Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning

Changing Perspectives Through Children's Books: Adventures in Learning with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

June 07, 2023 Season 2 Episode 23
Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning
Changing Perspectives Through Children's Books: Adventures in Learning with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken
Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Show Notes Transcript

 Corinna Luyken joins us to share her journey and the story behind her latest book, ABC and You and Me. This delightful picture book celebrates movement, creativity, and the power of imagination.  We  delve into the inspiration and collaborative process behind, Patchwork, written by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Corinna. We also touch upon the influence of mindfulness in Corinna's work and her personal connection to Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. Join us as we explore the creative journey and profound messages embedded within Corinna's beautiful illustrations. Youtube link.

  • [00:49] Corinna shares her background and how she discovered her passion for storytelling through illustrations and words.
  • [02:30] Corinna discusses her unconventional path,  finding inspiration in dance improvisation classes and mindfulness practices.
  • [06:45] Corinna shares the story behind her latest book, ABC and You and Me, and its evolution over the years.
  • [13:07] Corinna highlights the importance of inclusivity and diversity in children's literature, and the joy of drawing people from all walks of life.
  • [15:50] Corinna discusses the resources she is creating for teachers, including a movement script and interactive activities for ABC and You and Me.
  • [19:18] Dr. Diane discusses using Patchwork as a tool to connect STEM and STEAM learning with multicultural picture books, encouraging teachers to reflect on their past, present, and future selves.
  • [20:15] Corinna shares her experience working with Matt de la Pena on Patchwork and elements of the book that resonate with them both.
  • [26:20] The influence of mindfulness in Corinna's work, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's book,  Peace Is Every Step
  • [31:33] The connection between mindfulness and The Book of Mistakes, where changing perspectives can transform how we perceive the world.
  • [33:06]The importance of giving kids the opportunity to look at the world from different perspectives
    [37:51]Mycorrhizal networks and how they connect to  The Tree in Me
    [40:35] Corinna shares her favorite contemporary authors and illustrators.
    [43:10] Corinna discusses her upcoming books, including In the Dark and The Arguers

Thanks for joining me for the first two seasons of the podcast. We are taking a short break this summer as I travel to Iceland and other places, bringing education and programs to teachers and districts everywhere. Please join me beginning in August as we start season three.

Support the show

Read the full show notes, visit the website, and check out my on-demand virtual course. Continue the adventure at LinkedIn or Instagram.
*Disclosure: I am a Bookshop.org. affiliate.

[00:14] Dr. Diane: Welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Diane, and today I'm fangirling a little bit because we have one of my favorite illustrators on, Corinna Luyken. She is the author/illustrator of ABC and You and Me, which is coming out this week. But I grew to fall in love with her work through Patchwork, which she co authored with Matt de la Pena, and that was a New York Times and Kirkus Best Picture book. I also have fallen in love with The Tree in Me, My Heart, and The Book of Mistakes, and I'm so excited to welcome her to the studio. So welcome, Corinna.

[00:49] Corinna: Thank you for having me, Diane. It's a pleasure to be here.

[00:52] Dr. Diane: So I am so excited to have you. And before we begin and talk about  ABC and You and Me, I want our listeners to know a little bit more about you. So can you describe your adventures in learning and how you wound up doing what you do today?

[01:07] Corinna: Well, my journey was a slow and circuitous route, so I kind of found my way slowly to where I am today making books. And I think when I was little, elementary school aged, I wanted to be a gymnast or veterinarian. My mom was a scientist, a biologist, so I was around a lot of science people and I liked to be outside, so I thought maybe I'd do something with that. I liked animals, but I always loved to read, I always loved poetry, and I always loved to draw. And it was really sort of after college, I had worked in a bookstore and I came across a book that I loved. My manager of the bookstore I used to work at handed me this book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, which was written by George Saunders, illustrated by Lane Smith. And I really think that is the book that I say gave me the chills up and down my body and made me go, whoa, you can do this. I didn't know you could do this kind of storytelling where the words and pictures come together and create this magical thing. And I had grown up reading a lot. My mom would take me to the library. My grandparents would take me to the library. But from when I realized it was what I wanted to do to when I actually started making books, it was another 15 or so years. So it's been a slow journey.

[02:26] Dr. Diane: So what happened in those 15 or so years to take you to making books?

[02:30] Corinna: Well, so for starters, I didn't go to art school, and I wasn't sure when I was going into college that that was what I wanted to do. I really wanted to study lots of different things. And so not going to art school that probably can slow down the process as an illustrator. But I had some wonderful writing teachers and I took a lot of writing classes in college. And then I also stumbled into these dance classes my first year of college, these dance improvisation classes. And I had never been a dancer. I had done gymnastics, I'd done Aikido, but I'd never done dance. And I didn't think of myself as coordinated in that way or being able to stay in rhythm and follow choreography and all that. And these dance improvisation classes just blew my mind because they are performance improvisation. So it was about learning how to be creative in the moment, spur of the moment. And it very much reminded me of the practice of mindfulness, which I had also gotten interested in through when I worked in the bookstore. I had discovered some books by Thich Nhat Hahn, who is this Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, and so he does a lot of writing and work around being mindful of your present moment, whether you're eating an orange or washing dishes. And so this dance improvisation came into my life in college, and it was all about being mindful while being creative. And that blew my mind open. Even though I wasn't at all interested in being a dancer, I ended up learning more through that program, that dance department, than I learned through any of I mean, in many ways, I think I owe more to the dance department at Middlebury College and a couple of these instructors I had that were just incredible. They taught me more about kind of the creative process and directly linked to how I approach creativity than I learned in any art class that I took, even though I took just enough art classes in college to get into printmaking. And I had these great writing teachers. But this sort of idea that you could take improvisation, which we usually think of as jazz music or maybe theater, improvisation, comedy, I didn't realize you could do it with dance. And I started thinking about how that was actually something I was already doing when I drew. So even though my journey was like super winding and super sort of, I looked back. I actually graduated with a degree through the dance department because they were the only department that would let me do this multidisciplinary thing with poems and a book of prints. And I basically wanted to make a picture book. I wanted to put words and pictures together, and I did it through the dance department. And then afterwards, I always was thinking, Why did I do that? Why was I a dance major? It doesn't make any sense. And then now, a good 20 years later, all of a sudden it makes so much sense to me because it's like that's where I learned to be creative in a way that is directly responsible for The Book of Mistakes and for ABC and You and Me that's coming out right now. And even something like The Tree in Me and my approach to some of that. But I basically graduated college, started making greeting cards, waitressed a lot, worked as a teaching assistant, worked in a health food store, did a lot of odd jobs, and worked for nonprofit arts organization, did more teaching, all of that, kind of trying to keep my work somewhat part time so that I could work on books and submit. So that process took a long time and eventually I became a mother. And that slowed my process down quite a bit. But it also enriched my process so much. So really, I think my great ideas, my first book, sort of finding an agent and finding an editor and art director that were interested, that all came through ideas I had once I became a parent.

[06:24] Dr. Diane: That all makes total sense.

[06:26] Corinna: Yeah. So it was long and slow, but it's not that way for everyone. And looking back on it, I was certainly impatient for a lot of that time. But looking back on it now, I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't taken that particular journey.

[06:45] Dr. Diane: And there are no wasted experiences. I mean, all of those experiences ultimately lead to where we are supposed to be on our journey. And it sounds like, as you're talking, that so much of this has informed ABC and You and Me, which is coming out this week. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about this book, what it is, what it means to you and why it's special.

[07:10] Corinna: So this book is actually one of the first. It's so special and near and dear to my heart. And I have my little floppy proof thing that I will hold up for you to see here. But it's ABC and You and Me, and the cover has three big letters, the A, the B and the C that are people making the shapes of the letters. And so the whole book is grown ups making the shapes of the big letters, kids making the shapes of the little letters, and them moving together. So each page also has like an Iguana for I and a headband for H and things hidden in there. But interspersed between the letter pages, there are these dancing pages with dancing bodies, moving bodies. So the whole book begins, can you wiggle your wrists? That's the first line on the first page. Can you wiggle your wrists? And then there's a series of questions like can you twist from your hips? Can you lean without bending your knees? And so if so, then follow me. And then there's an invitation to move into the book. And so the book has people making letter shapes, but it also has bodies moving and dancing. And it's directly like the dancing pages directly. And the ABC letters too, all come from that dance experience. But this was an idea I had really not that long after college. And I first submitted this book more than 15 years ago and got rejection letters. So the process has been long and slow, and so it's very near and dear to my heart, but it's also very much like my entire learning and growth process as an artist and illustrator, basically, is in this book. So my very first draft that I sent off, that I got some nice rejection letters from, that I saved from editors, there was just this process of sort of getting rejection letters, trying again, sending it out again, getting more rejection letters, being told things like an alphabet book is a very it's a saturated market. There's a lot of alphabet books out there. So I was hearing a lot of, like, this is an alphabet book. Has to be super, super special to make it in the market. Or maybe you should try a different approach to trying to get into the industry, or this will make a nice poster, but maybe not a great book. And at a certain point in the process, I started to think, well, maybe it's not a good first book, but maybe it still could be a book someday. So I just sort of set it aside and focused on other things, thinking I never could quite let go of it, but thinking maybe I'll just revisit it someday. And then I did revisit a few times. And every time I would hear things like, no, this is a neat idea, but make a nice poster. And when I started, right before I got into the industry, I was attending conferences and I won a few portfolio awards, and I was getting that kind of feedback because a few of the pieces were in my portfolio, a few of the letter people. And so I again put it aside and started making other books, wrote The Book of Mistakes, started my career. That was my first book. And then about seven books in, I started thinking about this ABC book again and really feeling like, well, maybe now it's time. Ideas come back around to you. And it came back to me, and I couldn't let go of it. I couldn't shake it. And I really had this strong feeling like, now is the time for this book. And it was in the midst of the early stages of the pandemic. And I was definitely like, kids are on screen so much. And I was feeling like maybe just as a larger culture of people, we were sort of really becoming aware of how important it is for kids to move. And that instead of this being seen as just bodies in motion, that could be what's important and what is to be celebrated about it, that this is an opportunity to look at the alphabet, but to get up and move and to have grown ups and kids moving together. And so I went back with the experience of seven books and all of that learning and growth of, like, page turn and how to tell a story and how to make it interesting. I went back to those alphabet people and I went, oh, no, they're right, it's not a book. It's a poster, but it's not a book. It's a little bit repetitive. It's not that exciting all the way through. And so that was when I started just, I was thinking about it a lot and I started imagining these words, this language about movement, and I started to realize that I could thread the two together and I could weave movement pages with letter pages, and then it becomes something a little more interesting as a reading experience. That book has had a longer journey than any other book I've made, and it's finally coming out into the world and I'm just super excited about it.

[12:19] Dr. Diane: Well, I'm excited for it too. I used to run a preschool in New York, and one of the things I'm realizing as I'm working with early childhood teachers in particular, is kids need that opportunity to move and to grow. And I love the fact that you've got opportunities and invitations for them to wiggle and to move and to be able to imitate the letters, to use their whole bodies in that I think that that then unleashes creativity and gives you opportunities to try other things. And I particularly appreciate that the illustrations are reflecting children from across cultures and across experiences. And I think that that's something that's super powerful as well, is all children deserve to be able to see themselves reflected in the books that we're reading in early childhood.

[13:07] Corinna: Yeah, it was super important to me that there be a wide range of ages and abilities and body sizes and types and all of that in the book. And I mean, that's what makes it fun to draw, right? That's the most fun part is drawing the people. For me, I love drawing people so much. I just did, like, a sneak peek of this book with an elementary school here in my hometown, and I shared it with a group of K through second graders, and I started reading. And as soon as the first line, can you wiggle your wrists? I look out and everyone's just like, they're so ready, they're so primed, they're already wiggling their wrists. And I was thinking, I'd read through the book once and then go through again and kind of do some movement stuff with them. So it was clear that they were ready, like, they were just ready to move. Another thing I'm working on right now that I'm excited about on my website for all of my books, I have resources for teachers, so I have like a social emotional learning guide for some of my books, and there's art activities and writing activities, but for this one, I'm working on a movement script. So I actually have written out sort of that I used. And so it goes through the book. And so for some teachers, they might actually print it out and want to read through it directly. Other people might just glance at it and get the idea and improvise on their own. But it has things like on the page where there's an elbow or a wrist mentioned, and there would be some movement that is with the elbows and the wrists. So it might be draw a letter with your elbow and then draw the same letter with your other elbow. I don't know. In a way, I'm more excited about sharing this book than I've been in a while because I think the K-2 at this school, it was so fun to share it with them. It was such a fun experience all the way through. And that is fun to be able to share a book. But it's also fun to get a room full of people moving.

[15:11] Dr. Diane: Oh, absolutely. And we should have that kind of movement and that kind of creative liberation in all grades. And so I love the fact that this book is going to unlock that for teachers and that you've provided that in the resources. So that sounds wonderful. Do you have a favorite page turn you want to share with folks?

[15:33] Corinna: That's such a good one. Well, maybe what I'll just share, I have so many favorite little moments. And the colors of the book, like the LMN, a lot of the dancing pages are favorites like this one. From the tip of your toes to your elbows and nose, your ankle, your chin and your knees. So you can see here there's all kinds of opportunities for moving. But then the whole book ends with this idea. And so this is what I think would be this would also be fun to share this idea of from the biggest A all the way down to the littlest Z, what shapes can you be? I love that's the end. And it really is an invitation. So hopefully, whether it's a parent, a librarian, a teacher, whoever is reading it, a kid by themselves, that there is just kind of this when I have shared it, the kids, immediately, they just want to make shapes. And when I've had it on the wall in my studio and my daughter, who's 13, when her friends have come by and they walk by, they like, they can't resist trying to make a couple of shapes. And I'm like, okay, if a 13 year old wants to do this actually, in Virginia, at the Virginia Children's Book Festival, we had a couple of letters projected on the wall. During this, I had an exhibit of art at the Longview Center for the Arts. And so part of it, we projected just the VCBF for Virginia Children's Book Festival. And we put a rug down, or they did the gallery people, they did such a nice job. They put a rug down and some cozy pillows, and the space was open to all these school groups. And once again, like, the middle schoolers, the high schoolers, even, they would get down on the carpet and try to make the V, try to make the C. It's fun to see that it doesn't need much explanation. It's like some of the letters are really hard, but a lot of them, there's plenty that are not so hard to make.

[17:39] Dr. Diane: Well, and as you're talking, I'm thinking back to another part of my former life. Before I started doing this, I was director of education at a children's museum, and I could 100% see a partnership between your book and that notion of projections in children's museums across the country, because that would be such a great interactive exhibit activity that you could be doing to see those letters projected, and can you create the shapes and what else can you create?

[18:07] Corinna: Yeah. With your body moving. Yeah, that would be so fun. That would be so cool to do some kind of partnership like that. I love that idea, actually.

[18:18] Dr. Diane: So if there are any museum directors out there you need to talk to Corinna.

[18:23] Corinna: Yes.

[18:31] Sponsor Ad

[19:18] Dr. Diane: So I want to go back and talk a little bit about some of your other books as well. Before we got on, we were talking a little bit about Patchwork, which you wrote with Matt de la Pena. And I was telling you, I love using this book. When I'm out on the road with teachers, I do a lot helping teachers to connect STEM and STEAM learning with multicultural picture books. And so I've been using Patchwork with teachers to get them to think about their past selves, their present selves, and their future selves, who they want to be. And so often I'll read the book, I'll have them make a patch, and we'll put together a quilt of all the educators in the room. And it's been such a powerful way to get them thinking like the kids, to get them open to the notion of how can we build connections? So I want to spend a little time just talking about this beautiful book. What inspired it? What was the collaboration process like? What prompted your artwork for this?

[20:15] Corinna: Yeah. Wow. Well, I love hearing that you share it with teachers in that way. And I love this idea of this room full of teachers thinking about themselves as a kid and then who they are now and who they will become. I just love that. So thank you for using the book in that way. I know for Matt [de la Pena], it's a book that means a great deal to him. And I think he sees himself, like there's certain sections of the book where it's clearly Matt, like the basketball player who becomes a poet, but I think there's a lot of other sections. I was asking him about it. I think in some ways, there's a little bit of him in every single one. He says the dancer one very much. The rhythm of the one, two, three, and the rhythm of language and poetry. That's all in there. And athleticism. I actually think Matt is, he's a very, very kind person. I think he also would give away his cookie. And that actually is something I could relate to as well as a kid, is that just being sensitive to other people's suffering and wanting other people to feel good and to feel connected. 

That book, I basically was given the manuscript and asked if I wanted to illustrate it. And as an illustrator, it's always not just do I like it, but can I imagine being in this world? Is there anything I can bring to it that I think would make me the right person for this project? And so with this book, the words themselves are quite abstract in a certain way. And Matt is what I think of as wonderful author to work well. He is a wonderful author to work with. And one of the reasons why is that he doesn't do a lot of illustration notes or telling you what to do. He's very hands off, and he gives the illustrator a lot of room, which is what you want. And I'm really fortunate in that all the writers that I've worked with have been that way and given me space to sort of come at it from without any preconceived ideas. I like to say, like, the writer has a blank page and the illustrator, you want to start with a blank page, too, as much as possible. 

So I get the manuscript and I start, kind of like I read through it once for sound. And for me, if something doesn't have a good rhythm and a good sound, it's hard for me to get into it. It has to sound good, read aloud, because that's what a picture book is. It's an art form that's meant to be shared. It's meant to be read aloud. And I have always loved poetry, and I am an appreciator of the sound of language. And so he has a lovely sound to his work, which I was drawn to. And then also, it seemed like I could play and have fun because it was a little abstract. It seemed like there was room in there to play around and do something interesting. And then I loved where it was going. So part of the reason I also wanted to illustrate it is I just wanted to illustrate the end of the book. I wanted to do this layering. I want to take all these people and build towards this idea. And the book ends with this line, we are beautiful. And I really wanted to draw that last “we are beautiful” spread with lots and lots and lots of people. I had a strong vision of that right away. And so that's sort of one question, do I like where this is going, or would I be excited to be on the journey of where this is heading? And for me, the answer was very much yes. 

And then I actually talked with Matt more than I usually do with writers on a book, just because I already knew him a little bit, and I knew we have the same agent. And our agent told me that Matt was very hands off, and so I shouldn't be worried about it, because that's one of the reasons why authors and illustrators don't usually talk, is to protect the illustrator’s creative process.

[24:15] Dr. Diane: Right, sure.

[24:17] Corinna: And so if you know someone and you've done multiple books with them, that changes everything, because suddenly they're a friend, and then, of course, you're going to talk at least a little bit to them. So Matt and I already knew each other, and I knew he wouldn't interfere in an unpleasant way. And so we actually had a couple of wonderful conversations during the process of making the book, which is a little unusual, about moments where I wanted to make sure I understood his intention carefully and accurately. 

And so there was a little bit of that talking, which is unusual for me in the process, but mostly I go in and I set aside, ideally, ideally, a big chunk of time. A month would be great. I don't always have a month, but a big chunk of time to play. And this is really my process for every book, where I don't have to worry about if I like the images at all. I don't have to worry about if I like the work. And I'm really just trying to experiment with different art materials, experiment with different approaches to the book and sort of improvise in order to figure out the language that I'm going to use. And so that's how I start every single process. 

So Patchwork had that, and the pieces that I was building were all these kind of assembled patches. And in the end, actually, my studio wall ended up with all of these overlapping layers of color, and I would make something new and just stick it on top of something else to sort of get my head in that space of a patchwork and of covering some things up and letting some things show through. That was a really fun project to work on. And Matt was a wonderful collaborator. So it's fun to see it out in the world and I love hearing what teachers are doing with it.

[26:20] Dr. Diane: Yeah, and it's just such a beautiful book. You referenced Thich Nhat Hanh a few minutes ago when we were talking, and that resonated with me because the writings also had resonated with me. And that whole mindful approach to walking and eating and being with others, to being in the moment, that seems to ground a lot of your work in terms of the stories that you've written and that you've illustrated. Can you talk a little bit more about that influence?

[26:52] Corinna: Yeah, I would say that's hugely important in the work I make and my approach to bookmaking. And I was in high school when I first came across a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and it was called Peace Is Every Step. And it's this little skinny book that has a dandelion on the cover. I love that book. I love that book so much. So much. So that book just stole my heart. I just was really into it. It just spoke to something in me at that moment in time. And I remember I started drawing dandelions on everything, like the side notes of my papers in school. And I had some acrylic paints. I painted, I had this pair of ripped jeans. I painted a dandelion on my jeans. I was so into this idea of this thing that we can think of as a weed or we can overlook. And that seeing that and really seeing it, looking at it fully aware, like with mindfulness and slowing down, that you could just see how beautiful it is. And T Thich Nhat Hanh has this line in a poem. He says, I have lost my smile, but do not worry, the dandelion has it. And so just this idea that the world around you could be a keeper of joy for you, even if you've lost it. And he experienced so much suffering in his life with the Vietnam War and lost so many friends and people close to him, and yet he was out there practicing, living in the present moment and finding peace and beauty in it. And I found it in those turbulent adolescent years, like I found it so inspiring. And I continued. So I read his Miracle of Mindfulness and then I started reading many of his other books kind of throughout college. And then eventually in college, I was becoming interested in writing and I was looking for jobs to have in the summer and I became kind of aware, I started looking at the books that he had because I had worked in a bookstore and I knew a little bit about books and I realized, oh, they're all published by the same publisher and it's down in the San Francisco Bay area and I had some family there. So I was able to set up a summer internship with Parallax Press that makes his books and work on their magazine monthly zine thing that they did. And then in exchange for that, I was allowed to go to one of his retreats.

[29:41] Dr. Diane: Oh, wow.

[29:42] Corinna: So that was a very powerful experience. Spend a week with him and a bunch of other people on a university campus going for walks and listening to him talk. He was a huge influence and I was fortunate to meet him one other time. So he's a very big influence in sort of my life and how I think about what it means to live a good life, what things you can do to try, the things you can control and the things you can't control in this life. And he definitely, at a very young age, gave me this gift of perspective. And so when I think about the books I make and the kinds of books I like to make, I do feel there is a big part of me that feels like I was given this gift of perspective at a young enough age that it sort of shaped who I am in the world and how I see the world. And I would just love it if in some small way, the books that I make can do the same thing without being overly dogmatic or tied to any specific tradition necessarily, but just sort of an invitation to be aware and to look at the world. And I think for me, mindfulness, what it is is a perspective shift. It's a different way of looking. I'm so interested in that, like that combination of sort of really being present and aware in the moment, but also looking at the world in a slightly different way. And that idea of like, if you can change your perspective, it can change everything about how you see the world. I do feel like that's something that in one way or another is in every single book that I've made.

[31:33] Dr. Diane: I was going to say I absolutely see that it shines through in The Book of Mistakesfor sure. You look at that initial mistake and then you change your perspective. What if it's not a mistake? What if it's this and leads to that tree full of wonderful children at the end who I really just want to go play with them.

[31:59] Sponsor Ad:

[33:06] Dr. Diane: But you see that in your work, that it's very much about, okay, we could look at it this way, but what if we looked at it this way? And I think that by giving kids that opportunity to look at the world and take a different perspective, you're giving them that social emotional strength to be able to build their learning, and that leads to those 21st century skills that we want them to have that are so important.

[33:30] Corinna:. And I think yeah, it's like perspective shift can also it can be looking at yourself differently. Like, I think about the end of The Book of Mistakes and this girl, and it's like, do you see now who she's becoming? And it's like, can you see that it is a question. And then do you see who she will be? Right. So it's like, really a question about how do you see yourself and do you see your faults or do you see your potential? But also, how do you see other people in the world around you? How do you see the world and can you see potential and faults at the same time?

[34:04] Dr. Diane: Can you hold them at the same time?

[34:07] Corinna: Yeah, and see both. And sometimes that perspective shift can also be like a lot of the books I work on with other people. There's some element of kindness in there or two different perspectives and a shift of two kids who think they have nothing in common. Like the book Nothing In Common or Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse or Patchwork or even Something Good. Like all these books I've done with other writers are really about kind of looking a little more closely at our ideas ofwhat does it mean to have something in common with someone? Something in common with someone and want to be their friend? And is it possible that there is, as opposed to what we think of as common ground like liking to do the same activities, what if there's a bigger common ground that has more to do with being someone in the world who's paying attention and someone in the world who notices other people and two kids who notice someone else? In this case, it's an old man who lost his dog and notice his suffering and want to do something about it. That's actually such a tremendous common ground that's bigger than liking to roller skate or liking cats versus dogs or something like that. And to me, that is also about perspective, right? It's about reframing how you see. And I think I don't know, it's so hard to separate out where you get different things in your life. But I would say that Thich Nhat Hanh gave me a lot of tools for learning how to shift my perspective. And my mom certainly did as well, and my dad. But I remember one of his classic examples. And when I talk about The Tree in Me, I wanted to talk about this idea of interconnection and inter being. That was a book I wanted to make for a very long time. And every time I tried, it was just cliche. It was just like I was trying too hard or I was forcing it. When I finally came around to it. I very much feel like that book owes so much of its life to Thich Nhat Hanh. And I think of it like when I talk about that book with students, I like to take an example of like a paintbrush that I would use to draw within my studio and be like, okay, so if you look at this paintbrush —and Thich Nhat Hanh will talk about an orange or an apple — but if you look at this paintbrush, what is it made of? And it has a wooden handle, right? So you have the wooden handle. So this paintbrush is part tree. And then you have a piece of metal holding the bristles. And the metal is like mined from a mountain. So this paintbrush is actually part tree and part mountain. And then you have the bristles and maybe they're animal bristles or maybe they're plastic, like a lot of bristles now. And so that plastic comes from a factory. And so you have something like a paintbrush and actually it's part tree, part mountain and part factory. And then you look a little more deeply. And actually the factory like this wouldn't exist without the people in the factory who made the plastic, the people who assembled the paintbrush. Those people wouldn't exist without the farmers who grew their food. Those people would not exist without their parents and their grandparents that came before them. And all of a sudden you're looking at this little paintbrush without which there would be no book. I would not have made The Tree in Me without this brush. And all of sudden, you're seeing the whole world in the paintbrush, and the whole world in this book, and whatever that is resetting your perspective thing. I learned that from Thich Nhat Hanh and it changes everything.

[37:51] Dr. Diane: It really does. And you just talked about The Tree in Me. And one of the things I noted in that — I love nature, and I attribute that to Thich Nhat Hanh as well, the walking and being out in nature. And I've gotten really interested in mycorrhizal networks, the network between trees, and I noted that you kind of go into that a little bit within the book as well. And I the fact that you were able to bring that science into what you were doing as well.

[38:21] Corinna: Yeah, isn't it amazing? Actually, that was one of my favorite pages to paint in that book is all the underground mushrooms. It was just so fun to draw that this forest with all the glowing neon pink mushrooms and mycelia connecting them and connecting the trees. Like I said earlier, my mom was actually a biologist. And so I grew up with this appreciation for nature and the natural world. And actually, when I was really little, I just was bored out of my mind. We'd go on these native plant society walks, and every 2ft, they'd want to stop and look at a little flower, another little yellow flower.

[39:03] Dr. Diane: Understood.

[39:04] Corinna: Oh, my gosh. I just couldn't like it’s a little too slow for a young child, of course. But then I got older and I realized once I was living on my own, I realized how much I needed house plants in my house, which my mom had always had and all these things that I didn't think I cared so much about, it turns out they went in, right? And that they went in at a very young age, which I think is, again, part of the magic of working with young children right, is that you can influence how they see the world in that way. But the mycorrhizal connections and the mushrooms I remember hearing about that, reading about it a few years ago and just being blown away by that web connection, which is invisible to us. It's down below the ground, but it's keeping everything alive. And they even say right, like now they realize that sometimes there'll be a dead, quote unquote, dead tree that has come down and its roots are still part of that network that's sharing information with the living trees around it.

[40:10] Dr. Diane: Yeah, it's just fascinating stuff. So I love the fact that you went into that a little bit. I think it's very cool. Behind you, you've got quite the bookshelf. And I was going to ask you a question, which is, are there books that you love that are out right now that inspire your process or that feed your soul as you're creating?

[40:35] Corinna: Well, yeah, as you can see, I love books, and I have so many that I love. It becomes really hard to choose and I start to forget, what have I seen most? I mean, the most recent one that is face out on my shelf is illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera. And I don't know the writer's name off the top of my head, but it's about Edna, a famous chef from the south, and it's beautifully illustrated. Have you seen that one?

[41:09] Dr. Diane: Is that the one with the apple tree?

[41:13] Corinna: It's called Chef Edna.

[41:17] Dr. Diane: Oh, my goodness. That's a different version for Edna. Because there's one about her apples that's a different one.

[41:23] Corinna: Yeah, this just came out, like, last week maybe.

[41:26] Dr. Diane: My goodness, I'm excited for that one now.

[41:30] Corinna: It's beautiful. And I love this illustrator so much. Cozbi Cabrera. I definitely have my lists of people where when they make a new book, I buy it. There's a handful of illustrators that I love their work so much, or authors. There's writers like Julie Fogliano, who I will buy anything she makes, of course. And illustrators like, well, there's so many. So you start to make a list, and you just add more and more in your mind. But there's Isabelle Arsenault and Julie Morstad and Christian Robinson, Jon Klassen. There's some contemporary people whose work I really love. Jon Agee, he's one that I really admire. He's got his book of Palindromes, and they're smart. Smart and funny. David Robertson, the list is just so I'm leaving off so many favorites. But there's quite a long list of people who are making work that I really — Shawn Harris — that are making books that I just really appreciate. Catia Chien is another illustrator that I love.

[42:42] Dr. Diane: And we're so fortunate to live in a time when there are so many beautiful books that we can bring into our classrooms. Just more and more books.

[42:53] Corinna: Yeah. We are in a golden age, for sure. There's no question that it's a rich time.

[43:00] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. So what are you excited about now? What do you have coming out? I know ABC and You and Me is coming out this month, but what's next?

[43:10] Corinna: So after ABC and You and Me, in the fall I have another book with Kate Hoefler, which is called In the Dark. And I can give you a peek at the cover, actually, I have it. This is a tale told from two perspectives. So there might be witches in the woods. There might not be witches in the wood.

[43:28] Dr. Diane: Oh, very cool.

[43:29] Corinna: The whole book opens vertically like this. And this is a proof. So the pages won't be shiny, actually in the book, but there's two voices. There's two. So, again, this perspective thing. But you have sort of this green voice saying one thing and then a purple voice saying something different, and the stories come together. And so that is coming out in the fall. So this year I have two books coming out, but then what? I’m actually working on right now, which will be for next year, and what's behind me on the wall is the story that I have written and illustrated called The Arguers. And it is all about a group of people who are really, really good at arguing. And they're so good at arguing, they can argue with the stones and the flowers. You can kind of see, like, someone's arguing with flowers here and a little stone here.

[44:21] Dr. Diane: Sounds like a story for our times.

[44:24] Corinna: It is a story for our times, and it's a story that the ending has proven tricky. So there's an arguing contest and it doesn't go so well. And so the ending of the book, the visual ending of the book has been tricky. The words are pretty much in place. I've been sort of fussing with one here or there. But there's a big part of the ending piece that is going to be visual and it's proven challenging because how do you create hope that feels genuine in the midst of intractable conflict? This is our time and I'm not interested in creating something overly positive. And I'm also not really wanting to leave my reader in a pit of despair.

[45:17] Dr. Diane: So finding that balance between Pollyanna and the Dark is the challenge.

[45:24] Corinna: It's been a challenge and making it feel satisfying, like an ending that feels satisfying. And so I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what does it mean to feel satisfying? And I think I'm starting to suspect that the solution actually is in humor and that you don't have to have everything sorted out. But if you can see the humor or the absurdity in a situation, sometimes that's enough to at least satisfy at least one part of yourself. So I don't know. But so this book has been actually many years in the making and has been swapped out with a couple of my other books just because it needed more time. And so I'm finally focusing on it. You're speaking to me as I'm very much in the midst of a puzzle and kind of trying to find my way out of it.

[46:12] Dr. Diane: Well, I can't wait to see what the outcome will be when it comes out next year. Last question for you. What brings you hope today?

[46:22] Corinna: What brings me hope? Many things, actually. Not that I don't despair. There's plenty of things that make me feel that way as well. But I do feel hope when I watch my daughter and her friends and I see ways in which she's growing up that are different from how I grew up. And some of them are more difficult, but others are kind of beautiful within their friendship groups and the way they treat each other and sort of the absence of shaming around people's bodies and how they look. And that fills me with hope. I think there's just so much beauty in the world. I guess I find hope in the beauty of the world, the natural world, and I find hope in children and in seeing them love the world, if that makes sense.

[47:32] Dr. Diane: Makes total sense. Corinna thank you so much for joining us on the Adventures in Learning podcast. We're so excited to see your book this week. I will share all of the contact information in the show notes so people can follow you, follow your website, and I wish you the best as you solve your puzzle.

[47:51] Corinna: Thank you so much and thank you for having me. Diane, it was a pleasure to talk with you.

[48:02] Dr. Diane: This is Dr. Diane, your host of Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning.Thank you so much for joining me for the first two seasons of the podcast. We are going to be taking a short break this summer as I travel to Iceland and other places, bringing education and programs to teachers and districts across the country. Please join me beginning in August as we start a brand new season three of the Adventures in Learning podcast. Thanks for listening and catch up on episodes you haven't heard yet.

Podcasts we love