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illustrated by James Ransome

'Manda's having a dark day until Aunt Ruby snuggles up and suggests she makes a list of things she loves. Guess who's top on 'Manda's list? She loves her Aunt Ruby


This book got especially lovely reviews (see the column on the left). I was so happy! Especially because it was the very first hardcover picture book I sold.

The original idea I had for the book was this: a girl living in the same household as her aunt. I got the idea because there was a girl in the preschool class I taught who lived with her mom, her aunt, her cousins, and her grandmother in a big, extended family. Sometimes her mom would pick her up, sometimes her aunt, sometimes her grandmother. They were all close and loving.

But that girl's family was from Appalachia, and when I started writing the story, it had more of an Appalachian voice. I had already decided to use the first person voice to tell the story. That means that I was using the voice of the main character herself to tell the story; the character says, "I did this, I did that," instead of the author, or third person voice, saying, "She did this, she did that." I like using first person voice. It helps me understand the character.

But as I wrote the story, it started to stray. It was no longer an Appalachian voice. The person telling the story became African-American. The voice was unmistakable! When I sold the book, I hoped to get an African-American illustrator, and I was very lucky to get James Ransome. But my editor said that James would be the one to decide the race of the character. If he felt the voice was African-American, then he would create the paintings to reflect that, but he could do whatever he wanted. I worried: how would James Ransome envision the characters?

As it turned out, James Ransome saw them as I did. Or, I should say, even more vividly! His paintings are so beautiful, and he based the characters on actual people in his life -- his family, his neighbors. They look so true-to-life they almost look like photographs, don't they? Also, James actually had an Aunt Ruby. So maybe the paintings of Aunt Ruby are based on his aunt!

And, as always, though a story may not be autobiographical, there is always a little bit of the author in it. The details in the story may not be exactly true, but it will usually be emotionally true. I have sometimes felt like 'Manda, depressed, or angry at the world. Haven't you? And I have definitely found that it cheers me considerably to think of the things I love in the world. And the other thing that helps, of course, is being comforted by and close to loved ones, as 'Manda is with her Aunt Ruby.