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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares, NELL PLANTS A TREE

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.


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."


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