The Backstory: HIDE AND SHH!
It isn't every day that I get to welcome an agency sibling to The Backstory. It is my pleasure to introduce Christina Dendy and her latest picture book, HIDE AND SHH! (Cardinal Rule Press, 2023) with illustrations by Nathalia Takeyama. Keep reading to learn all about this story of empathy and understanding.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind HIDE AND SHH!
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Thank you for inviting me to share it, Andrew! I’m so thrilled to participate in The Backstory and to introduce everyone to Dinah and her sister, Chloe.
At its most basic, HIDE AND SHH! is a sibling story, but really that means it’s about any two or more kids who face the challenge of playing together and having different ideas about how to do so. Dinah wants her sister, Chloe, to play her game, but Chloe has other ideas. Kids are always told to play nicely, but even grownup kids have a hard time figuring out how to do that when they have different ideas about how or what to play. So, the story is a little bit about standing up for yourself, which is important, but it’s also about thinking beyond what you want and considering others. Can you get some or most of what you want while giving someone else the same? Can you be flexible and compromise a little? We’re sympathetic to Dinah because she has been waiting to play with her sister, but the way she tries to solve that problem causes a different problem. Sometimes, our first approach isn’t the best, and if we step back to think about the others involved (our siblings, our friends), if we question our assumptions (Dinah thinks she knows the most fun way to play), then we might find our way to a surprising solution.
So, Dinah’s story is about empathy, flexibility, compromise, and problem-solving.
It’s also about inclusion, but your next question touches on inspiration so I’m going to skip ahead to expand on that.
All of the themes you mention above are so important and necessary for kids to have exposure to from a young age. As you mentioned, these concepts of compromise and flexibility can be hard for adults, so the more exposure we can present to children at a young age the better.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
Once upon a long, long, long, while ago, two friends and I were trying to hide, and I said, “Shh! Be a mushroom.” It became a fun refrain over the years, and later, I used the phrase when challenging my youngsters to sit still and quiet. (We all know that most toddlers, preschoolers, and even older kids EXCEL at sitting still and quiet when we ask them to, right?) My kids also love hide-and-seek, but one who shall not be named was terrible at hiding and always gave herself away. That was funny to me but frustrating to others who shall not be named.
My kids, their friends, young people I’ve taught and tutored and worked with in shelter, also forever face challenges of inclusion on a small, personal scale, which reflects much broader issues of inclusion in our communities and our society. After all, how do we first learn about the idea of including others? As kids, when we’re playing.
Inclusion and representation were already big issues for me that I tried to explore with my kids as well as in my educational and other writing. The inspiration behind that interest is people, and tangentially, history. Dinah, the main character in HIDE, has Down syndrome (Ds), but the story is not about having Ds. Rather, it’s a story about a kid facing kid issues that are also, at their heart, grownup issues. However, Dinah was inspired by children in my life and my kids’ lives who have Ds and who have other developmental differences. She was also inspired by adults with developmental differences, including two mighty women with Ds, with whom I was privileged to work years ago.
I love your effort to bring more inclusivity to picture books in a way where the difference is not the heart of the story. It is such a powerful gift to provide opportunities for all children to see themselves in the stories we read. And by doing this, you are directly helping children to increase their empathy, compassion, and understanding.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now HIDE AND SHH!? 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?
So, it was several years ago that I wrote the first draft of HIDE AND SHH! At the time, I had been looking for picture books with more diverse representation, particularly those with neurodivergent characters, and not finding many. (More have come out in recent years, which is wonderful.) Also, most of the picture books that did have persons or characters with Ds were either nonfiction or fictional but focused on either having Ds or on being a sibling or friend to someone who has Ds. There weren’t many stories with kids with Ds or other developmental differences just being kids. When the other ideas popped into my head, my desire to expand representation glommed onto them.
I had a solid version of the story in my head that I dumped on the screen in a hurry, but it took many revisions to fine tune the relationships, to balance the perspectives, and to give Dinah the space and tools she needed to solve the problem herself. Having Dinah solve her own problem in a way that included her AND recognized her sister’s frustration was key.
All that revision was driven in large part by feedback from amazing critique partners as well as from some champagne rejections. I also put HIDE through several sensitivity reads as did the publisher. Recently, when we received some feedback that contrasted with previous suggestions, we decided to err on the side of caution and made some last-minute changes that are not reflected in the advanced copies that already went out but will be in the final print copies.
Also, a quick shoutout, but while our book was in development, a fabulous picture book called UP AND ADAM, by Debbie Zapata and Yong Ling Kang came out. It, too, features a child with Ds enjoying kid things and solving kid problems. Inclusion isn’t just about welcoming and learning about someone who is different in one way or another and accommodating those differences; it’s also about recognizing and embracing the ways we’re alike.
It is so great that you saw a need in the market and took the steps to fill it. It is also wonderful to hear that you are not alone in creating fabulously inclusive books and that more are making their way to the market.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Everywhere. I’m guessing most writers, like me, are not only readers who enjoy words and escaping into stories but also observers. When you notice the world around you and all the remarkable people and critters and places and phenomena in it, well, there’s no shortage of ideas. I have pages and pages of ideas that I will never get to. Most of the ones that have made it to some sense of completion, like HIDE, hit the mental soup bowl and poof! took some sort of instantaneous form that I could pour onto the page.
I find that those more complete ideas are the ones to which I feel the closest connection for some reason, because of the character or the theme or some funny anecdote. I have a manuscript about pirate stockings rooted both in my love for oddly patterned and often mismatched socks and my seemingly odd assortment of friends and loved ones. (I’m going to hear about that comment, I’m sure.) The most powerful ideas come from random things I notice that relate to something that has a deeper meaning to me, that feels important to share.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Oh, my. As noted above, I’m a reader, so there are so many books that have influenced me over the years. Foundational for me, as a child, was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve been chasing rabbit holes of one sort or another ever since. However, I read widely across genres and topics, so it’s hard to winnow down inspirational books. Also, I have spent most of my life studying history, religion, mythology, and related subjects. I love exploring and learning, and those interests greatly inspire and drive my own writing endeavors.
In terms of “writing as craft” books, I strongly recommend Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and bird by bird by Anne Lamott. I found them both inspirational and cathartic. For writing picture books, if you haven’t done so already, please pick up Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul.
Those are all wonderful recommendations! And I am glad you brought up your other areas of interest. Thinking about our personal adult interests through the eyes of a child can be another usual tool when generating ideas.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Coffee. I suppose this computer comes in handy, too, and undoubtedly, the powerful research tool that is the World Wide Web. Other than that, I’m flexible. I’ve been a contract writer for more than 15 years now, so I’ve learned to work in various environments. Since COVID, I work a lot more from my home office, which includes the requisite amount of books and clutter, including a 1980s Battlecat action figure, a headless horseman Lego figurine, an ET Funko, cool things my kids have made, and fossils we’ve found, but I still like to venture forth and work from coffee shops, too. I find the surround-sound of bustling cafes helps me focus more than the quiet of my office and the “temptation” of things like picking up laundry and doing dishes. That habit harkens back to many hours spent writing bad poetry and prose in all-night diners … back when coffee was almost always $1 and you got free refills. Sigh.
Well, now you have me wanting to set up my laptop in a coffee shop and pretend like I am going to accomplish my work. Like you, I love the atmosphere, however, unlike you the sights and sounds, while they may generate some ideas, often are too distracting for me.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
The same thing my characters learn: Don’t be afraid to fail.
Like any other creative or scientist or, well, any human, you absolutely must be prepared to fail at what you do. Every published author can tell you that they probably spend more time revising than they did writing that first draft. Many will probably tell you that they submitted something too soon because they were so excited about it and then endured rejection and more revising. It’s part of the process. We don’t get it “right” all the time, and we almost never get something “right” on the first go. Plus, there’s more than one “right” way.
You have to be willing to fail, to own the disappointment, indulge in some muttering and self-pity and whyohwhys and even sometimes frustration or jealousy, to sulk over a brownie, to rant to a friend or even just the trees, and then, to put that all to bed and get back to work, to take another look at what you have, to ask what if, or even to shift focus and try something new. That might mean a new something in your story, a new format for your story, or an entirely new story.
The brilliant thing about the digital age, for us, as authors, is you don’t lose things. You can set a document aside in a folder and come back to it again. You can write a new version of it just to see what happens (it’s a great way to shake loose some ideas) and still have the other versions waiting in the wings. Anytime I get anxious about making a big change or starting over or doing something new, I think about a typewriter, its inky ribbon, and whiteout, and I feel a lot better.
But seriously, know you’re going to fail, to make mistakes, to feel disheartened, to get rejections, to hit tough spots where you can’t see your way to the end of a story, and just be prepared to kick yourself in the pants and persevere.
All of this is spot on! You are talking about not just embracing failure, but also about embracing the process, revision, and being flexible. This journey is much easier on the heart and nerves when we are able to accept the challenges and let our failures motivate us to move forward with a flexible mind.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have other stories out on submission with fingers, toes, and eyes crossed. I do not have anything else coming out at this time, so most of my kidlit focus is on the HIDE release, which includes virtual and in-person read-alouds. I’m participating in a “Picture Books That Empower” panel later today, March 8, at 1 p.m. EST, hosted by Maria Dismondy and Cardinal Rule Press, with these fabulous authors—CK Malone, Sally J. Pla, Jenn Bailey, and Julia Finley Mosca. You might still be able to sign up if you’re reading this beforehand: https://cardinalrulepress.lpages.co/picture-books-that-empower. I also have a virtual book reading following the release of HIDE AND SHH! on April 4 at 1 p.m. You can sign up for that here: https://cardinalrulepress.lpages.co/hide-and-shh-virtual-reading/. More information about in-person story times and author events in Southwest Ohio will be posted on my News & Events page soon.
Otherwise, I’m doing my regular educational content work and wrapping up a chapter book draft (that started out as a picture book) and hoping to get back to revising my middle grade novel.
We of course wish you the best of luck with your current submissions and hope you receive good news soon! And I can't wait to catch some of your launch events.
Where can people connect more with you?
My Facebook account is a personal one, but “author me” regularly bounces around Twitter at @cdendy76. You can also check out my website at christinadendywrites.com and sign up to follow my blog, which I update periodically depending on the rest of my life load!
Readers mark your calendars for the release of HIDE AND SHH! (Cardinal Rule Press, 2023) with illustrations by Nathalia Takeyama. And if you are able, get those preorders and/or library requests in.
Christina, thank you so much for filling us in on HIDE AND SHH! and for all of your thoughtful insights. I can't wait to add your book to my classroom library and share it with years of students to come.
Christina is generously offering one winner a copy HIDE AND SHH! (US only)
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 CHRISTINA DENDY
Christina Dendy is an American author with a wide range of experience writing and editing for the K-12 educational market, particularly in history and other social sciences. The Wall and the Wild (from Lantana Publishing) with illustrator Katie Rewse is her debut picture book. Her second picture book, Hide and Shh! (from Cardinal Rule Press) with illustrator Nathalia Takeyama hits the shelves in Spring 2023. Other published works include the historical graphic novels The Underground Railroad (2011), Bringing Home the Constitution (2011), and The North-West Resistance (2011); numerous articles in EBSCOhost's academic publications; and various poems, short stories, opinion pieces and other curious items. Christina loves just about anything that involves exploration, on or off the printed page, and regularly tumbles down rabbit holes of one sort or another. When not writing or reading, she meanders about Dayton, Ohio, in the United States with her tallish hobbit husband, three impish children and two finicky furry friends. You can learn more about her educational publishing work, background, interests, and other stuff by clicking around the site. Represented by Daniel Cramer of Page Turner Literary. Twitter @PageTurnerLit
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.