When my five-year-old granddaughter came to visit, I wanted it to be a wonderful experience, so I arranged all kinds of fun activities. However, in between them all, we were at home, and I have fruit trees in my front yard. I asked her if she wanted to help me pick the fruit and take it to a nearby food bank. She was intrigued. "Why do they want the fruit?" I explained. So we picked a lot of oranges and grapefruit and took it to the food bank. Before we left, people were already taking the fruit. The next year, my granddaughter was coming back to visit, and I spoke with her on the phone asking her if she wanted to go back to the zoo, the science museum, etc. and she said, "What I really want to do is pick fruit and take it to the food bank again." That stuck with me. And I thought that one of the greatest gifts we can give our young people is a sense of service. They are never too young to know that one person can make a difference.
How did you find a home for ONE GOOD DEED at Kar-Ben Publishing?
My only submission of ONE GOOD DEED was to Kar-Ben. I kept reading that publishers wanted "edgy" picture books, and this was certainly not. But I knew that Kar-Ben had published other books on mitzvahs--a word that, to me, means doing a kindness for someone with the doing the deed being the only reward needed. And I thought--this title might fit in well.
My editor there, Joanna Sussman, was wonderful! She treats her writers so well. I was fortunate enough to meet her in person, and it only confirmed what I'd already come to know from our correspondence. Being the editor of Kar-Ben is not just a job for her; it's her passion. She's as proud of her books as if they were her children!
How do you feel about winning a Christopher Award in 2016 for ONE GOOD DEED?
I was surprised but elated that ONE GOOD DEED received a Christopher Award this year. Receiving it is a great honor for me. There have been many famous honorees, (I'm not!) but I'm thrilled to be among them. The Christopher Award honors media that it believes speaks to the “highest value of the human spirit.” When Dionna asked me how I thought that applied to ONE GOOD DEED, I would say that taking the time to be kind is something we can all do, and when we do so without any underlying motive, it makes us, the doers, better people, and the world a better place in which to live. The award seems to embody all that I wanted ONE GOOD DEED to be.
What do you love about Deborah Melmon's illustrations for ONE GOOD DEED?
As an author who is not an illustrator, it is always nerve-wracking to see what will happen with illustrations. In my mind, I have a vision of what I think the characters and the story will look like, but I don't know that the illustrator will see things the same way. Fortunately, Deborah Melmon, without ever meeting me, captured the essence of what I saw in my main character, Jake. I also loved the way she showed the darkness of the neighborhood at the beginning as opposed to its airy lightness at the end of the book. Deborah's illustrations are really engaging. The colors and the characters are so inviting. I feel very fortunate that she was the illustrator.
In what way do you hope ONE GOOD DEED will inspire positive change within the minds and hearts of children?
In this book, each good deed is something very small, but it improves someone else's life. The line "s/he had a thought s/he'd never had before," is repeated before each character pays it forward with a good deed. I hope that line plants the seed for parents and children who read ONE GOOD DEED, that they might think of a small deed they could do in their own neighborhood, one they might not have thought about before.
I hope that this book will inspire children to do something nice every day. It doesn't have to be anything big, and it doesn't have to be anything for which they get recognition. Even the youngest of us can make the world better. During presentations about this book, it's so much fun to get the children talking about one nice thing they've done and two more they could do.