WILL WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
FOR WRITERS, ILLUSTRATORS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS,
AND BOOK LOVERS EVERYWHERE
I always love to expand my world by connecting with creatives outside the kid lit community I usually frequent. It’s lovely to feel at ease with those you know – but it’s also a good thing to widen the lens we look through.- and discover new and exciting people. I had never heard of today’s guest until she reached out to connect with me…and I’m so very glad she did!
Rae Chesny is a Zora Neale Hurston Scholar, an award-winning social education expert, and the author of Zora’s Garden. Rae is also a Literacy Consultant for Johns Hopkins University. She is bursting with excitement to help children around the world learn about the amazing life of Zora Neale Hurston in a fun way. Rae also enjoys giving young readers a chance to use their imaginations. She believes that learning to use our imaginations is the first step to becoming great storytellers.
When Rae is not coming up with new stories, she enjoys going on adventures with her son, Cam, and working in her garden.
ME: Welcome to Picture Books Help Kids Soar, Rae. We are so happy to have this chance to chat and find out more about you and the book you wrote and the mission you are on. So, without further ado, let’s begin the questions.
Who most inspired your career as an author? How?
RAE: I got my inspiration to truly become a writer a little later in life. When I was invited to give a Black History Presentation for Michigan State University in 2018, I was already an independently published children’s author. But I was still holding onto a lot of fear about writing across genres and spreading my wings as a writer. Well, that invitation led me to discover Zora Neale Hurston serendipitously when my original plan was to present on Langston Hughes. During my quick research on Langston, I kept finding these awe-inspiring facts about Zora. I also found myself outraged when I discovered the two were best friends during the Harlem Renaissance. Despite their friendship and shared patron, Langston certainly had more status. Of the two historic figures, Zora emerged as a treasure trove of inspiration for me and stole the show. I remember asking myself, “Why isn’t everybody talking about Zora?” So I decided to become that person. As I began to study her life and seeing Zora as a person through her accomplishments, possibilities for my own dreams were born. My writing has been in bloom ever since, leading me to unexpectedly become a Zora Neale Hurston Scholar and debut my new children’s book Zora’s Garden, in the prolific writer’s hometown. I am actively writing across genres now and going after opportunities I never would have if it had not been for “knowing” Zora.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
RAE: Here’s a big secret. *Come in very close*…When I was a child, I was a very reluctant reader. Despite growing up in a house with two avid readers, I could not be convinced to sit and read a book. But very early on, I found wonder in the showmanship of how my grandmother read The Billy Goat Gruff and the ease in her voice changing for each character. I don’t recall even looking at the pages of the story. Instead, I just studied her reading performances every weekend I spent the night. I found the same wonder in watching my sister and mother encapsulated by enormous books for hours. Those experiences made me dream of writing books that required grand performances like my Gram’s and that would wow readers. So for much of my childhood (and life), I was consumed with the art of becoming a storyteller. As an adult, that realized dream led me to the path of an avid reader almost as a form of study to see how other writers do it. You can catch me reading anything by or about Zora Neale Hurston these days.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
RAE: I think the journey finds us when it is supposed to. For me, truly stepping into my calling as a writer has been a matter of timing, experience, and faith. The most powerful thing I have learned about writing is that it is a lifelong art to experience for the writer and their readers. The hope is that if I continue long enough, each story I write will serve as a golden brick. One day I hope to look up and see that I have left behind a golden pathway for other writers to travel and readers to enjoy.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen, and paper?
RAE: I am a mama to a busy brilliant 5-year-old author in the making. With that said, I write whenever, wherever, and on whatever I can. I used to have this idea that I couldn’t be a writer because I wasn’t at the computer for hours daily, but the magic began to happen when I let that belief go. Most days, I work on the Notes app on my phone, fleshing out ideas or drafting story ideas in short form. Then when those pieces are ready for more, I move to my laptop, which may be in bed or at a desk.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
RAE: Most ideas come to me in the middle of the night between 1-4 am. I hear those are artist hours. Haha. I often use the Notes app to get snippets of ideas down and then work on them as time allows.
ME: Why do you write for children?
RAE: I write for historically underrepresented children because I believe that we are born with so much magic, but it is taught to us as we age. Imagination and storytelling are two of those magical things I believe everyone is born with. Recapturing that magic becomes difficult when you don’t have access to individuals you can relate to doing what your dream of doing. So, I write for children to show them the power and practice of holding on to that magic. In fact, I consider my books to be business cards for children to show them that I do indeed write and publish books. Zora’s Garden is the first invitation I offer children to wield their magical minds as Junior Storytellers. After the story, there are a series of storytelling prompts for children to enjoy at the back of the book. The journey continues with a chance for children to learn my story creation process and become authors themselves through the Junior Storyteller Program. Through the program, children experience the power of their voice and ideas in tangible form and become literacy advocates for their peers. The Junior Storyteller Workbooks feature levels 1-5, a course, and a mentoring program. It is soul-filling to see young children experience their genius through the storytelling. I think Zora would be overjoyed to see such a thing.
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, and librarians might want to hear.
Advice to writers: In her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I think that as a writer, it can be scary putting your art out into the world, but it’s so necessary that we do it. Your story can’t change anyone’s life if it is never told. I hope you choose possibility over fear when you pick up the pen or sit in front of the computer.
For educators, parents, and librarians:
I am extremely passionate about helping educators and parents reach the children in their lives through children’s literature and companion resources. In fact, Zora’s Garden has a Zora’s Garden Educators Club that features a free ELA and Social Studies Standard Alignment chart from K-8. There is also a 130-page Zora’s Garden Teacher’s Guide for 1st grade. Educator resources can be accessed here: https://www.juniorstoryteller.com/zoras-garden-educators-club
There is also a Zora’s Garden Parent’s Guide, which is recommended for early learners through 1st grade. It includes a learning styles quiz to help parents identify activities best suited for their child’s learning style. It can be accessed here: https://www.juniorstoryteller.com/shopIf you are looking for a fun and engaging experience for Zora’s Garden, I am available for school visits, conferences, and more. Information can be accessed https://www.juniorstoryteller.com/school-visits-conferences-and-more
Thank you so much for reading this writer’s thoughts. As I thank you, please use code FREESHIP on any purchase of Zora’s Garden FREE shipping. I truly hope you and the special children in your life enjoy the story and getting to know Zora Neale Hurston.
Oh my goodness! Thank you so much, Rae, for sharing these insights and information with us. Zora was an inspiring woman…and so are you! And I know you have something else to share that will inspire some of us to head to the kitchen and start baking: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies!
Rae’s Favorite Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F
Step 2: Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl
Step 3: In a separate bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Add in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the flour mixture. Then, fold in the chocolate chips. Spoon desired amount of dough onto cookie sheet
Step 4: Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely
Who’s making these this weekend?
I know we are all applauding Rae for sharing so much with us. Another way we can applaud authors and illustrators is to buy their books, review their books, tell friends about their books (and SHARE all over social media), and ask libraries to purchase copies of their books.
We all know how important it is to support authors and illustrators of the books we love. Rae is providing a special code so you can get FREE shipping if you order her book from her website: please use code FREESHIP on any purchase of Zora’s Garden FREE shipping. I truly hope you and the special children in your life enjoy the story and getting to know Zora Neale Hurston.
And please don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the special giveaway of a copy of this beautiful book PLUS a Zoom chat with author Rae Chesny! Maybe you can tell us whose garden YOU would love to visit if you had a ticket for a time machine and could go anywhere in history, past, present, or even, future.
Thank you, dear friends, for spending your precious time here. I hope you all have a beautiful weekend.