Welcome, parents, librarians, book fanatics, writers, and readers of all sorts! Did you know today is Grandparent's Day? You're in luck as we have the spectacular writer, poet, and grandmother, Shutta Crum, on the blog today sharing her and Ruth McNally Barshaw's two new books to celebrate the occasion. Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven imagines a Heaven just for grandparents, where they can play hockey or paddle canoes, have iguanas or ferrets for pets, and keep an eye on their grandchildren. Her books send a positive message that Heaven is a happy place and, most importantly, love never dies. Want to know more about Shutta, her heartwarming new books, PLUS want a chance to win your own copies? Read on...
Can you share a little about yourself and how you got started in your writing career?
A: Thanks for inviting me to network with your audience at SeasonOfKidLit! Sure, I can talk a little about how I got started. As with most writers, I started at an early age and with a love of reading and words. I wrote my first poems in about 5th grade. I still remember the subject of one—it was about coming down a staircase while something dark was waiting at the bottom. A Halloween poem, I think. Anyway, I got my master’s degree in library science and was a librarian for 24+ years, specializing in administration and children’s literature for most of that time. Every day I went to work surrounded by so many amazing stories. Of course, I wanted a book of mine on those shelves one day. And one day, they were! It is still exciting to go into a library and see a book I’ve written sitting there waiting for a child to pick it up. It never gets old.
Q: Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven imagines a Heaven just for Grandmas and Grandpas. How fun! What inspired you to write these books? Can you share more about each of them?
A: The inspiration for these two books came via a couple of things—as inspiration often does. I find it can be the confluence of several things that swirl around in one’s mind until there’s a kind of sense made out of the whirlpool. One night, while snuggling with my 4-year-old granddaughter, she asked me “Are you going to die?” I had no idea where this came from as I was not a particularly elderly grandparent, and I wasn’t ill. No one in our family had recently died. I simply told her, “Not for a very long, long time.” She was satisfied with that. But it made me think about the worries even young children can have.
Also, at about that time, I was doing a program at an inner-city elementary school in Detroit, Michigan. In the middle of my presentation a kindergartener on the floor in the front row looked up at me and said (apropos of nothing we’d been discussing), “You’re going to die someday.”
I caught my breath and paused. Now, I had been escorted to this school as the school board did not want the authors driving themselves through the neighborhoods. The school was barricaded by an eight-foot chain link fence, and on the way I had counted six burnt houses on the surrounding blocks. A guard unlocked the gate so we could park. Another met us at the front.
As I knelt by this child I wondered, how many family members, or friends, had she lost? Was she afraid of liking me? Afraid that if she did, I might die, too?
I was honest with her. “Yes,” I said. “But I’m here today and we can be friends.” After the assembly, she didn’t want to leave my side. It felt like the universe was telling me I needed to write something that would console these young worriers. Even at a young age, they have questions about death and where their loved ones go after they leave. Don’t we all?
Q: Those are such sweet and moving stories - thanks for sharing those with us!
Getting two books published at the same time is quite impressive. Did you initially have both books written or did you sell one and the publisher requested another? We'd love to hear more about this process!
A: Of all of my books (15 picture books, 3 novels, and 2 vols. of poetry) the road to getting these two books into print was the bumpiest and the most pleasurable. First, let me say that both books were written before they started getting submitted. In fact, they were written about ten years ago! My granddaughter is now 15. My agent sent them out and we got nice comments, but a lot of rejections, even from the religious publishing houses. Why? Well, the subject is not one for classrooms, or story times, or holiday sales so they were felt to be non-commercial. And the religious publishers, I believe, felt they were not “Christian” enough. The books are non-religious, and multicultural. No mention of God, or Jesus. But, since four of the world’s major religions have some concept of an afterlife, pinning the books to one belief system was not a move I was willing to make. I wanted a child, raised in any of several beliefs, to be able to find a grandparent within the pages of these books. I never stopped believing that there was a need for this subject, as all children need reassurance that love never dies.
So, that said, it took a loooooong time. I ended up sending the manuscripts myself to several smaller publishers that my agent was not interested in. Blessedly, the books ended up at Lawley Publishing out of Arizona. What luck! They were wonderful to work with. And, best of all, I had input as to who should illustrate. Which leads us to the next question . . .
Q: The art is so much fun. Ruth McNally Barshaw did a wonderful job on these! Can you share some of your favorite spreads and tell us why?
A: For most of the years that these manuscripts were being rejected I had a clear vision of how the illustrations should look. I wanted dancy fun grandparents and no background landscapes. We are in Heaven. So, there needed to be lots of white background, a sense of floating, or being on clouds, etc. In my head I saw the wonderful and zany illustrations of Quentin Blake. I knew of one artist who could pull this off, that was my friend Ruth McNally Barshaw, a Michigan author/illustrator. I hesitated about asking her if she’d be interested, as such a small company could not offer a lot by way of advances. And it would be a lot of work. They wanted both books to come out together. So, she would be illustrating two books at the same time. Fortunately, Ruth and I are still buddies, though she went through a lot to meet her deadlines. And I adore the result. How could you not? Just look at those happy grandparents!
It's too difficult to choose one or two favorite illustrations. I love the opening spreads where both groups are dancing. And the spreads where the grandparents are looking down on all the grandchildren of the Earth. Also, the final spreads where the grandparents, the heavenly pets, and the little angels are sleeping. Each book parallels the other. So lovely! And so difficult to choose favorites. I just know that I am deeply indebted to Ruth. (Blissful sigh . . . )
Q: How do you market this book that fills an obvious gap, but doesn’t have a tried-and-true pathway to success? That seems like quite a challenge.
A: That’s a hard question to answer. Teachers aren’t going to buy it; counselors might. But there’s a lot less of them. Some broad-minded church libraries and congregations might. Hospice and grief organizations may be interested. In fact, I’ve donated to several parenting, hospice and grief groups already. I truly feel these books are only going to make it through a grassroots effort. People who need the subject need to write reviews—as many as they can on amazon, Good Reads, Barnes & Noble, their local church newsletters, etc. They need to recommend the books to friends and families that have grieving young ones. And interviews like this will help get the word out. So, all of you out there who may pick up a copy of one, or both, please leave a review somewhere online or locally with organizations to which you belong. Every little bit helps us to reassure children.
Wonderfully said, Shutta! Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing these sweet titles with us. It was SUCH a pleasure having you.
Q: Would you like to leave a treat for our readers?
A: Yes! I’ll send electronic arcs of both books to two people who respond that they’d like to participate. After reading the arcs they must leave a review online somewhere. Once the reviews are online, I’ll mail out autographed paperback copies. How you choose the participant winners is up to you. But they’ll have to notify me that the reviews are up by sending links to me, and their postal addresses so I can mail out the packages
Thanks for such a sweet treat!
Contest Details: Readers, we'd LOVE to spread the word about Shutta's two new books as much as possible so we're trying something a little different. To be eligible to win the prize simply like and share this post on social media and use the HT #SeasonsOfKidLit. Want 5 bonus entries into her drawing? Comment below and let her know why you can't WAIT to read her books!
The winners will be chosen on or about September 24th.
*Note: Hardcopy books will be shipped in the US only*
About Shutta Crum:
Hi! I’m a children’s author and so much more. I’m also a college lecturer, a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a retired librarian, an educator, a Kentuckian and a Michigander, as well as someone who is intoxicated by color and 3-d doodling. (I make quilts, do mosaics, and glue together strange things I find, when I’m not writing.) Most of all, I’m a storyteller.
Storytelling was in my family’s blood long before I came into being. I was born in Kentucky. And it was fortunate for me that I happened to be born in the mountains where telling “whoppers” and listening to tall tales long into the night is part of the Appalachian heritage. In those dark and scrawny hollers (narrow valleys) I’d cling to my father’s tall legs and stare wide-eyed as I listened to the hair-raising tales my relatives told. We are all big talkers in our family. “Yeaaah, buddy!” (This phrase is Kentuckian for “That’s the truth!”) So don’t ya doubt it, Kentucky has rightfully claimed a huge hunk of my heart.
Ours was an oral tradition, not bookish. Books were scarce in our home, and therefore highly prized. The tiny library in the elementary school by our house became a second home. That was after my father moved to Michigan to work in the auto factories. Therefore, Michigan gets to lay claim to a piece of my heart as well—for it was there that I went to school, learned to read, played “school” and “library” and then grew up to become a teacher and a librarian.emory made. She hopes her books bring joy, healing, and kindness to her readers.
For more about Shutta, check out the below links:
To purchase Shutta's books on Amazon, or to leave a review for them, click here.