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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Author Melissa Stoller on Building Cultural Bridges in her New Picture Book

I’m delighted to interview my friend and talented author, Melissa Stoller. Her latest picture book, BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM is co-written by Callie Lovvorn and Shirin Rahman, and illustrataed by Kate Talbot. This is the second book in a series from Clear Fork Publishing (November 2022).

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, you have a chance to win a critique from Melissa of a fiction or non-fiction picture book manuscript. To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

First, I want to share illustrator Kate Talbot’s cheerful cover art!

About the Book: From the same team who created PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM . . . Three friends from different faith traditions discover that the bridge to Peace Park is in danger.

Drawing upon their cultural traditions, the girls take action to help solve the problem, building bridges of friendship and community.

Manju: Hi Melissa! Congratulations on your latest picture book, BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM. For the first book of the series, PLANTING FRIENDSHIP, you met with co-writers Shirin and Callie almost weekly for two years. What was the writing process for this second book? Did you write together or separately?

Melissa: Thank you for hosting me and thanks to the amazing KITLIT CREATIVES group!

I loved collaborating with Callie and Shirin once again on writing BUILDING BRIDGES, and Kate’s beautiful illustrations really brought the story to life. Callie, Shirin, and I tried to keep to our original writing schedule. We set up dates and times to brainstorm, research, discuss story points, and also write. We wrote certain sections separately and also many sections together during our Zoom sessions. And we always revised together. We also spent time comparing our backgrounds and family histories, and found that we had so many similarities along with the differences. These deep conversations really informed our writing process and enabled us to draw from our personal histories and feelings as we created our characters and story arc.

Manju: My favorite scene in BUILDING BRIDGES describes the three girls cooking with their grandmas. The language and illustrations show diverse cultures. Please share some considerations that were made to create an inclusive community.

Melissa: I love that scene, too! Thanks for noticing all the details! As writers of the same faith traditions as the girls in the story (Christin, Muslim, and Jewish), Callie, Shirin, and I took great care to make sure the book was inclusive of different religions and cultures. Both books include a Church, Mosque, and Synagogue. Kate did a great deal of research as well to make sure that the artwork was inclusive of all types of children. We cared so deeply that children could see themselves in the story and that the story would resonate with a wide audience.

Manju: This series centers around the themes of friendship and community. What other themes do you hope young readers will discover?

Melissa: I hope that young readers will discover that even small people can create big changes, as the three little girls did in our story when they worked together to help save the bridge to Peace Park. And of course, children should know that they can begin to build bridges of connection among their friends, their families, inside their communities, and with people in other communities. Ultimately, we want to show that through love, kindness, and unity, we can all bring about real change in the world. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Thanks again for spotlighting our stories, Manju, and for all the hard work you do for Kidlit Creatives!

Thanks very much, Melissa!

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Return to Coney Island and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush; Ready, Set, GOrilla!; and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories; and Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Lovvorn and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot). Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom releases from Clear Fork Publishing in November 2022. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Rate Your Story Judge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. She also interviews authors on her blog, This Writing Life, and offers book tips and resources. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and Wordle!


Prize offer: For a chance to win a critique of a fiction or non-fiction picture book manuscript - read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Thursday, November 10th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support. Request to join us by hopping over to our FB page.

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