Interview with Ava Penoyer


About the Author: “Ava Penoyer wrote Small Ears in a Big City as a college freshman at the University of Arizona as a final project for a course on hearing health in society. She felt inspired to portray a story to children about the importance of strong communication methods and why they should be appreciated. During her time as a student, she studied English and secondary education, and she has a deep passion for social justice, sustainability, and leadership. She hopes that this story will empower young readers to appreciate the beauty of communication and cherish the moments away from the noisy world” (Bio from Small Ears in a Big City).

Find Ava Penoyer on the following platforms:

A huge thank you to Ava Penoyer for taking the time to interview with us at Pine Reads Review! Her picture book, Small Ears in a Big City, is out now from Crabtree Publishing Company!
Be sure to check out our review of Small Ears in a Big City here!

Ashley Amacher: When did your interest in literature begin? Did you ever envision yourself writing a book? 

Ava Penoyer: Starting from a young age, I always felt drawn to my English courses in school. Though I never understood algebra equations, I could write essays and read assigned texts quickly and with confidence. It was during my freshman year of college that I discovered the beauty of literature and literary analysis. I enjoyed the subjective views of my peers and was eager to understand varying perspectives. It had always been a dream of mine to turn my love for writing into a published book, but I definitely surprised myself by producing a piece of children’s literature! 

AA: As an English major, you did your fair share of reading and writing. Do you prefer reading or writing? Why?

AP: Such a difficult question! I would say that I prefer to read as reading makes me a better writer. Reading has provided me with both a creative outlet and also a space to learn how to best express my thoughts through writing. I love to write, but I gain a larger sense of purpose and education through the reading process.  

AA: In your bio, you mentioned that you developed this story as a project for a course on hearing health in society. What inspired you to make children the target audience for this project?

AP: As a college student, I wish I had developed so many skills as a child. Though, as humans, we have the ability to act as life-long learners, understanding inclusive communication methods as a child builds a positive foundation for social interactions. If my book can impress upon children the importance of developing these skills early, my job is complete! Plus, it felt so sweet to incorporate my imagination into the process by accessing children-inspired characters!

AA: You double majored in English and secondary education. How did your coursework influence the writing process?

AP: Double majoring at the University of Arizona during my undergraduate experience was one decision I never questioned. I was frequently inspired by those around me, both students and professors, and who I am as a human being was greatly influenced as a result of my coursework. A big part of my creative process is asking for feedback from those who support and inspire me, and I had a village in college to help push my ideas off the ground. The biggest influences from my college years include not just what I learned in my classes, but my social network and sense of connection. The people I met along the way have truly shaped my writing process, and they hold just as large a role as the actual concepts I studied in school.

AA: I am so impressed that you wrote and published this book while attending college. How did the publication process look for you? 

AP: I was extremely fortunate to have had my particular experience with the publication process. I wrote this book in my room amidst the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. We had been sent home from our ordinary life, and this allowed me plenty of time to explore how I wanted to express this story. I also had the opportunity to write this book as my final project for a general education course I took during my freshman year. Very little thought went into pressing submit on D2L, but my professor immediately expressed interest in pursuing its publication. I was unsure how to go about this, and quite skeptical that it was a good enough story to participate in the competitive publishing process, but I submitted a draft to Crabtree Publishing, and they took a chance on Small Ears in a Big City!

AA: I adored the illustrations by Csilla Kőszeghy. How did you end up collaborating with her on this book? Did you have the opportunity to communicate with her about your vision?

AP: Csilla truly brought my vision to life. Though we never had the pleasure of meeting, I submitted a page-by-page description to her explaining how I saw each phrase and where I would divide the pages. Because her work blends so seamlessly with the words on the page, it still surprises me that we created something so beautiful together while never meeting.

AA: I loved how your book dives into the complicated nature of communication. What do you hope that readers will take away from reading Small Ears in a Big City?

AP: I hope readers will be inspired to communicate more thoughtfully with those around them. It certainly isn’t rare for me to shout across the house and feel frustrated when someone doesn’t hear me. When we take a step back and understand how we can utilize productive communication methods, we have the opportunity to access the gift of speaking thoughtfully and listening intentionally. We take communication for granted, and my hope is that readers will understand how we should cherish this gift moving forward. 

AA: The activities toward the back of the book give young readers the chance to extend their time interacting with the book. How do you think the writing prompts might influence how readers understand the book?

AP: I truly love when children’s books offer an extended opportunity for learning and discovery. Seeing these prompts at the back of my own book was such a fun moment for me! I think these writing prompts in particular are important in assisting children to understand the importance of communication methods in their own lives. Reading about a concept on a page is so different from taking and applying the information, and I think delving into these prompts is a great outlet for young readers and learners to better conceptualize the main themes of this story.

AA: Have you considered writing another book in the future? If so, are there any specific concepts you are interested in exploring? If not, how might the book-writing experience influence your future in other ways?

AP: Though I don’t currently have anything in the works, it would warm my heart if I could participate in the writing process of another published piece. In the meantime, however, the book-writing experience stays so close to me. I fell into published authorship randomly and with a fair amount of luck. The book-writing experience is humbling and inspiring, and it brings me joy to know what I have accomplished and what I have the ability to accomplish in the future.

Ashley Amacher, Pine Reads Review Assistant Director & Lead Editor