Interview of Christine McDonnell and Jeanette Bradley

Christine McDonnell and Jeanette Bradley have created a beautiful book about two of my favorite things: babies and books! Important themes of family, love, and teamwork make this the kind of book that will evoke discussion. I love the multicultural characters and the message that the librarian tells the babies: “Families don’t always look alike, you know, and where we’re going is more important than where we came from.” The lyrical words and lovely illustrations make this a must-read again kind of book.

Kirsti Call: In your book, WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY, expressive illustrations combine with whimsical text to make a fantastic read aloud that sparks imagination. Christine, what was your inspiration for the story?  Jeannette, how did the story inspire your illustrations?

Christine McDonnelI: I have always loved islands. I’m attracted by the beauty and the remoteness— self-contained worlds apart.  I often travel to islands. The classic story of the hero often begins with a baby found on the steps of the church or in a boat that drifts up…. so combining those two elements felt right. I was also trying to find an idea that could launch a series—that’s where the four babies came from. Each would have a separate adventure. THE SATURDAYS by Elizabeth Enright was a favorite book of mine when I was a child. 

Jeanette Bradley: Christine’s text has such an evocative sense of place that I felt the island was another character in the story.  I started my work on the illustrations by observing and sketching at a local harbor where lobstermen unload, hanging around the boat building sheds, and walking around small coastal towns to get a sense of the architecture and people. One of my favorite parts of Christine’s text is when she describes how the babies grow up on the island, learning all of its different parts, and becoming part of it themselves. So I wanted the characters to also reflect what the people in my corner of coastal New England look like—descendants of immigrants from Cape Verde, Ireland, Italy, and Brazil, among other places.  I’m not a native Rhode Islander, but like the babies, I have grown to love “the scent of low tide and the crunch of sand” in my chosen state. 

KC: The library has always been one of my favorite places, so I love that the babies grow up in a library with a librarian as their mother.  What’s your favorite library memory?

CM: I began my career as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library and I have memories of children’s rooms in the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem with children streaming up the stairs and filling the room. I still remember the library we frequented when I was young. The children’s room had round tables and big sunny windows. Many of my close friends are librarians. I think it’s the best job. The librarian is the hero of course!

JB: I grew up in Rochester, NY, where the children’s room in the main library downtown has a secret bookcase door. I still remember finding it for the first time, and the sense of mystery and magic in my belief that I was the first kid to walk through that portal.

KC: What is your favorite story that you’ve written or illustrated and why?

CM: That’s like choosing a favorite child— they’re all quite different and reflect different times in my life and different stages of my writing. WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY is special because it’s likely to be the last book I publish with my sister, Regina Hayes, as the editor. We’ve worked on books together for almost forty years. Another book, GOYANGI MEANS CAT, was inspired by my daughter who joined our family, coming from Korea when she was four. (And now her son, my grandson Henry, is four!) Although the events in the book are fiction, the story reflects the amazing adventure of her arrival. 

JB: I think every project is my favorite when I am working on it.  And simultaneously, my least favorite at the rough patches! 

KC: What other projects are you working on?

CM: I have a picture book biography coming out in 2022 by Candlewick. STUBBORN HOPE is the story of a Boston activist, Kip Tiernan, who founded the first shelter for women in the country. That shelter, Rosie’s Place, is still serving poor and homeless women in Boston and Kip is a local hero. I’m also working on a chapter book about the friendship between a step brother and step sister.

JB: I’m currently finishing up the final art for NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, an anthology of poems about young, contemporary activists that is coming from Charlesbridge in September.

KC: What advice would you give aspiring author and illustrators?

CM: Read as much as you can of the genre you are writing and see if you can figure out how authors you like handle a story. Take it apart. Look at the point of view, the voice, and how time moves in the story, the use of dialogue and sensory detail. Get to know the difference between scene and summary. Take writing workshops and classes in your area. I learned an enormous amount from my MFAC (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults) program at Hamline University and I have those voices in my mind, especially when I’m revising. It helped me establish a daily writing practice which is so helpful.

JB: Find a critique group! No one learns how to write or illustrate a book in a vacuum.  You need both the input and support of other creatives. 

KC: Thank you for visiting Writers’ Rumpus, Christine and Jeanette!

To win a copy of WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY, comment on this post. If you share on facebook or twitter, you get another entry. Giveaway closes in one week.

Christine McDonnell is the author of eleven books for children: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult novels. In addition to writing she worked as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library. In the Brookline (Mass.) Public Schools she taught grades 6-12 and worked as a school librarian. She loves to read and swim and spends summers in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.


Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book LOVE, MAMA was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2018. It contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love. She is also co-editor and illustrator of the forthcoming anthology NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 2020) and illustrator of WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY (Viking, 2020). Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids.


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