While everyone loves a special occasion, we all have different ideas about the perfect way to celebrate. Some people may love a big, boisterous party, but plenty of people find that all a bit overwhelming – like Snail, the quiet protagonist of kid lit star Naseem Hrab's charming new picture book, How to Party Like a Snail (Owlkids Books, illustrated by Kelly Collier).
Hrab, whom we are proud to count as a former Open Book columnist, has a knack for crafting relatable and lovable characters in her stories, and Snail is no exception. He loves pretty decorations, tasty cake, and quiet music, but after hiding in his shell through the more raucous elements of his friends' parties, he suddenly finds he's not invited to much anymore. He feels sad until he decides to throw his own quiet party. He even finds a new, quiet friend to enjoy it with, which helps young readers understand the magic of finding one's own people. With Hrab's signature humour and Collier's irresistibly adorable artwork, How to Party Like a Snail is an introvert's love letter to embracing your own kind of happiness.
We're speaking with Naseem today about How to Party Like a Snail for our Kids Club interview series. She tells us about why she wants to inspire kids to find their own chosen communities, reveals the improv game that helps her revision process, and clears up some common misconceptions about writing for young readers.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
It’s a picture book called How to Party Like a Snail. It’s illustrated by the amazing Kelly Collier and published by the wonderful Owlkids Books. It tells the story of a mild-mannered snail who loves parties... just not the loud ones. So, he finds a way to embrace the quiet in a way that only he can... with a SHHHelebration! The title popped into my head one day and I thought “OH MY GOODNESS! THERE’S A STORY THERE!” and the rest is history!
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
It’s okay to party in your own way! Heck, most of life involves balancing doing things your own way and playing well with others. I guess that’s the ultimate takeaway—make your life your own and then find a community to share it with!
Did the book look the same in the end as your originally envisioned it when you started working, or did it change through the writing process?
The story changed A LOT and went through a million drafts. It was so hard to write! I got a ton of helpful feedback from many trusted friends. I’ve written sad things and I’ve written funny things and, the more stories I write, the more I come back to the saying: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
I finally understand that most good writing comes from revising, so I’ve stopped getting attached to early drafts. I’ve also started telling myself “This is the idea that could lead to THE IDEA” over and over, which is something I picked up from a podcast featuring creativity coach, Victoria Labalme. I treat my writing more like a rock that’s tumbling down a hill rather than a precious piece of sea glass I need to admire from all angles. Just start writing and stop staring at a blank page waiting for the perfect ideas!
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How do you cope with setbacks or tough points during the writing process? Do you have any strategies that are your go-to responses to difficult points in the process?
Typically, I work through setbacks in the writing process by crushing my ideas with my mind. Seriously, any time I hit a setback, I assume I haven’t done enough thinking, or I’m not coming at the problem moment in the story from the right angle. So, I try to crush and pivot.
My go-to strategy for getting over moments that aren’t working is to play “Should Have Said.” It’s an improv game where the players can be interrupted by the audience members if the audience members don’t like what they’re seeing on stage. When an audience member calls out “Should have said!” the player has to come up with a new line or approach to the scene. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I play this game all the time when I’m writing. It’s incredibly useful in helping push the limits of my imagination. Or I get feedback from a trusted friend!
Do you feel like there are any misconceptions about writing for young people? What do you wish people knew about what you do?
I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about writing for young people. Many folks assume that it’s very easy to do and not as important as other forms (ahem, books for adults). Lots of people think that all stories for children should be told in rhyme. And others think that stories for children should always have a moral or a lesson. How much time do you have? There’s a lot to unpack.
I wish people realized that writing for children feels like you're writing stories for adults with the hopes that they buy or borrow them and read them to children. It’s hard to write, simultaneously, for an audience who has seen everything and an audience who has seen nothing.
What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?
My absolute favourite part of the life cycle of the book is the revising and the collaboration. Whether I get to collaborate with the editor of the story, the illustrator and designer of the book, or the marketing and publicity team, I love, love, love building off great ideas. I feel so lucky to get to make things with awesome people and it’s one of my greatest joys in life. I truly believe that teamwork makes the dream work!
The toughest part is having to be a presenter and a promoter of one’s books when one tends to be an introverted life form. I know I seem extroverted to a lot of people, but it’s an elaborate ruse! The public-facing parts of being a writer...I find that these can make me anxious and therefore take up a lot of my energy. I’d rather hide behind a notebook.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new graphic novel series for early readers called Otis & Peanut with Kelly Collier and published by Owlkids. I’m so excited about it! Kelly’s illustrations are genius—she’s made the characters and world completely come alive! The series is a bit quirky and a bit whimsical and filled with heart and humour. I’m so hopeful that it will make readers feel big feelings. Joy! Sadness! Everything in-between! The first book comes out in Spring 2023 and it’s perfect for fans of Frog and Toad. I can’t wait!
Naseem Hrab is a writer and storyteller, and the author of the Ira Crumb series, The Sour Cherry Tree, and Weekend Dad, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. She loves improv and coffee ice cream. Naseem lives in Toronto, Ontario.