I was so honored to be interviewed by Mack Keating for the Blue and Gold, the Malden High School newspaper, about the process behind the production of my debut picture book, How to Say Hello to a Worm, coming out Feb. 22, 2022:
“I was inspired to write this book by my experience leading the Early Birds’ Garden Club at the Malden Community Garden. I’m an environmental educator, and I invited families and small kids who wanted to learn to grow food to garden with me. As we gardened together, I noticed what questions children and their parents had, and how we found the answers together. I wrote this book to inspire more kids and their parents to get their hands dirty.”
She elaborated that, “in this picture book, toddlers and preschoolers share practical tips such as how to plant seeds, how to build a twig trellis, and how to know which strawberries are ready to pick and eat. They also offer sage advice on important topics such as how to navigate an encounter with a bee, and how to say hello to a ladybug. On a deeper level, the children model scientific inquiry: observing, asking questions and hands-on exploring the dirt to find their own answers.”
Read the rest here:
Behind the scenes, Percival has put a lot of work into this book, and it was not all downhill trekking. “My agent sent the proposal to several editors and they liked it but just held on to it for several months before finally saying no. Then she sent it out again and two new editors bid on it. Another six months went by before I received a contract to sign, and then another six months before the editors sent me feedback on the direction they wanted the book to go.” Once she started writing, though, it was mostly smooth sailing. Four to five months later, the book is fully written and illustrated.
Percival went into depth about the writing process, sharing that “my favorite part about this book is drawing all the different kids so engaged in hands-on nature investigation.” In terms of writing, “it was thinking about what questions small children have when they are gardening, and how to empower all kids to grow food, how excited very small kids are to plant seeds, water them, play in the dirt, and pick and taste the food they grew.”
Even though she has a lot of background knowledge in this subject, she did not choose it. “The funny thing is that my agent suggested I write this book. I was so close to the topic and this experience that I couldn’t see it and didn’t think of the idea myself, but once she suggested it, the words just tumbled out easily and playfully. They say write what you know and that is so true!… The book was based on my own experiences with something that matters to me, and the writing shows that.”
Percival’s vibrant writing earned her a spot in Publisher’s Weekly, much to her amazement and surprise. “In this deceptively simple, sparkling debut, a group of young children plant a garden in raised beds and watch it grow. Percival shows rather than tells, deploying a Q&A format that involves the children’s exclamations as well as conversational instructions based in noticing.” Publisher’s Weekly also enunciated how magical the book felt where they expressed how the “digitally manipulated silkscreen images retain their handmade feel, showing successive views of children with varying abilities and skin tones, whose expressions reveal their absorption from the first spread: ‘How do you plant lettuce seeds?’ Responding to the question via action, one child is shown sowing the seeds (‘Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle’), another covers them with soil (‘Pat, pat, pat’), and a third waters (‘Now make some rain!’). Through action, the children learn to touch the insects they encounter (‘gently, very gently’) and to judge a strawberry’s ripeness (‘This one? Not yet. Too green’). Without picturing a single adult, Percival conveys the joy children can feel in working together, being outdoors and eating food they’ve grown themselves—all with a fizzy immediacy.”
This is not the last of Percival’s creations, either. She explained that “my next book is called Safe Crossing. It’s being published by Chronicle Books in 2024. It’s a book about child citizen scientists who help frogs and salamanders find a safe way across the street during amphibian migration. I’d like to write more books about kids being empowered through science investigation and the joy of nature exploration. I’m also working on books about inspiring activists and scientists.”
For now, though, her book is available for pre-order at The Gallery @ 57 in Malden, and is being released on March 8th, 2022.