The Children’s Book Review Interview in partnership with Roots of Humanity
Growing up super shy and sensitive, Gayle Holdman knows what it feels like to wonder where you fit in. She also knows that miracles happen once you figure that out.
Gayle really loves people and helping them see how amazing they are. To do that better, she got an education in Human Development, Positive Psychology, and Spanish. Plus, she studies other languages and interesting stuff about humans every day. She is also a best-selling author.
Working with stained glass has taught her even more about the importance of every single piece (person). Gayle is grateful to live, write, and create at the foot of ginormous and beautiful rock-filled mountains. For fun, she adores cooking and paper crafting but hates the clean-up! The absolute most important pieces of her heart and life are her husband, Tom, and their three unique and precious children.
In this interview, we discuss her stunning picture book, The Piece That Is You.
How did you know that this story needed to be told?
Gayle Holdman: Over years of working with stained glass and noticing how that medium is characterized by all sorts of different pieces coming together, I started seeing each of us as pieces of a much bigger design; each one of us is crucial to the whole. We have a unique place in the world, with particular talents and gifts. This came to mind even more while working on the Roots of Knowledge project.
Roots took a long time to create but it was a beautiful and exciting process. There was a time where the project was taking a heavy toll because we didn’t have a lot of time left to get it done. (Artists are never finished; they just run out of time. Humorous, yet true!) In a moment of particular overwhelm one day, the ultimate purpose of these windows to teach the individual that they are known in the world, they matter, and they are loved came to my mind and calmed my heart.
Not long after, this story developed in my head as a way to share all of those messages-personal worth, belonging, overcoming, potential, etc. Then, once the pandemic hit and people were struggling with anxiety, depression, and uncertainty more than ever, I knew it was definitely time. Children (and the adults who read to them) needed to know how much they matter and that the world would absolutely be a lesser place without them and all they can add.
In your author biography, you mention that you were a shy child and your husband stuttered as a child. Did this influence your writing in any way?
It absolutely did because he and I both know what it feels like to not fit in. I think most kids are going to be teased at some point in their life but some kids are easier targets. My husband and I each were one of those targets and it could be really hard. I withdrew a bit more into my shell. As I got older, I started to understand who I was and how I added to the world and it helped me get out of that shyness.
Knowing that others have challenges, too, and that you can definitely get through them as you understand who you really are, is a big part of the book. Through the story and its message, I hope children with any struggle can get past insecurity or self-doubt earlier on so we have more optimistic and powerful human beings sharing their talents as soon as possible in their life.
Why did you choose to write the book using couplets instead of a more traditional style?
That has always been my poetry style. It just is. When I try to rhyme something it naturally wants to come out in couplets. It’s the sing-songy feel of some of my favorite books from my childhood. I may try to do something different, but I seem to best express myself that way.
The artwork in The Piece That Is You provides a visual description that helps readers understand your storyline and features scenes from Roots of Knowledge. Can you tell us a bit about how your writer-illustrator partnership was able to mesh the words of your story with the illustrations?
I had been working on Roots for a while before we were able to have some of UVU’s art students join our efforts. Dallin and Irina were two of those students and they were such talented individuals, we asked them to stay on with our art team full time. When this book came to my mind, I knew in my head what it should look and feel like but, as a designer, not an illustrator, I wasn’t able to draw it the way I envisioned.
Dallin and Irina took what I expressed as my vision and they ran with it. Having been illustrators for the stained glass itself made them perfect for the task—they love Roots as I do. With their unique abilities, they were able to really bring to life what I saw and even add extra angles that I hadn’t considered. It was a delightful, magical collaboration.
I thought it was fun to see how you referenced Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Cookie recipe. Do you think many readers will understand the reference to Ruth’s Chocolate Chip Cookies? Also, is she featured in the Roots of Knowledge?
I hope they understand the reference! In the book, once the fold-out curtains are open, you see Roots of Knowledge as a big picture. Then you see the Boy and His Team (represented by the other two children) go “into” the windows. At that point, everything that is expressed is actually found in the windows. All of the authors I mentioned, the cookies, the people, and places, are all there in Roots. Since it is 200 ft long, there was a ton of information I couldn’t include in a short book but, while I was writing, those things were the things that came to my mind I felt might connect with children the best.
I wanted to include familiar items yet I also wanted it to be things that, if unfamiliar, they might want to learn more about. I think (and hope) that every person/child has had an experience with chocolate chip cookies! It’s fun to hear about Ruth Wakefield’s experience in the Toll House Inn, that she was a food scientist of sorts and did lots of experimenting. She brought the world one of its very favorite treats!
So, yes, she is featured in the window. So is everything else in the book that speaks of Roots. Once the book begins to speak about the individual reader (“You’re unique in this life, there’s a spot just for you!), those are new ideas and illustrations meant to focus on and portray the reader’s worth and potential.
(An interesting side note, we created an app, called Animate Art, available in the App Store that can be downloaded for free and gives additional dimensions to the book, such as being able to watch those chocolate chip cookies spin and fall! The book includes a QR code to get you to the app, as well.)
The illustrations feature a star on each page. Was this symbol used to represent or show readers something they may not have seen on their own?
Yes. The star is the piece that is the Boy. We chose to give it a very specific shape and then anthropomorphize it to give it a little bit of personality so it could better reflect that it is a part of the Boy, himself. Ultimately, the piece that is each of us really is our soul and that’s why the star shows emotions. It rejoices with the Boy, sorrows with the Boy, and goes on adventures with the Boy, etc. When the Boy gets his big idea, it’s the star that is delivering it to him. It’s with him from the beginning and will always be with him because it is a part of him.
We each have a piece that is us. At the end of the book, we illustrate that through children from around the world holding pieces of glass, the pieces that are each of them, fit into the larger design seen above them: the tapestry of Humanity. We wanted the Boy’s piece to be easily recognizable, such as a star, something that we could give emotion to in order to help the reader know that we can always count on ourselves; we have this strength inside us that is always there.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing for children?
The most challenging aspect to me is: can I make it engaging for them? Can I make it something they understand enough for it to capture their imagination and their attention?
We live in a world where there’s lots of digital stuff for kids that can distract them and it gets harder to keep their attention than maybe years ago when books were the only thing we had. Writing for children now, more than ever needs to be something that captures their attention as well as sparks their own imagination so that they go inward in their own mind to understand these things, to recognize that they have thoughts that impact themselves and the world around them.
Are you working on any more books for children that we should know about?
I have some in my head that I can’t mention yet but writing is something I really enjoy doing. I love children-they are so important, precious, and valuable. Whatever I can do to help make their life experience more peaceful, safe, hopeful, and give them inspiration, then that is my goal. If I can accomplish that through writing, count me in!
Where can this book be purchased?
The book can be purchased online at https://thepiecethatisyou.com We are also in the process of getting the book onto Amazon. Additionally, the book will be available at Holdman Studios in Lehi, Utah, and some bookstores local to Roots of Knowledge in the Utah Valley area will carry it, too.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Ultimately I am just so grateful they would take the time to read the book and I hope that it does inspire them to remember their incredible personal worth, the difference they make in the world, and how gorgeous the picture of Humanity is when we all see the value within ourselves and in each other. It’s important to recognize that we can do better together than we can apart and we have more in common than we have in contrast. I hope this book inspires, educates, entertains, and is a light that uplifts them. And I want the readers to know that I love them even though I haven’t met them. I really do.
For more information, visit https://thepiecethatisyou.com/.
The Piece That Is You
Created by Gayle Holdman
Illustrated by Dallin Orr and Irina Harding
Ages 5-10 | 38 Pages
Publisher: Roots of Humanity Foundation | ISBN-13: 9781792369056
Publisher’s Synopsis: We created this book with the vision of introducing children to some education and history, the power of art and creativity, the fascinating medium of stained glass, and ultimately of edifying all readers, especially those who might be facing or have ever faced challenges, disabilities or discouragement. It is based on real-life experiences and hopes to inspire everyone, young and old.
Proceeds from the book go to the Roots of Humanity Foundation and its mission of inspiring individuals and enhancing their lives through education and art.
“This book is a delightful read for children and adults alike. Between the creative writing, the fantastic illustrations, the historical elements, and the inspiring nature of creativity and art, there is something for everyone to enjoy.” — The Children’s Book Review
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This interview—Gayle Holdman Discusses The Piece That Is You—was conducted between Gayle Holdman and Jenn Lemm. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Acceptance, Culture, and Picture Book.