I am thrilled to welcome Monica Acker and her debut picture book, BRAVE LIKE MOM (Beaming Books, 2022) with illustrations by Paran Kim to The Backstory. Read on to learn the inspiration behind this beautiful book about what being brave really means and for your chance to win a PB critique from Monica.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BRAVE LIKE MOM.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
BRAVE LIKE MOM is a story of a young girl who witnesses her mom’s strength, bravery, and fierceness in everyday situations but also as Mom battles a serious illness. The main character wishes to be like Mom, but feels she isn’t because “sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I cry.” When Mom helps the MC understand what it truly means to be strong, brave, and fierce she realizes she already is.
Wow! What an important story to have available for families. It has a great theme and will be a perfect way to begin difficult conversations as well as help children in similiar situations feel seen.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
BRAVE LIKE MOM was inspired by my sister-in-law and my nieces. My sister-in-law had not been feeling well for a while and in 2018 the diagnosis was cancer, stage IV. For the next two years she never stopped fighting and she never stopped being an amazing mom, until she passed away in early 2020. My nieces had to be strong too and I believe that the strength that they displayed and continue to display was a gift from their mom (though shout-out to my brother, a phenomenal dad).
During the summer of 2018, I sat in the stands watching my daughter’s Mighty-Mites cheerleading practice and received a phone call from my mom. My sister-in-law was unable to get her chemo treatment that week. I think I worried about how weak her body was getting, but then I remembered who I was talking about. My sister-in-law was way too fierce and way too strong to let that treatment hiccup stop her fight. So, while these little cheerleaders clapped their pom-poms and smiled their biggest smiles, I opened the notes app on my phone and what would be the first draft of BRAVE LIKE MOM poured out.
The Mom in BRAVE LIKE MOM, is not my sister-in-law. This is not her story. But she is the light I tried to capture on the page. In the process of creating the story, I also pulled from my memories of when my mom was overnight-stay-in-the-hospital sick as well as when I was the mom who required some surgeries and recovery after some difficulties following the birth of my third child.
I love how during this challenging time you were able to identify these amazing characteristics and strength in your sister-in-law and nieces and capture it for others. I am sure your book will serve many roles for many families. Maybe it is the mirror they need to see themselves in or the inspiration they need on a rough day. Either way, you have done it masterfully and we are all lucky to have BRAVE LIKE MOM.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BRAVE LIKE MOM? 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?
I wrote the first draft immediately, without reflection or stewing, my usual prewriting process, but I never intended this story to be anything. It was really my way of processing disappointing news. I set it aside and let it be until I received more disappointing news. Working on this story allowed me to focus on something positive and with the help and encouragement of my CPs and eventually my agent, this little something that helped me heal developed into something that I hope and believe will help others.
It is amazing how sometimes the story we don't know we need rises to the surface at the right time. I am so glad that this story made its way out of your notes app and into the world.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Everywhere! While BRAVE LIKE MOM has been an emotional journey, most of my ideas are born from a giggle, a turn of phrase, or looking at something from a different angle. And some of the best inspiration of all comes from my three children. I also sometimes dig through my memories and look for nuggets that could be developed into a story based on the theme or emotion.
Those are all such wonderful places to pull inspiration from. It is a reminder that ideas are all around us and often times just require us to either look for them or be open to receiving them.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
The more I read, the better I write. In terms of craft, Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is like a crash course in how to write picture books for children and really got my ball rolling in the right direction.
I am inspired by so many amazing authors. I am inspired by the excellence that I get to read by visiting my local library and bookstore. Some titles that are a master class are: DANDY, THE MONSTORE, WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, HURRY LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL… I could just keep going.
That list could be endless. Those are all amazing titles you have listed and I agree that reading amazing titles as well as current releases are a great way to hone your craft and be aware of what's currently being published.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
When I’m working, I love a cup of tea (currently in a vanilla chai phase) and a snack. I love having the internet at my fingertips and sometimes I have a stack of mentor texts by my side or notes from critique partners to digest and implement. But also, sometimes my workspace is the parent room at gymnastics and I’m on the corner of a bench revising in Google Docs on my phone or I’m in my car at pickup and take five minutes with a pen and printed MS to make notes. To work, I really only must have a way to record my thoughts. But a warm cup of tea is always nice.
Capitalizing on kids in activities is a great way to steal a few minutes of time for writing. While it may not be a lovely office or quiet workspace, I do think it is the reality for many authors with young children. Fitting writing into life sometimes means drafting in a parking lot.
This picture is so much neater than my current arrangement with a granola bar wrapper, notebook, and various scattered paper bits, but this is my favorite at home writing spot. I love being near the natural light in the window.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
If you love writing, if you feel off when you haven’t written in a while, if writing is part of who you are, keep at it. Not everything you write will be brilliant but everything you write has something to teach you. Learn from each piece and grow.
Spectacular advice! And sometimes we can't see what each piece has given us until much later.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have projects I believe in that I hope will find homes with editors. While I wait, I write some more.
I can't wait for more good news to come your way soon!
Where can people connect more with you?
I would love to connect on Twitter and/or instagram @MonicaAcker1. I also have a website www.monicaacker.com
Readers make sure to follow Monica and check out her website. And while you are at it, preorder, BRAVE LIKE MOM (Beaming Books, 2022) with illustrations by Paran Kim or mark your calendars to scoop up a copy when it releases on November 1st.
Monica thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share all about your incredible book!
Monica is generously offering a non-rhyming critique of a pb manuscript of 600 words or less to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT MONICA ACKER
Monica Acker is a writer and educator. She holds a BA in creative arts and a MAT degree in childhood education. Monica is a member of SCBWI, the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and Children's Book Insider. She lives in Reading, Massachusetts, with her family.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
ANDREW HACKET always dreamed of writing picture books, but never believed it was possible. Then one day he thought, “I could. I should.” So he did (with a lot of hard work). And while he hopes no one swallows acorns as a result of his story, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024), he does hope kids will be inspired to grow kindness in their communities and stand up for themselves — without eating anyone, of course.
Andrew lives in Holden, Massachusetts with his wife and three children, all of whom are very mighty.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.