Written by Tina Shepardson
Illustrated by Terry Sirrell
Clear Fork Publishing (2020)
Tina Shepardson is an award-winning teacher and debut picture book author of WALKOUT (2019) and CANINES UNLEASHED (2021), a chapter book, both with Clear Fork Publishing. She is a Debut Picture Book Study Group moderator, a CBA graduate and course assistant, and an active member of SCBWI and 12×12. Find her in Upstate New York with her family enjoying the latest snowstorm with her akitas.
Hi Tina, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk with you today! Tell us a bit about “Walkout,” your debut picture book.
Thank you very much for having me. Walkout shows democracy in action when the main character organizes a safe school’s anti-violence walkout. She invites her best friend Stella to join her, yet Stella is too scared initially. The walkout in their school is for older grades only and these two girls are in the younger grades.
What was your inspiration behind the story?
An article from The New York Times appeared one month following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. It featured thousands of students joining a nationwide protest against school violence with young children in many states wanting to exercise their civil rights. I have been through many tragic events over the years starting with Columbine and thought perhaps there was a way to help educate children on an issue that has continued to grow.
For those that may not know, what is a walkout and what is its purpose?
A walkout is the act of a group of people leaving a location such as a workplace or a school to show an expression of disapproval or protest. The purpose of a walkout is to demand legislators take action in response to a particular issue.
Stella and Maddie have different feelings about joining the march. How do the best friends handle differing opinions?
Yes, they do. Maddie and Stella learn from one another’s differing opinions by listening to each other, being open to each other’s point of view, and resisting the temptation to judge. They each allow the other to express themselves with respect.
School violence is sadly a reality in today’s world. What is the right age to start talking to children about school violence?
That is a great question. I don’t know that there is a definitive age, as it depends on the child, but I believe you have to figure out before you talk to a child what story you would like him or her to tell themselves. The younger the child, the simpler the story or message.
How should one go about this sensitive issue when talking to kids?
As parents and educators, I think first need listen to what kids are saying. What have they heard or seen? What are their feelings, questions? This helps us to gain a better insight and understanding to where they are coming from.
How does “Walkout” introduce children to the concept of Democracy?
The kids are introduced to Democracy when they can speak up in a peaceful manner together by creating signs and displaying them at a common time. They use their freedom of speech to be a voice of change.
What is the most important message you hope young readers take away from “Walkout?”
I hope readers gain the message that we are always stronger together. Even if we do not always agree with one another, we can still respect each other’s opinions, and stand up for what we believe in peacefully and respectfully.
How did you find your illustrator, Terry Sirrell?
Dr. Mira Reisberg of the Children’s Book Academy saw Terry’s artwork and felt his vibrant and animated style would be a wonderful match for the text and she was right! Mira was Walkout’s editor and she had an amazing eye for every detail.
What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?
Oh my gosh! This was my first time, first book, therefore every aspect of the process was brand new. Terry worked so hard, hours and hours! Each time he shared images of the characters or scenes I was so excited to see them all come to life. The story took on an entirely new meaning when I could put faces to the names.
What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
Keeping the language simple. I have taught English Language Arts to 5th and 6th grade students for over 30 years. The language is more complex so writing for ages 4-8 requires more thought.
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?
I really enjoy books that share some type of lesson in a way that is disguised within the story itself. I adored Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, and Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White growing up.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
I have used Christopher Paul Curtis’s novels with students for years. His books are rich with description and vivid language. His books take difficult situations in our history and cause readers to think about their actions, the actions of others, and how our history shapes us. He accomplishes all this with such compassion and humor.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
Family and food, speaking mainly of desserts of course. We really enjoy time at our camp, spending time outside with our college bound daughter and akitas. There is always some form of a yummy chocolate dessert in the day. Growing up in Central NY, you learn to enjoy the snow. We have so much fun with our dogs in snowy weather.
So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?
Yes, thank you for asking. CANINES UNLEASHED, a chapter book about a dog named Hank who adjusts to doggy daycare is my next project. It’s a really cute story releasing in 2021.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
The best advice came from a friend in my early 20s that applies to both life and writing. Everything you do is a process and to enjoy the process especially when it is difficult. There is no start and finish, you journey them one day at a time being open to change along the way. In my 20s, I understood it, but now in my 50s I am truly living it and being present about enjoying the process. As we all know, that isn’t always easy.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
I am definitely emerging myself, and think opening your mind to the wonderful writing community, resources, and supportive individuals is one step to helping you see what writing can be. Take your writing one step at a time. There is so much to learn and everyone goes at a pace that fits their lifestyle. We do not write alone, we have so much help from other authors, critique partners, courses, instructors, a real village if you will. Be there to help others as well. I have met so many lovely writers that have gone out of their way to help me, and I look forward to helping them as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Have fun! There are many times you feel overwhelmed, you aren’t sure which step to take next, you wish things would happen faster. Enjoy every one of these moments and keep growing!
Tina, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!