September 20

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This Party Is for You by Jamie Michalak

Real talk. I’ve been staring at this screen for hours, trying to find just the right words for a Nerdy Book Club post. But the truth is, inspiration for me never strikes when I’m trying to think of something to write. It hits out of the blue, when my mind is wandering, when I’m bored, driving a car, or waiting for my mom to get out of Stop & Shop.


That’s when I notice a runaway shopping cart rolling across the parking lot. I imagine that it has grown bored of life in a suburban grocery store and it’s breaking free for a cross-country adventure. Or that bakery department hairnet caught in a tree? That tree was once a lunch lady, until she was cursed by a wizard’s spell. Life is just more fun when our imagination takes over the boring bits.

These are the everyday moments that bring me joy. Because everything can be anything, and there is a story to be found in even the most common objects, if we take the time to look. Children are experts at this!

Here is a short, incomplete list of what else brings me joy:

  1. toast
  2. dogs
  3. quirky, funny, absurd, happy-making picture books

I love toast so much that I mentioned it in my author bio on my website. One day, before a school visit presentation, a boy gifted me a zip-locked bag of toast. Joy! This is my toast shrine:

Dogs are the majority of the reason I’m on social media.

And escaping into an offbeat picture book, preferably with my dog Lu at my side, is when I feel most truly content.

One day, a couple years ago, my agent told me that editor Jill Davis was looking for a writer to create a story inspired by the work of illustrator Sabine Timm. I hopped onto Sabine’s Instagram page. And friends, I saw toast! And dogs! And dogs made of toast! Plus many more whimsical characters created from everyday objects. In Sabine’s world, a paintbrush is a cat and a chair can be a bear. Fruit have funny faces and trash equals treasure.

Her creations are joy personified. To Sabine, everything really can be anything, and she sees stories in even the most ordinary objects.

I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to work with her pass me by. But which one of her characters to write about? What story could I tell?

At the time I first saw Sabine’s art, the news was (and still is) about people divided. The world felt heavy and dark. But her art is light. It’s little wonder that she’s an Instagram sensation. We all crave these spots of sunshine and a voice saying, “Everything is going to be OK because goodness still exists all around us. Come, let me show you.”

After poring over photographs, it wasn’t long before I had a story in mind. It wouldn’t be about one or even two of her characters, but about as many as I could fit into a story. Cats wearing boots and fruits dressed in suits! Pigeons named Fred and bears made of bread! I’d throw her characters a party in a book. Everyone would be invited!

Lemon, the main character of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!, is seeking a party in page after page. She knocks on the doors of various characters’ homes, and readers can knock along with her. But despite many attempts, there is no party to be found.

Until, aha! Lemon has an idea!

She invites the reader to take the fate of this party into their own hands—literally—and shake up the book to bring all of the characters together. The last spreads depict “A bread and a Fred party, / a stand on your head party/ a twist and a shout and / a no one left out party!”

A “no one left out party” is exactly what a picture book is to me. A picture book is a light when the world feels dark, a friend who makes you laugh until your stomach hurts, and a voice saying, “Come on in! Everyone is invited to this party.”

And my favorite kind of books—quirky books—make us all feel a little less … weird. Quirky picture books say, not only is everyone invited, but accepted. Our differences and quirks are celebrated. Because that’s what make us interesting.Because we’re all weird in our own way, and isn’t that wonderful?

Picture books help inspire kids to use their imagination and see that joy—like stories (or funny faced friends in their fruit bowl)—is all around them. This is not frivolous. This is what hope looks like.

——–

Jamie & LuJamie Michalak is a former editor and author of many children’s books. She wrote the Frank and Bean early reader series, illustrated by Bob Kolar. Booklist called Frank and Bean “absurd, over-the-top, and laugh-out-loud-funny.” Her titles also include the multiple starred reviewed Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Kato-Jones; Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; and the highly praised Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz.

When not writing, she can often be found singing off-key, drinking too much coffee, or hanging out with her two sons. Jamie lives with her family in Rhode Island.