I originally met our guest way back in February 2021 when she first joined The Backstory with two of her wonderful books, MAC & CHEESE and BIONIC BEASTS. Today, Jolene Gutiérrez joins us again, this time with her latest picture book, TOO MUCH: AN OVERWHELMING DAY (Abrams, 2023) with illustrations from the incredible Angel Chang. Keep reading to learn all about this powerful book and for your chance to win a copy.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind TOO MUCH! AN OVERWHELMING DAY.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
JG: Too Much! An Overwhelming Day is about a little girl, Birdy, whose day starts poorly with a loud, annoying alarm clock and bright sunshine hurting her eyes. More and more things overstimulate Birdy until she becomes fully overwhelmed and shuts down on the playground. Will Birdy find a way to advocate for herself and soothe herself? (Spoiler alert: yes, she will!) And the book includes extensive back matter about sensory systems, sensory overload, and developing a sensory diet.
AH: Jolene this sounds incredible! I know in our school we are having an increased awareness about sensory processing and how to best meet our students' varied needs. What a great resource you and Angel have created here. I am sure so many parents, teachers, and counselors will use your book as an irreplaceable tool to help young children understand this concept and begin to find what is right for each of them.
AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
JG: I don’t usually write in rhyme, but when the words “Too loud! Too bright! Too itchy! Too tight!” came to me as I was thinking about being sensorily overwhelmed, I jotted them down. I’m sensitive to loud noise, bright lights, and certain textures of things like food and fabric. My children have their own sensitivities, especially my daughter. Because some of her sensitivities are different from my own, I didn’t initially recognize that she was sometimes overwhelmed by things like touch and movement. After years of feeling like a bad parent who couldn’t quite understand her child’s needs, we finally found a play therapist who recommended she be tested for Sensory Processing Disorder. That testing and the subsequent diagnosis and occupational therapy changed our lives for the better as I finally learned why my daughter was so overwhelmed and how to best support her. This story was originally titled “OVERWHELMED,” and it’s the book I needed when my daughter was little.
AH: Thank you for sharing. Many parents are in the same position you were and now they have a tool to help both themselves and their child better understand how they are feeling. That is invaluable. And maybe most important of all, you are giving these students the opportunity to see someone like themselves represented in the pages of a book. That affirmation and the acceptance that can come from that will positively impact so many kids.
AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now TOO MUCH! AN OVERWHELMING DAY? 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?
JG: As our brains do, my brain kept turning “Too loud! Too bright! Too itchy! Too tight!” over and over. I brainstormed overwhelming situations, drawing on my own experiences and my memories of my kids’ sensory struggles. The only part that I had to write immediately was the initial phrase, and everything else eventually fell into place, bit by bit. I tried to think of situations that could be overwhelming in different ways but that most families could relate to.
AH: That refrain is powerful in capturing the overwhelming feelings felt by Birdy and I am not surprise that it was the spark that began the whole the story.
I also want to take a minute to acknowledge the spectacular illustrations created by Angel Chang. The use of color, layout, and Birdy's expressions bring your words and Birdy's feelings to life.
AH: Did TOO MUCH! AN OVERWHELMING DAY undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
JG: This manuscript originally started as a board book manuscript. At that time, three editors were interested. Two of the editors asked for revisions, so I ended up with three versions: the original version, a version with a problem/solution format (one stanza introduced a problem and the following stanza introduced a solution), and a version with more caregiver dialog. Each of the editors was so thoughtful and kind, but Meredith Mundy at Abrams Appleseed is the editor who connected most strongly with this manuscript, and I’m so honored and happy to work with her! I saw Meredith present at our local Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in 2019 and I wanted to submit to her so much that I started writing board book manuscripts (she primarily works with board books). So this project is a dream come true!
AH: I don't think anyone would be surprised that this manuscript had so much interest! I am glad you found an editor who connected with Birdy and your vision for the story.
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on TOO MUCH! AN OVERWHELMING DAY?
JG: Hmmm. . .there aren’t any specific books that influenced my work, but recently, I read Prasha Sooful and Geeta Ladi’s book My Brain is Magic: A Sensory-Seeking Celebration, and I think it pairs well with my book Too Much! An Overwhelming Day. And authors who have influenced my work? I know this is more literal than you mean, but some of my agency mates helped check the rhythm and rhyme of each version of the manuscript. Huge thanks to Rebecca Gardyn Levington, David McMullin, and Heather Bell. Rebecca is an amazing author and David and Heather are both wonderful authors and illustrators.
AH: Those are all incredible creators and I will take literal any day. As creators we rely on our network of people, critique partners and agency siblings for some of that nitty gritty work and that is one of the things that makes this community as powerful as it is. Creators will continually come together to elevate one another's work. We aren't competing against one another. We all want to see each other succeed.
AH: As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars to orginizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?
JG: There are SO many amazing resources out there! The Rocky Mountain branch of SCBWI has been an amazing support since I joined in 2008. Other helpful groups that have been influential on my journey are 12 x 12, Children’s Book Academy, The Highlights Foundation, and The Writing Barn. And the most helpful resource has been our KidLit community—the connections I’ve made with contest participants, critique partners, promo group members, and agency mates have led to lifelong friendships.
AH: It is all about the people! I don't know many authors who have a large network of local creators, but these organizations and events allow us to find our people virtually, regardless of geographic location.
AH: Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
JG: Yes! In Fall of 2024, my daughter Shaian and I have a picture book, The Ofrenda That We Built, coming out with Chronicle, illustrated by Gabby Zapata. It’s a cumulative story based on the “This is the House that Jack Built” structure about a family creating an ofrenda. Also in Fall of 2024, my son Dakota and I have a picture book, Mamiachi and Me, coming out with Abrams Appleseed, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega. It’s a story about an all-female mariachi group. And in Fall of 2025, I have an unannounced book, also co-authored with another person. I’m so excited about all of these group projects!
AH: How wonderful is it that you have been able to coauthor with your children?! That must feel so special. Congratulations on ALL of these forthcoming books and I hope there are even more deals on the way for you.
AH: Where can people connect more with you?
JG: My website is www.jolenegutierrez.com and my Linktree is https://linktr.ee/writerjolene. A teacher’s/caregiver’s guide for Too Much! Is here: https://www.jolenegutierrez.com/p/too-much-overwhelming-day.html You can find me on most social media under the username @writerjolene.
Readers, please connect with Jolene on social media and check out her website for more information about TOO MUCH: AN OVERWHELMING DAY as well as all of her other books. That's right, she has more! And while you are at it, please consider supporting TOO MUCH in anyway you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Jolene, thank you for returning to The Backstory and for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at TOO MUCH: AN OVERWHELMING DAY. You and Angel have created something truly special and I can't wait to get it into the hands of my students.
Abrams is generously offering one winner (US street address only) a copy of TOO MUCH: AN OVERHWELMING DAY.
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 JOLENE GUTIÉRREZ
Jolene Gutiérrez grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy since 1995. She’s a wife of 25 years and a mama to two young adults, three dogs, two cats, and an ever-rotating variety of other rescue animals. Jolene is an active member of SCBWI, The Author’s Guild, and KidLitCollective, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek and the Picture Book Gold group. Jolene is represented by agent Kaitlyn Sanchez of Bradford Literary.
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.