This week we’re speaking with author Kathleen Long Bostrom about her soon-to-be released picture book Since the Baby Came: A Sibling’s Learning-to-Love Story in 16 Poems.
About the Author:
Kathleen Long Bostrom is an award-winning author of over fifty books for children. Her works are published in over twenty languages. She is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who now writes full time. As a middle child, Kathy was both the new baby and the older sister, who later became a mother of three herself. She knows whereof she rhymes!
In her new book, Since the Baby Came: A Sibling’s Learning-to-Love Story in 16 Poems (WaterBrook, releasing on 5/2/23), Long Bostrom explores the complex feelings an older sibling may feel when adjusting to life with a new baby. She uses a story-in-verse writing style that is fun and easy to read.
(For more information, you can visit kathleenlongbostrom.com.)
Author Interview with Kathleen Long Bostrom:
Karley: Thank you for joining us today, Kathleen! To start, I wanted to ask about your background in ministry. How has your faith inspired your books, and how has your writing inspired your faith in return?
Kathleen: Because I was a pastor and kids at church were asking me questions, writing about faith was where I really took off when I began creating picture books.
As I tried to answer their questions about faith, I found myself learning the Bible’s stories more thoroughly. I found myself asking, “How do I explain these huge theological truths that I had just learned in seminary with little three-year-olds and five-year-olds?”
It was a challenge that I really loved. I felt like in my writing, and in my sermons as well, I needed to bring the Bible and Christian theology into a realm where even those of us like me, who hadn’t grown up in a church, could make sense of it.
My faith and my writing, it’s all become part of my life and vocation. The two started out very separately and then became interwoven.
Karley: So when you’re writing books with faith-based themes and strong emotions, how do you balance taking these big concepts and still making them enjoyable for kids and parents to read?
Kathleen: The Bible doesn’t shy away from dealing with darkness and trauma and all the worst of the worst people. But I think the overall message of the Christian faith is joy and love and grace and hope. And so, I always make sure that I instill a lot of those things into the books.
The illustrations also help. Having an illustrator who knows how to convey the seriousness of these topics, but also just the joy and delight of it all.
I think using rhyme often makes a story a little more fun for children, too. It sets a tone when you’re writing in poetry that keeps a story from being too dark. With poems, you can do some funny and silly little things to add humor.
Karley: Speaking of humor and poetry, I was excited to see that Since the Baby Came is a story written in 16 poems. What made you choose this unique method of storytelling, and did you find anything about this format especially challenging?
Kathleen: Some years ago, I was talking to my best friend who was in educational publishing at the time.
I asked her, “Where are the gaps in the books that are available for schools?” She said poetry, right off. I thought, okay, I’m going to write something that might fit that niche.
Originally, I wrote this book thinking it would be used in a school setting. I thought, “How can I introduce children to the joy of poetry, not just focusing on the same kind all the time?” I studied up on all the different types of poems, and there’s quite a few formats that I had never heard of myself.
I also wanted to write something fun for kids that told a story with a beginning, an arc, a crisis, and a resolution, but each piece of the story is a different poem. It was a fun challenge for me as a writer, as well as a learning process. I just couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and work on it.
Then, about three years ago through a writer’s conference, I connected with an editor from WaterBrook & Multnomah, who really loved the idea of the story. She asked if I could add some Christian content to it.
I said sure. However, the challenge when you write a poem that is so finely crafted—where the first, third, and fifth lines rhyme, you know, that kind of a thing—you can’t just go in and change it. You’ve changed the whole poem that you worked so hard to get.
So I ended up writing more pieces for the book that had the little child praying to God, and a poem about Jesus as a baby.
Karley: I love the topic of this story, focusing on a girl gaining a new sibling. As a mom with multiple children, did you do anything special with your kids to help them adjust to the new baby in the house when your second and third children came along?
Kathleen: Yeah. Kids want to feel like they’re the big brother or sister. We let our kids sit on our lap and hold the baby or taught them things like, don’t touch this soft spot here. Just different ways to let them become part of the baby’s life right from the beginning.
Also, we tried very hard to give each of our kids their own bit of time, even if it was just a short while here and there. We did that a lot with reading. We sat with each child separately in the evening to read whatever they wanted to read. Just something to make sure each child had a bit of special time.
Another idea to try is designating a safe space. I was talking to someone else the other day and saying it’s nice if there’s one place or one chair in the house where if your child is feeling left out or needing a little time, they can go sit in that chair. The baby is in the other room, and this chair is your special place where you know I’m going to come in and sit with you for a few minutes. Kids can’t always say, “I really need some time with you, mom.” So it’s good to set up some kind of way that they can let that be known.
Karley: Switching gears a little, I was curious, with all your published books, have you had a favorite illustration style or a favorite book in terms of the illustrations?
Kathleen: Oh gosh, they’re all so very different. I feel like they all really fit the tone of the manuscripts just right.
However, I really love this new one. Janet Samuel got it perfect.
In this book, Since The Baby Came, there’s also a unique little character, the little dog in the story.
I had a dog, Ellie, that we had for almost 15 years who died a year ago, and it was really a devastating loss. She had been with me through some pretty dark times, that little dog. And she died on a Sunday, the day before a meeting I’d been invited to, to help with brainstorming the illustrations for this book. I felt honored that they invited me, but I was really in a bad state of mind.
I emailed and told them, I’m really looking forward to our Zoom, but I may not be at my best and this is why.
The next day, when we had the Zoom meeting, they asked me to tell them about Ellie. I told them a few stories, and they said, “Why don’t you send us some pictures of her? We’ll send them to the illustrator and see if she can weave the dog into the book.” Is that not the nicest thing ever for a publisher to do?
So, I have to say this book is going be one of my favorites because it has my little Ellie in it. And while it’s definitely a wonderful tribute, it also adds to the book in a wonderful way. So that’s really beautiful. It’s always impressive to see how illustrators can tie everything together, with those little background details.
Karley: It really is amazing how illustrators can capture so much in their images! One final question for you. What are you most excited for young readers to take away from this story?
Kathleen: Well, I think number one is the conveying and acceptance of all the different emotions of having a new sibling. To allow a child to feel okay with whatever they’re feeling and to have that acknowledged.
I also love that this book became a faith-content book. The child in the story is so free to just say a prayer to God, “Please help me out. I don’t know what to do.” It covers the whole arc of different feelings in a prayer. And I love that children aren’t tied up in knots about getting the right words. It’s just, here it is. Which may be the best way to pray anyway.
This little girl prayed from her heart and came to some peace of mind at the end of it. My hope is that this book will help bring the same end. That it will just be fun and delightful and that children will learn emotions. They’ll learn a bit of faith, learn to trust in God, and they’ll learn poetry. I’m very excited to see the whole thing, and I can’t wait for you to see it all!
Check back with us on May 4 for a book review of Since the Baby Came! We’ll be giving away two copies of Kathleen Long Bostrom’s delightful new book, so be sure to check it out. To enter to win, comment on this post or the upcoming book review by 6pm on May 9. If you share this on social media, tell me what you did and I’ll enter your name twice!
Karley Conklin is a librarian by day, a writer by night, and a bookworm 24/7. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses literature of all sorts, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.