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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

The Backstory: LOVE GROWS HERE

I am thrilled to welcome my Kidlit Clubhouse companion, Chloe Ward to The Backstory today. Chloe is joining us with her debut picture book, LOVE GROWS HERE (Albert Whitman, 4/4/24) with illustrations by Violet Kim. Keep reading to learn about the inspiration behind this book and for your chance to win a manuscript critique from Chloe.


AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind LOVE GROWS HERE.


First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.


CW: LOVES GROWS HERE is about a young girl, Aiko, shopping at the market with her grandma. Aiko bumps into a man and he tells her, “Go back to your own country.” But Aiko was born here; this is her country.  Aiko learns a hard truth, but she also learns that small acts of kindness help love, not hate, to grow.


AH: I hate that stories like this need to exist, but I am so grateful for the beauty you and Violet have created in LOVE GROWS HERE. You masterfully relay both hurt and hope through your lyrical language and we are lucky to have this powerful book coming to shelves soon.



AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?


CW: I started writing LOVE GROWS HERE in 2020. It was actually one of the first picture books I wrote. The rise in Anti-Asian hate at that time brought up a lot of memories and feelings, and I processed that through writing.  The story explores many of the thoughts and questions I had growing up: where is home? Where do I belong? Why does someone who doesn’t even know me, hate me? How do I make the world a better place when I’m just a kid?


I wrote LOVE GROWS HERE because I wanted kids like me to see that they aren’t alone, to give them the space to process this difficult topic, and as an entry point for teachers, parents, and families to have meaningful conversations about how assumptions, racism, words, and actions affect people. 


AH: You have achieved your goal. As a teacher, I am thankful to have books like this for the exact reasons you mentioned. Having books that help students feel seen and begin those challenging conversations is a gift.


How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now LOVE GROWS HERE? 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?


CW: I typically think of a story and ponder it for a while before sitting down to write. For LOVE GROWS HERE, it started with sitting with my memories and thoughts, remembering the time a random person on the street yelled, “Go back to where you came from,” exploring the ideas of fear, hate, ignorance, and reflecting on my own racism. I kept coming back to the idea that like a weed, we can’t always see racism, it isn’t always loud and in your face but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It isn’t something you can just eliminate, or check off like, “Yay, I did XYZ. Done, racism is gone!” It has roots that need to be pulled; there is always work to be done.  


As a kid, I thought I was immune to racism because I’m half Asian, half white. I’d experienced plenty of racism myself so obviously I couldn’t be racist. But after 9/11, the rise in Islamophobia mixed with my own ignorance led to fear. It was a light bulb moment when I was at an airport and saw a group of Muslims and felt scared. And it finally clicked for me, Ohh, wow, this is how it can start. This is racism. That was a pivotal moment for me when I was young. So I sat with those memories and thoughts for a while before the story emerged. 


AH: I commend your openness and self-reflection. This is a great reminder that we all can hold hidden biases that creep their way into our thoughts and actions if we aren't willing to be reflective and honest.


Did LOVE GROWS HERE undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?


CW: The plot and structure of LOVE GROWS HERE is very similar to the first draft. I always wanted the story to follow a girl who experiences a stranger saying, “Go back to your own country.” It’s a very jarring moment, and feels random, but if you ask your Asian American friends, this is something a lot of us have experienced. I wanted to capture that common experience of being a perpetual foreigner. I also wanted Aiko to figure out a way to make the world a better place, little by little. We aren’t going to change the world overnight but together small acts of love and compassion can have a big impact. 


As far as changes go, I really wanted the story to be authentic, so I pulled as much as I could from my own experience and conversations with my grandma. There were a lot of little tweaks here and there. The hardest part to write and revise was the section on the Japanese American Incarceration. I really wanted it to reflect my grandma’s point of view— that so many of the decisions during that time were based in fear and ignorance, which drove hateful, racist, and discriminatory actions. A section of the book that I ended up removing was about how my grandma’s family was frequently interrogated in the middle of the night.  Not everyone on Kauai was literate so people would visit my grandma’s house, asking her father to write letters home to their families in Japan. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, this was deemed suspicious. The interrogations were frightening, especially for my grandma and her siblings. My great grandfather became fed up. He wanted the interrogations to end and to prove his loyalty to the United States, so he burned all their Japanese belongings. That was a hard scene to cut. But I couldn’t quite fit it in, so I did what I always do, set it aside and saved it for another book.  


When I look back at the first draft, the bones are there. The beginning and middle have been revised and edited too many times to count. I probably have 100 drafts of this story, but surprisingly the ending never changed. 


I think because this was one of the first books I wrote, it needed a lot of work and revision. The changes mostly came from setting the story aside for a few weeks and revisiting it, reading it and thinking, this could be better. I worked on it for over three years. I do have a hard time saying something is finished, which is a little bit tricky because at some point you do have to say, this is done! No more editing. That is a skill I’m still working on. 


CW: Thanks for sharing what that revision process looked like for you. Cutting scenes can be hard at the best of times, but I imagine it must have been so much harder when trying to convey such a personal story. I love that you are holding onto those cut pieces for future work.


Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work?


CW: There are so many! But for this story specifically, I’ll say Debbi Michiko Florence.  I was just starting to write and somehow stumbled on her middle grade book KEEP IT TOGETHER, KEIKO CARTER and oh my goodness. I thought, Wait, I can write about someone like me and people will want to read it? Up until that point, I hadn’t really encountered many children’s books with Japanese main characters, and that really made me think the sky’s the limit.


AH: And now your story is going to open those same doors for so many children and aspiring authors!


Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?


CW: For the most part, they pop into my head at the most inopportune moments, when I don’t have access to a piece of paper or a pen. I have very poor short-term memory so I have to verbally repeat the idea until I can grab my phone, my notebook, or a post-it note. 


I like to pull ideas from my life, things that are important to me, or stories I wish I had as a kid. The best ideas come when you’re talking to a friend. For my second book MADE FOR MORE, I had been scrolling social media and came across a skin whitening advertisement directed at Asian women. I was angry and started venting to Ebony Lynn Mudd about “skin like the moon” and she said, “That’s your book.” Everyday conversations with friends have been a great source of inspiration for me.


AH: Wow! That's awesome that you can pinpoint the inspiration for MADE FOR MORE. You are so right, those conversations with friends, especially creative-minded ones, can be a great way to spark ideas.


Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?


CW: I do! I have a few surprises up my sleeve but for now I’ll talk about what’s been announced. My next picture book is MADE FOR MORE, a story about loving one’s skin, and how scars, freckles, and color share a story about who we are, where we’re from, and where we've been. It is coming out in winter 2025 with HarperCollins/Allida. And CHOPSTICKS ARE is a nonfiction picture book that celebrates the versatility and significance of chopsticks, and how they are a powerful way to bring people together with Chronicle books, out spring 2026.


AH: Congratulations on these releases! They sound wonderful and I can't wait to read them.


Where can people connect more with you?


CW: You can find me at my website chloeitoward.com or my Instagram/Twitter (I can’t bring myself to say X) @chloeitoward.


AH: Readers be sure to connect with Chloe on social media to be the first to hear when her secret publishing news becomes not-so-secret and don't forget to check out her website. While you are at it please consider supporting Leah and LOVE GROWS HERE in any way you can.


This could include:


- ordering from your favorite indie


- marking as want to read on Goodreads  


-leaving a review


- making a library request


Chloe thank you so much for sharing LOVE GROWS HERE. I loved reading how you turned your lived experience into this wonderfully written and illustrated book! I can't wait until April 4, 2024 when it will be officially out in the world!

 

GIVEAWAY!


Chloe is offering a PB critique of a non-rhyming manuscript less than 1000 words to one lucky winner.


Ways to enter:

1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!

or

2. Leave a comment on this post.

or

3. Post about this interview on social media and tell me in the comments that you did.


Each method earns an extra entry!

 

ABOUT CHLOE WARD


A former curriculum director, Chloe has a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. She spent the last decade teaching kindergarten, where she discovered her passion for picture books.


Chloe’s debut picture book LOVE GROWS HERE releases April 2024 with Albert Whitman & Company.


Her other picture books include: MADE FOR MORE, arriving WINTER 2025 with HarperCollins and CHOPSTICKS ARE, coming SPRING 2026 with Chronicle Books.


When Chloe isn’t perfecting her ramen recipe, you can find her rock climbing or dancing in the kitchen with her husband, son, and their imaginary dog Miso.



 

ABOUT ANDREW HACKET


Andrew Hacket  is a writer, second-grade teacher, and father of three. He is also the author of the upcoming Ollie, the Acorn, and the Mighty Idea,  Curlilocks and the Three Hares, and Hope and the Sea. Andrew recognizes that being a kid is hard and he writes to create ways for kids to see themselves in stories and characters, to accept and overcome their insecurities, or to escape for just a little while through the power of their imaginations. 

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10 commentaires


Santiago Casares
Santiago Casares
01 mars

Such a cool interview, it touches on something not only Asian Americans experience, but also Latinx and people of color. Can’t wait to read it.

J'aime

Abby Mumford
Abby Mumford
29 févr.

Chloe's career is just heating up! I can't wait to read this first of many amazing books from her.

J'aime

buschman.deb
buschman.deb
29 févr.

Congrats Chloe and I loved hearing your story. Such an important book for us to have. Thank you.

J'aime

inthevine7
inthevine7
29 févr.

Great interview! I loved reading about the backstory and your writing journey. I retweeted and shared on Bluesky.

J'aime

Ann Harrell
Ann Harrell
29 févr.

Congratulations Chloe! I’m looking forward to reading your book - an important and meaningful story. Thanks for sharing through another terrific Backstory interview!

J'aime
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