Today, I have the honor and delight to introduce a fellow Matthews, North Carolina writer, Michelle Nott. Michelle is celebrating the publication of her debut picture book, Teddy, Let's Go (Enchanted Lion Books: December 2022). After the review, make sure you read my interviews with Michelle and Nahid Kazemi, the illustrator. It'll make you want to pass this sweet multi-generational book along to your child or grandchild.
I have reviewed hundreds of picture books, but I can't remember any that open with three wordless pages. These pages depict Teddy's "birth."
Here is one of the spreads:
Following these sewing scenes, the reader meets Teddy's creator. "The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear."
Teddy "floats" into his new home and is introduced to his owner. "This...is Teddy," the wavy-haired lady says.
A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek.
We were made for each other.
Teddy goes everywhere with the little girl. They eat mushy vegetables together and both need a bath. They celebrate their first birthday with cake and party hats. When she begins to talk, Teddy names her.
|She soon had a name for everything. "Here's my Rabbit and my Giraffe |
and my Teddy and my...my...my."
So I called her by her favorite word: My.
No matter what they did together, Teddy always listened for his name and knew what would come next, Teddy, let's go."
My grows up and...
|One summer, I climbed into My's backpack |
and we rode a bus to camp.
Teddy was often left behind in the cabin (which he guarded) and tried to figure out what he was supposed to do next. He watched and the screen door sprung open, and laughter blew in. (I had to include that line because I love it!)
Teddy and My return home after camp and Teddy hiked to the top of her dresser.
After their seventh birthday when "Teddy whispered happy dreams in her ear," he felt something different. Days and nights passed. He listened. Then one day, A small voice cried. My went still. I stretched out my arms and legs so My would know I was still there.
My scrubs Teddy and sews some loose stuffing back inside of him. Then she says, "Teddy, let's go!" She closes one door and opens another.
|"This," she said ,"is Teddy."|
I floated down to our first bed and to a new baby. This was our moment.
I listened...and whispered happy dreams in his ear.
I love so much about this sparsely written and beautifully illustrated picture book. I love how the author brings the story full circle in the same way that Bevan, A Well-Loved Bear did. I love Michelle's lyrical language, her use of repetition, and the threads that connect the grandmother to her granddaughter and then connect My to her baby brother. And as a daughter who learned to sew on my mother's Singer sewing machine and has made her share of stuffed animals and pillows with my own daughters and granddaughters... I love how My sews up Teddy just like her grandma.
As a special treat, you are going to hear how both Michelle and Nahid drew from their own childhood experiences to write and illustrate Teddy. AND you'll also hear how their vision for the wordless pages was exactly the same without ever consulting with one another.
Carol: What was the inspiration for Teddy, Let's Go!
Carol: What was your path to publication?
Michelle: As mentioned, the idea for this story occurred when my children were quite young. At first, I wrote it as a bedtime story for them. Once I discovered SCBWI and CBI, I revised and shaped it in hopes of publication. After querying it for a couple years, I often read that it was lovely but "too quiet." So, I put it away.
Fast forward to my daughters in high school, I queried Essie White with a middle grade novel who really liked my writing and asked if I also wrote picture books. I sent her three --two that were more commercial and Teddy Let's Go! She signed me for Teddy. A couple years later, she sold the manuscript to Enchanted Lion Books with Nahid Kazemi as the illustrator. I could not have been more thrilled!
In a very early draft, I had paragraphs describing the grandmother sewing and stitching Teddy together. All that description was lovely for an oral story at bedtime, but entirely too much for a book. Nor would it be necessary. I cut it all before submitting it to agents. I didn't even add an illustration note. And then, I saw the PDF of the final art by Nahid. She had brilliantly illustrated in the first wordless spreads just what I had imagined in my head.