It is a treat to host Tamara Ellis Smith today in celebration of her newest picture book, Here and There, illustrated by Evelyn Daviddi (Barefoot Books). If you visit Tamara’s beautiful website, you’ll find the words, “together we can turn empathy into action.” Her lovely book — and the ripples it’s already making in the world — is a perfect example of that philosophy.
My mom and nephew were the inspirations behind Here and There (Barefoot Books, 2019). When my nephew, Jordy, was a young boy (he’s 20 now!), his mom and dad got divorced and, like my main character Ivan, when he went to his dad’s new house he felt out of sorts and strange and sad. At this time, my mom—Jordy’s grandmother—was taking care of him while my sister worked, and she saw how down he was when he would come back from those visits. One day, while she was listening to one of her many playlists (my mother has probably over a thousand songs on her computer!), she had a brilliant idea. What if she found out what kind of music Jordy’s dad played in his house and then bought the same music for her house too? She gave it a try. Having the same songs in both houses—the same rhythms and melodies and lyrics—built a sort of bridge between them and helped Jordy feel like his two worlds were connected. They helped him feel like both places were home.
Music is magical like that.
Books are magical like that too.
I knew I wanted to create a project to accompany Here and There, something that would maximize the story’s capacity for being a bridge too—a bridge between kids who were experiencing divorce and ways to have nurturing conversations about it. And so I turned to Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a children’s book consulting company that builds creative marketing projects and outreach for authors, illustrators, and publishers focused on engaging readers. Kirsten and I had created a community service project for my first book, and I wanted to make something equally meaningful for this one. Kirsten is also part of an organization called the Healing Library. Bonnie Thomas (therapist, author, LSCW), Megan Emery (librarian and founder), and Kirsten build kits that can be checked out of the library that feature picture books, art and play therapy activities, conversation starters, and more, designed to help families process trauma and change.
“What about placing Here and There at the center of a Healing Library backpack?”
I can’t remember which one of us suggested the idea (probably Kirsten!), but I do remember thinking Yes, yes, and yes! And thus, the Separation and Divorce Healing Library Backpack was born. It’s amazing. The backpack looks just like the one that Ivan carries between his two houses, and inside it are a wide, wonderful variety of treasures: a How to Use this Kit letter to parents and guardians, materials for a birding project, a copy of Here and There, a guided journal, a discussion guide designed to nurture conversation that the book may generate, and a ukulele to name just a few!
Jordy, my sister, and my mom would have loved this Healing Library backpack. Being a kid with divorced parents is really tough. My hope is that Here and There can help kids find magic in the same way Jordy found it. Music magic. Book magic. Their own magic. All kids deserve a way to feel comfortable wherever they are, wherever they call home. A way to feel like they are at home inside of themselves most of all.
Here and There is a Little Free Library Action Book Club Pick! This book club invites communities to read books on timely topics, engage in lively discussions, and take part in meaningful group service projects!
An unboxing of the Healing Library Separation and Divorce Backpack:
Tamara Ellis Smith’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) was a Summer 2015 Kids Indies Next List pick, a 2015 Indies Introduces Top Ten Pick, one of Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year, and a Vermont Book Award finalist. Tamara lives in Vermont with her four kids and husband and loves to run on the river trails with her dog. Tamara is currently working on picture books and another middle grade novel. You can find her at www.tamaraellissmith.com