Happy Thursday friends!
I'm so excited to have fellow Texan Ellen Leventhal on the blog today, discussing her book "A Flood of Kindness".
Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Aside from A Flood of Kindness, she is the author of Lola Can’t Leap and the upcoming Debbie’s Song: The Story of Debbie Friedman. Ellen is also the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets. Her work has appeared in various poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with students and spread her love of literacy, compassion, and kindness.
Perfect for all children experiencing loss or grief, A Flood of Kindness gracefully confronts difficult feelings and celebrates the healing power of kindness.
Written in spare prose and told from an intimate first-person point of view, the story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. Kind people she doesn't know give her food, socks and shoes to keep her feet warm, and a place to sleep. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter--a strange, crowded place that is not home--she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have--her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat--and starts looking for ways to help others in the shelter. All children deal with sadness and loss in some way, whether it stems from a natural disaster, the death of a pet, or moving to a new place. A Flood of Kindness acknowledges those difficult feelings and helps readers process them in a healthy way. Children will be encouraged to be kind to those who need a friend and to help others in whatever way they can, no matter how small.
I first read A Flood of Kindness a few months ago and it really stuck with me. As a child, I remember seeing an influx of children come to my area of Texas after Katrina, so a lot of this story resonated with the experiences of those children I knew. Even in a big event like that, so much of how we process it comes down to our own personal experiences, and our interactions with others.
Ellen, thank you so much for joining me this week. What inspired you to write A Flood of Kindness?
In May, 2015 my house flooded, and I thought of Mr. Rogers’s call to “Look for the helpers.” I didn’t need to look far. We were surrounded by kindness. I wrote a lot during that time, but I wasn’t ready to write a children’s book for some reason. We then flooded again in 2016, and then Hurricane Harvey decimated the city in 2017. There was no fixing up and moving back for us that time. As a teacher, I knew a lot of children who went through these floods, and I wanted to find a way to help them without being too didactic. I knew I had to do something they could relate to, so the brainstorming began.
I can't even imagine going through a floor two times around. And seeing it happen with so many of your students, being able to relate to that really emotional time for them.
There's a lot of personal experiences in this book for you then. What was the process like, seeing the book go from inspiration, to illustration, to published?
Wow! I think seeing any idea go from inspiration to publication is amazing. After more revisions that I can count, I got my nerve up and entered it into Mindy Alyse Weiss’s PB Party. Shockingly, I was in the finals, and even more surprising was that agent, Mary Cummings wanted to rep it. After that, there were more revisions, and it actually didn’t take very long for Peggy Schaefer of WorthyKids (Hachette Book Group) to pick it up. Then, of course, more revisions. Although illustrator, Blythe Russo and I didn’t communicate until the book was done, I was sent rough sketches and fell in love with them. I especially love where the beginning is dark and the sun comes out in the end. When I got the book in my hands, I was thrilled. Because this book is so personal, I literally got goose bumps.
Do you have a scene in A Flood of Kindness that was your favorite to write?
One of my favorite scenes to write was where my main character stamped her feet and wanted her things back. This got to the crux of the problem for children. Children aren’t worried about insurance, rebuilding, and money. They just want their things and their old life back. It’s a scene where I try to let children know that their feelings are valid... But I also loved writing the end because I wanted to leave readers with hope.
I love the way you really got down on a child's level to process something so big, giving those details about their lost things.
Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves?
I think that kids need to know that feeling whatever way they feel is ok. But I also want them to understand the power that small acts of kindness can have. On top of that, I think it’s important for children to understand that even at a young age, they are each capable of helping their friends, family, and community in small or large ways. Small things make a huge difference, and they shouldn’t be discounted.
How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use A Flood of Kindness to engage in deeper conversations with kids?
I think that reading and discussing this book can spark deep conversations about not just kindness, but about the opposite. In my experience, I noticed that after we read the book, some kids wanted to talk about kindness while others discussed feelings of hurt because of bullying, being ignored, or feeling othered. I think letting the child take the conversation where they need go is helpful. But more than all that, I’d love to see this book being used to highlight the healing power of kindness and empower children and let them know they are not helpless. I often start my discussions with “Have you ever felt out of control, like there is nothing you can do?”
Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids?
I’d say that they shouldn’t be scared to tackle tough topics. But they also need to be aware of the audience and remember that while you’re writing, you need to always be thinking about how kids will relate. It’s important to take your adult hat off and figuratively get down on a child’s level. Perhaps thinking about yourself as a child and your reactions in difficult situations is the best way to relate to kids as you write.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I do have a picture book biography coming out next year. I’m pretty excited about it, and more details will be coming soon.
Ellen, thank you so much again for joining us on the blog! To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com