Welcome to Picture Books for All

Children of all abilities should see themselves in the books they read. That's what makes reading fun. There are many picture books that include characters with disabilities; some are excellent in terms of their portrayal of these characters, some are pretty good, and some miss the mark. This blog features these picture books and evaluates them based on standards for quality in children's books that portray characters with disabilities. For more information, see the first post entitled "Welcome to Picture Books for All." (Click here) Welcome to Picture Books For All

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Author Interview: Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

Author Interview:  Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

Stephanie is the award-winning author of many picture books, including Elizabeti’s Doll and We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, as well as the young adult novels The Compound, The Gardener and The Raft. She has an MFA in creative writing and currently lives in Oregon with her family.

Stephanie, I am thrilled to have you as a visitor on my blog today.  Congratulations on your new novel, The Raft! Can you tell us how you came to write We’ll Paint the Octopus Red and The Best Worst Brother?
Thank you—I’m very glad to be here. I was at the point where I had just begun writing picture books with the intent of getting published, and I was looking everywhere for inspiration. I worked at the local YMCA in the day care where we had two families with kids with Down syndrome. I got to know them and came up with the story.

How was the first book received? Did you get feedback from parents?
It was received really well.  Several state Down Syndrome associations adopted it as their book to hand out to new parents in the hospital.  Although it has been out for over a decade, it still keeps getting read, and we are always running into people who have it. Recently my husband was out body surfing in Hawaii and got talking to the man next to him. The man has a son with DS and said they are on their third copy of the book because the others had worn out from so much reading.

What about the second book—the sequel? Was it harder to write? How was it received?
I tried for several years to come up with a sequel and finally hit on one that the editor liked. It was not as well received as the first, as typically happens with some sequels.

Have you visited classrooms to read these books?  Do the teachers do a lot of preparation before you arrive?
I do a lot of school visits and often share the book. I find that teachers only prepare the kids about the DS books when they have kids in their school with Down syndrome or other special needs. When they don’t, then it’s up to me to explain it to them.
That’s an interesting point. Teachers could do more to prepare all of their students for books with sensitive content before an author visit so that the students could “be on the same page” as the author from the outset. Preparation would also allow for discussion prior to the visit and could result in more thoughtful or sensitive questions on the part of the students.

Can you tell us what your biggest challenge was in writing these two picture books?
For the first, I was really trying to get across the simple message that young children, like Emma, have no preconceived notions. They see a kid and want to play. The second was harder, because I knew it had to be a little more realistic and problematic, which was hard after the first book.

The question and answer sections in the backs of the books are very helpful, “kid-friendly,” and respectful toward people with disabilities. How did these sections come to be?
The publisher came up with the questions and had me take a crack at answering them. I did, knowing that the publisher would change any that weren’t quite right, but I ended up doing pretty well on them.

I know you wrote another picture book with a character who has a disability (Babu’s Song). What inspired you to write that one? And are you still writing picture books?
Babu’s Song was inspired by my Peace Corps experience in Tanzania. The grandfather in the story is mute, which gives more power to the music of a handmade music box that he has made for his grandson. I still am writing picture books, yes, although I have been focusing on young adult novels and a new middle grade series that’ll keep me very busy for the next two years.

Do you have any words of wisdom for authors who are thinking of writing picture books that portray characters with disabilities?
Like any story, I think you just have to tell the story you feel the need to tell, and to tell it to the best of your ability.

Stephanie, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to be here today. Clearly, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red and The Best Worst Brother have comforted and inspired many young readers and their parents.  Best of luck on your middle grade series. 

Check out Stephanie's website:  http://www.rockforadoll.com/


  1. I am embarrassed to say that I have never actually read any picture books focusing on disabilities! I am now inspired to go and buy a few for my classroom, as one of the things we promote at our school is acceptance and respect of people of all backgrounds, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. I especially liked "We'll Paint the Octopus Red." :)

  2. Holly, I loved your interview with Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen! The questions and responses were wonderful. Her response at the end of the interview when you asked her about her words of wisdom for other authors, she said “Like any story, I think you just have to tell the story you feel the need to tell, and to tell it to the best of your ability”. It seems to me that this is a good philosophy about life and making the most of it including the challenges! L. Huard