Monday, March 4, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY with Pat Zietlow Miller and When You Are Brave (Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler)

Everyone has to be brave. Sometimes.
And bravery means different things to different people. One person might do something easily while another person has to screw up every ounce of courage to do the same thing.
I wrote WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, which releases Feb. 5 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, during a time in my life when I had to be brave.
Initially, I wrote it as a pep talk to myself. They were the words I needed to hear at one particular moment.
Later, I wondered if other people might need to hear them too. I started thinking about all the ways we ask – or even expect – kids to be brave. And how we’re often frustrated when they’re not.
  • “Come on! Just hop in the chair and get your hair cut. It’s not like it hurts.”
  • “Get on the bus with the other kids. You’ll find someone to sit with.”
  • “There’s a kid about your age. Go ask them if they want to play.”
  • “Aren’t you a little old for a night light?”
  • “Everyone else in the class is floating on their stomach and putting their face in the water. Just try it!”
It’s easy to forget that things we take for granted can be new and scary to kids. And while some kids are happy to plunge into the deep end or go headfirst down the slide, others need more time and support.  
Or a pep talk.
So I shared my own personal pep talk with my agent and then she shared it with an editor who then acquired it. Of course, there were edits to be done, but the story stayed remarkably true to the first draft I wrote when I was feeling uncertain and worried.
I think that’s because what I wrote was honest. And relatable. When I talk to people who want to write for children, I often say that stories need to have a universal human emotion at their heart. A feeling or moment that makes readers – whether they’re 5 or 95 – think: Oh, I’ve felt that way. I remember that.
Because the kids we’re writing for are people. They might be smaller and less experienced than the adults reading them a story, but they have the same feelings and worries.
No matter how old readers are, they want to feel seen. To have a book that feels like it knows them and what goes on in their life and inside their head.
I hope that this book is the sort of story adults and kids can read together and connect to. I hope it’s the kind of book that can start conversations about how it’s OK to be nervous or scared sometimes and what it means to be brave and how we can support each other as we work to be braver.
A picture book is a joint effort between the author and illustrator, and Eliza Wheeler did such a great job showing bravery in her art. Her use of color as one child figures out how to be brave is inspired, and interestingly enough, the way she drew the main character reminds me of me as a kid.
Which is probably the point.
Of all the books I’ve written, this might be the one I needed most as a kid. Not because I had a horrible childhood. I didn’t. But because I was sensitive. And shy. And prone to worrying.
I hope kids and adults who need this book – for whatever reason – will find it and be reminded of the courage inside them.
Because everyone has to be brave. Sometimes.
More info …

  • If you want to get an up-close look at the wonderful design of the book’s dust jacket, case cover and endpapers, there’s a video pinned to the top of my Twitter feed. And if you want to follow me, I’d be thrilled.
  • If you want to learn more about me, you can visit me at: I’m also on Instagram.


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  1. Oh, how I look forward to reading WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE by Pat Zietlow Miller.

    As a kid, I too, worried. In high school a friend gave me a "prescription" container of worry pills. The "pills" were colorful pieces of candy! This book will be shared with our grands who sometimes experience anxiety and need sweet reminders to be brave.

    Thank you, Lynne Marie for an excellent interview.

    Suzy Leopold

    1. Love this prescription, Suzy! Thank you for sharing. Thanks for stopping by My Word Playground and please feel free to subscribe and follow!

  2. Pat - you are an inspiring author! This is a wonderful topic for a picture book and I look forward to reading it. Thank you Lynne for having Pat as your guest! I always enjoy reading your blog!

    1. Awww, thanks @DesejeRobinson! Always enjoy having you here and appreciate your thoughts about Pat and her wonderful book. And check out today's post as I will be choosing someone for a pitch critique!

  3. This book sounds so good! I am totally a worrier and always have been. I know so many people will be able to relate to the message in this book.

    1. Yes, I agree! I can't wait to share this book with my daughter as well. Thanks for stopping by, Diana! Can't wait to celebrate UNICORN DAY here!