By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Gracey Zhang to the WNDB blog to discuss her picture book Lala’s Words: A Story of Planting Kindness, out July 6, 2020!
From debut author-illustrator Gracey Zhang comes a timeless and timely picture book that celebrates the unassuming power of kind words.
Oh, there goes Lala! She carries a pot of water around the corner, down the block, and over the fence, to a patch of dirt and concrete where tiny weeds sprout. “Hello, hello, friends!” she whispers. Lala waters the plants every day, but it is her kind words that make them sway and nod.
Lala’s wild nature and quiet compassion enchant in this evergreen story about the power of kind words and the magic of being loved for who you are.
Why did you choose to create the art for this book in black-and-white with pops of color? How did you decide on Lala wearing a yellow dress?
We carry different worlds inside ourselves. I wanted there to be a contrast between the world that Lala/we live in versus the world that Lala creates for herself and ultimately her community. There’s no one world better or worse than the other but there is a wonder to everything when you’re a child, a potential for every new place to be something wonderful. I wanted this book to capture feelings of discovery, nurture, and creating. Yellow embodies warmth to me, the heat radiating from the sun, the hearth of a home, an optimistic child who lives her own magic.
This book is about the power of words and our language, but also about allowing space for our imagination and passion, like Lala’s passion for gardening and spending time with plants. What are you hoping young readers will take away from this story?
Exactly that! Allowing space for imagination and passion. I lived in made-up stories growing up, on long car rides in the backseat as a child, and even still now on train rides I give myself that time to live out as many lives as I can. Young readers already know and do this. I hope to encourage and affirm that play, thought, exploration, and kindness are always needed in our world.
Do you have any suggestions for activities that adults could do with kids to celebrate the themes in this book?
Garden. Explore the city. Try to do an art project, even if you don’t know the art or a project. Be part of a community. Do somersaults. Visit new sights. Be present.
Do you have a passion in your life that’s similar to Lala’s love for her plants?
I love storytelling, in all forms. Drawing was the way for me to express that joy before learning to read and write, and there’s much to be said about how visual images communicate and bridge the gap no matter the language barrier. Sometimes I talk to my drawings like Lala talks to her plants. I’m still hoping some will respond.
Lala lives in an urban city environment but finds a way to connect with nature anyway. Why do you think it’s important for kids to find their own ways to connect to nature or seek out their favorite things, even if those things are hard to get to?
Nature is always growing, changing. We can and we have learned so much from it, it gives to us in ways that connects us all. It inspires empathy and resilience.
What other books do you think Lala’s Words is in conversation with? And do you have any forthcoming or published books you’d recommend?
The Secret Garden, Harold and the Purple Crayon, the Amelia Bedelia series, Madeline. While growing up, we had a copy of The Story About Ping that my mother would read to me, she always stressed that I was Ping the duck and she was the duck herder.
While the other titles share similar themes and environments to Lala, the duck and duck herder-esque relationship of my mother and I was something that remained present while working on Lala.
What is one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
There’ll be food. Not a question but just something I miss hearing from things spanning work events to parties, all scarce during quarantine times. More-so missing the comfort that comes from gatherings of friends and loved ones over a good meal.
Gracey Zhang is an illustrator and animator with a love of storytelling and verse. She was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and received her degree in Illustration from RISD. She is now based in Brooklyn, New York, where she can be found window watching from the train when she’s not scribbling away at her desk. Lala’s Words is her first picture book. You can visit her at graceyzhang.com.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. They also teach in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and are a book reviewer for Booklist. Alaina received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for their work in the publishing industry. Their writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. Alaina currently lives in Boston with their wife and two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.