoe and a hole and a heap in your heart.” Love all the alliteration in those lines. In terms of how you craft your stories, do the words come to you first and drive the story or do you solidify the story first and then add in the gorgeous language?  

KM: Thank you, Rebecca! This really depends from story to story. I do find that I’m always playing around with words. I’ve been a poet since I learned how to write, always scribbling words together that sound soothing, or silly, or surprising. I’ll puzzle around with words that I like—ones that are linked in ways that may not seem immediately obvious, until they piece together perfectly, and it feels like they were meant to be joined together exactly in that way. If there’s enough there, and a visual narrative forms, I know I’m onto something, and I’ll turn it into a story. For HOPE IS A HOP, I had the story line first, inspired by the backyard bunnies that hopped into our lives, and it was through connecting how hope had hopped into our lives, that I was able to create more vivid and surprising metaphors for hope, while sticking to the themes of the storyline.

RGL: It’s been exactly a year since this book was published (happy 1-year book birthday!). Now that I assume you’ve had experience sharing this story with many readers, what has been the most surprising or unexpected reaction or comment you’ve received about the book? 

KM: Wow! You’re right! Happy one year book birthday to HOPE IS A HOP! Since this book hopped into the world, it’s been heartwarming to hear from readers about how this is “a book they needed”. I think one of the most magical parts of picture books, as you already tapped into above, is the many layers they include, and how readers can experience connection with the story on so many different levels. I’ve learned that many a reader has a backyard bunny that is a pest! It’s also been fun to hear how this book has inspired many young readers to grow their own garden, which I love. One of my favorite responses to the story is when I hear from families who recognize themselves through the characters, because it’s a mixed race family, or because they are/have gone through a similar struggle to grow a family, and to give that kind of representation and feeling of truly being seen to those readers is one of my greatest joys, and purpose, of creating books.

RGL: I’m sure you’ve done a lot of interviews over the last year. What is one question no one has yet to ask you about the making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂    

What a fun question! One thing that I always get asked by kids when I share this book at school visits, but that I haven’t been asked in a formal interview, but love to answer, is What happened to the bunnies?! The real backyard bunnies grew and grew thanks to their mama coming back each night to feed them, and then after hopping all over our yard (and treating themselves to my garden snacks!), they did eventually hop away, and into the wild. Here’s the rest of the poem I shared above that tells how the real bunny tale unfolded:

“After I realized

they were, in fact, not rats,

and recovered from

my own screech,

to discover four

baby beating hearts

eight little bunny ears

and bellies that were

pink and full,

and a nest that needed fixing,

and called wildlife rescue and rehabilitation,

we became

“Animal Savers,”

as P said.

She cheered when

we learned the best thing to do

was let them be

in our backyard,

their home, for now.

B said,

“We’re going to take care of you

forever.”

More like a week.

Not that it matters,

because these baby bunnies

printed themselves

into my children’s hearts,

who named them

Squeaky (for the one who squeals),

Sleepy, La La, and Dee Dee.

Squeaky, Sleepy, La La, and Dee Dee.

Our backyard bunnies,

who we’ll watch grow,

until they hop away,

and print their paws

into the heart

of the wild.”

-Katrina Moore, “Baby Bunnies”, 2020

Thank you, Katrina for sharing so much of your heart with us!

BUT WAIT, DEAR READERS, THERE’S MORE!!!!

Now, here’s my interview with illustrator, Melissa Iwai!

RGL: What was it about the text for this story that made you want to say “yes!” to illustrating it?

MI: I just loved Katrina’s fresh take on welcoming a sibling into a family and weaving it with a story of resilience and growth. Also, I was excited to paint bunnies! 

RGL: It seems like Katrina left you a lot of room for interpretation of her text and for you to tell so much of the story in your art. For instance, in the spreads “Hope is a hum and a song and a pat” and “When everything’s tussled and turned upside down,” it is your art, more so than the text, that shows us what is happening in the story. How much of these scenes were guided by illustration notes and how much came from your own interpretation? 

MI: I was incredibly fortunate to work with a fantastic creative team at Dial (editor Ellen Cormier, and Art Director Cerise Steel) who gave me so much freedom during the development of the illustrations. For the opening scene with the family on the veranda (“Hope is a hum and a song and a pat”) I wanted to set the stage and show where Eva’s garden was in relation to the house, as this becomes important later in the story. I did a lot of research on architecture, home décor and landscape design to create Eva’s family’s cozy environment.

For the section where Eva discovers her trampled garden and her despair, I followed the brief illustration notes provided, because the storyline is not necessarily obvious from the text alone. But I was free to interpret the pacing – when to use spot illustrations, single-, and double-page spreads. 

RGL: Your color palette is BREATHTAKING! I want to literally crawl into this book and breathe in all the gentle sweetness of this story. How did you decide on this color palette specifically, and what is your process more generally in terms of choosing colors for the books you illustrate? 

MI: Thank you! I put a lot of thought into the color palette before painting. I knew I wanted the flowers to be very vibrant at the end. I also wanted the colors to feel warm and inviting. Since I regularly paint florals in watercolor outside of children’s book illustration (I license my work), I had an idea of the colors I like to use for the flowers. I then added in a range of neutrals and blues that would work with more saturated colors. Once I determined what the palette would be, I stuck to it throughout the book so that everything would stay cohesive. 

RGL: Same last question as what I asked Katrina: what is one question no one has yet to ask you about the making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂    

MI: Does the baby have a name? Yes! When I was illustrating him, I gave him the name, Malcolm. I don’t know if Katrina had a name in mind. I work with many layers in Photoshop, and I labeled all the layers for him “Baby Malcolm”.  I just felt like he couldn’t be nameless! 

RGL: I love that so much. Thank you for sharing, Melissa!

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Katrina has very generously offered to give away a copy of HOPE IS A HOP to one Picture Book Reader (US-only). Comment below to enter! The winner will be announced in my next blog post (April 23rd!)

AND the WINNER from last month’s VIVIAN KIRKFIELD GIVEAWAY (a 30 min AMA with Vivian!) is…

***JULIA LYON!!!!!***

Congrats Julia! Please email me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch with Vivian for your prize!

Katrina’s Bio:

Katrina Moore is an author and former elementary educator. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and taught for thirteen years in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. She writes in Georgia, where her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She is the author of the picture books, HOPE IS A HOPSOMETIMES LOVEONE HUG, GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan, and its companion, GRUMPY NEW YEAR  (Little Bee Books, Dec, 2022), and the forthcoming CHANG’E ON THE MOON, illustrated by Cornelia Li (HarperCollins/Tegen, Fall 2024), and THE STAR IN YOU (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, Fall 2024). She is also the author of the humorous TEENY HOUDINI chapter book series, illustrated by Zoe Si, starring the magic-loving, mayhem-making Bessie Lee in TEENY HOUDINI: THE DISAPPEARING ACT, TEENY HOUDINI: THE SUPER SECRET VALENTINE, and TEENY HOUDINI: THE GIANT PANDA PLAN. When she is not writing, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, adventuring, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.

Melissa’s Bio: Melissa Iwai is an award-winning author/illustrator of over thirty picture books, including Soup Day, Pizza Day, Dumplings for Lili, which was a Crystal Kite Award winner and Bank Street Best Book. Her I Can Read Series, Gigi and Ojiji, was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection, and Gigi and Ojiji was a Theodor Geisel Honor recipient in 2023. When she is not creating, she can be found cooking and doing crossword puzzles with her husband, author Denis Markell, in Brooklyn. 

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW, and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure, with six additional rhyming picture books forthcoming, including LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic, 2024), WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW! (Capstone, 2025), I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2025), and FINDING FORGIVENESS: A Rosh Hashanah Story (FSG/Macmillan, 2025). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in Summit, New Jersey with her family. Find out more about Rebecca and sign up for her monthly newsletter where she answers subscriber questions and shares tips learned throughout her writing journey at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.

29 Comments:

  1. Love this hope-filled story & the backstory. I look forward to reading it soon.

  2. What fun to hear both author and illustrator! And what a lovely gift of hope for us all.

  3. Love all of this, especially a peek into process.

  4. Stefanie Raszler

    This looks like such a lovely book and will be an enjoyable read for sure!

  5. I just reserved it at my local library and can’t wait to read it! What a beautiful, joyous book. Congrats to Katrina and Melissa!

  6. What a perfect pick for a springtime read – thank you!

  7. I’m eager to read this book because I am a sucker for rhyming picture books, and the illustrations are adorable!

  8. Absolutely precious! Congratulations, Katrina and Melissa!

  9. Great interview and I can’t believe I have not yet read this book. I am ordering it from the library now!

  10. The color palette and simple rhymes, make me want to dive into the story~Now!

  11. I love this book! Thanks for the interview duet.

  12. danielle hammelef

    Thank you for the interview! This book is gorgeous and I love all the layers to this story. I can’t wait to read and study this book as mentor text.

  13. Lovely…just lovely! I always get backyard bunnies, too.

  14. Beautiful cover for this time of the year!

  15. It’s always fun to get both the artist’s and author’s perspectives on a book. Love this one. Thanks, Rebecca, and a huge congrats to Katrina and Melissa.

  16. Awe, this looks like a wonderful read!

  17. What a beautiful book! This is added to my wishlist for my classroom and my own kid!

  18. Beautiful book & poetic lines! Looking forward to reading this. Congrats!

  19. This looks like a great book for my classroom library.

  20. Rebecca, Katrina and Melissa, thank you for a wonderful interview and the story behind the story. What a beautiful book! We also had an episode of bunnies in the backyard, but it didn’t turn out well, so I’m looking forward to reading yours.

  21. Beautiful words. Beautiful illustrations.
    Just absolutely love the lines:
    “Hope is a whisper you say to your heart.
    It’s a hoe and a hole and a heap in your cart.

  22. I can’t wait to read and share this book with my students! We’re learning about illustrations and these illustrations are some of the best I have ever seen!

  23. Adriana Gutierrez

    Awww! What a lovely book!

  24. Susan Johnston Taylor

    Katrina and Melissa, congrats on your latest book! Looking forward to reading it.

  25. So fun…thank you for sharing!

  26. Loved reading about the writing and illustrating of this book.

  27. Thanks so much for featuring Hope Is A Hop, Rebecca! Your questions are awesome. I loved reading about Katrina’s journey– I had not known about the poem! ❤️❤️

  28. I love the language in this story and the layering of ideas gives me chill!

  29. Can’t wait to read this to really see how all the concepts and storylines come together!

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