An Interview with the Author of Come with Me + a Giveaway

A F&G of Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee and Pascal Lemaître arrived in my mailbox in June. I remember reading it and thinking, this book is needed right now. I contacted Holly immediately after shutting the book since I wanted to interview her about Come with Me around the book’s September publication date. I planned for this post to go live on Labor Day, just a couple of days before Come with Me‘s on-sale date.

Come With Me cover image

For a chance to win a copy of Come with Me, leave a comment about this interview and/or how you’d use this book in your classroom at the bottom of this post.

The August 11th & 12th white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which led to violence in the streets, three deaths,  and multiple injuries, changed the timing of this post. I am sharing my interview with Holly with you today since I believe books like Come with Me are needed now more than ever.

As educators, we are uniquely positioned to teach children to respect and love each other. We have the power to show them how to make the world a better place. We can shape the next generation of children so they will choose to be accepting of people who look different, have a different set of beliefs, or originate from a different cultural background. This is an enormous responsibility, but we are fortunate if we can do this work to bring about change in our corners of the world.

Like all books I share on Two Writing Teachers, this book can be used to teach children to become better writers. Some power craft moves you can teach kids, by using Come with Me as a mentor text, are:

  • Employing dialogue dialogue
  • Showing feelings with internal thinking
  • Writing strong leads
  • Using repetition in meaningful ways
  • Using the power of three
  • Showing, rather than telling
  • Moving through time and place
  • Varied sentence lengths
  • Crafting a lesson-learned ending

I’m confident Come with Me will be a go-to read aloud for many teachers this fall. You can use it to lift the level of your students’ writing in addition to helping children imagine ways to make the world a better place. In the meantime, here’s my interview with Holly, which might come in handy when using it in the classroom.

Stacey: Tell me about the inspiration for Come with Me.

Pascal after nine eleven (1)Holly: Looking back, there were quite a few inspirations . . .  First was a painting Pascal sent to me and my 18-month-old daughter after 9/11. We lived in Manhattan at the time and my husband worked in the financial district, and in the days following 9/11 the atmosphere in New York was taut: everybody was scared / threatened / not trusting one another / anxiety high / when would the next act of terrorism come?

The gesture of Pascal connecting to me through his art, one human being to another, and then the image in the painting of one frightened, grieving man connecting to the world by planting a flag, its big red heart blowing in the breeze, helped . . . just knowing my friend, on the other side of the ocean, in Belgium, was reaching out helped me go on.

Sixteen years later, in the spring of 2016, as I watched the attacks in Paris and the lockdown in Brussels that followed, the very city where Pascal was living with his teenage daughter and wife, I reached out to him, by email, to see how they were coping. He told me that his daughter insisted on continuing to ride the subway, despite a bomb going off in the station the day before, and that he and wife were going on with their usual activities, shopping at the Moroccan grocery others were avoiding, walking the dog, watering the garden. He told me about the myth of the humming bird, in which the humming bird flies several times to the fire in the burning forest, with just a few drops of water, as much as the humming bird could carry, while the other animals are fleeing. A boar tells the bird he is stupid to think he will end the fire that way and the bird answers, “I do my part.”

I thought about what would happen if every humming bird did their part, how they could maybe put out the fire that way, and juxtaposed that idea against all of the anger and hatred in the world. The story began to take shape, focusing on the smallest among us, the very ones who might feel they are too little to make a difference. . . and how their part matters, how it’s the tiniest efforts, multiplied by the millions, that can start a revolution.

From that came Come with Me.

Stacey: Your book is about “kindness, bravery, and friendship in the face of intolerance and uncertainty,” which is what made it stand out to me since we are living in a time that is fraught with intolerance and uncertainty. How do you hope Come with Me will be used to inspire young readers?

Holly: We hope this story inspires its readers to connect with another person, even just one—to touch somebody else with a single act of kindness & understanding—it starts with the individual. Every child can be a tiny leader.

TWTcome

Image created for TWT by Pascal Lemaître.

Stacey: Pascal Lemaître’s illustrations complement the prose beautifully. Did you collaborate at all or was it a typical author-illustrator relationship where you didn’t work together on the book?

Holly: Pascal and I have been friends for a very long time and the idea for this book came from our friendship and conversation. Pascal was involved in this story from the very first draft and then we worked as a team with our literary agent, our art director, and our editor. It was a close collaboration.

Stacey: What is your secret for capturing big emotions in a way that’s accessible to a young audience?

Holly: I guess if there is a secret (and I’m not sure there is), it’s listening to yourself and trying to be honest. Regarding Come with Me, I was watching the terrible news on CNN with my three children—and I felt despair. But with that, I also felt a huge responsibility to my children, to show them that feeling powerless is not an option, as a parent or a child. What the parents in the book do for their child is what I try to do for my own children and what Pascal did for his daughter in Brussels / give them permission to face their fears and in so doing, help them go on and make a difference.

Stacey: How does your process for writing picture books differ from writing middle-grade novels?

Holly: I don’t feel like I have a process—it’s more like an accumulation of images that begin to take shape at a certain point. With Come with Me, Pascal and I had wanted to make a book together. He was coming from Brussels to visit me, and as I waited on the platform for his train, I got the words “Mama” and “Papa.” I wrote them down in my little notebook.

Next, I had images of my grandparents washing dishes together (my grandmother always washed and my grandfather dried them). In fact, an early draft of Come with Me was called The Dishes. I just kept those images living in my mind until one night the full story emerged, and it was an answer to my feeling so helpless as a mom in the face of what my children and I were seeing on CNN and the news. Here was something we could do, and as insignificant as it might seem, it mattered.

Writing my novel was very similar—the first image I got with Matylda, Bright & Tenderwas a Monopoly game. Then came two of the characters, and the gecko followed. It became a process of piecing bits together to find out what the story within it was / what shape it was taking. And though the novel was longer and required more organization than the picture book, the images coming first was the same.

The other thing is that I try to write every single day, if only for a little bit of time on my commute. I think showing up and staying in the story is as important as anything else. You don’t want to have to reintroduce yourself to the manuscript when you set to work, and if you can find a little bit of time each day to stay in the story, it really helps.

Stacey: How come some of your books are written under a pen name? How come you decided to use your real name for this book?

Holly: As a literary agent who represents writers and artists, I know how fleeting self-confidence can be, and I’ve seen how debilitating insecurity can be for a writer. So with my first book, since I know so many editors from my work as an agent, I wanted to be sure that the work was judged on its own merit, from the words alone—nobody knew who I was behind the pen name. When the offer came in for my chapter book Dessert First, the knowledge that it was based solely on my words mattered to me. From there, since the pen name was established, I stayed with it.

But with Matylda, Bright and Tender and now Come with Me, the stories were so personal that I didn’t feel right putting Hallie Durand’s name on them (and the original reason for using a pen name didn’t exist anymore). So I decided it was as good as time as any to integrate all the aspects of my artistic life, agenting and writing, under my given name Holly M. McGhee.

Stacey: What’s your next writing project?

Holly: I’m working on a few things, though they are still just beginning to simmer a bit: a picture book with Pascal, a second middle-grade novel, and one other thing that is such a mess I can’t describe it!!

Stacey: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?

Holly: Not that I can think of! But when you asked, I thought of a question I wanted to pose to Pascal Lemaitre, I hope that’s okay . . .

Pascal, tell us about the epitaph in the book:

“. . . though at the level of the individual our actions are as light as a cloud,

 

united they can change the color of the sky.” 

 

—Yvette Pierpaoli, REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL

Yvette Pierpaoli was my wife, Emmanuèle Phuon’s, mother. Working for Refugees International, she died in mission to assist refugees from Kosovo during the war.

She dedicated her life to help refugees. She started with Cambodians fleeing the Khmers Rouges and went on to create shelters in Guatemala for homeless children—to give them a house and medical aid.  She was driven by passion and compassion, and she had a huge sense of humor. I was frustrated I could not be on the field as she was but she taught me that each of us at our own level with our own tools can do a small action to make the world a better place. She was such an inspiring character that John le Carré dedicated his Constant Gardener to her, and Matt Dillon did the same with his movie “City of Ghosts”.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Come with Me.  Many thanks to Penguin Random House for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Come with Me, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, August 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, August 30th.
    • You must have a U.S. mailing address to be eligible to win this giveaway.
  • 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 if you win.  From there, my contact at Penguin will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – COME WITH ME. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post.

Paperandpassion’s commenter number was selected. She will win a copy of Come with Me. Here’s what paperandpassion wrote:

I can’t wait to get my hands on this book whether I win or purchase myself. As an instructional coach, I’ve been working with a new teacher to set up a workshop classroom and we’ve been using the text, Andy Takes Action as a mentor text. It sounds like this book’s message would pair perfectly with it. In Andy Takes Action the little boy realizes that it’s not enough to take action by himself, but also with others. Those others might not be his friends, but it takes working together to bring real change–to be an action hero! We are also hosting a district-wide PD series entitled Mastering the Art of Mentor Texts. Teachers will be bringing their reading and writing units of study to develop mentor text sets for each unit. This book can be used at so many levels for my work this year! 🙂