Today I’m welcoming Sarah Lynne Reul to the blog. She is the creator of Allie All Along, one of my favorite books. (You can read all about it in my recent post on Feelings.) Her other picture book creations include The Breaking News, Pet the Pets: A Lift-the-Flap Book, and Farm the Farm: A Lift-the-Flap Book.
Welcome, Sarah! My children absolutely LOVE the imagery of Allie’s emotions and the way they change from hotter to cooler colors as she calms. They connect with Allie’s experience and have palpable empathy for her as she struggles to manage her feelings. As a parent, I love that the emotions peel away from Allie like unzipping footed pajamas. It reinforces the title’s concept that emotions do not define who are, which can be tough to remember during the frequent tantrum phases.
I’d love to know, how did your idea for this book develop?
I first got the idea for ALLIE ALL ALONG while doing my first Storystorm, a month-long challenge to generate 30 picture book ideas in 30 days, headed up by author Tara Lazar. I had recently read an article by Catherine Newman about “fighting better”, where she compared herself to set of nesting dolls – the outermost one sniping & defensive; the innermost one calm, honest and vulnerable. At the same time, my two girls were 2 and 6 years old, and we were smack in the middle of the younger one’s epic toddler tantrum stage. As I was jotting down ideas for new picture books, the concept of shaking off angry layers ended up on my list as a result of these things jostling together in my mind.
Why did you have a sibling talking Allie through the calming exercises instead of an adult?
When my youngest was in the throes of her worst tantrums, the attempts that I made to calm her often backfired, whipping up her feelings into more of a frenzy. However, when her sister spoke or made suggestions, the little one would listen, and it often started the process of moving back towards calm.
In writing the book, I liked the idea of having Allie’s older brother, Micah, attempt to help her out. It felt more like what I’d witnessed in our house, and it felt like it gave the children more agency of their own.
I would be delighted with myself if I could remember, in the moment, that tantrums can look like anger but are frequently rooted in sadness and vulnerability. You tackle this concept deftly and with compassion.
Thanks! You’ve described it in such a thoughtful way. I wish I could say I always remember, but I’m usually full of my own feelings too.
When we were at the toddler stage especially, it helped me to think about the fact that these tiny people are totally new to how the world works. They’ve just begun to communicate verbally, and they are learning about the balance what they have control over (very little) with what they can’t control (nearly everything). I’ve been around for way longer and I’m still in the process of coming to terms with that.
Do you think you were targeting parents or children with the book’s overall message?
While I was writing the book, I don’t think I was directly thinking about targeting either group in particular; I was just trying to put together a story that felt true to our experiences with big feelings. However, I wanted to make sure that the story was both accessible to kids, while offering a metaphor that adults could enjoy as well. My favorite stories are the kind that operate on a couple different levels.
How do you envision parents and educators best utilizing this book to help children understand and manage their feelings?
I think that books like ALLIE are are great to read during calm times, so that when our feelings get a bit out of our control, we have some context and some tools that we can fall back on.
You have done some illustration work for an ADHD Sibling Workbook and your picture book, The Breaking News, touches on managing anxiety and fear following exposure to devastating news events. It seems your work often focuses on conveying emotion and building the reader’s emotional intelligence. Does this topic hold special interest for you?
Since I’ve had my own children, figuring out how to deal with the mess of feelings that we all experience from day to day has been a major challenge, so I think it takes up a big part of my brain no matter what I’m doing. Also, emotion seems to drive a lot of the action, decision-making and character building my favorite stories, so I guess it makes sense that I keep circling back to it in my own work.
Aside from picture books, you are also an experienced artist in graphic design, animation and lettering. What led you to pursue picture books?
In 2011, I made the decision to go back to school to study 2D animation, which I loved – I wanted to learn about the magic of making drawings come to life. Upon getting my MFA degree, however, I realized that there wasn’t much of a market for the style of hand-drawn animation that I wanted to do, so I looked around for other industries where I might be able to use some of my newly-polished skills. I found the kidlit community to be incredibly welcoming and supportive, and I found a lot of parallels between creating short films and creating 32-page picture books.
Where do you foresee your work going from here?
One of my favorite things about creating picture books is that it gives me a reason to pay better attention to the world around me. I hope that I’ll be able to continue writing and illustrating stories that let me to observe and explore the world – stories that are serious, meaningful, silly, joyful – stories that provide a place to process, offer insight, uplift, brighten, lighten the load.
It’s my hope that my work helps make things better, in at least some small way – perhaps to build connection, hope, or empathy; to inspire curiosity and wonder, or to help kids and adults explore, process & understand their own worlds.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d love to share about a couple other books that we’ve really enjoyed recently, that helped us process and discuss complex feelings: THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld and THE REMEMBER BALLOONS by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte.
In addition, I have a couple new books coming out – this spring, FARM THE FARM (a lift-the-flap board book and companion to PET THE PETS), and in 2020, another yet-to- be-announced book from Sterling will be published. It’s a sillier book than ALLIE, and I’m currently working on the final art – it’s really exciting to because I’m combining techniques from some of my personal 100 day projects (#100daysofdrawingonphotos and #100daysofmakingtinythings) building tiny sets out of cardboard and drawing on the photographs. There’s been quite a bit of experimentation, but it’s fun to try something different!
Thanks so much again for this interview – I really appreciate all of your incredibly thoughtful questions!