Where We Come From: The Rare Cover Reveal AND 4-Way Interview!
Okay. We’ve graduated from mere cover reveals and single person interviews to the next level. Friends, Romans, and countrymen, are you ready . . . . for a four-way interview!??!
What’s that you say? It cannot be done? Nonsense! Behold! As I wrangle four collaborators into a single, solitary interview. But here’s the catch. The book we’ll be discussing? It’s not an anthology. Not a novel. Not a nonfiction work or a poetry collection or any of that.
It’s a picture book.
Meet Diane Wilson (a Dakota author who most recently published the novel The Seed Keeper for adults), Sun Yung Shin (a Korean American poet who also published a picture book with Lee and Low a while back), Shannon Gibney (a Black author whose most recent YA novel was Dream Country), and John Coy (who has Irish and Scottish heritage and certainly knows a thing or two about picture books). Together with illustrator Dion MBD, this team has written Where We Come From, published by Carolrhoda Books (an imprint of Lerner) and hitting bookstore and library shelves October 4th.
An encapsulation? Don’t mind if I do:
“I come from the breath of plants.
I come from green mountains.
I come from stories from two continents.
I come from ocean crossings.
We all come from something. Together, four authors lyrically explore the elements that shape who they are. Weaving together their individual stories, they explore place, ancestors, movement, struggle, determination, and hope.
Powerful poetic text and richly layered illustrations bring together past and present, creating an accessible and visually striking look at family, history, and identity.”
Naturally, there is much more to learn:
Betsy Bird: Thank you, one and all, for joining me here today? I don’t even really know where to start! This is my first group interview on the blog. Let’s begin at the beginning then. Can you give me a sense of how this project came to be? In terms of contributors, were you self-selecting or did someone else make that decision?
John Coy: Early on I was discussing this story with editor Carol Hinz, and we realized that it called out for multiple voices. So I approached three writers who I knew had thought a lot about this topic and whose work for children and adults I admire. I am grateful that they all said yes to this unique collaboration.
Shannon Gibney: After meeting with John and learning more about the project—including the fact that Sun Yung and Diane were on board—I was excited to really dig into how four voices from four distinct racial and cultural backgrounds might explore the issue of ancestry and origins in a picture book for children. It has been such a gift to work on this project with such amazing collaborators (longtime friends and colleagues) who bring so much to the page and to our relationships.
BB: I can’t imagine the logistics required to coordinate a writing project between four authors and one illustrator. How did you organize yourselves? Since the individual sections have to match one another, did you get to see what other folks were writing along the way?
Shannon Gibney: Yes, it was quite the pandemic adventure! We all met together in person once and then completed the bulk of our discussions about the approach and content of the book individually and over everyone’s favorite platform, Zoom. The shared sections at the beginning and end were the hardest to nail down, because four people writing a 1,000-word story—who does that?! I went to the mat to keep the bacteria in: Bacteria Forever!
But seriously, it was messy and difficult and fun and hilarious and such a powerful process.
John Coy: Yes, we worked on a shared document so we could see one another’s text and we had wide-ranging discussions about possible directions to go. For the first few months, we focused on our individual sections. Later, we combined the text and worked together on the opening and closing sections. We all agreed that it was so helpful in the early stages of the pandemic to have a project we were working on together and to be able to check in with each other weekly.
BB: The question “Where are you from?” is mentioned in the book as being “hurtful, even when no harm is intended.” Picture books, locked as they are in simple storytelling, have always had a bit of difficulty grappling with this question. To your mind, how does Where We Come From provide an answer?
Sun Yung Shin: I’ve never seen any picture books grapple with this particular question in this particular way [does anybody know of any?]. I don’t think it’s that picture books have had difficulty grappling with this question. It’s that the white-dominated publishing industry in the U.S. has performed centuries of gatekeeping and whitewashing to largely avoid confronting very real issues of imperialism, white supremacy, genocide, settler colonialism, assimilationism, enslavement and racial apartheid, xenophobia, and erasure—from the perspective of those most affected.
Diane Wilson: One of the strengths of this book is the way four very different personal stories have been woven together within the historical context specific to each community. The book telescopes between ancient history and individual family details, creating a sense that we are all unique and yet interconnected, tracing our shared ancestry all the way back to the stars. This is an Indigenous way of looking at the world, that we are related to all other beings. And through that relationship, we also carry a responsibility to take care of one another.
BB: How would you like to see this book used by adults and kids?
John Coy: Like any good picture book, we hope Where We Come From will provide an opportunity for children and adults to sit down and read together. Of course, we’d love it if it sparks questions, conversations, and additional stories.
Sun Yung Shin: I, in particular, am hoping that readers from fostered, adopted, mixed-race, and mixed-ancestry families will see themselves in this book in various ways and will know that their lives are just as valuable, even if they don’t know as much about their backgrounds as some others with more privilege and more records do. Not all children have access to caring, attentive, culture-bearing adults who can tell them stories about their childhoods or their ancestors. Not all children in the U.S. have parents who read English or have the wherewithal to access and read books to their children, so I hope that this is a book that a wide range of caregivers embrace and share.
BB: I was admiring the sources you list in the Further Reading and Selected Biography section of the backmatter. How did you decide what books and sources to include there? What was the process for selection?
John Coy: Each of us selected books that were important to us in this process and then we split them into Further Reading for young people and Selected Bibliography for adults who’d like to read more.
BB: Let’s talk a bit about the art by Dion MBD. Getting this art as accurate as possible must have been a challenge. Was there any feedback between artist and authors as the book progressed or were there other ways of maintaining accuracy along the way?
John Coy: Dion MBD, Dionisius Mehaga Bangun Djayasaputra, has been incredible to work with. Getting feedback on art from one author can be a lot, but this time, he had four. As authors, we weren’t in direct contact with Dion, but working together with editor Carol Hinz, art director Danielle Carnito, and designer Viet Chu, we had multiple, detailed discussions about people, places, and clothing. We each sent reference photos and notes to help Dion depict everything as accurately and authentically as possible, and his openness to questions and suggestions has resulted in art that we all love.
BB: Finally, what are you all working on next?
Shannon Gibney: I think all of us feel lucky to be very busy right now. Next up for me is Botched: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption, which Dutton releases early next year. Then, I’ve got my first solo picture book, Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight, coming out with University of Minnesota Press in Spring 2023. I’m rounding out the year with the first anthology of YA short stories by adoptees for adoptees, which I’m co-editing with Nicole Chung. That is slated for fall 2023 publication with HarperTeen.
John Coy: Since I live in Minnesota, I have plenty of time to think about the cold. I’m working on a picture book about what to do when it’s very cold called So Cold! Chris Park, a talented young artist, is creating some great illustrations for it. I’m also collaborating with my friend Ty Chapman on a picture book about the greatest basketball player most hoops fans have never heard of and his remarkable story. We’re lucky to be working with Carol Hinz on it and we’re excited to see who the illustrator will be.
Diane Wilson: I’m working on a memoir about applying Indigenous practices to healing the 10 acres where I live; a follow-up novel to The Seed Keeper that continues the story of several of the characters; and dreaming of a puppet show about crazy dogs I have known and loved. Somewhere in the mix is a picture book about seeds.
Sun Yung Shin: My fourth collection of poetry comes out in June 2022 with Coffee House Press, and I’m working on a YA novel about Korean adoption and cloning tentatively titled The Children of Electricity, a fifth poetry manuscript titled The Armory, a picture book I’m cowriting with Mélina Mangal on Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs, and a memoir tentatively titled Extinction, a middle grade-level illustrated history of Korean adoption with Sarah Park Dahlen and Kimberly McKee, and a number of community-based projects.
I thank Sun Yung, Diane, John, and Shannon for taking the time to answer all my questions today. And now, before your very eyes, the cover:
Where We Come From is on sale, as I said, October 4th. Thanks too to Carol Hinz and the folks at Lerner Publishing for sharing this title with us today.
Filed under: Cover Reveal, Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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