Six Questions with Aimee Isaac
Aimee Isaac started writing when she was eight years old. Her debut was actually a play where she, her brother, and her cousins were the stars. Since then, she has been a teacher, an advocate, a parent, and now an author. Aimee writes picture books and poetry inspired by her love of nature as well as her rambunctious kids. Her debut picture book is The Planet We Call Home (Philomel, 2023). When she isn’t writing, Aimee is volunteering, reading, hiking, or keeping up with her busy family. She lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with her husband and three children. Visit Aimee's website to learn more about her work.
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
I’ve always loved reading picture books! As a teacher, I relied on picture books to teach my students, and as a parent, I’ve loved reading them to my children. In 2014, at a conference for reading teachers, I attended sessions with Rosemary Wells and Kwame Alexander. It was the first time that I really thought about crafting my own picture books but I had this nagging belief that I wouldn’t be able to write one. But, Kwame talked a lot about the power of “yes” in that session and it stuck with me. After the conference, a friend asked if I would be interested in joining a local critique group, so I took a deep breath and said YES!
2. What are some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids?
That’s kind of tough because every child is so different. One key ingredient might be emotion, or heart. What does the book make them feel? Does it make them feel empowered? Seen? Empathetic? Understood? Entertained? Along a similar vein might be relatability. Can the child relate to the book or a character in some way? Or, are their eyes opened to someone else’s experience? Another ingredient might be the book’s nonfiction or informational value. Does it help them understand something about the world? And of course, the book should have an entertaining value that makes it beg to be read aloud or reread. Whether it’s humor, poetry, facts, musicality, etc, a great book will be read many times!
3. What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?
Write what you are passionate about. I know this has been said many times but I do think our most authentic writing comes from a topic or idea that we feel connected to. It’s tempting to “write to the market” but our passions (along with plenty of work on craft) will fuel a story that both the market and young readers want.
4. What was the process or timeline for The Planet We Call Home, from idea to publishing?
I had the idea during Storystorm (then PiBoIdMo) 2015 to write a cumulative picture book about trash traveling via water to the ocean. But, the first line wasn’t coming to me and the idea lacked heart. In 2019, I reread a letter that my father had written to my daughter about the importance of caring for the Earth that “provides for our basic needs” and I thought, “the planet we call home!” After that, the first draft kind of wrote itself. That same year, I met my editor at a conference and in the summer of 2020, after a few revisions, she made an offer. It was published three years later.
5. How do you divide your time between research and writing?
I do my best creative writing in the morning. If I’m reading a book for research, I’ll also read in the morning, but if I’m doing any other type of research, that’s an afternoon task for me. I do most of my research before beginning the story, especially if I’m not sure yet what my hooks or threads will be. I lean toward informational fiction and prefer to know where my story is going before I start writing. I need to feel the heart and the voice first. Once my research is nearly complete, I organize my notes in a notebook or Scrivener. Then, it’s morning writing, and afternoon research and revision until I have a draft. I love the process!
6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
I think the biggest takeaway is that our planet is interconnected. Maybe a child really loves sea turtles but feels like she can’t do much for this animal because she lives too far away from the ocean. When many of us look outside our window, or our community, we have a body of water nearby. Where does that water flow? What actions, good or bad, might be occurring to help or hurt that waterway? Would those actions affect the ocean? Or, another habitat? Or even, our drinking water supply or food system? Kids have the power to care for the planet and learn about it, on a small scale, that can have a huge impact!