The Backstory: BALLOONS FOR PAPA
Our guest today is an author whose books I admire and have used both as mentor texts and comps for my own work. Her debut, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG introduced us to her poetic style and ability to gracefully tackle tough topics in a child-friendly manner. Today, Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia is here to discuss her latest book, BALLOONS FOR PAPA and the inspiration behind it.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BALLOONS FOR PAPA.
Thanks so much for having me on The Backstory, Andrew.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
It’s a story about a little boy named Arthur and his papa as they face a difficult time in their family. At the start, Arthur wants a balloon because they make him smile and brighten his day – plain and simple. But as the story evolves and Arthur tries to understand his papa’s sadness, he realizes what he really wants…for his papa to smile, even for just a moment.
I LOVE everything about this story. The symbolism. The message. The language choices. Just everything!
BALLOONS FOR PAPA is empowering for kids while providing a great model of empathy. At the same time, your story is the perfect tool for families to initiate discussions about challenging times.
I also have to be sure to mention Erika Meza's illustrations which paired with your words beautifully. Erika's use of greys with pops of color perfectly reflects the tone of your story and her characters portray so much emotion.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
As I wrote BALLOONS FOR PAPA, there were two memories of when my own children provided empathy and hope to me as I struggled with mild bouts of depression. What I remembered the most from those moments were not how deeply sad I was or how out of control I felt, but my children’s genuine compassion toward me and my emotions.
In one memory, it was my very young son asking if I was okay and offering to help as I struggled with my newborn daughter’s inconsolable crying. It was a small, simple gesture, but so impactful. It let me know I wasn’t alone and that someone cared at a moment when I truly needed it. The other memory occurred after my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. We, as a family, reeled from diagnosis, but it was my daughter’s steadfast resolve that she would be strong for everyone, especially for her dad, that remained in my memory. Their insightful empathy and hope shaped Arthur’s character and became the heart of the story.
Thank you for sharing such powerful and personal memories with us. The heart you injected into this story is undeniable and Arthur's personality comes through just as you intended.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BALLOONS FOR PAPA? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
It started with a simple childhood want. A balloon. My first sentence was - Arthur wants a balloon. Then, his papa served as the obstacle by saying no. I had to sit with this idea for a while, because I didn’t have a story yet. I needed to answer a lot of “whys”. Why was Papa saying no? Why did Arthur want a balloon? Was it a simple childhood want or was it something more layered that carried a deeper meaning? That deeper meaning - the heart of the story - eventually came from the memories of my own children’s empathy toward me that I mentioned above.
Wow! It is incredible to hear the simple idea that sparked this story and then to see the emotional layers and complexity you were able to add by pulling from your memories and personal experiences.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
For me, inspiration is everywhere. It is drawn from our memories. It is a line from a movie or a book. It is a headline in a newspaper about a new scientific breakthrough. It is a sweet conversation between a little girl and her dad overheard in the grocery store. Inspiration is all around – you have to be willing to see it, hear it, and feel it.
That last line might be the quote of the interview! I particularly love your idea of not only noticing the inspiration around us, but feeling it also. We don't just want a shiny new idea, we want to be moved and inspired. Having an emotional connection or reaction to something is a great starting place for a story.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I am so glad you said “books” because I don’t think I could narrow it to just one.
Here are a few of my favorites:
WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul
WRITING WITH PICTURES by Uri Shulevitz
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
TAKE JOY by Jane Yolen
BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert
What an impressive list! A few of these are sitting on my bookshelf right now and a couple others may have just been added to my cart.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Quiet, then jazz.
When I am drafting out a story, I need quiet, but when I am revising and editing, I tend to have jazz playing. The music keeps me moving forward and focused. Other must-haves are my legal pad and fine-point markers for my drafts and my computer for my revisions. Lastly, my muses – my two pups. They are usually snoozing under the table as I write.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
· Persistence – Work hard and never say never.
· Keep learning – Read. Read. Read.
· Believe - Believe in yourself and have faith in your work.
· Patience – Be patient. (This is still difficult for me. :))
· Your time will come – If you do all of these things and do them well, then know with a sprinkle of luck…it’s only a matter of time.
That is tried and true advice right there that I think all of us probably need repeated periodically along this journey.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have a few projects in the works. They are a bit of a departure from my other picture books. One is a nonfiction manuscript utilizing my audiology background and the other is humorous and fun-loving with a focus on family.
I have loved everything you have put out so far and I am looking forward to seeing these other sides of your writing personality. I have no doubt they will be wonderful!
Where can people connect more with you?
Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and sharing all about BALLOONS FOR PAPA and what inspires you.
Thanks so much again, Andrew!
Readers be sure to show Elizabeth some love by following her, visiting her website, and of course, checking out her amazing books, BALLOONS FOR PAPA (HarperCollins, 2021) and BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG (Page Street Kids, 2020).
Elizabeth is generously offering a copy of BALLOONS FOR PAPA to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet and/or comment on my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT ELIZABETH GILBERT BEDIA
Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia grew up in the rural Midwest. As a child, she loved creating stories about the world around her. After working as a researcher, educator, and audiologist, she returned to her creative roots when raising her own children. Now she spends her days creating heartfelt stories for children. She is the author of Bess the Barn Stands Strong (Page Street Kids) named one of the “Superlative Books of 2020” by BookPage, Arthur Wants a Balloon (Trigger Publishing, UK), and Balloons for Papa (HarperCollins). Liz lives in central Iowa with her husband, two children, and two dogs. For more information, visit: https://elizabethgilbertbedia.com
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.