The Backstory: THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP and HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER
Charlotte Offsay joins the backstory today to share the inspiration behind two of her picture books. Learn all about where the ideas for THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP and HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER came from and get the scoop on her upcoming release, A GRANDMA'S MAGIC.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind not one, but two of your books. Thank you Andrew for having me on your blog, I am excited to be here!
Let’s get started with your recent release, THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP. Can you tell us a little bit about this story?
The Big Beach Cleanup is an ocean advocacy story about small hands joining together to make big change. It is illustrated by Katie Rewse and published by Albert Whitman this past March. It features Cora, a young girl who plans to be a sandcastle-building champion, but when the contest is canceled due to litter at the beach, her plans come to a halt. Cora and Mama pull on gloves and get to work, but soon Cora realizes it will take more than two pairs of hands to solve a big problem.
The Big Beach Cleanup introduces young readers to the impact of human trash on the environment. It includes practical solutions for tackling the plastic problem and demonstrates that a person is never too young or too small to inspire big change. Author proceeds from the book are being donated to ocean advocacy non-profit Heal the Bay.
What a great way to introduce children to protecting our environment and empower them to be a part of the change!
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration?
The heart of The Big Beach Cleanup stemmed from a desire to write a story that empowered children to be the change they want to see in the world and to know that they didn’t have to be superheroes to take action and make a difference. It took me a while to find the right way into this story but one morning while walking my children to school I stopped to pick up a piece of trash and toss it in a nearby trashcan. My simple action sparked endless questions and big conversations around where trash goes when it is dropped on the street and the impact litter has on our beloved beaches, animals and planet. We spoke at length about the importance of doing our part and inspiring others around us to do the same. That day I went home and wrote the first draft of what would eventually become The Big Beach Cleanup!
I love that being a positive role model for your children jumpstarted this idea and led to The Big Beach Cleanup. Children are so perceptive to the actions of adults and ready and willing to emulate our good choices. And now we have this wonderful book to help promote those positive choices even more.
And now I’d love to know more about HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER. What’s this story all about?
How to Return a Monster is a humorous how-to story about a girl who can't believe it when her parents bring home a fussy, stinky, attention-stealing monster. She hatches a plan to send it back to where it came from, with hilarious results . . . and along the way, she learns that maybe baby siblings aren't so bad after all. It is illustrated by Rea Zhai and publishes with Beaming Books on September 7, 2021.
Congratulations on the recent release of How to Return a Monster. It is relatable and sure to be a hit with parents and children alike. I love Rea's illustrations, especially how the emotions are shown through the characters' expressions.
Where did the idea for HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER come from?
I got the idea for How to Return a Monster when my daughter was transitioning to pre-school and struggling to separate from me for the very first time. I worried that she felt replaced, since I was leaving her to go home and care for her younger brother. My worries found their way onto the page and I began writing a story about just that, a young girl feeling replaced by a younger sibling.
Taking this common worry and infusing it with humor is such a wonderful approach to the concept. It allows parents to initiate conversations with older siblings while also lightening the mood with some laughs.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER? 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?
When I get a new story idea, I generally become consumed with it and can’t rest until I get it out of my head and onto paper. While this idea insisted on being written right away it took me quite a while before I found the right way to tell it. I wrote a number of drafts before finally finding the right voice and story structure. When I did finally find it, the story flowed out fully formed in one sitting. I think this was due in large part to how long I had been working on the concept – no writing is ever wasted!
There is so much to be gained from those initial drafts even if we don't realize it at the time. Each draft gets us closer to discovering the story we want to tell and prepares us for telling it in the way it is meant to be told.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
My best ideas tend to come from the things that take up the most room in my heart. I try to take the emotion or heart of whatever is consuming me and process it through a child’s eyes on the written page. Take for example my upcoming book A Grandma’s Magic. One of the things that matters the most to me is family and in particular my Grandma. She lives in England and I don’t get to see her as often as I would like. After one particularly difficult goodbye, I decided to write about my Grandma whose magic inspires me daily and from there A Grandma’s Magic was born. A Grandma’s Magic is a picture book celebration of grandmothers and all the ways in which they are “magical.” It is being illustrated by Asa Gilland and publishes with Doubleday Books for Young Readers next March.
Congratulations on this forthcoming title! The inspiration and message are incredibly heartwarming. When authors write about topics that are close to their hearts you can feel that connection as you read.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Oh my goodness, so many! I read A LOT of picture books. So many that I created my Instagram account @picturebookrecommendations in order to keep track of my favorites! Studying what made me laugh, cry, flip right back to the front page to read again, or even put down without finishing (guilty), has helped me to figure out what to put into my own work. To list some of my older favorites, Room on the Broom is brilliant and a delight to read aloud, A visitor for Bear still makes me giggle every time I read it and is one of my favorite books to read to a class, and Library Lion is heart squeezing. For more recent books I love, please check out my Instagram page because I couldn’t possibly pick and wouldn’t want to leave any out! In terms of craft books, I would have to say Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic have also had a big impact on my writing.
I love your oldie, but goodie picks! And as a follower of @picturebookrecommendations, I fully recommend following Charlotte's page. It keeps me updated on the latest releases and I often build my list for my library stack based on her recommendations. Check it out!
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I am fortunate to have my own home office and have filled it with my favorite picture books and craft books that I like to have on hand when I am looking to feel inspired or just need a break. I prefer to write when it is quiet, and I have a good few hours all to myself to get lost in my work. Coffee and chocolate have been known to make regular appearances during those times. That said, as a mother to two small children, I have learned to make the most of the carpool line and the side lines of their sports practices, so nothing is a must!
Your office is beautiful and bright. A very inviting place to work. I also appreciate your making the most out of those afterschool activities and carpool lines. You never know when inspiration will strike!
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I believe that the best work comes from the heart and writing about what you care most about in the world. My advice is to write about what you are passionate about, write the books you want to see in the world in your voice from your unique perspective. Also, surround yourself with a strong support system - publishing can be a rollercoaster!
I wholeheartedly second both of these pieces of advice. Write what you love and find your people. It makes the waiting and rejection more bearable and the celebrations that much more fun.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Yes, I do! Thank you for asking. My next picture book A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland, publishes next March from Doubleday Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House. It is a picture book celebrating grandmas and all that makes them “magic.”
Description from my publisher:
“When a child is born, a grandma is born too. Grandmas aren’t like regular grown-ups. Grandmas are filled with magic.”
In this charming picture book tribute to grandmas, a grandma’s magic bursts through the door as soon as she comes to visit and can be seen in every wonderful thing she does: playing, exploring, baking, gardening, and in all the many ways a grandma and grandchild connect.
Filled with adorable scenes featuring a diversity of grandmas and their grandkids, this is a book that whole families can enjoy together. Grandmas will love snuggling with their grandchildren as they share their love and “magic” through cuddles, kisses, and many repeat readings.
This sounds just beautiful!
Where can people connect more with you?
I love connecting with other creatives and picture book lovers. You can contact me via my website charlotteoffsay.com. I am also quite active on Twitter at @COffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations.
Readers be sure to connect with Charlotte on her social media and check out her website. Also, don't forget to pick up your copies of THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP (Albert Whitman, 2021 ) with illustrations by Kate Rewse, and HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER (Beaming Books, September 2021) with illustrations by Rea Zhai.
Charlotte, thank you so much for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind these two incredible books. I loved hearing about your process and getting a sneak peek at your upcoming title, A GRANDMA'S MAGIC.
Charlotte is generously offering a copy of one of her books 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. 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 CHARLOTTE OFFSAY
CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again.
Charlotte is the author of The Big Beach Cleanup, illustrated by Kate Rewse (Albert Whitman, 2021), How to Return a Monster, illustrated by Rea Zhai (Beaming Books, September 2021), and A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, March 2022).
Learn more about Charlotte's work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter at @COffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.
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.