Star Bright Books had the privilege of speaking with Arizona-based writer Judi Moreillon about her life, her writing, and her newest book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!. In our interview she discusses her life as an academic and children’s book author, as well as her inspirations from her childhood and into her career. Here is a portion of our conversation.
Star Bright Books (SBB): What does your creative writing process look like?
Judi Moreillon (JM): Although I have a routine, my process can be described as messy. I write and edit professional books as well as write children’s books. I write every day.
Since I have just completed a professional book project that is in production, I now have more time for my creative writing. If I have just an hour or so to focus, I pick a children’s book work-in-progress to read aloud and revisit. Ending a story is one of my weaknesses. So, I often spend time writing alternative endings.
If I have new inspiration, I write very sloppy rough drafts. When I can truly dedicate two or more hours to writing, I pick up a historical fiction project I started years ago. I am currently reengaged in a focused research effort for that project.
SBB: How have your experiences teaching and working in library science impacted your own
storytelling and views on children’s literature?
JM: Before studying library science and becoming a school librarian and librarian educator, I
was a classroom teacher. When a principal asked me what I most enjoyed about teaching,
I responded that I loved sharing literature and stories and conducting research with
students. She told me I should be a school librarian.
During my library science master’s degree program, I had the opportunity to study
children’s and young adult literature and how fiction and informational books can be
used to deepen young people’s thinking and increase their knowledge of themselves and
our world. One professor who greatly influenced me had extensive knowledge of the
history of children’s literature and made connections to folklore and storytelling. You could say I was hooked!
SBB: Growing up, did someone in your life encourage you to read? Did someone encourage
you to write?
JM: My mother said I loved stories from the very start of life. My father was working and going to night school, and well, Momma just didn’t have much time to read to me.
Fortunately, I had same-age cousins who didn’t enjoy being read to so my uncle adopted me as his star listener. I believe he made a difference in my love of the written and spoken word as did my dad who told my siblings and me made-up stories at bedtime most nights.
I also credit my third-grade teacher, Miss Schwab, with setting me firmly on the path of
writing. Miss Schwab loved poetry. She read poems aloud to our class daily and every
Friday we composed our own heartfelt poems. From those writing experiences, I learned
I had an innate understanding of meter and rhyme, and to this day, I feel great satisfaction
when I write a poem that captures an authentic emotion, curious experience, or exciting idea.
SBB: According to your website, you have written many poems that will “never be published.”
Why is that?
JM: Most publishers are reluctant to publish poetry collections. They say poetry doesn’t sell. To my way of thinking, it’s a great day to celebrate when a poetry collection or a book written in rhyme earns a prestigious children’s literature award. Sadly, those days are few and far between.
SBB: How do you use different sides of your writer’s brain, so to speak, to write both educational texts and books for children?
JM: For the past few years, the research-based educational texts side of my brain has dominated the more imaginative side. I am on the cusp of “retiring” the serious side and look forward to the resurgence of the playful side. My grandchildren—now eighteen months and three years of age—are powerful motivators for lightening and loosening my writing.
Even as young as they are, they have given me enough story starters to last for many
years of writing and submitting manuscripts for consideration.
SBB: What inspired you to write Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! ?
JM: Make Way for Books (MWFB), a Tucson-area nonprofit that offers early childhood literacy programs and services, hosted a writing contest. I had never written a work-for-hire or even entered a writing contest. I elected to write a story for children who do not like to be hugged. At the time, I was learning about young children with autism who preferred not to be touched and the idea of giving consent for the ways one wants to be touched was gaining more attention. For me, the story forthrightly addresses both the needs of touch-sensitive children and children’s rights to body autonomy.
SBB: What do you hope Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! will convey to adults and caregivers?
JM: I believe that the first-person point of view in Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is essential in telling this story. The book makes it clear that children have agency with regard to their own bodies. They can say “no” to peers and adults alike; they can state how others should respect their boundaries. Understanding and practicing consent from an early age can increase how touch between children and between children and adults is understood in families, schools, and communities.
SBB: How do you think Estelle Corke’s illustrations help bring this book to life?
JM: As a picture book author who does not draw, I feel especially fortunate when an illustrator enhances my story. I appreciate that Estelle Corke’s child-friendly illustrations show three different children demonstrating autonomy while engaging in a wide variety of intergenerational social situations. The children and adults depicted are from various racial and ethnic groups and one character is assisted by a therapy dog. Estelle’s art shows each child’s discomfort when receiving a bear hug and their comfort in receiving greetings in other ways. Books published by Star Bright Books are sensitive to showing diversity in books that increase young children’s understanding that difference among people is both normal and positive. Estelle Corke’s artwork furthers Star Bright’s “concerted effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in our books.”
SBB: How did you come up with the many alternative ways of showing a child love and affection that are mentioned in the book?
JM: As an educator, parent, and now grandparent, I have practiced all of the ways to show caring that are demonstrated in the book. All children deserve to receive (and ultimately give) kind greetings and meaningful acknowledgements.
It seems winks, waves, and smiles have always been go-to communication tools for
educators and family members. In addition to acknowledging auditory or speech differences, including the ASL sign for “hi” is also important. Some children may not want a soft pat on the back or a cootchie-coo under the chin, but it’s likely most will enjoy an air kiss. Our grandchildren like to sign-off our video chats by blowing us kisses. (The three-year-old is working hard to master winking!)
SBB: Should we keep an eye out for more Judi Moreillon children’s stories in the future?