The process of waiting for the publication date of your book has been described as “the calm before the calm.” You wait all year for the day to arrive, expecting lightning bolts and sudden changes, when really all that happens is that people are able to buy your book for real now, rather than merely pre-ordering it.
Still, it feels like a special day. When I originally conceived of Mitzi Tulane, I had in mind a series that would capture the kind of domestic curiosity I witnessed every day from my own little detective at home. Everything was new to her. The sound of dripping. Where did that come from? A new buzzing sound. What was making it? And what on earth was that brand new smell? There was always a new mystery to solve.
When my editor, Maria Modugno, brought Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://debbieohi.com/) on board to illustrate the series, I jumped for joy. I’d loved Debbie’s previous books, and I suspected she’d have the right sensibility for Mitzi. Boy, was I right. I still remember the first time I saw Mitzi and her sidekick, Gigi Gaboo, on the page. Debbie had based the illustrations on a photograph of my daughter with her favorite doll, but she’d done so much more than merely represent them. She’d reimagined them. With a minimalist approach and a subtle use of line, she was able to evoke all the extremes of emotion I’d witnessed in my daughter and envisioned for the character of Mitzi. I remain mystified by how she does this.
Throughout the process, there were dozens of decisions to make. What should Mitzi’s parents look like? What about her brother, Baby Kev? We decided early on to portray Mitzi and her family as a transracial adoptive family, just like our real life family. It was a risky decision because the book isn’t explicitly about transracial adoption. In fact, adoption is never mentioned anywhere in the book. But that, we thought, was all the more reason to go for it. Families come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, after all. And those of us who don’t conform to anyone’s idea of a “norm” don’t walk around explaining ourselves to strangers. Why should a book have to explain itself simply for representing a particular type of family? My hope is that people will read the book and enjoy it for the plucky heroine and her mad detecting skills. If they notice that Mitzi and her parents have different colored skin, I hope it serves to expand their notion of family. Stories are for everyone. As Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Ohio State University explains, books are mirrors, windows, and sliding doors. (Check out the video: http://bit.ly/29ti9UA). Children need to see themselves reflected (mirrors), but they also need to see others who are not like them (windows) and to be able to step into those different worlds (sliding doors). I hope that Mitzi can be a mirror, a window, and a sliding door for lots of readers, both young and old.
Happy Book Birthday, Mitzi!