About the Author: “Aimée Bissonette’s picture books are inspired by her love of nature and history. She writes fiction and nonfiction and knows how fortunate she is to collaborate with amazing illustrators on behalf of young readers. Teachers, librarians, and adults who read to small children are among her favorite people. Aimée splits her time between Minneapolis and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, both beautiful, natural places” (Bio provided by author).
Find Aimée Bissonette on the following platforms:
About the Illustrator: “I am an author/illustrator in Portland, Oregon. I grew up in Southern California playing in the waves and dreaming up stories everywhere I went. I studied illustration at Cal State Fullerton before moving to Oregon, where I’ve learned to trade the waves for pine trees and rivers. I love to travel, and whether I’m out on a hike, or people watching in a coffee shop, you will almost always find me with a sketchpad and pencil in hand” (Bio from the illustrator’s website).
Find Erin Hourigan on the following platforms:
Aimée Bissonette: Although I do not write exclusively for children, it is undoubtedly where I find joy. Story is such a wonderful way to connect with kids—to laugh and learn with them. And kids are much more capable of understanding issues and nuance than we give them credit for, so it’s challenging and rewarding to write for them. The other reason I love writing for kids is that I am paired, time and again, with amazing artists whose work not only contributes to my stories but elevates them to a whole new level. Picture books are a unique and collaborative art form, and I love the interplay of text and art.
AB: As many writers will tell you, the desire to write often starts at a very early age and usually as a result of reading captivating books. That’s true for me, too. I was always writing and drawing as a child. I had one particularly supportive teacher in fifth grade, who I think was probably a writer herself. She gave us writing prompts each day in class. I still have my writing notebook from that class, full of her comments and encouragement. Never underestimate the power of an adult’s feedback on a youngster.
AB: Children need nature. We all do, honestly, but because kids will be the future stewards of our world, we need them to understand, appreciate, and care for our natural spaces. Countless studies show how time in nature improves our focus, creativity, agility, and willingness to work with others. It improves our eyesight and lowers our blood pressure. Screen time has its place, but there is no substitute for getting outdoors.
AB: This is a terrific question—and one that I wrestle with continually as I write and rewrite stories. I want kids to learn from my books but not toil over them. It’s my job to make subjects interesting and accessible. When choosing a subject for a biography, for example, I work hard to unearth information about my subject’s own childhood to make him or her more relatable to young readers. I try to develop themes that will resonate with young readers so they can see similarities between their own lives and those of my subjects. I use rich language to create settings and scenes so readers feel they are right there in the story. The illustrator has a huge role in all of this, too. Beautiful (yet still accurate) illustrations are as instructive as my words and help young readers make better connections than if they were reading words alone.
AB: My favorite winter activity is snowshoeing. If you haven’t tried it, you should! It’s an inexpensive and easy activity for people of all ages, and it’s particularly fun if you like wildlife or bird watching. Because it’s such a good family activity, we made sure to show the family snowshoeing in When Winter Comes: Discovering Wildlife in Our Snowy Woods. That was our goal—showing multiple ways family members can get out together in cold weather, exercise, and laugh.
AB: The interesting thing about When Winter Comes: Discovering Wildlife in Our Snowy Woods is that I had it set in the Minnesota North Woods when I first wrote it. Little Bigfoot, the book’s publisher, is located in Seattle. The editor loved the book but wanted to portray winter in the Pacific Northwest, where Little Bigfoot is. So I researched the flora, fauna, and winter climate of that region at the library, on the Internet, and in conversation with friends who know the area well. I rewrote the text featuring animals you’d see in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. I had lived three years in Vancouver, Washington when I was growing up, so the region wasn’t completely foreign to me, but you’d be amazed at the differences between the Pacific Northwest and Minnesota.
AB: My favorite season is fall. I love sweatshirt weather, the changing leaves, and how busy animals and birds get as they prepare to migrate, hibernate, or ride out the cold. The companion book to When Winter Comes: Discovering Wildlife in Our Snowy Woods was just released in August. Its title is When Fall Comes: Connecting with Nature as the Days Grow Shorter. Like the other books in the series, it is illustrated by the incredible Erin Hourigan, a resident of the Pacific Northwest and a true nature girl.
AB: Writing is a solo activity, and that can be dreary. Thank goodness for my writer friends and writing workshops. If there is anyone who understands the challenge and disappointment of writing through rejection, it’s fellow writers. I encourage aspiring writers to go to conferences and events where they will meet other writers. Some writer friends will help by offering constructive critique, and they’ll help you improve; some will let you talk through the rough patches and then support and cheer you on as you revise and submit. I need both kinds of writer friends! I am an advocate of taking classes, too, no matter how much you think you know already. I try to take a class or workshop several times a year. I find it’s great to be exposed to different ways of approaching my work and to try my hand at different genres. Classes also help me recharge and expand my pool of story ideas.
AB: What kind words—thank you. And I love that you appreciate that picture books are not just for kids. They can and should be enjoyed by all ages. With regard to current work, Erin Hourigan and I are working our way through all of the seasons with Little Bigfoot. So far, we’ve got Winter, Summer, and Fall done. Books about nature will always be a favored topic for me, there is no question. I have other ideas I’m pursuing as well, though, including a nonfiction idea I’m researching that I hope might become my first work for middle grade readers. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer & Editor