Today I'm happy to welcome my friend Lindsay Bonilla to the blog to share about her new picture book, POLAR BEAR ISLAND, which will be released in October. Lindsay, thanks for stopping by!
WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT?
Polar Bear Island is about Parker, the mayor of a peaceful and predictable island that is just for polar bears. Parker is determined to keep others off his island. Then Kirby, an adventurous penguin arrives. Kirby is tired after her long journey so Parker agrees to let her stay on the island for one night; but once the other bears meet Kirby and learn about her unique invention, they don't want her to leave.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS STORY?
It was actually something that happened to my husband that inspired the story. My husband, Estith, is originally from Colombia, but we met in Spain. After we got engaged he moved here, but he didn't speak English. Still, as soon as his work permit came through, he started working as an electrician. He pushed himself to learn the language and because of his incredible skill was quickly promoted to running jobs.
One day he and a crew of electricians went to do a job at an industrial plant. When they arrived, Estith began to explain to the supervisor what they were going to do. After hearing my husband's accent, the supervisor ignored him and addressed the other members of the crew instead.
My husband felt disrespected and hurt. This wasn't the first time that someone had not wanted to engage in a conversation with him because of his accent. When he told me what happened, I was sad and angry. While I could appreciate the fact that it can be hard to understand someone with an accent; I also felt like all too often, some people aren't even willing to try.
My husband's experience got me thinking about all the forms of discrimination that he and our immigrant friends had experienced as well as the negative bias that so often surrounds immigrants in general. I wanted to tell a story that painted a positive picture of immigration and that was the seed for POLAR BEAR ISLAND. To this day I have no idea how penguins and polar bears became the vehicle for telling this story.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE IT WILL LEAVE YOUR READERS THINKING ABOUT?
I hope readers of POLAR BEAR ISLAND will be left thinking about the fact that we can learn a lot from those who are different than ourselves. People from different places or different backgrounds have a lot to teach us and can enrich our lives. Many times our fear or dislike of others is grounded in stereotypes that simply aren't true. I hope POLAR BEAR ISLAND will encourage people to look past stereotypes and biases and get to know people who are different on a personal level.
I also want readers to think about how they treat people who are different. Are they welcoming? Are they open to new ways of doing things? Open to learning from someone else? Or do they have the mindset that “my/our way is best” without ever experiencing another way of life? My mind has been opened considerably by traveling, living abroad and being married to someone from another country/culture. All of these experiences have taught me that oftentimes instead of there being right/wrong ways of doing things, there are simply different ways of doing things.I hope the book will cause readers to put themselves in the shoes, or in this case, the Flipper Slippers of another and ask, “How would I want to be treated if I were in that situation?”
Just as each of the penguins in the story has something to offer, I also want children to know that everyone has a unique gift to offer to the world.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PUBLISHING JOURNEY FOR THIS BOOK.
I started writing this story in 2015. I took it to my critique partner and also had a paid critique with Pam Calvert. Pam thought the book was very close to being ready for submission but that I needed to make some of the penguin's hobbies more kid-friendly. She was exactly right. I took her suggestions and revised accordingly. Then for some reason, I put the manuscript aside. I honestly don't know why. Then in 2016 I heard about the SCBWI Michigan Roundtable Retreat to be held in October. You had to submit a manuscript to be considered. I submitted a different manuscript and was notified I'd been accepted. But when it came time to decide what I wanted to actually work on at the conference during my roundtable session with editor Brett Duquette, for some reason, POLAR BEAR ISLAND, came back to my mind. I pulled it back out and took it to my critique group and my online critique partners to polish it up some more.
During my session with Brett, he gave me some amazing feedback that really seemed to unlock parts of the story. After the conference, I made another round of edits and sent it off to Brett a few weeks later. Brett called soon after to say he was taking it to his editorial team at Sterling. By Christmas it had passed both acquisitions and sales, and I had an offer.
To this day, I am beyond grateful for the SCBWI Michigan Roundtable Retreat. The funny thing is I initially debated whether or not I should go as it was an 8 hour drive, I was 4 months pregnant and had a toddler at home! But it turns out it was one of the best decisions I ever made!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING PICTURE BOOK AUTHORS?
Write because you love it, not just because you want to get published. During my first week as a theatre major at Northwestern University, the theatre faculty called all of us bright-eyed creative artists into a room and said, “If you can see yourself doing anything else, don't do this. Walk out this door right now.”
Certainly that was the last thing any of us were expecting to hear, and it was shocking and maybe even a bit disheartening. But as I've forged a career in the creative arts over the last 16 years or so, I've realized it was actually great advice that applies to writing too. Neither acting nor writing are easy paths -- so if you're not doing it because you LOVE it, because you can't imagine NOT doing it, you might not fair well with all of the ups and downs that are part of process.
If you LOVE it, you will want to stick with it. You will enjoy the growth, both personal and professional, that comes along with each draft you write – even if that manuscript never gets published.
Lindsay Bonilla is an author and professional storyteller. Visit her online at http://www.lindsaybonilla.com/.