WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
Our kid-lit community spans the globe. And I’m so grateful to connect with authors and illustrators, no matter where they live. Today’s guest lives in Los Angeles and I’m already planning to meet up with her when I’m able to get there.
Zeena M. Pliska spends her days immersed in the joy of 5-year-olds. She is a kindergarten teacher by day and a children’s book author by night.
A progressive educator, she believes that the most important aspect of teaching is listening to children. She teaches using a Reggio-Inspired Approach for the Los Angeles Unified District in the Venice/Mar Vista area. She believes in the power of stories. Building the conditions for children’s voices to emerge is her primary teaching goal. When her students come to the end of the school year, they expect to be heard. It is her most rewarding achievement as a teacher.
A lifetime storyteller, she has facilitated stories as a theater director, visual artist, photographer and journalist. Life is a series of stories and is really the only thing you leave behind. Stories can connect, change, provoke, and transform, creating new meanings and realities.
She is proud to have found a new way to facilitate story as a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, Hello Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story from Page Street Kids comes out May 12, 2020. Her second picture book Egyptian Lullaby from Roaring Brook Press is due out in 2021.
When she is not traveling with her daughter to near and distant places, she is finding stories in Los Angeles. Zeena is half Egyptian and half Filipino.
WOW! You can see why I am excited about meeting up with Zeena…I was also a kindergarten teacher…and my mission is to empower kids to make their voices heard!
ME: Welcome, Zeena! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us. I have to tell you that as much as I am in love with the glorious illustrations by Fiona Halliday, I’m also in love with the text of your debut picture book, HELLO, LITTLE ONE. Why don’t we get started with the Q&A?
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
ZEENA: Thanks so much Vivian. What a pleasure to be interviewed by you! Learning to read was such a monumental and magical milestone for me. It’s probably why I am a kindergarten teacher. It’s the beginning of the wonder of story. Though not all kindergartners are developmentally ready to read, some are. When this happens, I am there to pull them through to the other side. Actually, I build the conditions for reading to occur.
That said, I remember how I was that first grade cliché. Learning to read really did open up a new world and an escape from a childhood that was less than pleasant. I remember knowing about Harold and The Purple Crayon. I don’t remember reading it, but someone must have read it to me. I loved the unlimited reality of that story.
When I began to understand how it all worked (the letters, the sounds, the pictures) I remember reading the Little Bear books written by Else Holmelund and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. When my daughter was little, I rushed out and bought them for her. Each story brought back that warm fuzzy feeling I had when I became a part of Little Bear’s group of friends.
I remember reading Carolyn Haywood’s books. I found myself immersed in the worlds of Betsy and Eddie. As a lonely 6-year-old, they became my faithful friends also. When I had worked my way through Carolyn Haywood’s series, I found Ramona Quimby and all the characters created by Beverly Clearly. I didn’t know it at the time, but Beverly Cleary was from Portland, Oregon where I grew up. As an adult, I walked the streets and hung out in the neighborhood where Ramona walked. No wonder Ramona’s world was so familiar to me.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
ZEENA: In the fourth grade I wrote my first play so I could control the content and direct the play. (years later, I would grow up to direct theater in Los Angeles) In the 5th grade, I discovered writing poetry as a result of the passion of my 5th grade teacher, Victoria Jackson. Because of her passion, I experienced the joy of writing. At the tender age of 10, I declared that I wanted to grow up to be an author and a teacher. And I did.
Writing gave me a voice from a young age in a family who rendered me voiceless. The power of story was evident then, but not necessarily appreciated. Writing shaped my identity. Ever present in my life, writing has always accompanied me like a best friend from creative writing to journalism. Writing helped me make meaning of my world and defined the elements that make me who I am.
I had taken for granted the fact that writing had powers beyond my understanding. What I didn’t know at the beginning that I know now, is the incredible power of story. The power that story has to heal, to empower, and to form realities that didn’t exist before you put that pen to paper or touched that keyboard. The power of potential.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
ZEENA: I once wrote an entire screenplay by hand on a legal pad. My writing partner at the time and I had to figure out how to put all those scribbles and scratches into a manuscript form for submission. It was painful. While I might plot with pencil and paper (or post-its and index cards) and write down notes on post-its or little scraps of paper (a very bad habit.) That screenplay experience left an indelible memory that I am not wanting to repeat. So, most of my writing takes place on a little, cheap laptop that fits in my purse.
Like many writers, I am easily distracted when I am home. I prefer to write in coffee houses. The smell of fresh brewed coffee is like the bell for the Pavlovian dog. I smell it and immediately think I need to write. Not a bad association.
I especially like to write at a specific café in Playa Del Rey, CA. Café Milan is a sweet, neighborhood spot. Playa Del Rey is one of the last LA beach towns that truly feels local, lacking the tourists of neighboring beaches like Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan, and Hermosa. It sits right next door to Marina Del Rey. It’s a bit of a hidden gem and it’s about 6 minutes from my little apartment. Parking at the beach is always a pain so one of the perks of writing at Café Milan is that after a day of writing, I can leave my car parked in the parking lot and walk to the ocean. It’s the best writing ritual. There’s nothing better than writing all day and finishing with waves lapping on toes in the sand, ocean breeze whipping through my hair and sailboats in the distance, making their way back home to the next door marina from the open ocean. Magical. Unfortunately, the café is currently open for takeout only. My writing spot has temporarily moved to my apartment and my self-control and ability to focus is slightly improving.
Truthfully, I can write anywhere. I’ve been known to write in the staff lounge at lunchtime and in my kindergarten classroom after school while waiting for my daughter to get finished with her high school activities.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
ZEENA: I wish I had a more disciplined practice. I write when the muse strikes or when my agent sends out an email saying there’s an editor looking for something I’m capable of writing. I had similar habits as a visual artist, creating pieces when there was a gallery show motivating me. I write sporadically but will say that I am not limited. I can write for hours on end or I can take advantage of 10 minutes of downtime.
ME: Why do you write for children?
ZEENA: I am immersed in the world of children. As a progressive educator, my focus is on listening to children and building the conditions for their voices to emerge loudly and strongly. 5-year-olds leave my class expecting to be heard. Children are the barometer of the health of our society. It is our responsibility to nurture their potential, their ideas, and their identities, then hold sacred space as they expand into the future of our ever changing world. Stories help children make sense of their world. Stories create context so they can navigate that world. I don’t believe in preaching or moralizing to children and I am very sensitive to not wanting to manipulate or coerce them as well. I write for the youngest members of our society because they are our future. They are pure potential. They are unwritten. I love being a part of the potential for unlimited possibilities.
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
ZEENA: Three thoughts: You can’t edit a blank page… AND… If you are writing because you want a career as an author, know that rejection is a part of the lifestyle. There is no avoiding it. Even after you get an agent and sell manuscripts, each new piece goes through the same process of submission. The only way to avoid rejection is to stop writing…AND…The only constant is change.
ME: And the only failure is the failure to keep trying. I totally agree, Zeena! You’ve encapsulated the life of a writer. Thank you so much for sharing all of these awesome insights. I know everyone is so very happy to meet you!
ZEENA: This has been absolutely delightful! Thanks so much for the opportunity, Vivian!
ME: But wait folks! We are not done yet! Zeena knows that energy is very important to a writer…and she’s going to share a favorite treat with a recipe courtesy of Heavenly Homemakers. Take it away, Zeena!
1 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies (off brand works fine)
1. In a large saucepan, stir peanut butter and honey over low heat until runny and smooth.
2. Remove from heat and stir in Rice Krispies.
3. Press mixture into 9×9 inch baking dish.
4. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Recipe by Heavenly Homemakers at https://heavenlyhomemakers.com/3-ingredient-peanut-butter-hone-rice-krispie-treats
Well, I’ve got the ingredients, so I think I know what my 11-year-old grandson and I will be making tonight to enjoy while we watch a movie…he’s sleeping over tonight!
Do any of you have other special ingredients that you add to Rice Krispie treats? Let us know in the comments…and please make sure you leave a comment and share this post on social media for extra tickets in the giveaway hat…and the prize, as we announced yesterday in our Perfect Picture Book Friday review of HELLO, LITTLE ONE is a Picture Book Manuscript Critique from author Zeena!!! Don’t miss this opportunity…she is SOME writer!
I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable weekend. For those in the US, Happy Memorial Day! Is anyone having a Zoom BBQ?