This week continues Picture Book Therapy Thursday where we delve into picture books that can open up deeper discussion on tough topics with kids. I am so excited to feature Chelsea Lin Wallace on the blog!
Chelsea Lin Wallace is an author and a poet with a master’s in education. As a former elementary school educator, she loves teaching creative writing to children. As a little girl, Chelsea moved around a lot, but felt a unique connection to every home. She now lives happily in Los Angeles, California with her husband, daughter, and dog.
This week we will discuss her debut picture book: A Home Named Walter.
Walter was a happy home.
He loved the bustle and warmth of the family that lived with him. But when they move away, his feelings are hurt. He grows cold and quiet and only wants to be left alone.
So when a little girl and her mama move in, Walter is determined to get them out! But in his struggle to do so, Walter may just feel livable again and change how he feels. A Home Named Walter is a special story that will resonate with many readers for years to come.
Chelsea, thank you so much for joining us! To start off, why don't you tell us where the inspiration for Walter and his story came from.
Ever since I was teeny tiny, I could feel a spirit in most everything around me. It used to drive my parents bananas because I’d never ever dare throw anything out. I soon became a rescuer of discarded toys and abandoned stuffed animals.
Then there was Woolly. Woolly was my lovey, a stuffed wombat. He was most certainly alive and I don’t say that with a wink-wink—I honestly believe to this day my love loved him alive.
Unfortunately,ache, when I was 12 years old, I lost Woolly on an airplane. I still grieve that loss. The first few picture book stories I wrote had so much to do with that ache, but I wrote the ache from Woolly’s point of view. Like—if I felt these feelings, what must he have felt? And what came of him?
On top of all of this, I moved around a ton as a kid. Gosh, a dozen houses and 4 states before the age of 10. Can you imagine how I felt about each house we left and each home we made?
All of this is to say, Walter likely has been living with me for a while and decided it was time I tell his story.
I love hearing how that feeling of connection with the things around you turned into a book! What an empathetic thing to wonder how your lost toy felt, too. What was the process like with A Home named Walter from inspiration to getting published?
It was sort of like being on the most thrilling roller coaster of your life but then the ride stops midway, then starts, then stops, then starts again until you reach the end of the ride and you want to get back in line and do it all over again.
There are rushes of exhilaration at each phase: from idea, to first draft, to revision, to query, to sale, to published. Like in the revision phase when you write that thing that just makes the story click and you’re like, “Woah. Is this something?” Or the query phase when an agent “asks you to get on a call.” Or the sale phase when your agent gives you the “good news.” But in between all these roller coaster rushes, there is space: space to worry, space to wonder, space to anxiously pace yourself into a panic. There is a great deal of pause in this business between all the bursting moments. For me, I kept busy in those spaces, writing the next story.
When I got the call that WALTER had sold, it was probably one of the best feelings of my life but it was the same feeling I had when I got the inspiration for the story idea itself. I think it’s important for me to love what I do for the sake of what I do.
That description of the roller coaster that stops and starts is spot on. It's so easy to use that pause time of waiting for anxiety instead of excitement. But when you finally reach the end, it's all worth it.
Do you have a scene or a sentence in the book that is your favorite?
Yes, I have many. One of the early scenes I love is when the family living with Walter (he’s the house) moves away and he gets so sad:
He let his grass grow brown and his plumbing rust.
He let his floors creak and his doors droop.
And there he sat.
A cold, quiet, empty house, growing weeds all around.
(And he liked it that way).
That last line holds so much meaning. I can't wait to see it in the context of the book.
Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on their shelves?
This is a story that children will enjoy reading again and again. It’s full of humor and heart, it’s fresh and fun, and the art is warm and inviting.
But it’s also a story for the child who has ever lost someone or something, the child who has moved, the child who has experienced change or transition, the empathic child, and for the child who feels their home has a heart.
This book is a beautiful story first and foremost. But it’s also a pathway to expanding perspectives—a way to think about the world from a different place and a way to think about how we heal. I hope that it’s a story that endears children to their hearts; for them to know their love has the power to help another.
This book wouldn’t be what it is without the art from Ginnie Hsu. She not only brought Walter and this world to life, but the warmth and sincerity of her work makes you want to move right in. She is herself an extraordinary human being with a deep soul and you can feel her honesty in every spread.
How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use A Home Named Walter to engage in deeper conversations with kids?
Walter is a home that gets his feelings hurt and his saltiness results in almost comical ways of trying to push the new family away. But underneath all of that is a real conversation about how we respond to fear, or to pain, or to sadness. Do we cry? Do we keep it inside? Do we hide or scream or shut people out? How do we process and work through difficult emotions?
Then there is Little Girl, who is also dealing with her own grief. But she is processing hers different from Walter. She has opened herself up so much, she can feel Walter’s ache. We get to witness the power of her vulnerability, her compassion, and her empathy.
I really appreciate the different depictions of grief and processing emotions that you include in the story. What a great thing for children to see.
Do you have any advice for authors hoping to write books about tough topics?
I have written several stories that deal with difficult topics, and the best advice I can give is to remain authentic. Before you write, take the time to dig into your own emotional cavities. Where is your experience being pulled from? What did it feel like? Why do you want to write this? What are some ways that metaphor storytelling (like a house) could create even more impact on the emotion you want to express?
I never, ever write with a message or moral in mind. There is an innate catharsis in reading and writing. Maybe it’s not our job to “teach” them that catharsis, but to share our own, and hope that it connects with them somehow and maybe, just maybe, inspires them to express themselves through story too.
I think in so many areas of life it's important to dig into your own emotions and intentions of the things you do.
Thank you again Chelsea for taking the time to share with us! We can't wait to see Walter on the shelves!
A Home Named Walter goes on sale April 5th, but you can preorder now!
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