By Thushanthi Ponweera
Today we’re pleased to welcome Christina Soontornvat and Rahele Jomepour Bell to the WNDB blog to discuss their picture book To Change A Planet, out August 2, 2022!
Through spare, direct, and hopeful text, award-winning author and science educator, Christina Soontornvat illuminates the seemingly small and insignificant things from carbon molecules that become pollutants to one degree on the thermometer to one person’s actions that when multiplied, can have damaging ripple effects, and endanger the lives of all creatures on earth. Fortunately, the choices we make have an impact, and they too can change a planet.
This story is both a beautiful reminder and a powerful plea. How hopeful are you that the next generation will do better by our planet?
Christina: Very hopeful. We see it already in the action taken all around the globe by youth activists who are calling on adults to do better and be better. But while I’m inspired by them, I also don’t think it’s fair to hang our hope on them. After all, they are children. We adults have to do better for them, for all of us.
Rahele: The next generation’s childhood is very different from my own. Children now are learning about this very important subject of our planet being in need. They are lucky to have access to books like To Change a Planet. I am so very hopeful for our next generation. They are smart and talented. They, the children, are the hope for our planet.
If there was one message that you’d want every reader of this book to have, what would it be?
Rahele: Every child and every child’s voice matters to protect our only home; our planet.
Christina: As Rahele said, that one person can make a difference. It’s so easy to get discouraged and feel small because the world’s problems can feel so big. But as we have seen time and again, when it comes to making a change in the world, one person matters. One person can be the spark that starts the fire.
Rahele, as a WNDB mentee myself, I know how life-changing winning a mentorship can be. You have been a WNDB mentee as well as a SCBWI mentee. What are your thoughts on mentorships and the opportunities they present to marginalized creators?
When I learned about the WNDB mentorship program, the voice inside my head that is always fearful told me How could you be chosen from lots of applicants? Do not bother and do not apply. But as always, I told myself, no, I am going to apply for it, and it won’t hurt. So, I did, I got selected, and was super lucky to work with four of the best professionals in the publishing world. My dreams came true: I learned a lot, I found my path, I signed with my dream agent, and with the body of work I made during my mentorship, and with the help of my agent, I won SCBWI Portfolio award!
Take every opportunity to put your work in front of professional eyes. Don’t we call this country the land of opportunities? They are there, so go get ‘em. 🙂
Christina, I relate to being an only child with daydreams and books for company! Did you think that experience played a part in your eventual career as an author?
Oh yes, being an only child was a huge influence on me! As you know, we only children are in our heads a lot. I spent a lot of time being bored, haha. The result was that I became a daydreamer at an early age, which I think is an essential skill for an author.
What was your creative process like for this book?
Christina: I wrote my first draft of this book in one big rush of inspiration, on a day when I was hanging out with my kids outside. The main structure and the flow of the book has remained the same from the beginning, but I had to return many times to get the language just right. My editor, Tracy Mack, and I agonized over some of these word choices! Since there are so few overall, each one carried a lot of weight. My favorite part of the process has been seeing Rahele’s illustrations come in through the various stages, and each time gasping with surprise and awe at her talent!
Rahele: In the early stages, I made a small mockup of the book. I drew and painted directly on those tiny book pages, using small amounts of acrylic paint, sand papers, and oil pastels, I also went through my secret box and found some of the leftover painted papers I made years ago. I knew I would use them someday for an important project. So all the textures you see are the combination of old and new textures I hand painted. I wanted to keep the organic feeling of traditional paint. Then I scanned the little illustrations with a high-quality scanner in tiff format. And I used my digital brushes to paint another layer on top of my handmade illustrations using a digital pen.
During the creation of the pictures for this book, all I felt was hope. Christina’s words are so strong, I cried, I smiled with my heart, and on some pages, I was staring at the sky, and trees. Again, the feeling of being hopeful was so strong in me while making art for this book.
Biggest influences—people or experiences—in your work?
Rahele: I would love to mention here that usually while working on a book project, I exercise the visual part of my brain by looking at good art. For this book, it was the work of my favorite artist Květa Pacovská.
In this book you will see a little character wearing a green scarf. I created him inspired by The Little Prince: a messenger for all of us, coming from the past, living today, and being with the next generations in the future.
Christina: My family has been my biggest influence on my life in all ways. They made me who I am, and their stories were the first stories I remember hearing. In every book I write, I see them there.
What other books about climate change do you think every child should read?
Christina: How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear written by Jess French and illustrated by Angela Keoghan, and Greta and the Giants written by Zoe Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico are both wonderful picture books. We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Micheala Goade is essential reading for every human.
Rahele: Is This My Home? is my favorite one illustrated by South Korean illustrator Yeji Yun.
Christina Soontornvat began this book during a time when she was searching for hope. “As I wrote, I realized that the mechanism behind climate change many small things coming together to make a big impact also gives us a framework for how we can work together to help our planet. Hope is the first step in problem-solving, and I am hopeful we can change our future for the better.” She is the author of two Newbery Honor books A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen, which also won a Sibert Honor distinction. Christina is the author of Scholastic’s beloved fantasy series Diary of an Ice Princess, and the picture books The Ramble Shamble Children, The Blunders, and Simon at the Art Museum. Christina holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Science Education. She spent a decade working in the science museum field, where she designed programs and exhibits to get kids excited about science and STEM. Christina lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two young children, and one old cat. You can learn more about her work at soontornvat.com.
Rahele Jomepour Bell is the illustrator of the picture books Our Favorite Day of the Year, Playdate, and Book’s Big Adventure, and also contributed artwork to Scholastic Press’s nonfiction picture book anthology In the Spirit of the Dream. Rahele immigrated to the United States from Iran in 2011 to pursue her dream of studying art at Iowa State University, where she received her MFA in integrated visual arts. You can learn more about her work at RaheleStudio.com.
Thushanthi Ponweera is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books and a WNDB 2021 picture book mentee with author David LaRochelle. She was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she lives with her husband and two children. She grew up reading and falling in love with stories about children and places that were foreign to her. She believes that someday children from around the world will read and fall in love with stories about children in Sri Lanka. She hopes to write those stories. You can find her on Twitter @thushponweera and on Instagram @bythush.