Sandra V. Feder & Rahele Jomepour Bell on Creating a Picture Book that Celebrates Finding Peace Within
Anyone who spends time with children knows that when it comes to kids, the feelings are big. Happiness, sadness, anger – it's all magnified, and it's not always easy to navigate. Writer Sandra V. Feder and artist Rahele Jomepour Bell came together in 2022 to create Angry Me, an authentic and kid-centric picture book that was both beautiful and a smart way to talk respectfully and thoughtfully to kids about feeling really, really darn mad sometimes.
This year, they've followed up with Peaceful Me (Groundwood Books), where a child much like the narrator of Angry Me talks openly about times where he has felt peaceful, and how he manages his feelings when he wants to get back to a peaceful state and has trouble.
With Bell's gorgeous artwork and Feder's keen insight into how to reach kids where they are, it's a spectacular outing, and one parents and caregivers will find themselves relating to as they work through the text with kids, as the story charmingly takes readers through the child's different kinds of peaceful feelings, like the "free peaceful" of outdoor play and "yummy peaceful" of a tasty family dinner.
Recommended strategies for getting "back to peaceful" include kid-friendly techniques like deep breaths, imagining favourite things, taking quiet time, and of course, getting a warm hug.
To celebrate Peaceful Me's publication earlier this month, we're hosting a conversation between its creators, Feder and Bell, in which they interview one another about the process of making Peaceful Me a reality, as part of our KidLit Convos series. From the writer-illustrator relationship to how Dairy Queen and napping cats became part of the creative process, they show the teamwork and joyfulness that makes Peaceful Me work so well.
Rahele Jomepour Bell:
What advice would you give to someone working with a co-creator on a book for the first time?
Sandra V. Feder:
My advice is to let go and prepare to be surprised and delighted. When you work on a picture book with an illustrator, it is a huge act of ceding some control. You have to trust your publisher, who has more experience, to have picked a wonderful co-creator for you and then you have to trust that person to bring their own vision to the work, because that’s when something magical happens. I’m always amazed to see what my illustrators add to my text. I would also recommend to authors that they sit with the illustrator’s work for a bit before offering comments. I think sometimes it's not how we pictured our characters in our heads. But the new layers or insights the illustrator has brought to the project is what makes a picture book not just a story but a piece of art.
What was the strangest or most memorable part of creating this book for you?
One very memorable part was seeing how much nature Rahele included in her illustrations. Certainly, there were places in the text where I mention natural phenomenon that can help a child feel more peaceful. That’s been true for me as a child and as an adult. But she delighted me in taking it to a whole other level with flowers pouring off the page, joyful nature-infused front and back covers, and the child hugging a tree! I didn’t know that I’ve always wanted a book that included a child hugging a tree, but it turns out that I did!
What do you hope young readers will take away from our book?
I hope that young readers will see themselves and recognize that their lives are full of great moments where they feel in balance and at peace with the world. But that those moments don’t always last. For me, visualizing happy things or places always helps me find my bearings again when I’m feeling less peaceful and deep breathing is an important tool we can all use. Mostly, I hope children will recognize that strong feelings come and go and are just part of being human.
[Editor's note: the creators now swapped roles, with Feder asking questions and Bell responding]
Sandra V. Feder:
How do you view the elements we each contributed as working with each other in the final version?
Rahele Jomepour Bell:
I picked up some powerful words in Sandra's story Peaceful Me. And from there, I started to pay closer attention to the children's manners and peaceful moments to the words I focused on in the text, such as river side and sky, during different times of the day with a peaceful mood. I even flashed back to my childhood and those quiet moments I remember when I was reading a book in my room or sitting outside on a spring day.
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In addition, I collected pictures I had taken from the places where I felt peaceful.
I played with Sandra’s words and added a visual language on top of them to transfer the deep meaning of the story's concept.
Do you relate to any of the characters in the book? If so, who and in what ways?
As an illustrator, I always love to accept the stories in which I can see myself, my inner child. I also get a considerable part of my inspiration for my work from my own child and our daily life experiences together.
In this book, the reader will see, I have illustrated the moon on different pages. I was inspired by my sister-in-law's photos of the moon. She is a great photographer, and I see the peace in every single one of her photos. Together, these are how I could relate the main character in Peaceful Me to me and to my life experiences.
What was your workspace like while working on your part of the book? What do you need in order to make a work session successful (food, tools, music, rituals, etc)?
For this book, I wanted to experience peace in different places, especially when sketching. So my daughter and I went to Dairy Queen to eat ice cream; we sat outside on a bench in front of a young tree and ate our ice cream quietly and peacefully. Or we went to a park close to our house and watched the sunset. I watched my daughter giving water to the plant with all her love and, of course, our cat Nono and his napping times brought peace to my studio while I was working on the final illustrations for our book.
Sandra V. Feder is the author of three acclaimed picture books: Angry Me, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell; Bitter and Sweet, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, a PJ Library selection; and The Moon Inside, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro, which has been translated into multiple languages. She has also written the Daisy series of early chapter books, illustrated by Susan Mitchell. Sandra lives in California.
Rahele Jomepour Bell’s charming illustrations have appeared in Angry Me by Sandra V. Feder, The Treasure Box by Dave J. Keane and Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali (Kirkus Best Picture Books of the Year), among others. She has also published seven picture books in Iran and has received a number of awards and honors for her work.