A Little Something is a true story, one that meant a great deal to both the author and the illustrator as they worked on it. Here's an interview with author Susan V. Bosak (if you're interested in some of Susan's other books, check out Dream) and illustrator Laurie McGaw (if you're interested in other books Laurie has illustrated, check out Polar The Titanic Bear by Daisy Corning Stone Spedden and Journey to Ellis Island by Carol Bierman).
If you read this interview in a classroom, encourage children to share their own "true stories" about grandparents (or other older adults in their lives).
Question to Susan V. Bosak: A Little Something is a true story about you and your grandmother, who you called "Baba" ("Grandma" in Ukrainian). Why did you write the story?
Answer: Grandmothers are special, because they can spoil you and love you uncondition-ally. Ever since I was a little girl, I was close to my Baba. I loved her very much, and she gave me a lot of love. She didn't live too far away from our house, and in the summer I would often ride my bike over to visit her. We did a lot of things together. When she got older, our relationship changed. She wasn't well, and we couldn't do what we did before. I wrote A Little Something because I wanted to celebrate all the good memories and our special relationship. The legacy, the gifts, she gave me helped me become who I am. She made a big difference in my life.
Question to Laurie McGaw: Why did you want to illustrate this book?
Answer: When I first read it, it reminded me of people in my life. I thought about all the wonderful things I did with my grandmother when I was little. I thought of my own little girl and how close she is to her grandma. And, I thought of my mum, who's gone now. I have many fond memories of special elders in my life.
Q to SVB: Did your grandmother really give you all
A: Some of the gifts were changed a little for the story, but most of them I really did get from my grandmother – even the tacky tablecloth! Before she would give me a keepsake she would always say (in Ukrainian, of course), "This will be a little something to remember me by" – which is where the title of the story comes from. I still have all the keepsakes she gave me. The cedar chest sits in my bedroom, at the foot of my bed.
Q to SVB: Can you tell us a bit more about the
A: The cedar chest is one of the most precious keepsakes I have. My grandfather actually gave my grandmother the chest, and then she passed it down to me. My grandmother assigned a special piece of furniture to each of her children and grandchildren. From the time I was five years old, my grandmother would tell me that some day the cedar chest would be mine. And I took care of it! I might have bumped into the other pieces of furniture in my grandmother's house, but I was always extra careful around that cedar chest. The cedar chest is special to me not only because it's a beautiful piece of furniture and a keepsake from my grandmother, but also because of all the keepsakes it holds. A cedar chest is a safe place to hold some of your most important and special treasures. For example, my grandmother used to do a lot of needlework, and I have so many beautiful things that she made by hand. Sometimes when I'm feeling down, I visit my cedar chest and all the wonderful memories cheer me up again.
Q to SVB: What's the best gift your grandmother gave you?
A: My grandmother was always so proud of everything I did. She encouraged me to do well in school and even to become an author. She helped me believe in myself, that I can do anything. That's a very precious gift.
Q to SVB: Did you and your grandmother talk a lot?
A: My grandmother was Ukrainian and she didn't speak much English. She told me some stories about her life – like the family she worked for when she was young and how she took care of their pet bear! We talked half-English, half-Ukrainian. Even if I didn't understand everything she said, our relationship was still close. When you love someone, you can "talk" without words. That's why the grandmother in the story gives her granddaughter lots of "big, warm smiles and warm, snuggly hugs."
Q to SVB: What did your grandmother tell you about her life?
A: I have a good sense of my family history from the stories she told me. I even video recorded Baba telling me parts of her life story. I know that my grandmother was born in 1898 in a part of what is now the Ukraine. She came from a poor peasant family and had three brothers and a sister. When she was in her twenties, in the 1920s, she traveled alone on a boat to come to North America. Her father was already here. He chose a husband for her. She didn't like the first man he chose and begged her father to choose someone else! That's when he chose my grandfather. My grandmother and grandfather worked very hard to slowly bring all the other members of the family to North America from the Ukraine. They all lived in one small house until they got jobs and could afford a place of their own. I owe a lot to the hard work of my grandmother and grandfather as they made a new life in this country.
Q to SVB: Did you write the whole story before you had the illustrations?
A: Yes, although I changed the story a little as Laurie drew the illustrations. When I first wrote the story, I saw one of Laurie's other books and I loved her illustrations. I knew they would be perfect for my story.
Q to LM: How did you get ideas for the illustrations?
A: Usually, an author and illustrator don't even meet each other. But Susan and I worked very closely on this book. She had a lot of ideas, and we came up with a lot of ideas together.
Q to LM: How did you draw the characters?
A: I use models to help me draw. For this book, I used
a real family – a grandmother, her real, 7-year-old granddaughter (for the young granddaughter), her
11-year-old granddaughter (for the slightly older granddaughter), and her daughter (for the grown-up granddaughter). I took lots of photographs of the real people, and then used the photographs to make up the illustrations.
Q to LM: What did you use to color your illustrations?
A: I draw an illustration in pencil first and then, if it's okay, I often paint on top of the pencil. I used watercolor paint and casein (a water-based paint that dries semi-waterproof).
Q to LM: How long did it take you to do the illustrations?
A: Months and months and months! I like to do some work on an illustration, and then leave it while I work on another one. When I go back to the illustration, I see it in a fresh way.
Q to LM: What kinds of illustrations are your favorite to do?
A: I like to draw people. I love faces more than any other subject. And I like drawings that look like real people – although my daughter likes my cartoon people and wants me to do more of them!
Q to SVB: Do you like to read A Little Something to people?
A: Very much. I wrote the story and then, as I read it to both children and adults, I noticed that some words didn't sound right or weren't necessary. In a picture book, just like in poetry, every word counts. I experimented with different words and ways to use them. Slowly the story got better and better. You need time and practice to make a story as good as it can be.
Q to SVB: Did your grandmother see the book?
A: I wrote A Little Something a number of years ago, when my grandmother was still alive. But she was very, very old and wasn't well. I showed her the finished book and I think she understood that it was about her. My grandmother even came to the launch of the book and the hundreds of people there stood and clapped for her. She liked that very much. She lived to be 102 years old. Even though she's gone now, she will always be in my heart and the things she taught me are very important to who I am today. In addition to writing A Little Something, I've done a Life Statement for my grandmother for the Legacy Project's Life Statement program.
Q to SVB: What's your best memory of your grandmother?
A: I have so many wonderful memories! But maybe the best one is that we had a little tradition on my birthday. She would get up extra early and be the first one to telephone me and sing "Happy Birthday." Today, I still think of her every birthday and, in my mind, I can hear her singing to me.
Memories are gifts of the heart. How can you leave "a little something" of yourself for those you love to remember you by? From the time we're born, we all start to create a legacy of who we are. Share A Little Something with your child or grandchild, a mother or grandmother.