Before her grandchildren climbed the towering tree, explored its secret nests, raced to its sturdy trunk, read in its cool shade, or made pies with its pecans… Nell buried a seed. And just as Nell’s tree grows and thrives with her love and care, so do generations of her close-knit family.
Pick by Carter Higgins, A Story is to Share:
NELL PLANTS A TREE
Written by Anne Wynter and illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (January 31, 2023)
Anne and Daniel! Thank you both for stopping by. Anne, can you tell me the origin story behind Nell Plants a Tree? AW: "I was trying to write a book about a grandmother and how her actions improved the life of her grandchild. I knew the heart of the idea was good, but the story wasn’t working at all. One day I got an email from my husband’s aunt, encouraging us to plant more trees in our communities. And that’s when it clicked that I should make it about a tree and how Nell’s planting of the tree impacted future generations. When I was a kid, it seemed like all my family members and family friends had pecan trees in their yards - so that was the natural choice for the kind of tree at the center of the book."
An interior spread from Nell Plants a Tree:
Amazing! Some of the best stories seem like they just come to you, don't they? (Or perhaps some of the best writers are just more attuned to ideas as they present themselves.) Daniel, what was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you in? DM: "The first time I read Anne’s manuscript I was really smitten by the parallel journeys that she had so elegantly woven into the story. There’s Nell as a young girl bringing this tree up through love and wonder so that the future generations of her family could delight in it just as she did. Then there was also the growth of her family mirroring the growth of the tree as if they shared the same roots. To me this seemed like a very challenging visual statement to make, but an enormously meaningful one. Also, my Grandmother had pecan trees lining her yard. Growing up we’d go spend every Sunday afternoon there. When the pecans started dropping, we had to go out and pick them up. This story instantly brought back all of those sweet Sunday afternoon memories. It was a no brainer. I had to go for it!"
A process shot from Daniel Miyares's studio during the making of Nell Plants A Tree:
The parallel journeys are indeed so elegantly woven. But I can see how they would present enormous challenges. Daniel, how did you approach the artwork? DM: "For this book I ended up making it with gouache paints, ink drawing and collage elements on paper. Most of the time when I’m working on a new book I try to explore and experiment my way into the final art."
Daniel, what was your starting point and / or inspirations? DM: "When I began thinking about how to approach the artwork I wanted to consider the idea of a family's history and the love of one generation continuing to radiate onto the next. At first I played with different inks and brushes. It seemed like a way to get the emotion I wanted into the characters and settings, but I kept thinking about this quilt that my Grandmother had made and given to me when I left home for college. It was made of all these fabric scraps she had collected over the years. It was stunning, but she gave it to me under the condition that I would take it and use it. She didn’t want it in a cabinet or hope chest somewhere. She wanted me to be taken care of by it. I used it all through college and into my years here in Kansas City. It’s all tattered and torn now, as I think she intended it to be. This quilt was a tangible reminder of her care for her family that lives on beyond just that moment - kind of like Nell’s pecan tree. I liked that connection so I started painting and drawing shapes and then cutting them out and collaging them into my illustrations. In some cases like the end papers it directly suggests a quilt, but having the cloths of the characters overlapping one another as paper shapes felt right. As if through discovery and play the children were creating their own tapestry."
Endpapers from Nell Plants a Tree:
Daniel, I absolutely love how Anne's words kept you thinking about the blanket your grandmother gave you. And I love how you still have the blanket. Daniel, I know your grandmother had pecan trees around her own house. Do we see her house and surrounding pecan trees in the book? DM: "You don’t see her house, because it was a small brick house that my Grandfather built long ago and the porch wasn’t that big. I wanted to have a good sized porch in the book, big enough to hold the whole family. Porches are great hang out spots on a hot summer afternoon. You do though definitely see a pecan tree that I remembered from growing up. We used to play around them and pull on the branches all the time."
An interior spread from Nell Plants a Tree:
Anne, what do you think Daniel brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn't there? AW: "Too much to name! To start, when I wrote the manuscript I was worried the two timelines might be confusing. But thankfully Daniel created a visual language that brings so much clarity to the story. His illustrations have a sense of timelessness and a bit of nostalgia - it’s magical. Also his color palette is just perfect for this story. One detail I absolutely love is that Nell’s dress is yellow. Yellow is my favorite color!"
For those who love Nell Plants a Tree, can you recommend another title that you think they might also enjoy? AW: "When Grandma Gives you a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha is another wonderful title about a grandmother, the process of caring for a tree, and the gifts a tree can provide."
DM: "I like What Do You See When You Look at a Tree? by Emma Carlisle. It talks about how we can be connected with nature and what is special about trees. That seems like a good pairing with Nell."
What are some other picture books that you love that celebrate family? AW: "A Grandma’s Magic by Charlotte Offsay and Ȧsa Gilland definitely comes to mind. My kids once read it to their grandma and it made her cry (tears of joy!) I Really Want to See You, Grandma by Taro Gomi is one of my favorites - so fun and unexpected. And of course, The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey is a modern classic about family generations."
DM: "A more recent one that I love is My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin and Lindsey Yankey, and one way back from my childhood book collection is Little Bear’s Visit by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak."
What forthcoming picture books are you most looking forward to getting your hands on?
AW: "I’m super excited about Joanna Ho and Faith Pray’s upcoming picture book, One Day, which looks stunning. I’m a fan of everything Jessixa Bagley does, so I can’t wait for her upcoming book, Maurice. And of course I’m ready to get my hands on Once Upon a Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner. I could keep going but I’ll stop there!"
DM: "I’m looking forward to reading Sometimes It’s Nice to be Alone by Amy Hest and Philip Stead, Hands by Torrey Maldonado, and Big Tree by Brian Selznick."
What did you love reading to your kids at age three? At age five? AW: "At age 3, Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, Blue on Blue by Dianne White and Beth Krommes, and My Red Balloon by Kazuaki Yamada were definite favorites. At age 5, Whoosh! By Chris Barton and Don Tate, Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, and I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James were all winners. Another great thing about all these books is that they’re special at such a wide range of ages. They’re all still favorites in our home."
What did you love reading to your kids at age 3? At age 5? DM: "My children are now 14 and 11 years old. For my daughter her all time favorite was Antoinette Portis’s Not A Box. We’d read it every night before bed for years. She also loved Chloe, instead by Micah Player. For my son it was a book illustrated by my friend Bob Kolar and written by Margery Cuyler called The Little Dump Truck. They also both loved Paola Opal’s books, Saffy, Ollie, and Totty when they were real young. Oh, and also anything by Sian Tucker. We had The Little Boat, Going Out, and The Little Train."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? AW: "What a question! That’s so hard! To avoid hand-wringing, brow-furrowing and page flipping, I’m going to pick one that definitely makes the list for me. A Big Moon Cake for Little Star by Grace Lin. Magical, breathtaking, satisfying, perfect. We never get tired of that book."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? DM: "Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats would be one I’d put on my 100 best list."
In 2018, Ryan Billingsley started DadSuggests.com to share the children’s books and board games beloved by his family. In late 2022—and some 300+ posts later—Dad Suggests has transformed into a one-of-a-kind children’s bookstore in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The three-month-old shop, situated inside The Shops at BrickCity in the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center, is a family affair. Ryan and his wife order the backlist titles that have been long-treasured favorites, their 10-year-old son spearheads the graphic novel collection, and everyone has a part in handwriting notes and recommendations that they place next to favorite titles. Low, easy-to-reach shelves—many of which display outward-facing books and boardgames—a cozy reading nook with pillows, a teepee, and plenty of story times keep the vibe warm and inviting.
1404 N. College Ave.
Far Back Right Corner
Fayetteville, AR, 72703
Hi Ryan! Plenty of indie bookshops have closed and morphed into websites, so I certainly applaud that you’re going the other route. Can you tell me about the titles you carry? RB: “We have about 1,000 different books in the store right now. The vast majority of those are picture books, but we have a nice quality selection of graphic novels that my son helps with, and some of our all-time-favorite chapter book read-alouds as well. And we also carry a very big, curated selection of our favorite family board games. The split between books and games is close to 75% books and 25% games.”
You make it a point to pay special attention to backlist titles. What are your all-time favorites? “Sometimes people come into the store knowing they want to buy a book for a child, but they have no idea where to start. It's a lot of fun to help them hunt one down, and it's much easier if they're able to point me in a particular direction (Spooky? Funny? Fantasy?), but sometimes they legitimately just want to know what my favorite picture book is. And there are about 4 answers for me. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is my favorite picture book of all time, and if someone wants to know that I will certainly tell them.
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If they mention they are a teacher, I ALWAYS point out All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys.
Buy All the Ways to Be Smart from Dad Suggests on Bookshop
I also very frequently recommend I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen and This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad (especially now that both are board books!)."
Buy I Want My Hat Back and This is Sadie from Dad Suggests on Bookshop
What are your top five books from 2022? "We just released the 5th Annual Dad Suggests Picture Book Awards, featuring our top 10 picture books of 2022, and I'd be more than happy to share my top 5 with you."
5. My Self, Your Self by Esmé Shapiro
"This is a beautiful and very quirky book that simply makes me happy. It also seems to teach great lessons about friendship and loving yourself as well."
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4. Mina by Matthew Forsythe
"I'm a big fan of Matthew Forsythe's art, and this was a very worthy follow up to the all-time great Pokko and the Drum. Hilarious and very attractive."
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3. Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers
"The Fan Brothers are another example of artists we keep a close eye on. This story about a girl who raises a cloud and has to let him go is surprisingly emotional."
Buy Lizzy and the Cloud from Dad Suggests on Bookshop
2. Ways to Make Friends by Jairo Buitrago and Mariana Ruiz Johnson
"This one is a surprise smash hit. We've actually had trouble getting it in stock in our store because they need to print more. It's spectacular. It's hilarious and quirky and genius."
Buy Way to Make Friends from Dad Suggests on Bookshop
1. The Queen in the Cave by Juliá Sardá
"This picture book is haunting and moving, and the art is whimsical and full of imagination. It's a story about 3 sisters growing up and growing apart—but on the surface it's spooky and full of endless creativity."
Kylie is nervous about visiting her grandmother—her Amah—who lives SO FAR AWAY. When she and Mama finally go to Taipei, Kylie is shy with Amah. Even though they have spent time together in video chats, those aren't the same as real life. And in Taiwan, Kylie is at first uncomfortable with the less-familiar language, customs, culture, and food.
Pick by Andrea Wang, Watercress and Carrie Finison, Hurry Little Tortoise, Time for School!:
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books (January 25, 2022)
Hi Margaret! First off, I have to say I’m blown away by your mirror structure! It’s hard enough to write a book—and now here you are making everything 1,000 times more difficult for yourself. Can you explain your process, and how you chose it? MCG: "In my opinion, writing in mirror structure is like writing in rhyme in one particular way--the story must drive the structure vs. the other way around. So importantly, I first defined what I wanted my story to be about, a loose plot, and the crucial midpoint moment.
Then, I wrote one sentence at a time by hand starting at the beginning (and end lol). I scribbled all over a notepad. This really was trial and error. I would change the words, I would change where the sentences were broken into lines, and I would read from top to bottom and bottom to top to see whether the narrative made sense.
To reduce the intimidation factor, it helped to break the story into scenes and tackle each scene individually.
I built the story one sentence at a time until I had a complete story. Even though I knew I was writing both halves of the story at the same time, it still felt surprising when I got to the midpoint and was able to read my story the whole way through for a complete story. I still remember the feeling of being amazed that it worked!"
Amazing! I'm so impressed. Have you seen the mirror structure in other picture books? Which ones do you most admire? "I've seen the mirror structure or some form of modified mirror structure in these fantastic books:
Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias and Teagan White is about two sisters with opposite personalities enjoying wintertime activities in a true mirror structure book where the words themselves reverse at the mid-point.
Mirror Mirror, Echo Echo, and Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer and Josée Masse are themed compilations of reverso poems, a form created by Marilyn Singer. A reverso poem is one that can be read from top to bottom and in reverse with different narratives. The only change between regular read and reverse read is punctuation.
I'll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca and Sara Palacios is a story about an Indian American girl whose grandmother makes her feel at home during visit to India and how she returns the favor when her grandmother comes to visit her in America. Rajani uses a looser version of the mirror structure, so each visit is specifically Indian or American.
Are there other picture books you admire for their unconventional structure?
The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt and Jay Fleck tells dual parallel narratives of how a diamond is formed and how H. Tracy Hall became the inventor of a machine that makes diamonds.
The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of by Kirsten Williams Larson and Katherine Roy is another biography and tells the parallel narratives of how Cecilia Payne's curiosity and career develop with how a star is born.
The classic Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw highlights dual point-of-views and shows how two boys who live on opposite sides of the world, both culturally and physically, can be the best friends."
For those who love Amah Faraway, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy?
"I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne and Julia Kuo is a touching picture book about a girl who immigrates from Taiwan to America, leaving behind her beloved Popo. It's a picture book about being far away from the ones you love and what happens to that bond after the family immigrates."
What are some forthcoming books you’re most excited about? "This is Not My Home by Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh: Most immigration picture books are about children moving to America. But this one is about a child immigrating from America to Taiwan and how while she repeatedly insists that Taiwan is not her home in the beginning, she eventually decides to give it a chance and becomes comfortable with her new home.
Others that look terrific:
Maybe a Whale by Kirsten Pendreigh and Crystal Smith
The Fire of Stars by Kirsten Williams Larson and Katherine Roy
Dear Mr. G by Christine Evans and Gracey Zhang
The Boo Crew Needs You by Vicky Fang and Saoirse Lou
Wombats Are Pretty Weird by Abi Cushman
I Am An American by Darshana Khiani and Laura Freeman
I must also mention my own forthcoming books: Hooked on Books illustrated by Kristyna Litten coming out June 27, 2023 and How This Book Got Red illustrated by Melissa Iwai coming out October 1, 2023."
Who are some other writers you admire, with titles?
"Dane Liu: Friends Are Friends, Forever illustrated by Lynn Scurfield has a beautiful lyrical and sensory writing voice that makes you feel like you are there.
Pat Z. Miller: Most recently In Our Garden illustrated by Melissa Crowton and See You Someday Soon illustrated by Suzy Lee. All of Pat's books are so well-written whether they rhyme or not. I have been wowed by every one of her books.
Carrie Finison: Don't Hug Doug illustrated by Daniel Wiseman took a very didactic topic of consent and made it feel lighthearted and humorous while slyly teaching the reader."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and illustrated by Cátia Chien