Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, which is written by Karen Henry Clark and illustrated by Patrice Barton, was released last month. When I received my review copy, from Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, I began reading it and felt tears well-up in my eyes. The lump in my throat stayed throughout the entire book. I was touched by the Sweet Moon Baby, which was inspired by Karen Henry Clark’s own daughter’s adoption from China. Upon finishing the text I knew two things: (1) This book had to be shared on TWT since it was clear that it’s the kind of story teachers can share with students when talking and writing about different kinds of families. (2) I had to interview the author in order to get more information about the incredible picture book she was responsible for writing.
Without more ado, here’s the interview I did with Karen Henry Clark:
STACEY: I know that Sweet Moon Baby is your first book. Can you share how you took the book from an idea in your head to getting it published?
KAREN: This piece of the story is as amazing as adopting a baby from China. Thirty years ago, I taught high school English, speech, and drama in Oklahoma and had a rascal boy in the front row of my ninth grade English class. He was all energy and wit and clever beyond belief. No one could hold a candle to him on paper, and I had a feeling he’d be good onstage, too. He was. By the time he graduated, I believed he’d become a writer, actor, or director. He became all three. We kept in touch over the years, and one day he called to confess he’d written his brother’s English paper on the Romantic Poets. I assured him all was forgiven, and since turnabout is fair play, I confessed I’d never wanted to be a teacher. He was stunned. I told him I’d been writing children’s picture books for years and was always rejected. He asked me to send a manuscript and he’d help me find an agent. I’d just finished Sweet Moon Baby. A wonderful agent was found, and she found a wonderful editor at Knopf.
STACEY: The text and illustrations in Sweet Moon Baby seemed to mesh. Did you and Patrice Barton collaborate when it came time for her to illustrate the text?
KAREN: No, we never met or spoke. I call us a literary blind date–one that worked to high heaven. Nothing in my imagination was as beautiful or as intricate as her artistic renditions of the text. She is simply brilliant. When I held the illustrations for the first time, I cried as I turned through them. They are so captivating that no words are needed.
STACEY: Your entire book tugged at my heartstrings. How were you able to convey such strong emotions to your reader (e.g., the parents deciding to give up their child in the beginning)?
KAREN: Long ago I remember watching The Dick Cavett Show when he interviewed a journalist who had been honored (Perhaps she received a Pulitzer Prize? I was too young to be aware of the actual award.) for her writing about the assassination of President Kennedy. She explained that the more emotional a subject is, the simpler the writing must be. Only plain words will do, and each one must be perfectly chosen. What isn’t said carries the day. It’s the “less is more” lesson. The bell rung once is more resounding than the one clanging, clanging, clanging.
STACEY: Can you explain why you used repetition throughout the text? For instance, you repeated the sentence “Still, she slept” five times and “Still, she never came” three times. What kind of effect were you trying to have on your readers by using repetition so artfully throughout the book?
KAREN: From countless hours of reading to our daughter, I discovered the magic of repetition to young ears, especially at bedtime. Children like to be “in on the secret”–especially when they aren’t yet readers. They’re proud to know when the words are needed in the text and to be able to say them. In this story, I had to anticipate things that might worry a perceptive child. “What if she wakes up? What if she’s afraid? What if she wants out of the basket? Won’t she be hungry?” Knowing that she’s sleeping eliminates those issues. It tells us she’s safe and lets us focus on the kindness of the animals who care for her in their own ways. For that baby, there’s that pivotal balance of falling asleep under the first parents’ loving eyes and then waking up under the second parents’ loving eyes. With the parents, the repetition conveys the passage of time without saying “Two years later… or After another winter passed…or Next they tried….” We begin to feel their faltering hope, along with their brave faith. We are pulled into their plight. The word still holds considerable meaning. We understand it as a transition word that carries us to the next scene. It holds our hand. Also, it has a lovely sound. It is soft. It calms us. We get instantly quiet for it. I am, by the way, touched by your use of “artful” in relation to my text.
STACEY: Does this story reflect anything you know or believe about your own child’s journey to you?
KAREN: We adopted her when she was eleven months old, and I was struck by the realization that her early history was lost to her. I wanted to give her a lovely version of her beginning, something she could think of and smile. I wanted to show her and thousands of children with similar backgrounds that it wasn’t that they were unwanted, but rather that they were so desperately wanted. So the whole world conspired to get them home on the journey of a lifetime. Her adoring birth parents and the grand moon and the happy monkey–everyone was on her side. Even though she has grown up feeling like an American girl, I believe she carries China with her. It whispers to her at night. It lives in her bones. Its mysteries color her dreams. Nothing is ever lost. No one who ever loved us leaves our memory. Patrice Barton’s exquisite final illustrations convey that powerful truth.
STACEY: What’s your next writing project?
KAREN: I work on at least a half dozen stories at a time. Their characters–a persnickety washing machine, a friendless jackrabbit, a girl not invited to a birthday party, a child with no talent–call to me on different days. When I look at them as a group, however, I see they all have a constant theme. They simply refuse to give up. Years ago when I complained about decades of rejection, a successful children’s author said, “If you give up, I promise you will never be published.” That truth hit me between the eyes. No editor would ever come calling. It was all up to me. Life’s best lessons always are.
- Thanks Knopf for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway of Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale.
- To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about this post, in the comments section of this post by Thursday, December 9th by 11:59 p.m. EST A random drawing will take place on Sunday, December 12th and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post later that day.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and ship a copy of the book out (to the winner). Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.