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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

The Backstory: MARLEY'S PRIDE

The Backstory welcomes Joëlle Retener to the blog today with their picture book, MARLEY'S PRIDE with illustrations by DeAnn Wiley. I am thrilled to know Joëlle as a critique partner and cannot wait for you to learn more about this exceptional story.

AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind MARLEY’S PRIDE.

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

JR: MARLEY’S PRIDE is about a young nonbinary child who yearns to attend the Pride parade but struggles with sensory sensitivities and anxiety. When they learn that their grandparent, Zaza is getting an award at Pride, Marley sets out to overcome their fear of loud noises and crowds. The book includes a glossary of terms and backmatter filled with information about the history of Pride. 


AH: I love this book! You are bringing visibility and authenticity about so many aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community. Marley is such a relatable character to many children who also can become overwhelmed and anxious and you execute their overcoming this in a wonderful way. I am also a huge fan of the backmatter. When you say it is filled, you mean it. You impart a significant amount of information in a easy to understand, child friendly way.

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


JR: I wrote MARLEY’S PRIDE during the height of the pandemic when my anxiety was at an all-time high. Creating a story about a child who finds a way to overcome their anxiety gave me a bit of hope during a very challenging time. As I worked on this project I thought back to my childhood and the stories that would have been impactful for me. I imagined what it would’ve looked like to have the support systems that I needed which is where Zaza came into play. Zaza was an homage to all of the trans and gender non-conforming BIPOC activists who paved the way for the queer community. They are not only Marley’s rock but also a possibility model for your trans children.


It was so empowering to create a joyful story centering a trans Black family at a time when most of the queer picture books on the market were not intersectional and focused on the hardships of being trans/gender non-conforming.


AH: You have created a gift with this book through your crafting of positive queer and trans characters. Generations of kids will get to grow up seeing themselves positively represented in the pages of this book and adults who never got to see themselves will finally be able to.


AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now MARLEY’S PRIDE? 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?


JR: I remember writing MARLEY’S PRIDE pretty quickly; you can say the story just spilled out of me. In fact, I originally created a whole series of books that revolved around Marley and Zaza, that’s how much I loved these two characters. Ironically, MARLEY’S PRIDE was the one that I was the most hesitant about initially (sorry I can’t remember why at this point) and yet here we are.

AH: I know it may not always be true, but I have found that those stories that pour out of us tend to be the ones with which we have the deepest connection. And after reading MARLEY'S PRIDE, I am not surprised one bit that these characters have found their way onto the page more than once. I am hoping that perhaps we will get to see Marley and Zaza on the printed page again.

AH: Did MARLEY’S PRIDE undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?


JR: The version of MARLEY’S PRIDE on the shelves today comes quite close to the original manuscript that I penned in 2020. Working with my editor at Barefoot Books we did make some minor changes here and there to bring out Marley’s emotional arc a bit more and reinforce their relationship with Zaza. 


AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on MARLEY’S PRIDE?

 JR: I am a huge fan of queer kidlit. At the time I was drafting the story there weren’t very many picture books about gender identity and gender expression. Most of the picture books on the market weren’t intersectional. Which is why I was over the moon when I found BORN READY: THE TRUE STORY OF A BOY NAMED PENELOPE by Jodie Patterson and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow and MY RAINBOW by DeShanna Neil and Art Twink. I turned to these books quite a bit as I worked to bring out the community aspect of MARLEY’S PRIDE.

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

JR: I often mine for ideas in my everyday life. My kids are huge sources of inspiration for me, especially my kindergartner. Sometimes I just follow her around the house with a pen and paper. Otherwise, I would say that ideas typically find me. I will hear or read something interesting, and an idea will crop up out of thin air and it’ll literally haunt me until I finally decide to put it down on paper.

AH: Kids are the perfect source of inspiration and kindergartners, with their complete lack of filters and wild imaginations, are possibly the best kind.

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

JR: I have one special project about body positivity that I am dying to talk about but it’s still unannounced so that’s all that I can say right now. Hopefully I will have more to share in the near future.

AH: We can't wait for the time to come when you can say more about this project. From the tiny tidbits you have given us I can tell it will be another amazing and uplifting book to add to our shelves.

Where can people connect more with you?


JR: I am most active on Instagram- @joellertener. You can also check out my website

AH: Readers be sure to connect with Joëlle on Instagram and on their website to

hear about their latest publishing news. While you are at it, please consider

supporting Joëlle and MARLEY'S PRIDE 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

Joëlle, thank you so much for sharing all about MARLEY'S PRIDE. I loved

learning the inside scoop on how this book came to be, and I can't wait to pick up

my copy!


About Joëlle Retener

Joëlle Retener is a 1st generation Haitian American children’s author from the DC metro area. Once upon a time, they traveled the world hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries and senior government officials. They now write children’s books steeped in Black pride and queer joy.

Joëlle’s debut picture book MARLEY’S PRIDE (Barefoot Books 24') , illustrated by DeAnn Wiley, follows a nonbinary child with anxiety and sensory sensitivities as they navigate their first Pride parade. MARLEY'S PRIDE has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

When they’re not writing, you can find Joëlle on their porch sipping a cup of herbal tea with their partner and 3 tiny humans. Joëlle has a BA in Spanish from Spelman College and an MA in International Studies from American University.


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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