Six Questions with Andrea Denish
Andrea Denish is the author of The Way We Say Hello (Starry Forest Books, February 7, 2023) and Everyone Loves a Parade!* (Astra Young Readers, 2020). Andrea visits preschool classrooms as her alter-ego Jungle Annie to teach about nature and science. She also works as a library assistant at her township library, where she loves to be the first to crack open a new book, read it and recommend it to patrons - after dressing it with library stamps and stickers, of course! Andrea delights in leading story times and is always on the hunt for fantastic read-alouds. She lives in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Visit Andrea's website to learn more about her and her books.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
As a child, I was always writing creative stories. I loved parodies and would sometimes change words of popular songs and make up my own. I wrote puppet shows and created commercials and newspapers for fake products. When I started college, I majored in early childhood education and I had a goal of writing for children’s television. I took a different route and ended up teaching high school science, but after my children were born, I became immersed in kids TV shows and books - it reignited my love of creating stories. I quietly started writing for fun and then I joined a critique group and SCBWI. I learned more about the craft through books, conferences and webinars. I’ve become a huge fan of picture books for the way they use language and visual art to engage readers of all ages.
2. What are some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids?
When it comes to picture books, I love a great read-aloud. I work in a library, where I lead story times and I sift through hundreds of books looking for those that will entertain a crowd. For me that means language that draws the reader in to listen - a catchy refrain, rhyme, lyrical language or characters that have distinct voices that allow the reader to act out for the audience. Pacing and page turns need to sustain the momentum to keep kids focused. Finally, the illustrations need to be large enough to see at a distance. While the author has less control over this, illustrations can rule a book in or out when it comes to reading for a group.
3. What do you feel you’ve gained from being a part of the children’s writing community?
As I go about my day, I feel like my mind is always working in the background on my current writing piece or coming up with another idea. Writing keeps me going - I’m hardly ever bored! And while writing can be a very solitary activity, there is a whole community of kidlit writers who can relate to similar issues and share in the ups and downs of the process. The kidlit community is full of wonderful people and I am grateful for the availability of tools like social media and video conferencing that keep us connected.
4. Where did you get the idea for The Way We Say Hello? What was your inspiration?
The idea for this book came from reports given during the COVID lockdown that our greeting customs would need to change and we would no longer be shaking hands. I read lots of articles about alternatives like bumping elbows, bowing and nodding. I thought of writing a how-to book for kids to help them greet new friends. This morphed into finding the perfect greeting to meet a very special friend - a new sibling. The Way We Say Hello follows a young girl on her journey around the world to find the best way to greet her new baby brother or sister. Along the way she learns different cultural practices and greetings in different languages.
5. What was the most challenging thing you faced while researching and writing this book?
I had two big challenges with this book. First, choosing what to leave in and what to leave out was tough. Because it addresses international greeting customs and it's a big world out there, it couldn’t possibly include everything.
Second, this book is written in rhyming verse. I admit I had lots of struggles making the rhymes work to include some international phrases. Fortunately, the editor from Starry Forest has a background in languages and we worked together to smooth out some of the rough spots. I’m so proud of how the book turned out, but there were many, many, revisions of the text to make it sing.
6. Who should read this book?
What’s great about this book is that it can be enjoyed by different age groups again and again. For the youngest children, I hope they will enjoy the rhythm of the text and the opportunity to try out some new greetings and languages. For older readers there’s information in the back matter that imparts some bits of culture and history. The illustrations by BlueBean are beautiful and I hope readers find themselves somewhere in the pages. The Way We Say Hello makes a great gift for families with a new baby on the way.