Called a "born storyteller" by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold is a picture book author of twenty-four books, with over one million books sold. Her books have garnered honors like Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Her Lights Out, about light pollution, has been praised by the Dark Sky and children’s lit communities and was a finalist for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text. Marsha is on this week's SIX QUESTIONS blog talking about her two 2023 picture book releases. Visit Marsha’s website to learn more about her books and school visits.
1) How did you begin your journey as an author?
I’ve always loved reading and books. We didn’t have much money when I was a child, but my grandmother always could come up with a quarter for a Little Golden Book. I studied English Literature in college, which provided an excellent foundation for writing, but I never thought about writing myself until I had children of my own. That’s when I started writing my Homegrown Treasures column. It was very popular and won three awards for Best Local Columnist from the California Newspaper Association. That encouraged me. I went on to work on my true love - picture books.
2) What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?
Please do not write because you want to see your name in print. Please do write if you want to inspire and encourage children, if you want to hear them laugh with delight, if you want to spend your life working to become better at your art and craft. Have fun!
3) When you’re not writing, what are your favorite things to do?
I love spending time with my grandchildren. Last week, my husband and I took our seven-year-old grandson to The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. We enjoyed drawing in Dali’s style and exploring his drawings and paintings. I also love gardening, taking my dog for golf cart rides, traveling, and scuba diving!
4) What was the process or timeline for Armando’s Island, from idea to publishing?
The timeline was a very long one! I wrote the manuscript for Armando’s Island around 2001. My editor at Penguin loved it but felt it was too adult. In 2011, when I got my wonderful agent, she wanted to submit it again. No takers. In 2019, we tried once more. I'd added back matter, but hadn’t changed the manuscript. This time, we received two contract offers! I chose Creative Editions. They are a wonderful independent publisher that creates beautiful books. My Creative Company editor did want me to add more time to Armando’s childhood at the beginning of the book. I added three stanzas, then waited for Anne Yvonne Gilbert's spectacular illustrations.
5) Where did you get the idea for One Small Thing? What was your inspiration?
I often have a story idea tumble around at the back of my mind for months or years! The actual beginning of One Small Thing was 2017. That was the year of Hurricane Irma here in Florida. It was also the year of the Tubbs wildfire in Sonoma County where my family had lived for 35 years. Then 2019 came with the Australian wildfires and my concern over the wildlife and koalas there. I applauded the firefighters and rescue dogs traveling from around the world to help. The 2019 fires were my impetus. Finally, the tumbling stopped and I began to write.
6) If you read Armando’s Island and One Small Thing to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
What a wonderful question, Mary. All of your questions are wonderful. Thank you for having me on your Six Questions Blog.
For One Small Thing, I want the children to understand that they can each do one small thing to help someone in need or someone who is sad. It might be a hug or sharing a toy or a cup of tea…or carton of chocolate milk. One of my reviewers noted that One Small Thing is a quiet book; it isn’t about robots or superheroes. But, she wrote, a quiet book like One Small Thing in the hands of a “storymagician” can transform lives. She knows of no greater superpower than that. I want children to understand that kindness and empathy can be superpowers.
Armando’s Island is an ode to conservation heroes and a love song to the rainforest. I would hope for children to feel closer to wildlife and nature after hearing the book and to understand that they can each make their own “island” for wildlife around their homes, no matter where they live.