Author Spotlight: Susan Hughes

It’s been a while, but its time for another Author Spotlight! Today we are talking to Susan Hughes about her book Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality, so let’s dive right in!

Susan, Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you about Walking for Water, but I’d like to start with a little more about you. Would you mind introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

It’s great to speak with you today, Devyn! I’m a Toronto-based writer of many traditionally published children’s books, from picture books to YA novels—and everything in between! I’m an editor, story coach, and consultant specializing in assisting clients and publishers with children’s stories and educational products. I also write commissioned pieces. 

Oh, and I like to run, hang out with my family and friends, and write and read books, lots of ‘em!

Walking for Water is one of your most recent releases, could you tell us a bit more about this book?

Sure! Here’s how Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality is described on the publisher’s website: 

“In this inspiring story of individual activism, a boy recognizes gender inequality when his sister must stop attending school — and decides to do something about it. 

Victor is very close to his twin sister, Linesi. But now that they have turned eight years old, she no longer goes to school with him. Instead, Linesi, like the other older girls in their community, walks to the river to get water five times a day, to give their mother more time for farming. Victor knows this is the way it has always been. 

But he has begun learning about equality at school, and his teacher has asked the class to consider whether boys and girls are treated equally. Though he never thought about it before, Victor realizes they’re not. And it’s not fair to his sister. So Victor comes up with a plan to help.”

I’m especially pleased that the publisher, Kids Can, included Walking for Water in its  wonderful Citizen Kid series, for children ages 7 to 12. The books in the collection are aimed at making complex global issues accessible to kids and inspiring them to be better global citizens. 

Title: Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality
Author: Susan Hughes
Illustrator: Nicole Miles
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Published: June 1, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Obviously Victor’s story is very inspiring, so I understand why you were inspired to write about him! Can you tell us about how you came to hear about Victor’s story, and how that inspiration struck you?

I was doing online research for another project when I happened across a powerful photo essay. The photos were by Esther Havens and the caption-like text was written by a journalist, Tyler Riewer. As soon as I read about this young boy in Malawi’s experience—the dawning understanding that it wasn’t fair his sister had to give up school and then his decision to take action—I knew kids would be affected by the story. The photo-essay would likely only be seen by adults. I wanted to write it as a picture book story so kids would have a chance to learn about this boy’s courage and commitment to change. 

What was the research process like for this book? Did you get to travel to Malawi or meet Victor in your research?

No, I wasn’t able to do either, however in order to ensure the story was as authentic as possible, I reached out for help to many people. For example, I connected with journalist Tyler Riewer who generously answered as many as my questions as he could about his experience meeting with, and talking to, “Victor” in his village.

Malawian-born journalist Victoria Maele read and authenticated several drafts of my manuscript and answered many questions about content details. Malawian professor Lucinda Manda-Taylor read the final manuscript and reviewed the illustrations, focusing on ensuring the visuals accurately reflected life in a village in this specific part of Malawi. Wherever they found mistakes or discrepancies in the story or illustrations, we changed these details. 

Professor Sam McChombo, an expert in the Malawian language Chichewa, checked to make sure my usage of Chichewa words in the story was accurate and helped create the book’s pronunciation guide.

You have written over 30 books, which is such an amazing accomplishment! Do you have a favorite amongst them all?

Oh, I’m giggling! This is a question kids often ask me when I do book talks and presentations—and I think I give a different answer every time.

It’s really difficult to choose but usually my favorite is my most recently published book! 

You write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference for one over the other?

No, I don’t. I very much like alternating between the two, even during the researching and writing process. After working on a story for a while, it can be refreshing to turn to a nonfiction project and, for example, do some research or editing of facts. Or to turn from a non-fiction project to a story, going from a more fact-based narrative to one which allows my imagination to fly freely in different spaces. 

What can we expect from you next? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

Yes, I have two new books hitting the shelves next year, both with Owl Kids Books. 

Coming out in April is a 64-page informational picture book: Same Here: The Differences We Share, illustrated by Sophie Casson. The book explores how kids around the world live and the common needs that unit them.

And my fall book is a rhyming picture book Hooray for Trucks! which is being illustrated by Suharu Ogawa.

Is there anything else you’d like for Mutually Inclusive’s readers to know?

Oh, yes! Some exciting news! Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality has been nominated for the 2022 Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Express Award. The best part is knowing kids across the province will be reading my book and the others on the list and then getting the chance to vote on their favorite ones in the spring. Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about these “Forest of Reading” awards: https://forestofreading.com/program-for-kids/.

Susan, thank you again for joining us today. It has been such a treat chatting with you!

To learn more about Susan and her work, please visit her online at susanhughes.ca.

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