For today’s Author Spotlight I’m delighted to be chatting with my friend Candice Marley Conner about her latest picture book Chompsey Chomps Books.
Candice, thank you so much for joining us today! I am so excited to share Chompsey Chomps Books with everyone! Before we get started though, would you like to introduce yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Hi, Devyn! Thanks so much for having me and Chompsey on Mutually Inclusive. I have learned SO MUCH about diversity and even my own privilege from your blog and am honored to be here. I am a children’s writer, mom of two (one is possibly feral and definitely a velociraptor), living in Alabama. We love being out in nature, especially around water and even better if it’s water in the woods. I’m the kidlit specialist at an indie bookstore, a Local Liaison for SCBWI (how we connected!), and an officer for the local writers’ guild. Pre-pandemic, I was also a Reading Buddy at a local elementary school which is how I found the inspiration for Chompsey.
Thank you! I’m thrilled to hear your a fan of the blog! I’m a pretty big fan of Chompsey Chomps Books, myself. This is your second picture book. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Chompsey is an emotional chomper. He chomps when he’s happy, hungry (yes, I feel this is an emotion AND it gave space for gator fun fact puns) and frustrated. What frustrates him? Reading. And as his friend Beaver points out, books are really hard to come by in a swamp. Chompsey doesn’t understand why book club is so much harder for him than it is for his swamp friends. The letters and words don’t stay on the page like they’re supposed to. Discouraged, Chompsey chomps at the letters as they fly by. He and his friends have to figure out how to make the words stay still and make sense for him.
Chompsey is such a loveable character. I absolutely adored him, but I have to ask what inspired you to write about the dyslexic experience?
I’m so glad you adored him! He definitely has a soft spot in my heart too. At the time, I had recently read Annie Silvestro’s BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB and was charmed by the idea of a woodland animal book club and the lengths they go to get library access. I wanted to figure out how to put my own spin on a swamp friends’ book club featuring MY favorite animal, an alligator. But I couldn’t figure out a way to make the idea spark shine until one day when I was working with one of my Reading Buddy kids, a first grader whose mom was figuring out he had dyslexia. The mom is a friend of mine (and is also dyslexic herself) so helped me understand what exactly his brain was going through and armed me with many teaching methods to better help him. I was absolutely blown away by his hard work and dedication to learning to read, and by working with him, the idea of a dyslexic alligator who chomped at words was born. They’re who the book is dedicated to.
Title: Chompsey Chomps Books
Author: Candice Marley Conner
Illustrator: Alaina Luise
Publisher: Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing
Published: October 12, 2021
Format: Picture Book
Chompsey’s swamp friends definitely made me a little homesick. All of your work is heavily inspired by the swamp, with both of your picture books featuring Alabama Delta wildlife. What keeps you grounded in that inspiration?
I grew up in a swamp and visiting nowadays whether through my stories or in real life gives me such a sense of peace and home. Swamps and other wild spaces can be misunderstood places but they’re so incredibly biodiverse. One thing my dyslexic friend pointed out to me while I wrote Chompsey’s manuscript was that you can’t fall in love with something you don’t understand and this has stayed with me. I feel like if I—in my own tiny way—can help people fall in love with swamps, they’ll want to help save natural spaces too. With my YA mystery, I set up a merch shop where proceeds go to the Alabama Rivers Alliance to help protect the state’s 132,000 miles of waterways.
Chompsey Chomps Books is printed in a dyslexic friendly font. Can you tell us a bit about the font and the decision to include an accessible font? Was this something you approached the publisher with, or did they choose that route?
Dyslexie is a weighted font that makes letters easier to distinguish from each other and in turn enables readers to read with less effort to make it more enjoyable and boost self-esteem. This goes for the dyslexic parents who are reading the picture books to their children too. Letter switching happens even in neurotypical children under the age of seven so this font is a win-win for all in my opinion, and the reason I went with MacLaren-Cochran Publishing. While they sadly closed their doors at the end of 2021, all their books were published in this font. I recently saw that Andrea Beaty’s AARON SLATER, ILLUSTRATOR in her Questioneer series is also printed in dyslexie and I’m so excited that more publishers are choosing this route. Honestly, I think all picture books should be accessibly inclusive and printed in dyslexie font.
I always ask this one, but it’s my favorite. If readers only walk away with one lesson from Chomsey Chomps Books, what would you want it to be?
There’s a page in the book that simply has the words “Chompsey didn’t give up” and that’s a lesson I’d love for readers to take away. Don’t give up. If it’s your dream to eat crawfish pie and snuggle up with a book with your swamp friends, don’t stop trying just because it’s hard. See it as a challenge. Approach it from a new perspective. There are so many ways to learn, don’t box yourself in.
You are also published in the young adult category, with your novel The Existence of Bea Pearl. Which do you find more challenging to write, picture books or novels?
Oof, this is a tough question! I’d say Bea Pearl was more challenging since the book is a mystery and because I originally wrote her as an unreliable narrator with a non-chronological timeline. I had to completely rewrite the manuscript which was daunting to say the least but I’m pretty determined and persistent like Chompsey. Though with a YA, I don’t have to agonize over the perfectly precise words like picture books demand and have room for setting which is my favorite literary element. Luckily, the publisher paired me with Alaina Luise as illustrator and she perfectly captured my swampish vision for Chompsey and his friends.
What a whirlwind 2021 must have been for you! You had a double debut year with your first picture book, and your first YA, and then you also published Chompsey Chomps Books! What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned as a debut author?
Yes! It was the best kind of bananas! Biggest lesson I learned as a debut author was to just do the things (promo- and marketing-wise) I was comfortable with and that I don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS, lol. At one point I said no to an event that was stressing me out and when I told my then ten-year-old about my decision, her immediate response was that she was proud of me. “Saying no was really hard for you.” My decision and her understanding of what I was experiencing and being in my corner was a balm to my mental health.
What’s next for you? Do you have any more releases on the horizon for 2022?
More swamp stuff, haha. My current work-in-progress is a spooky ecological middle grade set in the Delta that I’m having the best time writing. My agent has a Selkie-like manatee middle grade, a witchy STEAM picture book, and a STEAM chapter book series out on submission, so while I don’t currently have any releases on the horizon, I’m optimistic for that to change!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Mainly a thank you that there are readers and places like this blog making and demanding space for inclusive and diverse picture books. Books are so powerful. I’d love it if each and every child out there not only sees themselves on the bookshelf, but also that children (and their adult readers) learn to see things from a different perspective, and have compassion and understanding for those different from them.
To learn more about Candice and her work be sure to visit her website at candicemarleyconner.com.